What Milo Saw – Virginia Macgregor

Sometimes in fiction you meet characters who you would do anything to avoid meeting (Dolores Umbridge, Sauron, Scrappy Doo), some that grow on you (Eeyore, Harold Fry, Mr Darcy) and some that you just want to take home and love. Milo Moon, it turns out it one of the latter sort…

what milo sawMilo is nine years old, he lives with his Mum, gran and pet pig and he misses his dad (who now lives with another woman and their new baby in Abu Dhabi). He also has a degenerative eye disease which means he sees the world as if through a pinhole camera and will, one day, lose his sight altogether. This story, however, as the title suggests is not about blindness but about what Milo sees which the adults around him miss. The best part for me was that Milo sees things more clearly not just because of his tunnel vision – that would be a little bit too twee and moralistic for my tastes – but because he is a thoughtful and loving child.

Milo can see that his mum is unhappy, she seeks solace in the biscuit tin and worries that no-one wants to be treated by an overweight beautician, and he can see that his beloved gran needs a lot of care. He can see that the care home his gran moves to is not a good place, unlike all the adults he meets apart from one, and he can see that he will have to do something about it. I love the fact that Milo is the only character who really sees what is going on because he is the only one who really, really looks. Everyone else is willfully blind to facts that they find uncomfortable…

Of course Milo is only nine so often he misinterprets what he sees and his solutions to problems are misguided but he is such a forthright and likable lad that you can’t judge him for it. As the book moves on and Milo finally gets to deal with the dastardly Nurse Thornhill – who runs the kind of nursing home which gets its own special on Panorama – the plot becomes more and more unlikely but I really didn’t mind. These serious subjects, like life, aging, love and loss, are dealt with in a slightly unrealistic and far-fetched way but, all the same, I was rooting for the good guys. I think the novel has covered very adult subjects in the way that they can be dealt with in fiction for primary-aged kids. And I kind of like the way that works. (Also, the denoument made me think somewhat of Brassed Off – always a happy thought).

If you enjoy a book which mixes up its genres, if you like to laugh and cry within a few pages or if you enjoyed Harold Fry and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time give this a try. Hopefully you’ll end up loving Milo as much as I did.

Jane

Moving – Jenny Eclair

movingAfter my experiments with an author who turned out to be age-inappropriate for me I have veered the other way and read Moving, the story of Edwina, a woman in her late seventies, who is planning to sell the house she has lived in for over fifty years. We also look back with her over marriages, a career as an illustrator and fractured relationships with children and step-children.  The author, Jenny Eclair, has previously been better known as a comedian and Grumpy Old Woman but on the evidence of this she will also have a great future as a novelist.

 

The first section of the story follows Edwina, then the next deals with a young drama student who became involved with Edwina’s beloved son Charlie. Finally, we hear from Lucas, the step-son whose actions caused the whole family to self-destruct. I loved the way that we got to see the story from so many angles and really appreciated the way that each point of view was delivered in its own voice. Edwina starts out as a rather typically confused older lady but we quickly see beyond that to the passionate and free-thinking young woman she was. The budding actress, Fern, and her early 80s student life is equally well drawn (and I know, I was there…) and then we have Lucas. We see him as an enemy for the first parts of the book – he is a very unsympathetic character when seen from Edwina’s point of view – but there is a great deal of poignancy to his version of events.

Overall this book reminds me of Mary Wesley’s novels. It is a rare thing for an author to be able to depict both age and youth with equal flair – the young can’t quite understand how being old will really feel and the older writers sometimes seem to idealise youth. Jenny Eclair does it really well and I will look forward to reading her earlier books. Add to this the fact that the writing is both moving and, from time to time, laugh out loud funny and I may have found someone to add to my list of favourite authors.

Jane

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

I feel as if I have been very brave reviewing Rainbow Rowell’s most recent book, Landline. She is one of those authors who has dedicated fans (in fact Bex has reviewed both of her YA novels, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park on this blog) and she mostly writes in a genre, Young Adult, of which I am not a regular reader. This novel, however, was an adult romance so I felt I would be on more solid ground. After all, I may enjoy sci-fi and dystopias but many of the books I love and reread regularly – Pride & Prejudice, Enchanted April, the early works of Jilly Cooper – are, essentially, love stories.

Landline-Rainbow-RowellSo, having established I am as susceptible to a bit of romance as the next woman, I was quite looking forward to this book – as a sorbet to counter a recent diet of courtroom dramas, gruesome crime and bittersweet stories of aging. However, sadly for me, it never quite hit the spot.

The basic plot of a woman who rediscovers how much she loves her husband through a series of phone calls made on a landline which seems to transcend the normal constraints of time didn’t bother me. I love a bit of the unexplained. My problem was mainly that I really, really didn’t like Georgie McCool. I liked her husband Neal, a dedicated house-husband whose masculinity was, refreshingly, not tied up in his career or earning potential and I warmed to her smooth-talking best friend and collaborator Seth and her rather kooky family. In fact I can probably cast the ‘chick-flick of the book’ quite easily – the characterization was clear and lightly handled – until it comes to Georgie.

It took me a while to work out what my problem was and it is possibly related to my age. Georgie is in her late thirties. She is married, with a successful career and two charming children and yet all her internal dialogue reads as if she were the eighteen year heroine of one of Rowell’s YA novels. She is a comedy writer so maybe growing up isn’t a good option for her but it jars me slightly that she is so immature. In fact in conversations, via the ‘magic phone’, she seems younger (in her late thirties) than Neal (who was in his early 20s). If I were in my twenties, or even early thirties, I may not notice this but because I am older I do.

I liked the whole timeslip idea – a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff is always good – and felt that was well handled. Although I did worry at one point that it would all be resolved with a ‘Bobby Ewing in the shower’ moment – showing my age again…I would read another Rainbow Rowell but I think I will stick with the YA stuff as I, personally, feel this is where she is most comfortable. In fact her next book, Carry On, looks quite interesting…

 

Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf – Catherine Storr

I read a lot. So much that I have admitted defeat in trying to review everything I’ve read (or even just the ones I’ve liked) and have even, very occasionally, left books unfinished. Which is, as far as I can see, a rather passive-agressive way of saying I didn’t enjoy a title. And I try to read all kinds of books – fiction (literary, chick-lit, crime, sci-fi and lots of dystopias), non-fiction (mostly history, science and travel writing) and children’s. And sometimes the kids stories are the ones which give the most pleasure.

clever pollyClever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, first published in 1955, seems to me to be everything you’d want a collection of stories for 5-8 year olds to be. They are funny, deceptively simple and, sometimes, they have a gentle moral message. And they also look to have dated fairly well – although children are not left alone in the house these days it is the kind of exciting fantasy situation which kids seem to enjoy – but their slightly old-fashioned nature means they will appeal to grandparents as well as the younger generation. I managed to devour this book (rather wolfishly) in a 45 minute break but I expect it could keep a young child engaged for quite a while. Choosing your favourite story could take a while each night at bedtime – mine is the zoo one I think. Or possibly when the wolf thought he was invisible. Oh, they’re all good!

Many of the stories are based on the wolf’s interpretation of popular fairy tales involving wolves (Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs and the Wolf and the Seven Little Kids) but he proves that he hasn’t learnt much from his study of literature. So you can add feeling superior to the wolf to the list of benefits a child could get from this book…

When my nieces were very small I used to tell them stories I had made up about a little girl called Baby Katy. I can still remember the whole of When Baby Katy Wouldn’t Eat Her Vegetables and When Baby Katy Wouldn’t Change Her Socks (and I bet my nieces do too). If I’d had a copy of the Clever Polly stories available I wouldn’t need to have made them up!

Jane