More young at heart reading…

Here are a few more children’s books I’ve read recently. Things are still pretty odd out there in real life so escaping into the many worlds of fiction and fantasy, especially one aimed at youngsters, seemed like a good idea. Given the quality of writing for children around at the moment I’d say there are no downsides at all to this…

Castle of Tangled Magic – Sophie Anderson (illustrated by Saara Soderlund)

Having read Sophie Anderson’s two previous books I was looking forward to another foray into a world of Slavic myth and folklore – and I got just what I was looking for.

Olia lives in a castle, with her parents, her beloved Babusya (grandmother) and her new-born baby sister. The family has lived in Castle Mila for generations, since the days when they would have been Lords of all they surveyed, but now they are just a fairly ordinary family living in a very (very) large home full of history – with grand halls, secret passageways and vast domes. But this life is threatened by magical forces and it seems that Olia is the only one who can fight back and save her home, her family and much, much more. This is a tale bursting with adventure, magic and lessons in learning how to work out what is really important. It never shies away from the truth that some things are more important than power, riches or even history.

The Beast and the Bethany – Jack Meggit-Phillips

Ebenezer Tweezer is 511, but looks centuries younger, and lives a life of luxury and riches. All this is thanks to a terrible monster who lives in the 15th floor attic of his palatial home – a beast who manages to vomit up all the wonderful gadgets he requires, endless cash to buy fabulous art and, most importantly, a potion which gives him both long life and youth. Of course, all this comes at a cost as the Beast demands bigger and more unusual items to eat as a payment. Which means that, before his 512th birthday, Ebenezer must provide the Beast with a child to eat or he will age rapidly and die.

Enter Bethany. A prickly, unpleasant orphan who the woman in charge of the orphanage (the distinctly nasty Miss Fizzlewick) is only too pleased to release into Ebenezer’s care. Always playing tricks, bullying the other orphans and causing general mayhem, Bethany is a very naughty child who, it seems, no-one would miss. But, when Ebenezer finds he has to spend some time with Bethany before she becomes the Beast’s next meal, he discovers that, perhaps, some things are more important than money, possessions or eternal youth…

A fun and often silly adventure story featuring two main characters who, despite having no real redeeming features at the beginning, we warm to as we find out more about what made them the people they are. There are also at least a couple of thoroughly evil villains whose comeuppance I spent most of the book anticipating with childlike glee.

The Night Bus Hero – Onjali Q Raúf

Raúf’s previous books have looked at serious issues (the plight of refugees and domestic abuse) but in ways that make them approachable and manageable for young readers. Sad, funny and heart-warming – these are great stories for children of all ages above about seven. And this newest tale is no different.

Hector is not a nice boy. He is lazy, greedy, rude and, worst of all, a bully. He and his two friends take pleasure in mocking, tripping and hurting the other children at school and especially enjoy threatening them with reprisals if they don’t hand over their cash, lunch or treats. They prey especially on the weaker and more nervous pupils but they particularly hate the ones they refer to as ‘teacher’s pets’. However, when Hector decides to play a mean prank on a homeless man in their local park things start to change for him. He ends up joining with Thomas, the homeless man, and Mei-Li, the biggest teacher’s pet of all, to find out who has been stealing iconic London landmark statues.

What I loved about this book was that the characters had real depth. Hector is unpleasant but he is never seen as a joke (unlike, say, the Golden Ticket winners in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and we do see a lot of the reasons why he act the way he does. His parents are often absent and the adults in his life have found it easier to write him off as a trouble-maker. He isn’t a totally lost cause either – he seems genuinely fond of his little brother, Hercules, and soon starts to see the error of his ways when he learns more about the troubles Thomas and Mei-Li have experienced. The real villains, the statue thieves, provide a more comedic angle and there are plenty of other lighter moments too.

Tilly and the Map of Stories (Pages & Co book 3) – Anna James

The final book in this round-up is another one in a series which I have been following with interest. It features adventure, a strong heroine and a bookshop – what’s not for me to love?

This is the third adventure for Tilly and her best friend, Oskar, as they continue in their fight against the Underwoods – sinister siblings who have taken control of the Underlibrary and the source books which allow people like Tilly to travel into books by ‘bookwandering’. In the previous books Tilly has been given items which she is sure form a map of some sort, leading to a legendary group known as the Archivists, who will be able to help her overthrow the Underwood’s regime. Her grandparents, ex-Underlibrarians themselves, are cautious after the dangers she has already faced but her mother helps her sneak away and sends Tilly and Oskar to the United States to follow the first clue – a code used in the Library of Congress.

The two children are thrown into a series of adventures and make a great team – each bringing different skills to the party. They fall deeper and deeper into books, fiction and stories – braving more peril and meeting some remarkable characters. They will need all their wits, bravery and imagination to avoid destruction on a huge scale…

As ever, I have hugely enjoyed working through this selection of books for our younger readers. While there are authors out there who are writing books of this quality (and, even better, series of books…) I think the future of literature is in good hands.

Jane

Crime in many forms….

A quick round-up of some recent crime novels I have read (with a sneaky extra one stuck on the end that I read while I was dithering over actually writing the blog post…)

Chaos – A D Swanston

Historical crime novel set in the Elizabethan era and the second in the adventures of Christopher Radcliffe, lawyer turned spymaster for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of the Virgin Queen. There seems to be a plot against the Dudley family which is manifesting as a spate of forged coins and seditious slogans. The false coins are enough of a worry, undermining the efficient running of the economy, but they and the slogans are specifically suggesting that the Dudleys are part of the plot…We follow Radcliffe and his trusted network of contacts – from goldsmiths to prostitutes – as he tries to discover who is framing his employer. And, because no sleuth worth their salt is ever allowed to just solve the crime, he also needs to prevent his new housekeeper from being executed as a witch and to try and save his relationship with the rather prickly Kat. Between the rock of the Dudleys and the very hard place of a disgruntled lover Radcliffe is in danger of losing everything…

Good characters and solid historical knowledge made this a good read – perfect if you are looking for books in the vein of CJ Sansom or Rory Clements.

Murder on the Moorland – Helen Cox

Another series, but this time set in the contemporary North of England. Previous books have been set in York but this one moves out to the stunning Yorkshire countryside (always a bonus for me) where the peace of a Dales village is shattered, for a second time, by a murder with strange ritual overtones. Kitt Hartley would be fascinated enough but when she discovers that the first murder was that of her lover’s wife she knows that she must get to the bottom of the mystery. Kitt – the crime-solving librarian – is a great character, funny, strong and annoying clever, and her friends Evie, Grace and Ruby are interesting too. The plot was nicely twisty and the denouement wasn’t overly obvious – everything was just the right blend of cosy and gritty for my tastes and I’m absolutely thrilled to find that the next book in the series is set even further afield: in my old stamping ground of Durham!

Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons – Christopher Fowler

Fowler’s Bryant & May books are always a joy. The two stalwarts of the Peculiar Crimes Unit can always be relied upon to solve whatever criminal weirdness shows up on the streets in London but, when the Speaker of the House of Commons throws himself out of a high window to his death neither Arthur Bryant nor John May are available to help. One is recovering from a serious injury and the other just, well, not around and the unit itself has been disbanded. Again. And, it seems, for good this time. But a series of further incidents and deaths – all seemingly linked by the verses of a well-known, London-based nursery rhyme – mean that the curmudgeonly pair are needed more than ever.

All the usual team are present and augmented by a Home Office ‘observer’ (because what does a unit brought back to solve one, last, case need more than an ‘observer’) and a prickly teenaged intern. The plot thickens faster than instant blancmange and my brain was soon throbbing (but not unpleasantly) with possibilities and random information. The gradual unwinding of a plot so convoluted it could only have come from a mind as strange (in a very good way) as Christopher Fowler’s is curiously satisfying. I love the Bryant & May mysteries but could I ever be brave enough to read two in a row without needing a lie down and a stiff drink?

Never Forget – Michel Bussi

Another author whose gratifyingly complex plots mean I will always be happy to read their work. This time with added gallic charm and menace. (As an aside, I met Michel Bussi once at a publisher event – I can confirm he is very charming, terribly French, but not menacing at all….)

In a small coastal town in Normandy a young man, Jamal, is training for a gruelling running race when he tries to help a distressed woman on a cliff-top path. He tries to help her away from the edge with a scarf he found moments before but she seems to grab the scarf and jump: when he rushes to the beach to see if he can still help she is dead but, somehow, in the seconds it took to fall the scarf was tied around her neck. Jamal, disabled, a stranger to the area and an immigrant, becomes the main suspect for the woman’s murder but he knows he didn’t do it. Or, at least, he is fairly sure he didn’t as events pick up pace and he goes on the run – yet even in hiding somebody is sending him clues to this murder and two others, with uncanny similarities. Can he solve the mystery or will he be framed for crimes he didn’t commit?

And, finally,

The Diabolical Bones – Bella Ellis

In this book the Brontes, and all of Howarth, are shocked to hear that the skeletal remains of a child have been discovered hidden away at Top Withens farm, hidden since the tragic death of Mary Bradshaw over a decade ago. Widower Clifton Bradshaw, still apparntly tortured by grief, is threatening to keep hold of the bones so the sisters and Branwell brave terrible winter weather to remove the remains and give them a decent burial. The bones appear to be those of a malnourished child in its early teens, a strange medal found suggests they were left there around the time of Mrs Bradshaw’s death and arcane symbols on the bricks used to wall them up suggest some connection to dark arts and ancient magics. The Brontes, using their wits, courage and determination and the local folk-lore handed down to them by the wonderful Tabby, set about solving the mystery even when it leads to terrible danger.

A fabulous series in which events seem to suggest the girl’s future novels (so many Wuthering Heights hints here I could hear Kate Bush warbling away the whole way through!) but also to shed light on the reality of life in the Victorian era. Poverty, anti-Irish sentiment, the terrible conditions for orphans combined with the kind of Gothic storytelling popular at that time makes this a clever and interesting read for anyone who enjoys historical crime, the Brontes or just a great story…

Jane

Vesper Flights – Helen Macdonald

Many people take comfort from nature – during lockdown the fact that many people could get out, on their government authorised daily excursion, and reconnect with the natural world. Whether through running up and down hills (the only option available to those of us living in undulating Queensbury), walking in local woods, gardening or just taking the chance to listen to birdsong if you were able to leave the house there was some solace available. Now that traffic noise, the school run and even the odd contrail are back we could just go back to our urban/suburban lives – or we could read some top-quality nature writing from a total mistress of the art. Macdonald first came to many people’s attention with H Is For Hawk – a multiple prize-winner which blends falconry and the author’s overwhelming grief at the sudden death of her beloved father – this new book should make sure that she stays at the front of the mind when quality non-fiction is needed.

Vesper Flights is a collection of essays which explore the natural world around us and our emotional and physical reaction to it. Each beautifully crafted essay looks at a natural phenomenon – the flights of birds, their nests, the mysterious world of mushrooms, even ostrich farming – and helps us to relate the lessons we can learn from it about our own lives. How diving in high altitude lakes could help us learn about life on other planets, how thinking about the way that birds flock, and seemly move as one, should make us think again about our attitude to migrants in our own, human, world, and how recalling the memory of a particularly moving natural phenomena can feel like travelling back in time to experience it over and over again. But it can also be read just for the beauty of the words themselves: the writing is wonderful – descriptive, sometimes poetic and occasionally almost angry – reading it made me promise myself to go back out into the nature all around me (even if just into my garden) to appreciate it all over again.

Jane

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of both Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games so I was unreasonably happy to hear that Richard Osman himself had written a novel. I feel I was totally predisposed to love any book he wrote – would I end up disappointed? Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed!

Joyce is the newest member of the Thursday Murder Club – a group of friends living in the Cooper’s Chase Retirement Village who don’t find jigsaws and tea dances quite thrilling enough. No – they’d rather work through cold cases from former member Penny’s days in the police. Ex-nurse Joyce joins forces with retired psychiatrist Ibrahim, Ron a former rabble-rouser who likes to keep his rabble-rousing hand in and the mysterious Elizabeth whose past is shady but, obviously, dramatic – and they are all ready to leap into action when their detecting moves on from unsolved crimes of the past and onto the sudden death of Tony Curran, co-owner of Cooper’s Chase. As all and sundry underestimate the detecting power of a group of senior sleuths, they work their way to the bottom of Curran’s murder and more with a combination of intelligence, guile and sheer stubbornness. With a supporting cast of Polish builders, slightly iffy priests and actual police officers (whether they want to or not) the plot thickens into something you could stand a spoon in…

Richard Osman is showing precocious signs of National Treasurehood. In these troubled times (I refuse to use ‘unprecedented’…) this is a reassuringly British crime caper which has, quite rightly in my view, been compared to a classic Ealing Comedy. A wet Sunday afternoon and endless cups of tea kind of book – to misquote the late lamented Douglas Adams, this is a book which makes the tea-time of the soul a little less dark.

Jane

Children’s Round-Up

It must be very strange being a child right now – schools closed since March (yay!) but unable to see friends or family (boo!) and then straight into the long summer holiday (yippee!) but with lots of extra uncertainty about where you are able to take a break without having to risk another two weeks of mum and/or dad’s attempts at home-schooling (groan!). Nobody is enjoying the uncertainty (and adults start to pull faces if you even mention exams….) so, if I were back to being my ten-year-old self, I’d be spending as much of the summer as possible reading. Who am I kidding: middle-aged me is going for that option anyway and some of the books I have been enjoying were aimed at satisfying my inner child. Now the youngsters are heading back to school you could think about some of these titles as rewards for going back/doing homework/not being under your feet all day

My Other Life – Polly Ho-Yen

This book (and the next) are part of a series from Bloomsbury aimed at encouraging independently in Key Stage 2. Authors the children may know from books that have been read to them by parents or teachers but shorter (less than 100 pages): short novels but full of all the excitement, ideas and emotions that children enjoy.

9781472972576This story is told from the point of view of Mae who has a loving (if not terribly well-off) family, good friends and chronic asthma. She spends a lot of time, after particularly bad attacks, in hospital and it is there that she starts seeing a strange crack in reality which no-one else notices. Finally, her curiosity gets the better of her, and she goes through this rift to discover an alternate reality. In this life she lives in a big house, has material thing a young girl could wish for and, wonderfully, she doesn’t have asthma at all. As she discovers the joys of breathing freely, exercising without fear and having a great big bedroom, however, she realises that some things in this existence are not necessarily better – her parents work so hard they barely have time for her, her best friend avoids her and they never take time to visit her grandmother. Is not having asthma (which the family were dealing with in a sensible, loving way) worth losing all the other good things in her life?

A good book for youngsters of six or seven upwards and one which may of particular interest if they have experience of chronic conditions.  For me it also seems as if it may appeal to young Doctor Who fans too – it has a similar mix of interesting story and gentle introduction of big issues of health, friendship and family.

My Friend the Alien – Zanib Mian

9781472973900A second book in the Bloomsbury Readers series and this one is also about friendship and feelings. Maxx is an alien who has been sent to earth to learn about emotions – something they don’t have on his planet – and, at first, he isn’t sure if there is any point to them. But he meets a young lad called Jibreel, who is treated like an alien himself just because he is from a different part of the same planet, and begins to learn much more about feelings, kindness and lovely, lovely chocolate (the best Earth food, in Maxx’s opinion, and who am I to argue). Jibreel and Maxx teach each other lots about life on their respective planets and how to cope with the problems life throws at you, wherever you’re from.

A good story for 6/7+, with messages about refugees, friendship and learning to cope with and express feelings. But also plenty of bottom and snot-based humour because you can’t get too much of that 🙂

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot – Annabelle Sami

9781788952071A slightly longer book now – aimed at the 8-12 year old market. Or middle-aged if that’s what floats your boat…We first met Agent Zaiba when she saved both some stolen diamonds and her favourite cousin’s mehndi party. In this second outing she is a little closer to home and trying to run an activity at her school summer fete. Obviously, it is a detection-based activity and, in between setting it up she is watching her dad and brother compete in the baking competition. When a real-life crime occurs – poison in the cupcakes – Zaiba and best friend Poppy spring into action to work out who is to blame. There are lots of clues as the story develops, plenty of red herrings (not my favourite flavour of cupcake) and, hooray, a big helping of least favourite cousin Mariam. Add in some less than mature behaviours by many of the adults and this becomes a brilliant cosy crime caper for Key Stage 2 children…

Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue – Anna Fargher

53255132Another follow-up to a book I very much enjoyed – this continues the adventures of Pip, an orphaned young mouse, as she works with Noah’s Ark, an animal organisation working to help the human Allied armies defeat the Germans as they retreat after the D-Day landings. After their betrayal by someone from within the group they travel to Paris, join in with the (literally) underground resistance there, make new friends and enemies too. As previously, the wartime setting means there is peril, betrayal and death and this is cleverly done to highlight the horrors of war for young people without being too gory.

Little Badman and the Time-Travelling Teacher of Doom – Humza Arshad & Henry White

9780241378502Finally, yet another sequel, this time another slightly bonkers adventure for Humza Khan (the best twelve-year-old rapper in Eggington and newest recruit of the mysterious ‘Agency’ after he saved the world from alien slug aunties) and his best pal Umer. The boys are looking forward to a long six-week holiday spent teaching their new friend Wendy how to play knock-down ginger but fate has other plans and the two boys end up being sent to a summer school in Pakistan as a punishment for a prank they are pretty certain they didn’t even do. They plan to escape (well, Humza plans and sort of drags Umer along with him) but decide to stay when they are finally given their first mission by the Agency – to find out whether their science teacher, Mr Malik – an ex-Agency member – is plotting anything evil. The boys soon find themselves in trouble – with Mr Mahmood, the very angry headteacher, Mr Malik and with the mission itself. It turns out being a spy is quite hard work and, sometimes, a little bit dangerous.

This book is full of adventures, laughs and pranks. It also shows that quiet Umer is as useful a spy as the more boisterous Humza, that Pakistan is not the backwards country the boys feared it would be and that, sometimes, you can learn a lot about your family by finding out what they were like as children. This would be a fun read for youngsters of 8 and over who have enjoyed reading Walliams, Baddiel and Jeff Kinney and were wanting to branch out into a new author.

Jane

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World – Laura Imai Messina

It can be really hard, sometimes, to know how to react to terrible things happening around the world. Wars, atrocities, natural disasters and even pandemics are not part of the world we expected to live in and it can be difficult to know what the appropriate way to think or behave is. For my part, I suspect that we will all react differently and that we can only be ourselves but it is very easy to look to the lives of fictional characters to understand what options there are. For example, I read quite a bit of dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction during lockdown. Not because I thought a lockdown where I was able to run or walk locally every day and go to the supermarket every week was in any way similar to life in the works of Stephen King or Margaret Atwood – but because, perhaps, I needed to see that my life was still good in comparison. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to understand how people deal with disaster, grief and loss – because a time when I am not experiencing those things for myself is one where I am safe to learn about their effects. Let’s face it, we never know when we’ll need to use those lessons.

52738210._SY475_This book, by an Italian author who has lived in Japan for many years, tells the story of how people deal with grief. In particular, we follow Yui, whose mother and young daughter were killed in the 2011 tsunami, and Takeshi, a widower whose own child has been mute since her mother’s death from cancer. They meet at Bell Gardia – a real therapeutic garden area established after the events of 2011 – drawn by hearing of a phone which is used by many people to speak to the dead. Takeshi speaks to his wife, mostly about his fears for their daughter, but Yui finds that she cannot face using the phone. She does, however, spend time speaking to the elderly man who is the custodian of the phone box, to those who call in to her radio show and to Takeshi and the two begin to both heal and to grow closer to each other. The story alternates between this growing relationship and interludes – poems, lists, memories and descriptions of those who are now dead – which add to the poignancy of the novel.

This is a gentle read – sad, but never bleak, and offering the hope of better times ahead. Something we could all do with in the current situation, perhaps?

Jane

Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachel Joyce

Today, I am reliably informed by ‘tinterweb, is #NationalBookLoversDay. It has a hashtag and everything so I feel I really should try to get my reviewing head on and tell you about at least one book I’ve loved recently. Looking at the shamefully long list of ‘stuff I have read but haven’t reviewed yet’ I have selected the latest by an author whose work I have loved for a few years now. I’ve never been disappointed in Rachel Joyce’s gently humorous but emotionally charged tales but I was a little worried – this one isn’t set in a quiet, contemporary, English town but in a 1950s South Pacific. Would her storytelling survive the journey?

53095522._SX318_SY475_Miss Margery Benson is a middle-aged teacher. Not through any real choice but because teaching young ladies is an option open to single women of her class. One day, however, she (rather dramatically) quits and decides to sink the last of her life savings into an expedition to New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, to try and discover a beetle rumoured to exist there. Her search for a competent companion to join her on this daunting trip somehow ends up with her sharing the journey, a cabin and danger with the incredibly unsuitable Enid Pretty. Nothing seems to go their way – terrible sea-sickness, the disdain of the ex-pat wives, a house which is falling down around them – but their friendship blossoms. Both women, however, have secrets which could change everything and they are both, eventually, in terrible danger – will their friendship override all of this?

Although this book was, in so many ways, very different from her earlier books but it shared a lot of the important aspects. Warmth, characters you really care about and a satisfying storyline – the where and the when may change: the who and the how remain constant.

Jane

The Glass Hotel – Emily St John Mandel

Some authors tend to write in one style – if they started off having some success with a cosy crime novel they stick to what works, with what they know. There’s nothing wrong with this, I’m not sure that Jane Austen could have written a convincing police procedural for example, but it can sometimes mean that when you pick up a much-anticipated book from a writer you have previously enjoyed there can be a moment of cognitive dissonance. Having loved Mandel’s Station Eleven (not her first novel but certainly the one which got her noticed…) and its atmosphere of hope for mankind in the aftermath of a global apocalypse I guess I expected more of the same in her latest. I didn’t get it (unless you count the 2008 financial crisis as an apocalypse, which it was for some) but I was not disappointed in what I did get.

9781509882809The Glass Hotel largely follows the life of Vincent Smith, a young woman raised in a remote village, on an island in a huge lake, in British Columbia. Vincent moved away for a time as a child, after her mother’s death in a boating accident, but returns to work in a luxury hotel built to take advantage of the area’s beauty and isolation. There she meets up with her troubled older brother and also Jonathan Alkaitis, a financial mogul who owns the hotel. She leaves with Alkaitis, telling the world that they are married, and remains with him, kept in luxury, until his financial misconduct is discovered during the banking collapses of 2008. After that she disappears, taking advantage of her earlier years spent as a bartender and training as a chef, and takes a job as a cook on a container ship. Finally, she vanishes from this vessel, during a storm and presumed dead.

The bald outlining of the plot – which moves back and forth through time and tells both Vincent and her brother, Paul’s, stories as well as touching on those of people they encounter on the way – doesn’t do the book justice at all, however. Don’t get me wrong, the plot itself kept me thinking all the way through, and I loved the way that everyone we meet is eventually entwined into it, but it is the way that it was written that really grabs you. Whether describing the remote beauty of the Canadian wilderness or a storm off the coast of Mauritania you are drawn into each setting and I felt that I really saw each character clearly (even if I disliked many of them). Beautiful writing, insightful and intelligent – this is easily as good as Station Eleven. And I did find the apocalypse I wanted – it was financial rather than medical but, for those it hit, it was every bit as devastating.

Jane

Charlotte – Helen Moffett

Another book in my series of ‘books based on Jane Austen and her novels’ and we are back in the world of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve read and reread P&P many times and, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that although Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy are the characters whose lives grip you on a first reading there is a lot to be said for the other inhabitants of Meryton, Pemberley and Rosings. I sometimes wonder if Austen knew we would. as readers, be drawn to inventing our own lives for all those lesser characters? This particular book suggests what may have happened mainly to the families at Rosings – the de Bourghs and Mr and Mrs Collins – and is told from Charlotte Collins (nee Lucas) point of view.

9781785769108Austen never really went beyond the wedding day of her characters – it would have been hard for a genteel audience of the day to read about the problems of a marital relationship – so it is fascinating to hear about issues faced by both Charlotte and Lizzie. In Lizzie’s case a life of riches and plenty can’t prevent frequent miscarriages and for Charlotte, although she has two happy, healthy daughters, the loss of a young son – born with a life-limiting disability – is a heavy burden. What the two friends have in common is not only the lack of an heir but also the inability to speak honestly to their husbands about their sorrow and fears.  In true Austen fashion it is the issue of inheritance which is their biggest worry – as practically-minded women they know that, like the Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice, they can’t inherit in their own right but must have a son to do it for them. This situation is interspersed with that of another woman – Anne de Bourgh – whose mother was able to claim her husband’s property on his death but is unable, despite her best efforts, to secure it for an unmarried daughter.

This isn’t a book which Jane Austen could ever have written as it is – the secrets of the marriage bed were not her area of expertise – but I think she would have great admiration for the way it looks at the challenges Lizzie, Charlotte and Anne have to face. I particularly liked Anne de Bourgh – who was giving off strong Anne Lister vibes – as the one of the three who had little interest in the inheritance of property but wanted the right to dispose of her own money (and was not afraid to send even the most eligible suitor away). In fact, she is not the only Austen character to be given a new, more sympathetic angle, with Mr Collins and even Lady Catherine being shown in a much more favourable light overall. A good read for anyone who enjoys Austen but doesn’t get too precious about her creations, perhaps.

Jane

Help needed!

Anyone visiting the store I work in has probably done the following: walked in, stopped and stared at the roof. I certainly can’t blame them – it is glorious!

 

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But a closer look will reveal that, at the base of each arch thing (can you tell I don’t know that much about architectural terms?) is a figure holding a shield. These have always fascinated me. For a start, I don’t quite know what to call them. They have wings so I suspect they may be angelic in some way but they also, mostly, have crowns. So, are they kings of some sort? I have toyed with calling them King-gels and Kingy-wingies (and usually go for the former) but would love to know what they really are. Surprisingly, I don’t seem to be able to find a comprehensive history of the Wool Exchange Building so the field is open for any local historians. That would probably involve a huge amount of research so I thought we could start off by trying to identify the shields the King-gels are holding – which I understand represent Yorkshire Wool towns. I’m going to post a picture of one a week on the shop’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and see if the power of social media can find me the information. Also, if anyone wants to think of names for each of the King-gels I’d be more than happy….

Jane