What I’ve been reviewing – Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl



Danny the Champion of the WorldDanny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid (the squirrels! the Oompa-Loompas!). But this is the Roald Dahl book that has stayed with me, and a lot of other people I’ve met along the way. Like any really outstanding kids’ book it has a lot to say to, and about, adults.

Danny has a warm and loving relationship with his Dad: it’s a touchstone that gives him a measure for sane and healthy adult behaviour. It enables him to see the reverse, too: when an adult is nothing but a tall child, using a position of power and control to get off on exerting that power. He sees clearly, cannot be gaslit: he has the insight to know there are not two standards of ethical behaviour between children and adults, or indeed between any two groups of people. If an adult lies to his face, then calls him a simply awful little liar, he is not confused and not convinced.

Projection, much? There’s a lot of it about, of course: the corrupt impugn the honesty of others, the self-important want to take others ‘down a peg or two’. It’s a misdirection that works with the sheep, the weak and the stupid, often enough. But you can’t piss on Danny’s shoes and tell him it’s raining: he knows what ethical behaviour in good faith looks like, and what it don’t, bud.

Love gives him wisdom, and strength: but of course even the kindest most loving adult is a well of secrets, and Danny finds out his Dad is a more complex character than he dreamed… Isn’t everyone? That’s part of growing up, too.

Absolutely darling illustrations in the old Puffin edition by Jill Bennet, rather less enchanted by Quentin Blake.

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image – James Havard https://www.flickr.com/photos/64885769@N08/ licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

What I’ve been reading – Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m giving this five stars but that might be partly out of sentimentality. Reading as an adult, a lot of the things Anne has to say strike me as saccharine, verging on treacly. But it had such a hold on me as a kid that I’m powerless to mark it down.

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What I’ve been reading – A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Very Long Way From Anywhere ElseA Very Long Way From Anywhere Else by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful quiet little YA, with a lot packed into a few pages. Wasn’t there some writer who regarded ‘writing like bread and water’ as the highest praise? This is like that. It’s writing that’s like life, no more and no less, nothing done for effect and everything serving the story.

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What I’ve been reading – Crazy Vanilla by Barbara Wersba

Crazy VanillaCrazy Vanilla by Barbara Wersba

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I expected a little more from this than I actually got – it felt as if at any moment a profound epiphany might appear, but that promise was never quite made good. Still, I did enjoy it. The best thing was reading about Tyler’s love of nature and animals, which felt deeply real. His opinions and reading about the anthropomorphization of animals in human culture was especially interesting – more so than his personal relationships, really. I found his issues with his older brother’s sexuality a bit tacked-on and not really credible. Still a worthwhile read though.

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What I’ve been reading – Lure by Tarynn Kerr

LureLure by Tarynn Kerr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting ideas on fairy generation, nice relationship development between the MCs although a bit one-sided and hard to understand from the male MC’s point of view. Not a very good editing job, unfortunately. Constant tense issues that really should have been ironed out before publication, and other grammatical and punctuation problems too. Also ‘deplore’ used instead of ‘implore’ at one point, which gave a very odd flow to the character’s speech. Also dubious use of ‘literally’ at one point, an absolute last straw for me.

Still a nice story, though, and deserves an improved second edition.

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What I’ve been reading – Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack by M.E. Kerr

Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! by M.E. Kerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book. I adore Dinky, for declining to be brainwashed and cooperative like a good little robot. And also for her name. And Natalia, for… well, it’s hard to say. She’s certainly a sweetie, but a bit too willing to collude in her own oppression. It’s difficult not to have a certain affection for her, though. Tucker OTOH is just annoying, and John too.

I can’t believe Kerr is the same author who wrote When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, though. Wow.
Well, she isn’t, that’s all. On checking, that was all just in my head, which explains a lot! It did seem an odd conjunction of styles and subjects.

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What I’ve been reading – Dance On My Grave by Aidan Chambers

Dance on My GraveDance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m unable to write about this book without vague spoilers being involved. Because the romance between the MCs is so fully, perfectly realised and completely credible, such anticipation built up… That I was COMPLETELY FLIPPIN’ CRUSHED by further developments and the ending!

CRUSHED! I’m still grinding my teeth about it. I have a bit of a grudge against this book and against Chambers, now.

Still really good, though. Especially how delicately the issue of the different assumptions two people can come to a relationship with is dealt with, how what seems obvious and inevitable to one might be overstepping and alarming to another. And regarding bereavement, the treatment is a lot more subtle than the ‘life goes on’ platitudes of a lot of YA, and for that matter adult, fiction.

First love is wonderful and painful and awful, and this book really makes that truth live.

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What I’ve been reading – Black Virus by Bobby Adair

Black Virus (Black Rust #0.5)Black Virus by Bobby Adair

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, but if I hadn’t pressed on past the first couple of pages then I might never have known it. The opening scenes were quite slow and flat, almost awkwardly written! But I persisted a bit, and the story quickly picked up speed, incident and excitement. It’s quite odd how different the initial impression was, almost as if the manuscript got into the hands of an editor who decided they were going to ‘improve’ the initial introduction to the book – it actually reads like a different writer.

But most of the book is great. I like the lack of sentimentality, the hard edge and realism of Christian, the adolescent MC. He sees the world as it truly is, both before and after the apocalyptic events that wreck human existence, and he sees human motivations without rose-coloured glasses too. It makes him unnerving to most people, since ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality’. But I like him for it.

There is a fight scene early on that is brilliantly written, concise but with every necessary detail supplied and the choreography of the scene implied without laborious plotting out and the written equivalent of anatomical dolls to diagram the action. (The polar opposite of a fight in a paranormal romance I read recently, which went on for pages and went to ludicrous lengths to describe the movement of every pinkie finger and the emotional responses of the participants.)

And the climax, when it comes, had me putting my hands over my eyes as if I were watching a really good and bloody horror film. Shocking, but brilliant and clever and almost funny, rather like the violence in Fight Club. I don’t normally care for violence in books or films – it has to be this well-done for me to appreciate it.

Recommended, really well done and worth your time.

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What I’ve been reading – A Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Le Guin, but this isn’t a cosy anodyne fantasy with feel-good endings and a hero to root for. Hi, Harry! It’s bleak as life itself, and morally stern and sometimes frightening, even for an adult perhaps. The stuff of nightmares for a sensitive kid, if you’re not careful about choosing the right recipient in your gift-giving. Ged is a little bastard who grows into an old git, with not much interim period. Power is misused, love is broken, gifts are unfairly distributed. Some mistakes are irrevocable, others pay the price for your sins.

Welcome to the world, magical or otherwise. It sucks.

Beautiful, perfect, a monochrome wash. Unforgiving. I really love this book, did I forget to say?

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