Sunday Sevens – book reviews

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I’ve struggled a little with the concept of Sunday Sevens because in all honesty my life is pretty ordinary and not all that exciting, but I enjoy reading other bloggers posts and it is only fair to share. All in all, its been a pretty quiet week – no migraines thankfully! so I thought I would use the opportunity to write a little book review and a few of the simple things that have given me pleasure this week.

 

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Firstly, I am really enjoying this Sencha Sakura Green Tea from Char in Winchester. It is a scented tea – and has a delicate cherry flavour that is simply divine! perfect for Spring.

Rivers of London Book review

I really enjoyed this book! Right from the beginning I felt incredibly sorry for the protagonist – DC Peter Grant – he has a sardonic humour! To quote the blurb… Meet DC Peter Grant he will show you his city. But it’s not the capital that you all see as you make your journey from Tube to Bus, from elephant to castle. It’s a city that under its dark surface is packed full of crime. And of magic. A city that you never expected…

This is a wonderful book, (I am delighted that this is the first in a series) it has been described as Whitechapel mixed with Harry Potter – it is a great imaginative mix. There are the vampires living in a basement, a witness to a murder comes forward .. the only problem is the witness is ‘corporeally challenged’ as in not having a body because he is a ghost. It is a really good read and one that will keep you turning the pages.

Self care revolution

There are so many books on Self Care at the moment – many of which I have passed over because they are pretty thick and to be honest… boring. This one stands out because there is a lot of pictures… and I do love pictures! There is a lot of wisdom in the pages, but it is laid out in such a way that you can take chunks at a time for example there are a couple of yoga poses that could be done before bed. They take ten minutes and it has helped me achieve the desire to do more yoga because its achievable – I found the hour and a half sessions I attended a struggle if I am honest! but ten minutes before bed, four restorative poses – that is achievable!

There are various sections covering all aspects of good living – movement and nutrition, sleep rest and relaxation, coping skills, physical environment, social connections, mood boosters, goal setting and accomplishments and finally values and purpose.

It is written with such honesty, the author was in need herself – and she is honest about her depression which helps. Sometimes self help books are written in such a way that you feel the author has never had a problem – but Suzy Reading is open about her own journey which seems to make the advice more authentic.

The Simple Home Book Review

I had to have this book as a physical book because I bought Rhonda’s simple living on my kindle and really wished I had bought the book. Rhonda gave up the rat race of life.. realised that the key to freedom lay in living simply – within your means and cutting back on all the should haves and must haves. She writes a great blog, down to earth about her life growing their own vegetables and making her own bread. This book is set out in home making areas by season. (although you have to tweak it a little because we are in the northern hemisphere)

A month to month guide to self reliance, productivity and contentment.. With all the talk of financial uncertainty, sky-high property prices – I know this book can help people, you and older, live well in difficult times. There needs to be a way forward that gives ordinary folk the power to choose family and home life instead of intense consumerism and the bleak consequences of it. Living simply can e that way forward.

It is so easy to underestimate just how our lives are tethered to a consumerist culture.. the must have phone upgrades that have us in debt for another couple of years, the lifestyles pumped into our living spaces unconsciously by Television programming as well as advertising. Not to forget that since the introduction of the national curriculum – independent living skills have been virtually eradicated from education – instead of spending 6 weeks a year learning to cook, children spend most of that time designing packaging for their food product – running an imaginary food company. Debt has become a way of living and shopping a way to pass time – made even easier at a click of a button. What we don’t realise is that it takes our lives away, we are selling our time and future for items that really don’t matter. Living within your means without debt – is the way to freedom. Eating food made from scratch – is taking back the control for your health.

ok… rant over. This book is awesome – I am only disappointed that I can’t have chickens anymore!

Paris Undressed Book

In America women save their best lingerie for date night or Valentines day. French women don’t need a special occasion or permission. They resist cookie cutter definitions and labels for love. Why put a quota on pleasure? If lingerie feels good next to your skin, why not wear it as much as possible? Life is the special occasion. Today. Right here. Right now.

We pretty much follow our American cousins when it comes to lingerie – and so lingerie shopping in the UK is very limited. I have to admit I am ashamed of the underwear I reach for every day – its not pretty but it is – thankfully comfortable!

I am certain I am not alone – I have piles of bras that I have worn that have tortured my body until I can bare it no more… it is why I have now taken the sum total of five bra making courses! Yet I the perfect bra seems to elude me! I have a large pile of toile bras that simply don’t fit well either…

But here lies the problem.. French Women spend a lot of money on their lingerie and they have a wide choice of shops to choose from. Here I pick up a £3.00 bra in Sainsbury’s and wonder why the blasted thing is so irritatingly uncomfortable before chucking it on the ever growing pile of torture devices that I hide in overflowing drawers.

Its not just not as simple as Kathryn kemp-Griffin makes out – I’ve visited Agent Provocateur and spent a lot of money on lingerie and yes, you can tell the difference in quality, but sadly, what lingerie manufacturers don’t seem to understand is that women above size 10 would like something beautiful. And yes, women with a cleavage a bit bigger than a D cup would like the same amount of pretty lace and bows that you get on a double AA cup! Why does it all disappear after C I wonder?

ok… yet another rant over.. !

There is a lingerie shop near where I get my hair done… I will make an appointment and let you know how it goes. I really would like to believe that it is as easy as Kathryn kemp-suggests – lots of beautiful lingerie that is comfortable and pleasurable next to the skin!

This book does suggest the holy grail of comfortable underwear exists.. you just have to visit Paris … !

Emotional Sensitivity Book review

This little book rocked my world and has helped me more than all the growing self help books on my shelves. I am an Highly Sensitive Person – its a bit like having extra sensory perception and it does make life incredibly hard sometimes.

I have to admit, there were early chapters in this book that brought tears to my eyes. Imo Lo knows a great deal about her subject – because finally a lot of my painful past not only made more sense but I realised I was not alone – that there are others who also struggle.

There is great practical advice – how to look after yourself, how not to close down and shut off all feeling. Being HSP means that if you sit with an angry person – you feel their anger, their rage, it is uncomfortable – it is painful and it is overwhelming at times. It means you cannot hurt someone – no matter how much they deserve it, without feeling that hurt too. So it makes you very vulnerable – and a target that seems to bring out the bully in a lot of people.

I cannot recommend this book enough – it is practical and offers strategies that give me hope.

Be Gentle to yourself

I have finished another little quilt – these little sewing meditations are soothing and relaxing. You can read about my first little quilt here.

 

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The Dress Shop of Dreams – Menna Van Praag book review

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This is the second book I have read from this author – she creates such cosy worlds full of kind people. The dress shop in question is magical – when a woman tries on one of the beautiful silk dresses – she is clothed in the confidence and beauty to attain her dreams – which mostly revolve around finding love.

This book is about love and loss and finding your way. It is full of kind hearted people who for many reasons are lost. Cora – a scientist has closed off her heart after the tragic death of her parents – begins to remember what happened that night and decides to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Walt – the owner of the nearby bookstore – makes the most delicious cherry pies – has been in love with Cora all his life – but Cora seems immune to his advances. He reads books on the local radio – and his deep voice draws may admiring letters which Walt has no interest in responding to. Dylan – the radio producer begins to write back to some of the ladies – and finds love.

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The shop owner – Etta – who is also Cora’s grandmother – is pining for a lost love years ago – and while she can stitch magic into the dresses that bring out confidence and beauty in every woman – she can’t help herself.

All these lovely broken people – somehow navigate their way through the book to a satisfying ending. This is a tale about love, loss and recovery and finding the courage to love again.

These books are a great escape and enjoyable to read – I intend to read another of her books soon.

Menna Van Praag – Lost Art of Letter writing book review

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I can’t recall how I stumbled across this author, but I am so glad I did, if you enjoyed Chocolat then this author is going to really delight the senses – she writes joyful tales that include just a sprinkling of magic, in the same way that Chocolat does – its believable magic, that hint that somewhere out there is a force for good.

I don’t know about you, but with all that is going on in the world, I find I want to escape into a good book, where people are kind, and there is hope – Menna’s writing is just such an escape and the settings she chooses for her tales are so close to my heart that I find them irresistible.

Letter writing

The Lost Art of Letter Writing begins with a tiny, shop tucked away in the Cambridge, it contains beautiful paper, pens and a magical writing desk. Clara the shop owner walks the streets after closing – observing the inhabitants and then writes them letters of encouragement – these letters give hope or support – what ever she is drawn to write.

However, waiting for her is her own mystery, a discovery of a box of letters that send Clara on an adventure beyond the four walls of the shop. It is not just her story, there is a mix of other stories interwoven – the people Clara sends encouraging letters to – which fragmented the story a little.

However, it is a pleasurable read, one that I could recommend.

 

Book Review – The Taxidermist’s Daughter Kate Mosse

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It is wonderful to read a story set in your own small corner of the world, Kate Mosse is a local writer and this is the first book I’ve read that features many of the local landmarks. I loved hearing the names of places I know well, Chichester and Fishbourne which is where Kate grew up. You can read an article about the house that inspired this tale here.

What Kate does well, is to write evocatively about a place – I loved that about Winter Ghosts and I began this book almost straight after finishing Winter Ghosts, but this tale is darker and more macabre.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Told over one summer, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel and The Winter Ghosts.

I have to admit the detailed description of the process of taxidermy described early on in the book made me feel slightly squeamish. I can’t say that it endeared me to Connie, I found it took a while to really get into the book. It was like catching glimpses in the mist, the sense of place, the marshes and the ebbing water – play just as big a role in this tale along with the characters.

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The tale unfolds gradually, the lives of Gifford and his daughter resonate strongly with the sense of decay. Their art is no longer sought after or appreciated, but, Kate makes it very clear, it may be macabre but it is an Art of its own. It made me look at taxidermy in a different light – the skill is in preserving life, forever -from the smallest bird to the well loved dog.

It is gruesome in parts, especially the murders – but then it is why this tale hangs together, so reminiscent of Victorian Gothic – you get a sense of chilling in your bones, as the tidal waters rise, the crows circling or roosting in packs, even though it is more Edwardian than Victorian, it is a delightfully suspenseful tale.

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Kate’s sense of  of place is masterly, cosy tap rooms of local Public houses, an austere asylum, chilly carriage rides and living beside the frosty ebbing and flowing estuary mirroring the Giffords’ place in the community. We also have gallantry and just the wisp of romance .. if only the two lovers had a chance.

It’s a good read, one definitely for cold winter nights with a crackling fire – to ward off the chill of the mist and fog, in good gothic style.

If you loved Susan Hill’s The woman in Black, then you’ll enjoy this. (When, dear Susan, will you write another Gothic novel?)

I can’t wait to see what Kate Writes next…

Remarkable Creatures – Tracey Chevalier Book review

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You might imagine Lyme Regis in Dorset on a November day would be rather bleak, but we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather when we visited last November. Lyme was enchanting, there were hardly any other tourists – the beach was empty and it was easy to enjoy a warming latte from one of the cafes on the prom.

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We ambled along the front turning up the high street to discover the most extraordinary Sanctuary Book Shop! It was full of oddities and curios including old black and white photographs and a battered sewing machine. Room after room, crammed in on every surface, books old and new jostled among teddybears and antiques. Classical music drifted around the shop, while we explored – in awe of the odd collections and tableau. If you ever get to Lyme do pop in! it is a cross between museum and book shop they even do Bed and Breakfast!

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On such a glorious day, I could not resist purchasing Tracey Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures as a way of taking a little bit of Lyme back home with me. Not just a reminder of a perfect day, but the extraordinary bookshop!

Set in Lyme itself, Remarkable Creatures tells the story of Mary Anning – who unearthed many fossils back in the early 19th century and her friendship with Elizabeth Philpot a middle aged spinster.

Had it not been for the fact that the book would be a reminder of a perfect day, I might not have picked this book – because it doesn’t sound all that inspiring, but I had enjoyed Tracey Chevalier’s the last runaway – and what a lovely book it turned out to be!

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I had no idea about the lack of opportunities for middle class ladies, but Chevalier presented the plight of the three Philpot sisters very well – it seemed that women had only a very short time to find a husband and when they did not – they became the fringe of society. I love the way Chevalier weaves a rich story around real life characters. Mary Anning lived in Lyme- born into poverty, but able to survive by unearthing and selling her fossils – to men who took all the credit and the praise.

This is light hearted tale raises a deeper question in my mind, women’s contributions  to science and natural history, seems to be written out of history I wonder how many unsung women there are? What other female contributions are claimed by their male counterparts?  Many of Mary’s discoveries were simply attributed to the men who purchased them, rather than Mary herself. Chevalier also touches lightly on the challenges these creatures created in opposition to religious beliefs at the time. Darwin’s origin of the species is not mentioned, but Elizabeth ponders on how these discoveries fit with ‘God’s plan’.

While the Annings might be poor and the Philpotts rich in comparison, the balance of friendship is one of equality. Elizabeth’s life might not be restricted by poverty, but it is just as confined by circumstances as Mary’s is. Life for all women is not one of equality with men in all levels of society.

It is a light read – the tale is merely 350 pages, but one that I enjoyed and would recommend wholeheartedly, I liked the Philpott’s and would have liked to have spent more time with them in their cosy cottage in Lyme.

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Ghostly tales -Book recommendations for Christmas Reading


December’s bleak weather – drab grey clouds creating a state of perpetual twilight in the short daylight hours contrasts sharply with the twinkling lights of Christmas Decorations. No wonder we all huddle in the warmth and light of our homes, gather together by a crackling fire and read dark brooding tales. Winter weather gives rise to the the gothic novel, Frankenstein was written after a lengthy storm, maybe the tapping of rain against the windows gives us a deep contrast to our cosy nest, that just beyond the walls, something lurks.

It was a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve – maybe created by Charles Dickens Christmas Carol although Shelly’s Modern Promethus better known as Frankinstein was written a good twenty years earlier after a particularly violent storm.    Whatever the tradition, there is nothing nicer than being curled up safe and warm reading brooding gothic tales – I thought I would offer some recommendations as alternatives to the flickering box on the wall.


The Winter Ghosts – by Kate Mosse

Kate is a local author to West Sussex, I was delighted to meet her a few years ago. She has written a number of books but this is an engaging a ghostly tale. Set in France between the wars our protagonist, Freddie is lost; not just on his way to Ax-les-Thermes to spend time with friends but suffering deep grief at his brother’s death.  He is caught up in a blizzard high on a mountain road – crashes his car and wanders towards the nearest village.  In the woods, he hears a woman’s voice calling.

This is a good read – the ghosts are not scary enough to give you sleepless nights. The tale is evocative – the atmosphere definitely one that makes this tale believable. Although you might need to wrap up warm – his wandering in the snow made me gather lots of blankets round me!


The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

This is my favourite gothic novel – one that set me on the road to reading more from this genre. The tale begins with the cosiness of a happy family gathered round the fire on Christmas Eve, where the protagonist, Arthur Kipps, is asked to tell a ghost story by his step children. This evokes terrifying memories for Arthur – of his time spent in the aptly named Eel Marsh House – the memories surface and disturb his peace.  Arthur is unable to rest until he has written his account down on paper.

Unlike the film, this story is darkly plausible – Arthur convinces us that until the visit to Eel Marsh House, he was a man of logic, one not easily given to melodrama and superstition. The Woman in Black is a tale of heartbreak and revenge – whenever she is seen death follows shortly behind, he fears catching sight of her and is always looking over his shoulder. The happiness of his family home, the joy of love and peace that surrounds the house is not able to drive out his fear, instead it casts a shadow on his life – will he escape her clutches or will she get her revenge?


Florence and Giles – John Harding

Set in New England – this tale of innocence, neglect and crumbling mansions has all the elements to create a gothic story. Florence and Giles roam free, while servants go about their business in the absence of the Master of the house and uncle to the children. Florence is forbidden to read, because her uncle was rejected by an educated woman. However Florence is not to be thwarted, she escapes to the library, hides herself away and teaches herself to read, devouring novel after novel in her Uncle’s vast library.

I have been a life long reader – my childhood was spent escaping into books, so I could relate to Florence and felt sympathy with her almost straight away. I loved the way Harding gave Florence a strange way of speaking – creating her own words and phases that were uniquely her own and quite endearing.

However, we are talking gothic novel – where suspense and horror lie. It gathers pace, in a similar way to the Turning of the Screw – layer upon layer  right up to the horrifying conclusion. It left me completely traumatised at the end – with a complete book hangover for several weeks. Read if you dare!

 

 

Outlander Series one and The Witches Daughter – book review

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We bought an Amazon TV stick and have been enjoying some great films; this Series kept on popping up in our feed, so we decided to try it.

The basic story is about an Army Nurse in the 1940’s who is visiting Scotland with her husband after the war. One day she visits a standing stone circle and falls back in time by 200 years.

I really enjoyed the first half of the series, it was great learning about the clan culture and seeing Claire navigate her way in another time. She used her knowledge to heal and earned respect for her skills. She falls in love with one of the characters (I’ll try not to spoil it) but somehow when we reached two thirds of the way in I began to feel my interest waning.  How many times did she ignore advice and get herself in trouble? I find I was getting restless at her inability  to learn from her mistakes.

Beyond episode 11, I was watching it alone, Mr D having lost interest and it was becoming too romantic even for my interest, but the final episode left me frustrated and angry! What began as a promising tale – seemed to take a turn that left me feeling uncomfortable to watch. It seems to me that current box sets seem to desire to push boundaries, but I find it difficult to understand why the last episode would be so dire.

We became sucked into Game of Thrones a few months back – the first series was gripping, but when we reached the end of series five I felt sickened by the sheer violence depicted and refuse to watch any more. (Seriously, seeing someone squeeze a person’s eyeballs out of their sockets is gruesome! a final straw after episode after episode of skinning people alive, cutting off hands, beheading and poisoning, it is not my idea of entertainment)

However, I shall give the second series of Outlander another chance in order to recover the initial enthusiasm, maybe try and see if the books are any better than the TV series, Game of Thrones readers say there is not the same level of violence in the books.

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Outlander left me with an interest in time travelling tales: The Witches Daughter was an interesting read. I am not really into witchcraft but I do love the concept of fantasy and adventure.

Bess sees her mother hanged as a witch, with good reason it turns out. She is taught how to cast spells by a warlock called Gideon, who eventually helps her to become immortal. We follow Bess through three lives with Gideon hot on her tail.

It is an entertaining story , Paula Brackston is a talented writer: the story moves quickly and easily to a satisfying conclusion.

A good read I will give it five stars.

What do you think of time travelling tales?

The House at Riverton book review

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If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry, you can read this review there is no spoiler. 

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.
In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they—and Grace—know the truth.
In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties, and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.
The novel is full of secrets—some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne Du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war, and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.
Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters-and an ending-the reader won’t soon forget.

 

My thoughts:

Kate Morton is a very talented writer, of that there is no doubt… I found this book an engaging read.

It is so beautifully written in places:

I told you about the memories I’ve been having. I told you about the curious sensation that they are becoming more real to me than my own life. The way I slip away without warning, I am disappointed when I open my eyes and see that I am back in 1999. The way the fabric of time is changing, and I am beginning to feel at home in the past and a visitor to the this strange and blanched experience we agree to call the present.

What beautiful observation – simple genius.

There are so many metaphors where the house and the family reflect the wider society. The house personifies the fate of the aristocracy, the family’s decline is a slow painful death, as the dust begins to collect in corners. Class is brushed aside as bankers and business take control, reflecting the change in the wider society, it is the nouveau riche in the guise of Teddy that intend to bring the house back to its former glory.

The incident weaves in and out like a ghost, we catch snatches, we know someone died, we know there were two witnesses but we ebb backwards and forwards in time the story is pieced together like a jigsaw. At one point I was frustrated with the writing, we get closer and closer and then suddenly we are transported away to another time. Perhaps that is what is it is like in old age?

The last piece is not supplied by the narrator but as a recorded epilogue from Grace to her son. To be honest, I felt rather cheated by this, we never really get the story straight, the details are second hand and not fully there – we are left to surmise our own opinion about what happened.

But then so much of the novel is hinted at, Grace’s father, her mother, the game .. the mystery swirls around the story, just like the mist around the house itself.

I am not entirely sure I agree with the publishers that this is reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier – Rebecca is a novel about a house of ghosts, but the tale has none of the suspense or tension of Rebecca as it  whirls to a crescendo where this tale just fades away.

It was an engaging read, she deserves her place on the best seller lists but I am reluctant to pick up the second book: the Forgotten Garden just now, because I am not really satisfied with the ending – it just simply faded away with Grace’s death and perhaps that was intended by the writer.

I did not mourn its loss which is an indicator of how I feel about books, when I am usually sad to let the characters go. In this instance, it was a peaceful passing!

Ladybird books – The keys to the Kingdom of Reading and the start of a life long love affair with books.

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While I was browsing Pinterest I came across some Ladybird book illustrations that had me all misty eyed in no time! Those little hardback books have such an endearing quality full of joyful memories. This illustration was the first book in the Key Word Reading Scheme the mainstay of primary education in the 1970s. Just looking at the pictures brings back vivid memories of toil as the five year old me tried to decipher the strange squiggles -into words.
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Despite never being read stories and books, once I learned – I became an avid reader -these books were beautifully illustrated – the series depicting family life of the 1950’s that was already seen as old fashioned in the 1970’s but had a profound influence on the children it was educating – including me.

Beauty and the Beast

Ladybird books were the start of my life long love of reading, seeing this picture gave me a tingle of joy – Beauty and the Beast was beyond my reading ability when it was a favourite,  I scoured the pictures to decipher the story and that memory is  vivid forty years later – The slight fear, the ugly monkey in fancy clothes, I could not understand why the girl in the story stayed with him. As an adult I can look upon this and see another underlying message, that beauty comes from within and rich people can make demands!

Rumplestiltskin Ladybird books

Another was Rumplestiltskin – he might have been a rather nasty character but I did feel that he was unfairly treated, by then my reading was much better and I have a clearer idea of the story. Imagine spinning straw into gold.

The Elves and The Shoemaker Ladybird books

Another favourite was the Elves and the Shoemaker (is that where my love of sewing came from?) Those beautiful clothes made for the Elves at the end were so quaint. Ladybird had a love affair with the 17th Century all the stories seemed to be set in that time frame, Cinderella, The Porridge Pot and Sleeping Beauty.

Crafting Ladybird books

Ladybird did not just stick to reading schemes and fairy tales; there was a vast range of Learn about books with subjects covering Crafts, Nature books to Science, History and workplaces. It is why they are such a valuable resource for social history as well as illustrating  the development of technology, the book on space included a trip to the moon long before the moon landings of the 1970s.

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I remember thumbing these crafting books desperate to try out some of the projects, only now do I see the dawning of my crafting obsessions! I still collect crafting books that are running into six bookshelves. My love of sewing began with Ladybird.

domestic life as depicted by ladybirdThere has been a great deal of criticism regarding the depiction of traditional White British Middle Class family life and stereotypical gender role models in the reading scheme – which makes me want to leap to their defence.

Idealised family values from Ladybird books

In 1960s versions Jane was shown helping her mother while Peter was helping his father wash the car. The illustrations were updated and altered a lot over the years. It is evidence of the shifting attitudes in society – the 70s was a decade of sexual liberation – shortly followed by racial equality. It is unfair to judge them as outdated and bigoted – they are representations of the society at that time. Values change with every generation but that doesn’t mean to say the past should be papered over.

Domestic life portrayed by Ladybird

The most striking memory when I see these illustrations was an overwhelming sense of being an outsider. My home life was very different, my poor father was working full time, managing a home and bringing up two children on his own while being in a deep and profound state of grief.

Ladybird books domestic life

I had an idealised vision of what family life was like for everyone else – a realisation that there was a big part of family life missing. When we had a new housekeeper, I remember a vague expectation that I would return home to a table laid for tea and that she would be wearing an apron, but it was the 1970s -they shifted in and out my life with no explanations leaving broken promises behind. Oddly enough – when I see these pictures that state of confusion comes to the fore strongly – I knew never to ask questions so spent my childhood in a state of uncertainty. All this surfacing by looking at a few images!

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That sense of alienation is not the fault of the books, times were very different, single parents were thankfully, rare. Yet I cannot help but wonder if these depictions positively influenced me when I had children of my own:  I wanted to be a home maker, I baked with my children despite never having done it as a child myself and I remember trying to live up to a rather unrealistic ideal – one that still resonates with me after forty years.

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Can these books be responsible, I wonder, for the growth of the Vintage Movement so popular in our culture today? There are so many women reaching out for the clothing and lifestyles of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Vintage Apron patterns abound and traditional home making skills are popular again – is there a deep seated perception about the past that remains imprinted from these early reading schemes I wonder?

Classic tales from Ladybird
My children loved the Billy-goats Gruff

I ponder if we are any closer to getting the balance right with reading schemes, my children’s books were alienating for them – no familiar domestic family but with Asian characters dressed in jeans and t’shirts called Biff and Chip.  I believe that while politically correct the reading scheme books did not ignite the love of reading in my children. Reading with them became the medicine of our ‘reading time’ I had a sense of unease that my children’s reading was so political. Despite reading some joyful books with them, Dr Dog was a particular favourite neither became an avid reader until they were teenagers with the advent of Harry Potter.

illustration from the Gingerbread Man

What cannot be denied is the enduring appeal – the pictures are so beautifully done. Ladybird employed talented professional artists – Harry Winfield and Martin Aitchison

The Gingerbread Man Ladybird books

I love the movement of the water is depicted in this illustration, and the changing nature of the fox is vivid.

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Harry Wingfield was an artist who worked for Ladybird up until his death in the 1980s, he illustrated  the nature books and many of the Look and See Series- they are simply beautiful. I have found memories of looking at those beautiful illustrations with awe – there was so much detail to explore

The night sky from Ladybird books

The small bite sized books contained beautifully drawn infographics, making complex subjects accessible to a young audience. There was no sense of dumbing down, science, geography, travel, technology the subject matter was vast.

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Ladybird are celebrating their centenary this year as the publishing company was set up in 1915,  you can see some of the illustrations  at the House of Illustration in London until mid September.

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I am sure I am not alone in the love of Ladybird – who are still publishing today there are many enthusiasts out there.

Feel free to share your personal memories of these delightful books, I would be thrilled to read how special they are to you.

ttfn x

Summer Reading – Book Reviews

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This is the second Lesley Pearce book I have read, I picked this up reluctantly, I wasn’t thrilled about the last one, but was interested in this story and willing to give the author another try.

Coronation Day, 1953.
Molly Heywood has always been a pillar of strength for her local community, so when her friend Cassie fails to attend the Coronation Day party in the village, it is Molly who heads out in the rain to look for her.
But nothing can prepare Molly for what she is going to discover.
Now with Cassie gone and her six-year-old daughter Petal missing, it is up to Molly to head to London to uncover the past Cassie kept so well hidden.
But will Molly discover the truth before it’s too late? Or has Petal disappeared forever?

I found Molly a likeable character from the start, anyone who volunteers to run a children’s party has got to be nice! Cassie’s friendship broadens Molly’s outlook from the small village and she heads to the smoky streets of London not only to get a better life but to uncover what happened to Cassie’s daughter. Molly makes friends and enemies along the way and finally discovers who murdered Cassie.

I was reluctant to read another of Lesley Pearce’s novels because I find her characters a little on dimensional, they are either good or bad, with nothing in-between. I also dislike it when characters are given modern opinions – such as women’s equality and homosexuality. It just irks my sense of authenticity.

That said, this is an interesting tale, the story has its twists and turns, with a rather unexpected twist. Although I found once the mystery had been solved, the story continued along for another chapter – tying up loose ends, but for me it was simply padding.

A good read for a poolside holiday – I would classify it light hearted chic lit.

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Stephanie Lam’s stunning debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, is a gripping read laced with mystery, secrets and love.
It’s 1965 and eighteen year-old Rosie Churchill has run away to the beautiful but run-down Castaway House in the seaside town of Helmstone. But when she uncovers a scandal locked away in the walls of the old house, she soon comes to realise that neither her own troubled past nor that of the house will stay buried for long. . .
In 1924 fresh-faced Robert Carver comes to Castaway House to spend a languid summer in the company of his much wealthier cousin, Alec Bray. But the Brays are a damaged family, with damaging secrets. And little does Robert know that his world is about to change for ever.
As Rosie begins to learn more about Robert, the further she is drawn into the mysterious history of the house, and their stories, old and new, entwine.

This was an engaging mystery, I liked the two timelines although Robert’s tale was preferable. There are a number of links that bring the two timelines together, not least the House itself, re-invented in 1965 into small flatlets. The characters were well rounded, both timelines had their twists and turns, and I was drawn into the tale easily finding it difficult to put the book down. This is a great read, I can thoroughly recommend this book for a holiday and hope the writer publishes another soon!

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Since reading the book, the Woman In Black, I have been a huge fan of Susan Hill. She is a superb spinner of gothic ghost stories – don’t confuse the book with the film, which was not a patch on her novel. She weaves a tale in classic gothic tradition mixing cosy libraries and fire lit studies with chilling ghostly shadows. Read the woman in Black, it is one of her best, but these two smaller novelettes are a wonderful introduction to her writing.

The Man in the picture is the story of a haunting tale,  the picture appears to collect victims who are mesmerised by the scene depicted.

In the apartment of Oliver’s old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revellers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter’s night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting’s eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty.

This tale is engaging – I love the contrasts, warm cosiness of college rooms to chilly cold nights, passionate love and black hearted obsession. I love the way her novel time periods are hard to define, but they have such an element of early 20th century when most men were gentlemen – not easily shaken. It is a great tale to read on a long winter’s evening, while the fire softly crackles and settles down.

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Returning home from a client visit late one evening, Adam Snow takes a wrong turn and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiousity he decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping onto his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.

This has a more modern feel but still a male protagonist – our book dealer is not someone easily spooked, but the many incidents begin to unnerve him. All Susan Hill’s stories appear to revolve around similar characters, and I wonder if this helps us to take the ghostly apparitions seriously, men after all are supposed to be more logical and less emotional. What happens is believable, the mystery is slowly unravelled until we are left with a logical explanation and satisfying sense of justice. Definitely worth settling down for – though not in a rambling old house.