Book Review: Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron

A children’s picture book about a boy who can’t resist a sticky gooey chocolate cake! I thought I’d love this new Michael Rosen book. Usually a big fan of anything from this author, I confess I was a little disappointed.

michael rosen chocolate cake2

The story is about a little boy (a little Michael Rosen really) sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night, when everyone else is fast asleep, to look at a big chocolate cake his mum has made… and then, of course, he’s unable to resist having a few crumbs… and then a bit more… until the whole cake is gone!!

It’s a picture book version of Rosen’s original poem, Chocolate Cake, from his collection ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’, but unfortunately it’s been re-written. The story itself is ok and I like the illustrations but the fill-in parts on the page, speech bubbles etc., just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. It comes across to me as disjointed and doesn’t really fit with the overall feel of the book. I might have preferred it better if it had been re-written with some partial rhyme to help it along, or if it had been reproduced in its original format but with the new illustrations for picture book format.

However, the idea of a boy sneaking downstairs in the night to look at this big chocolate cake (with a cute dog at his feet)… and then to be unable to resist eating it bit by bit… well, it’s fun and is bound to get kids giggling, even if it hasn’t completely hit the mark with me. I think it’ll be a ‘fun for 5 minutes’ sort of a picture book rather than a classic keeper.

I really love Michael Rosen’s YouTube performance of his original poem ‘Chocolate Cake’, together with other poems from his book ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’ which has, to date, had over 4 million, yes million, views. Perhaps I would like this picture book better if he did a reading of it and made it as good as his reading of the poem!


About the Author
Michael Rosen is a children’s author and poet and has written a lot of books. Really, a lot. Too many to list here. Michael Rosen was Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009 and you can find out more about him on his website

Where to Buy
You can buy Chocolate Cake from your local independent bookshop (the best option!), or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. Chocolate Cake is published by Puffin (August 2017) and is available as a new hardback, RRP £12.99 ISBN 9780141374093. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.

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Banbury’s Historic Wisteria sinensis in White Lion Walk

White Lion Walk Wisteria 3_edited-1
The White Lion Walk Wisteria, May 2014 © Sam Barnes

Wildly differing claims have been made on blog posts and photo sharing sites about the age of our magnificent wisteria in Banbury. There is no disputing its magnificence; it is a beautiful specimen with a vast trunk. From the end of April and into the first few weeks of May it becomes Banbury’s top tourist attraction. Right from the moment the glorious long flowers burst into lilac-coloured bloom, visitors start coming up the walk, drawn by the colour and the heady wisteria scent. Cameras, phones and tablets start snapping into action, all trying to capture the wonder of nature climbing up the side of what was once the White Lion Hotel.

Claims about the age of the wisteria have ranged from ‘one hundred years old’ and ‘over two hundred years old’ to, impressively, ‘our five hundred year old wisteria’, as well as just ‘ancient wisteria’. I have been on a quest for the truth to see if I could discover just exactly how old our lovely wisteria really is.

First, a little history of the White Lion. Now no longer a pub or hotel, the White Lion was one of Banbury’s earliest inns, with the first innkeeper being recorded in 1554.1 This makes it older in origin than Banbury’s oldest surviving public house, the Reindeer on Parsons Street. With its large courtyard and outbuildings, together with its position on the High Street, the White Lion was well placed to become one of the main coaching inns in the town. In 1796 the Post Office was recorded as being within the White Lion. William Potts reports that … ‘the post came in every morning about 10 o’clock and the office closed every afternoon at 4 o’clock, the Mail Coach leaving the White Lion daily at 4.30pm through Woodstock and Oxford to the Bull and Mouth, London.’2 By 1836 most of the coach services had been moved to the White Lion3 and the White Lion remained Banbury’s chief coaching inn until rail and motoring developments gradually signalled the end of the coaching era.

HT2434 white lion 1887
Photograph of the White Lion Hotel, High Street, Banbury, taken by Henry W. Taunt, 1887. From Historic England, ‘ViewFinder’, Reference No. HT02434 (retrieved 26 April 2017).

Fuller’s Griffin Brewery in Chiswick claim to have the country’s oldest Wisteria. It is said to have been planted in 1816; one of a pair of saplings brought over from China. One was planted outside what was at the time the Head Brewer’s cottage at the Brewery, while the other was planted at Kew Gardens. The Kew sapling reportedly didn’t take, so the gardeners at Kew returned to the brewery for a cutting, leaving the brewery Wisteria with the acclaim of oldest in the country.4

There is another, better documented, history which deviates from this version though the two versions are not necessarily incompatible.5 It would be interesting to research further the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery account to see where the source of information above has come from.

The other account of the introduction of Wisteria sinensis to the British Isles references the exact same date. Joseph Banks, the then President of the newly founded Royal Horticultural Society6 in London commissioned an East India Company Inspector of Tea, John Reeves, to acquire plants for the society and ship them back to London. Reeves was a natural history enthusiast and collector and during his years in Canton (1812-1831) he collected specimens, commissioned artists’ drawings, documented animals and plants and sent living plant specimens back home.7 Interestingly, in 1821 (and until c. 1903) the RHS rented some land on the Duke of Devonshire’s Chiswick estate to start an experimental specimen garden (hence the possible Chiswick connection with Fuller’s Griffin Brewery).

Reeves sent two plants back to England on two separate ships; one on HCS Cuffnells with Captain Welbank in late 1815 and one a few weeks later, which he accompanied, on HCS Warren Hastings with Captain Rawes. Captain Welbank arrived in England on 4 May 1816 and Captain Rawes and John Reeves arrived with the other plant on 11 May 1816. The plants were transferred to two garden enthusiasts; one to Charles Hampden Turner at Wood Lodge (Eltham) and the other to Thomas Carey Palmer at Vale Cottage (Bromley).8 Charles Hampden Turner’s plant was painted by John Curtis for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1819.9 It had been badly mistreated while Turner and his gardener tried to work out what conditions it would favour but it survived the extreme conditions it was subjected to and must have put out some flowers quite early for it to have been painted in 1819. Palmer gave a propagated plant from his Wisteria to a Hammersmith nurseryman, James Lee, in around 1818 and a flowering specimen was collected from that plant, by Sir James Edward Smith, on 28 May 1821.10 The Wikipedia entry of Charles Hampden Turner claims that Reeves sent another specimen of the same plant to Kew Gardens in 1818 but no citation is provided.11

curtis illustration 1819
John Curtis’s illustration of Wisteria sinensis for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, see footnote 9.

So, how does this help us with ageing our White Lion Walk Wisteria? It seems highly unlikely that the White Lion would have had an earlier specimen than the ones documented here so we can, with an element of likelihood, say that our Wisteria is no more than 200 years old in 2017. However we cannot ascertain this as a certainty as Vera Wood claimed in 1998 in her book, The Licencees of the Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses of Banbury, that … ‘the wisteria was mentioned well over 240 years ago.’12 Unfortunately, she does not provide a reference for this statement and I have been unable to find any relevant documentation.

IMG_2162_two wisteria postcards
Two early twentieth century postcards of White Lion Walk, Banbury. The top postcard is postally used (1912). The bottom postcard is a slightly later image.

If we assume that our Wisteria is younger than the specimens brought over from China in 1816, then our next difficulty is to try and narrow down the age further. Our Banbury Wisteria has a large trunk and was depicted on postcards in the early twentieth century claiming it as the longest Wisteria in the country. Furthermore, the White Lion was a prestigious coaching inn in the early nineteenth century, with regular links to London and is likely to have attracted some of the more wealthy travelling clientele. The Wisteria could quite feasibly have come from someone travelling through Banbury from the capital; whether an acquaintance, a business association, customer, even ordered up from a nursery due to the reputation of the plant having become established, or given in part payment or thanks for some assistance rendered to a visitor. The size of the Wisteria and the status of the White Lion would suggest that the Banbury plant was an early descendant from one of the 1816 plants. The Wisteria in general became a popular plant across the country quite quickly and by 1854 John Claudius Loudon wrote that … ‘Plants that were originally sold at six guineas, now cost, in the London nurseries, from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. each’.13 This would have been an easily affordable sum for an established coaching inn; therefore with some confidence we can date our Wisteria from c. 1820-1850 at the very latest.

IMG_2163_white lion booklet cover
Front cover of a c. 1920s advertising booklet and price list for the White Lion Hotel, Banbury – depicts the stable block with Wisteria in flower.

A 1920s advertising booklet for the White Lion Hotel depicts a painting of the Wisteria, by G. P. Hobson [or Hudson?], on the front cover and on page 5 of the booklet it reports snippets from a review of the hotel by The Tatler. In relation to the Wisteria, the article says:

… ‘The tree intrigued me! A wistaria14, it has stuck right down to its job these two hundred odd years, and its branches cover just precisely 68 yards of wall. And the dear old thing has got so old that it has to be looked after by a plumber, who nails chunks of zinc over the spots where it is showing signs of senile decay…’

IMG_2164_white lion hotel page
Photo of paragraph mentioning the Wisteria from p. 5 of the c. 1920s White Lion Hotel promotional booklet.

I’m pleased to report that the Wisteria is now protected by a Tree Preservation Order and is looked after by a firm of arboriculturalists, keeping it trimmed and contained to the one row of buildings along the side of White Lion Walk. Having been shrouded in scaffolding and netting for the latter 8 months of 2016 and having had some utilities-related digging and excavating done around its root system, we are all very relieved to see it uncovered and flowering again with plenty of blooms this spring.

If any readers can provide any further citations or information regarding the White Lion Walk Wisteria I will be very grateful to receive them so please do get in touch if you can help.

Otherwise, do come and visit our Wisteria. White Lion Walk is a gated courtyard so you may find it locked up in the evenings and sometimes on Sundays as well. Best time to visit is during bookshop opening hours!! The fragrance seems to be strongest when the sun warms the blooms, so best time to visit for the fragrance is on a sunny afternoon.

white lion walk wisteria 2_edited-1
White Lion Walk Wisteria, Banbury, May 2009 © Sam Barnes

1. Vera Wood, The Licensees of the Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses of Banbury, Oxfordshire (Oxfordshire Family History Society, 1998), p. 128.
2. William Potts, revised and ed. by Edward T. Clark, A History of Banbury (Gulliver Press, Banbury, 2nd ed. 1978), pp. 225-226.
3. Vera Wood, The Licensees of the Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses, p. 130.
4. Fullers Brewery, ‘The Oldest Wisteria in England, 06 May 2015’ (retrieved 25 April 2017).
5. Chiswick connects the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery location and the location of the Royal Horticultural Society garden in London at the same time; neither of which are far from Kew Gardens as well.
6. Wikipedia, ‘The Royal Horticultural Society’ (retrieved 25 April 2017).
7. Natural History Museum, ‘John Reeves 1774-1856) (retrieved 25 April 2017).
8. Culham Research Group, ‘The first Wisteria sinensis in Europe’, March 10 2015 by Alastair Culham; ; see also John Claudius Loudon, Arboretum et fructicetum britannicum, or The Trees and Shrubs of Britain, Volume 2’ (Second Edition, Henry Bohn, London, 1854) p. 648, viewed on Google Books (retrieved 25 April 2017).
9. John Sims, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine; or, Flower-Garden Displayed, Volume XLVI (London, 1819), p. 2083, viewed on Biodiversity Heritage Library (retrieved 25 April 2017).
10. Culham Research Group, ‘The first Wisteria sinensis in Europe’.
11. Wikipedia, ‘Charles Turner (merchant)’ (retrieved 25 April 2017).
12. Vera Wood, The Licensees of the Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses, p. 130
13. John Sims, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, p. 2083
14. alternative spelling, used on both White Lion courtyard postcards shown in this article but now no longer commonly used.

Sam Barnes
Books & Ink Bookshop
28 April 2017

Banbury in Literature – Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy

Banbury is most famous for the nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her finger and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes1

But Banbury crops up in other literature and verse from time to time and the town and surrounding area has also been home to some well-known authors throughout its history.

Today, I stumbled across a bit of nonsense verse I hadn’t heard of before and it features Banbury so I thought I would share it. The verse is Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy (not the easiest one to spell… or say) and it is by William Brighty Rands (1823-1882).

Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy by W. B. Rands (taken from Lilliput Levee)

Did you ever see Giant Frodgedobbulum,
With his double great-toe and his double great-thumb?

Did you ever hear Giant Frodgedobbulum
Saying Fa-fe-fi and fo-faw-fum?

He shakes the earth as he walks along,
As deep as the sea, as far as Hong Kong!

He is a giant and no mistake,
With teeth like the prongs of a garden rake!

The Giant Frodgedobbulum got out of bed,
Sighing, “Heigh-ho! That I were but wed!”

The Giant Frodgedobbulum sat in his chair,
Saying, “Why should a giant be wanting a fair?”

The Giant Frodgedobbulum said to his boots,
“The first maid I meet I will wed, if she suits!”

They were magic boots and they laughed as he spoke –
“Oh-ho,” says the giant, “you think it’s a joke?”

So he put on his boots, and came stumping down,
Clatter and clump, into Banbury town.

He did not fly into Banbury,
For plenty of time to walk had he!

He kicked at the gate — “Within there, ho!”
“Oh, what is your name?” says the porter Slow.

“Oh, the Giant Frodgedobbulum am I,
For a wife out of Banbury town I sigh!”

Up spake the porter, bold and free,
“Your room we prefer to your company.”

Up spake Frodgedobbulum, free and bold,
“I will build up your town with silver and gold!”

Up spake Marjorie, soft and small,
“I will not be your wife at all!”

Th giant knocked in the gate with his feet,
And there stood Marjorie in the street!

She was nine years old, she was lissome and fair,
And she wore emeralds in her hair.

She could dance like a leaf, she could sing like a thrush,
She was bold as the north wind and sweet as a blush.

Her father tanned, her mother span,
“But Marjorie shall marry a gentleman,

Silks and satins, I’ll lay you a crown!” —
So said the people in Banbury town.

Such was Marjorie — and who should come
To woo her but this Frodgedobbulum,

A vulgar giant, who wore no gloves
And very pig-headed in his loves!

They rang the alarum, and in the steeple
They tolled the church-bells to rouse the people.

But all the people in Banbury town
Could not put Frodgedobbulum down.

The tanner thought to stab him dead –
“Somebody pricked me?” the giant said.

The mother wept — “I do not care,”
Said F. — “Why should I be wanting a fair?”

He snatched up Marjorie, stroked his boot,
And fled; with Banbury in pursuit!

“What ho, my boots! Put forth your power!
Carry me sixty miles an hour!”

In ditches and dykes, over stooks and stones,
The Banbury people fell, with groans.

Frodgedobbulum passed over river and tree,
Gallopy-gallop, with Marjorie; —

The people beneath her Marjorie sees
Of the size of mites in an Oxford cheese!

Castle Frodgedobbulum sulked between
Two bleak hills, in a deep ravine.

It was always dark there and always drear,
The same time of day and the same time of year.

The walls of the castle were slimy and black,
There were dragons in front and toads at the back.

Spiders there were, and of vampires lots;
Ravens croaked round the chimney pots.

Seven bull-dogs barked in the hall;
Seven wild cats did caterwaul!

The giant said, with a smirk on his face,
“My Marjorie, this is a pretty place:

As Mrs. F. you will lead, with me,
A happier life than in Banbury!

Pour out my wine, and comb my hair,
And let me to sleep in my easy chair;

But first, my boots I will kick away” —
And Marjorie answered “S’il vous plait!”

Then the giant mused, “It befits my station
To marry a lady of education;

But who would have thought this Banbury wench
Was so accomplished, and could speak French?”

Did you ever hear Frodgedobbulum snore?
He shook the castle, from roof to floor!

Fast asleep as a pig was he —
“And very much like one” thought Marjorie.

Then Marjorie stood on a leathern chair,
And opened the window to the air.

The bats flap, the owls hoot —
Marjorie lifted the giant’s boot!

The ravens shriek, the owls hoot –
Marjorie got into the giants boot!

And Marjorie said “I can reach the moon,
Before you waken, you big buffoon!”

Once, twice, three times, and away,
“Which is the road to Banbury, pray?

The boot made answer, “Ha-ha, ho-ho!
The road to Banbury town I know.”

The giant awoke in his easy chair,
Saying, “Ho, little Marjorie, are you there?

“A stoup of wine, to be spiced the same! —
Exquisite Marjorie, je vous aime!”

Now where was Marjorie? Safe and sound
In the Magic Boot she cleared the ground.

Frodgedobbulum groaned, “I am bereft!
The left boot’s gone and the right is left!

“The window’s open. I’ll bet a crown
The chit is off to Banbury town!

“But follow, follow, my faithful boot!
One is enough for the pursuit;

“And back to my arms the wench shall come
As sure as my name’s Frodgedobbulum!”

Hasty Frodgedobbulum, being a fool,
Forgot of the Magic Boots the rule.

They were made on a right and a left boot-tree,
But he put the wrong leg in the boot, you see!

It was a terrible mistake
For even a giant in love to make,

Terrible in its consequences,
Frightful to any man’s seven senses.

Down came a thunderbolt, rumble and glare!
Frodgedobbulum castle blew up in the air!

The giant, deprived of self-control,
Was carried away to the very North Pole.

For such was the magic rule. Poor F.
Now sits on the peak of the Arctic cliff.

The point is so sharp it makes him shrink;
The northern streamers, they make him blink;

One boot on, and one boot off,
He shivers and shakes, and thinks, with a cough,

“Safe in Banbury Marjorie dwells;
Marjorie will marry someone else!”

And so, Frodgedobbulum, the giant,
Sits on the North Pole, incompliant.

He blinks at the snow, with its weary white;
He blinks at the spears of the northern light;

Kicks out with one boot, says, “Fi-fo-fum!
I am the Giant Frodgedobbulum.”

But who cares whether he is or not,
Living in such an inclement spot?

Banbury town is the place for me
And a kiss from merry Marjorie,

With the clerk in the vestry to see all fair,
For she wears orange-flowers in her hair!

She can dance like a leaf, she can sing like a thrush,
She is bold as the north wind and sweet as a blush.

Her father he tans, her mother she spins;
Frodgedobbulum sits on the pole for his sins;

But here comes Marjorie, white as milk,
A rose on her bosom as soft as silk,

On her finger a gay gold ring;
The bridegroom holds up his head like a king!

Marjorie has married a gentleman;
Who knows when the wedding began?

W B Rands wrote extensively but is most remembered for his poetry for children. He didn’t often put his name to his writings and frequently wrote under a pseudonym. This poem is taken from Lilliput Levee (published in 1864, author anon. but known to be W B Rands).

lilliput levee title
Title page illustration from Lilliput Levee


1 There are numerous variations to the Banbury Cross rhyme and quite a bit of controversy about the meaning of cock horse and the identity of the fine lady. This may be the subject for a future blog post.

Book Review: The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn

The Winter Garden Mystery is the second in a long series of gentle cosy crime mysteries by Carola Dunn, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.

The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn 

Daisy Dalrymple, or more correctly the Honourable Miss Dalrymple, is the daughter of aristocracy but the family estate was passed onto a cousin when her only brother was killed in the First World War. Daisy is expected to live with her mother at the family estate’s Dower House but, independently-minded Daisy prefers to make her own way in the world and house-share with a friend in London, while earning her living as a writer for a country magazine. Daisy has a particular skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming embroiled in murder investigations.

It’s 1923 and Daisy is off to stay at Occles Hall to write an article for Town and Country about the history of the house and estate. Invited by the daughter of the house, a girl she was at school with though not particular friends with as the girl was a few years older, Daisy isn’t at all sure what to expect. She’s heard a few stories about the Lady of the manor, Lady Valeria, who carries before her a formidable reputation as an unrelenting battleaxe and Daisy starts to wonder what sort of an assignment she’s taken on.

When she arrives Daisy is soon put at ease by the welcome from horse-fanatic Bobbie, otherwise known as Roberta, her younger Adonis-like brother Sebastian and the family’s secretary, Ben Goodman. Sir Reginald also makes Daisy feel quite welcome, though he is a rather absent-minded man and spends all his waking hours at his estate’s dairy, creating award-winning cheeses. Lady Valeria is the only uncomfortable presence so Daisy does her best to avoid her and goes about writing her article and photographing the Hall and gardens.

A visit to the winter garden is a must as it is February at the time of Daisy’s visit so the winter garden is the best-looking part of the estate gardens to show off in the photos and article. Daisy is handed over to the young Welsh under-gardener, Owen, for the tour of the winter garden and on their visit Daisy spots a dead azalea bush in the middle of the garden which looks quite out-of-place amidst the winter flowering shrubs and evergreens. Owen is dismayed and calls on the head gardener straight away. They go to dig it up and make the shocking discovery of a dead body wrapped in a sheet buried under the dead bush. What’s more, the body is that of young Grace Moss, previous parlourmaid at the Hall and particular friend of Owen. She had disappeared a couple of months previously and it was assumed that she had gone off to London to find fortune and fun. A shocking secret lies buried with Grace as well… something to ruffle feathers and rock relationships up at the Hall.

The local Inspector proves to be worse than useless, so Daisy surreptitiously calls on her friend Alec, Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher, from Scotland Yard; an acquaintance made on a previous case Daisy found herself mixed up in and who seems to be as fond of Daisy as she is of him… though both are very aware that they come from different social classes and so their friendship is frowned upon by some members of the upper classes…

Daisy refuses to leave the excitement at the Hall and head back home to London, so Alec needs to find and catch the killer, with some urgency, before they strike again. Daisy’s meddling nature may well be putting her at risk. The trouble is, with a number of likely suspects and little hard evidence, can this murderer be caught?

A gentle 1920s cosy crime mystery, peppered with social etiquette, manners, and featuring the interesting and newly independent Daisy Dalrymple, finding her way in the new 1920s upper and middle class society. A very enjoyable and easy, lightweight read. Absolutely no gore, no deep psychological twists and no suspense of the sort to stop you sleeping at night. A very good, Golden Age-style, old-fashioned murder mystery. If you enjoy the Daisy Dalrymple series, you may also enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and the Kate Shackleton mysteries by Frances Brody.

A complete list of The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries to date (up to April 2017):
1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women

About the Author

Carola Dunn (born in 1946) grew up in England, graduated from Manchester University and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of around 60 books, including the 22 Daisy Dalrymple books, 4 Cornish mysteries and 32 Regency novels. To find out more about the author, visit her website

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Winter Garden Mystery is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £7.99 ISBN 9781845297466. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

I’m a long way beyond the target audience age range for this book but I enjoy reading children’s fiction; sometimes it’s the perfect switch-off at the end of a busy day. All the best children’s novels are just as good to read as an adult – good writing, good characterisation, plot structure and so on are the main requirements. If a book can meet all those elements I don’t mind who it’s aimed at.

do not read small


A good opener. I was intrigued. If a book can grab my attention at page one then I’ll read on, whatever the subject. This was just too intriguing. ‘Do not read beyond this page’. Nothing could be more likely to make me want to keep reading than an instruction telling me not to! A great means to get the reader to buy or borrow the book and see what happens next.

“Generally speaking, books don’t cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems.
Books can, for example, give you ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an idea before, but, if you have, you know how much trouble an idea can get you into.

Books can also provoke emotions. And emotions are sometimes even more troublesome than ideas. Emotions have led people to do all sorts of things they later regret…” [from the first page]

I like the way the author talks to the reader, telling us the book is dangerous. There’s a secret in the book and knowing this is worse than not knowing. Of course we’re supposed to read on!

Cass (short for Cassandra) is quite a serious and a very practical 11 year old. She is always prepared for an emergency and carries around a backpack containing items to help with surviving all kinds of disasters; her ‘survival’ kit. Cass has two surrogate grandpas who live near her house in an old abandoned fire station, where they also run an old antiques store. This is one of Cass’s favourite places and she spends her Wednesdays after school here, supposedly helping in the shop but really listening to the grandpas’ stories and exploring some of the antiques.

Max-Ernest, also 11 years old, fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but his classmates aren’t as amused by his jokes as he is. Max-Ernest is always on the lookout for someone to try his jokes out on at school and looking around the school yard one day, he can only see one pupil who hasn’t yet heard his current joke; sitting alone at the edge of a field is Cass. Cass isn’t lonely; she’s investigating a finding on the field which she thinks may spell doom and disaster for the school. Cass is convinced that the school has been built on top of a toxic waste dump. She loves to imagine disaster scenarios and it frequently gets her into trouble with the headteacher.

This meeting on the playing field is the beginning of a friendship between Cass and Max-Ernest and spells the beginning of their adventures. They end up trying to uncover a mysterious secret, involving a rare antique case of vials of smells, a missing magician and his diary and a suspicious estate agent called Gloria Fortune. The pair find themselves embroiled deeper and deeper in this mystery as it leads them on some quite perilous adventures, needing their wits, decoding skills, intuition and escape capabilities. I won’t reveal any more but I can recommend reading the book to find out their SECRET.

The first in a series, this book is followed by:
2. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. This Book Is Not Good For You
4. This Isn’t What It Looks Like
5. You Have To Stop This

Recommended for ages 8+

About the Author

Pseudonymous Bosh is a pseudonym, or pen name and it belongs to American author Raphael Simon. He has written other books under the Pseudonymous Bosch name – the Bad series and a stand-alone children’s novel, Write This Book. To find out more, have a look at his website

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Name of This Book is Secret is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £6.99 ISBN 9781409583820. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: The Beach Street Bakery series by Jenny Colgan

Sometimes a series of books just sell themselves… If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted escapist mini-series, if you like a bit of non-slushy romance, puffins, seaside, Cornwall and an independent, hard-working main character, then look no further.

beach street bakery
The Beach Street Bakery trilogy by Jenny Colgan

Polly has just emerged from a messy break-up and business failure, leaving her pretty well destitute and homeless. She’s sick of the rat-race and city life and, looking to escape Plymouth and find somewhere affordable to live, she stumbles across the perfect place – a somewhat run-down flat on the little island of Mount Polbearne (loosely based on St. Michael’s Mount off the south coast of Cornwall). Her best friend think she’s nuts but Polly falls in love with the place and before she knows what she’s doing, she’s signed a lease. Almost the first thing to happen to Polly, when she’s barely unpacked, a crash and a screech in the middle of the night… and all of a sudden Polly seems to have adopted a little puffin with a broken wing. Determined not to get too attached, she doesn’t name him but it doesn’t take long for this cute little bird to worm his way into her affections and very soon he’s going by the name of Neil.

And then there’s the baking… the clue is somewhat in the title but, for those who haven’t read the series, I won’t give away how Polly gets into baking on Mount Polbearne. She’s always loved baking, been passionate about different breads and spent her weekends kneading dough and creating tasty loaves and treats but she’s never earned her living by baking before. However, once Polly realises she can’t live on fresh air alone and an opportunity presents itself, well, the rest you’ll need to find out from the books.

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St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

This is a really warm series about starting afresh, about it never being too late to follow your dreams (even if you don’t yet know what those dreams are), about living for the moment and getting in touch with your creativity. There is some romance to be found but not the slushy variety. Polly is an independent young woman; not someone to lose herself or her identity in an all-consuming relationship, though she does of course like to have a bit of fun and everyone wants to find their Mr. Right.

Start with ‘Little Beach Street Bakery’; follow on with ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ and finally, settle down by a cosy fire with a glass of mulled wine and enjoy ‘Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery’. If you have young children you might like to introduce them to her spin-off series for kids, starting with ‘Polly and the Puffin’. Oh, and you’ll find a few yummy recipes in each book as well!

About the Author

Jenny Colgan is the author of a number of romance novels, starting with ‘Amanda’s Wedding’ (2000). She’s also written several Dr Who novels and writes occasional pieces for The Guardian. You can find out more about Jenny on her website

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. ‘Little Beach Street Bakery’ and ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ are in paperback at the RRP of £8.99; ‘Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery’ is only in hardback at time of writing, RRP £12.99. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning

A friendly green dragon, a mermaid, Arthurian legend and eight-year-old Sue who is on holiday at the Cornish seaside with her parents. Add together these ingredients for a magical, gentle children’s story.

Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning (Jane Nissen Books, 2008)

First published in 1957; I don’t know how I missed this growing up as I LOVED green dragons… but perhaps they didn’t have it in my local library. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading Green Smoke and I’m about to go on the hunt for the sequels: Dragon in Danger (1959), The Dragon’s Quest (1961), and The Dragon in the Harbour (1980). Original editions are hard to find but second-hand Puffin paperback reprints aren’t too tricky to track down.

“A story about life-long friendship and magical adventures – a happy book, with lots of jokes” – Amanda Craig

So Sue is on holiday in Constantine Bay. Perhaps I should let the author introduce Constantine Bay – this is how the story opens:

‘This is a story about a girl called Susan, or Sue for short, who went for a seaside holiday to Constantine Bay in Cornwall. Perhaps you have never been to Constantine Bay. Perhaps you have never even been to Cornwall. That won’t matter at all. Just think of the rockiest rocks, the sandiest sand, the greenest sea and the bluest sky you can possibly imagine, and you will have some idea of Constantine Bay.’

There is a high cliff with a lighthouse, a ridge of rocks jutting into the sea, sand dunes ‘with hummocks of tough grass, and little hot sandy paths running in and out like yellow streams’.

Idyllic, yes? I think so.

Beach at low tide – St Ives, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

It’s on the third day of the holidays, early in the morning when there aren’t many people about, that Sue is scrambling about on the rocks by herself and she hears a sound like a very loud sneeze and sees a little puff of green smoke come out of a cave nearby. Sue goes to investigate and another sneeze erupts and with it a paper bag comes flying out of the cave. Sue goes to bury the paper bag in a hole and cover it over with sand when a voice comes out of the cave to thank her for burying their rubbish. Sue keeps the conversation going with the mysterious voice until she can coax it into telling her who it belongs to… a rather surprising Mr R. Dragon; Cornish, green and a friendly, if occasionally grumpy, dragon.

Prehistoric Cornwall – Lanyon Quoit in the mist © Sam Barnes

R. Dragon and Sue become firm friends and Sue visits nearly every day to share her picnic, or a bun or a biscuit, to hear the dragon’s tales and to go on the occasional adventure. Dragon is some 1500 years old and he’s quite lonely in his cave so he loves spending time with Sue and gets quite grumpy if Sue misses a visit due to bad weather or a day spent with her parents! However, his manners are impeccable, he’s very polite and he’s lived a long, long time, so has some fabulous tales to tell. Most of R. Dragon’s tales relate to Arthurian legend as he lived for a time at the court of King Arthur so knows all about the legend of the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake and Arthur and his knights.

Tintagel, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

As to why he’s called R. Dragon… well, he can’t tell Sue his full name. If a dragon or a mermaid or a fairy tells you their name then you will have complete power over them and that can be a very dangerous thing…

About the Author

Rosemary Manning was born in 1911 and studied Latin and Greek at one of the first universities to take women students, the Royal Holloway. She was a teacher and later headmistress of a school for girls in North London. She wrote several books for children and adults and was also known by the pseudonyms Sarah Davys and Mary Voyle. She died in 1988.

Where to Buy

Green Smoke is currently out-of-print in the UK. For collectable editions try For second hand paperbacks try your local second hand and antiquarian bookshops, charity shops and the internet. Click here for a good resource to help you find your local second hand bookshops in the UK.

All About Ladybird Books

‘…here is Peter
here is Jane’.

Very few books are as evocative of childhood to me as Ladybird books. In fact, there must be very few people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s who don’t remember a Ladybird book.

I learned to read in the early 1980s, mostly from books in the local library and second hand and jumble sale finds but I did have just a few new Ladybird books and they are the ones which became my very firm favourites. I LOVED Dennis the Dragon, Mervyn Town Mouse, Thumbelina, Cinderella, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel. They were my treasured new ones and the ones I loved most of all.

Others might remember best the factual Ladybird books, such as Transistor Radios, Exploring Space, The Ladybird Book of Motor Cars and so on, but for me it was the fairy tales and other fiction stories that captured my imagination.

Wills & Hepworth, the publisher of Ladybird books, began this infamous series way back in 1914 but it wasn’t until 1940, when wartime paper shortages prompted Wills & Hepworth to look at a new and more economical way of printing, that the Ladybird book in its slim pocket-sized format, was born. Essentially each book was printed on one single sheet of paper (40” x 30” in size) including pages, endpapers and dust jacket; thus an efficient and economical way of producing a book for children.

Single printing sheet showing a whole Ladybird book

The first Ladybird book to be made in this format was Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, written and illustrated by Angusine Macgregor, with a delightful gentle story told in rhyming verse. Two more books were published in this series, Series 401, in 1940 and three more, though with a different author, were published the following year. These proved to be successful for Wills & Hepworth and they followed these in 1941 with the first three books in The Adventures of Wonk series and their first book for series 413, The Ladybird Book of Nursery Rhymes.

A c. 1981 edition of Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, matt cover Ladybird book.

These ten books, plus a 1944 edition of Cinderella (Series 413) were the only books to be published during the Second World War, though they were popular and most of them stretched to a number of reprints during those years.

A note on series numbering: The first two digits of the series number indicate the year of publication of the first title in the series, i.e. Bunnikin’s Picnic Party being the first book published in 1940 begins Series 401; the first Tasseltip story, A Little Silk Apron, was published in 1947 and so begins Series 474. Nobody knows where the last digit in the series number comes from; no documentation survives and perhaps it was simply a random number choice.

From 1945 onwards the Ladybird offering really started to grow, first with the introduction of their non-fiction Uncle Mac titles – the first one, In Green Pastures, published in 1945 – and with more books added to series 401 and 413 and then series 474 (Tasseltip tales) from 1947 and series 497 (Animal tales) from 1949. The 1950s then saw an expansion of their non-fiction offerings, with the nature, history, travel adventure, and bible stories series all taking off.

The look of the boards of the books underwent various different changes over the years but up until 1965 all books were first published with printed dust jackets. After 1965 the books were given a printed pictorial front board with a matt finish. At first these colourful designs were the same as the dust jackets which had preceded them but illustrations evolved for some of the series to change with the times. The matt-finish pictorial boards were changed to laminated (or glossy) boards in around 1983.

Ladybird Books came to be well-used by schools. They were well-written, often beautifully illustrated, appealing to children and in the case of the factual titles, very well-researched. The Key Words Reading Scheme, featuring Peter and Jane, came to be the series that thousands of children learned to read with from the mid-1960s through to the 1980s and beyond. The first book, 1a Play with Us, was published in 1964 and the last one, 12c The Open Door to Reading, was published in 1967, so they managed to complete the publication of the series in quite a short space of time. Spin off Picture Dictionaries (Series 642) and Easy Readers followed in the 1960s and 70s and a range of supporting educational resources were also created for use in schools – workbooks, flash cards, puzzles, audio tapes.

Children of the late 1980s might have developed their reading instead with the Puddle Lane Reading Programme, another very popular reading scheme published by Ladybird.

The popularity of Ladybird Books wasn’t just confined to the British Isles. By 1970 a number of Ladybird books had been translated and were being sold overseas and it is estimated that Ladybird Books have been translated into around 70 different languages. The most unusual I have come across is a Fijiian edition of a religious title. I have also seen a few copies of the rather bizarre Esperanto edition of London. More commonly seen are Welsh, German, Scandinavian and Arabic editions.

Foreign Ladybird books – London in Esperanto and The Child of the Temple in Fijian

In 1996 Ladybird Books became a subsidiary of the Penguin Books Group and in 1998 Penguin took over the management of the company, closing the iconic Loughborough printing works later that same year. A notice at the town’s railway station welcoming visitors to ‘The Home of Ladybird Books’ was taken down but in 2015 a green plaque was unveiled at Angel Yard in Loughborough, the original home of Ladybird Books, recognising the company’s importance in the town’s history.

Ladybird Books green plaque at Angel Yard, Loughborough


Collecting Ladybird Books

Collectors come in all types, ages and budget sizes! If you’re thinking of getting started as a collector, you can start your own collection for very little cost at all. Prices in our bookshop start at just £1, with many matt edition standard Ladybird Books being around the £3-4 mark. You can browse charity shops, antiquarian bookshops, bring and buy sales and the internet and pick up many lovely Ladybird books for the price of a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Best of all, as book collections go these little books take up such little space on your bookshelf that they’re not going to take over your living space… unless you go really crazy…

Some series and titles are more sought after by collectors and that makes them more difficult to find and more expensive when you do find them. Some collectors focus on the early standard format Ladybirds from the 1940s and 50s; some collect only Ladybirds with dust jackets; some only books in a particular series; the 606C Well-Loved Tales series are currently quite sought after by collectors of my generation who grew up with these; some collectors seek out the early Ladybird books from the pre-1940s, some collect books with illustrations by well-known illustrators and some collect foreign language editions. Some series like the ‘Wonk’ books will have prices which vary considerably – it’s not too difficult to find an inexpensive tatty Wonk without its dust jacket (readable but with considerable flaws) but once you go looking for really tidy copies with very good condition spines and good condition dust jackets, you might have to weigh up the weekly shop vs a nice Wonk book in really good condition!

In general first editions will usually command a higher price than later editions and the condition of the books is also something to look out for – if you are only after near pristine copies in excellent dust jackets they are clearly going to be harder to find and more expensive than a ‘reading’ copy which may have creased pages, thumbing marks and previous owner’s names inside.

Dating the books is done with a mixture of methods – from endpaper and Ladybird logo design, to more obvious points such as the presence of a dust jacket (pre-1965), the price and the lists of other titles in the series (initially on the last few pages of the book, then the dust jacket flaps and later on the back covers of the post-1965 matt board editions). You will also see mention of so-called tally numbers in books that have been offered for sale online with good descriptions. This relates to the number of Ladybird books in publication at a particular time and this figure was often mentioned on the last few pages, rear dust jacket flap and then on the rear board of the book as well. Tally numbers started in 1963 and increased every year with new titles published; they ceased being mentioned in about 1974. The following indications might help you to loosely identify the age of your Ladybird Books*:

Tally of 100 titles 1963-4
120-140 1965
150-180 1966
190-200 1967-8
210-225 1968
230-260 1969
270-280 1970
290 1971
300 1972
320-340 1973
350-370 1974

Good luck with building up your collections and enjoy re-reading your old favourite Ladybird stories and discovering new ones you never knew existed!

To view our current range of Ladybird books online at Books & Ink Bookshop please click here. We have many more in the shop so contact us with your requests, or pop in and see us.

This article can be found both on our website as a static page article and on our wordpress blog.
*Johnson, Lorraine; Alderson, Brian, ‘The Ladybird Story: Children’s Books for Everyone’ (The British Library, 2014; p. 165).

Review: Easy. Whole. Vegan. by Melissa King

Easy. Whole. Vegan: 100 Flavor-Packed, No-stress Recipes for Busy Families
by Melissa King

easy whole vegan
Easy. Whole. Vegan. by Melissa King (pre-publication proof cover)

Pub Date 06 Sep 2016 (or my UK systems show 01 Nov 2016)
Publisher: The Experiment, USA
ISBN 9781615193097
Format: Paperback.
UK price not yet available. Cover image shown is from a digital proof copy and may be subject to change.
UK availability is not yet clear at August 2016 but this should be available to order from your local bookshop nearer the publication date. Please shop local to help keep your high streets alive.

I eat about a 95% vegan and gluten-free diet and I’m a bit of a foodie, so there’s quite a lot in this cookbook that I’ve come across before, or through trial and error, have already created for myself. However, if you’re not a die-hard veggie and are new to a plant-based diet or are exploring the idea of trying out more wholefoods and plant foods, then this book is a great starting point to get you going. The author explains really well how she and her family came to make the decision to turn to a plant-based wholefood diet. The recipes sound nutritious and delicious but – and this is particularly good for the newcomer – they are not all virtuous! Using natural sweeteners, such as apple sauce, dates, raisins, fruit, maple syrup etc., there are plenty of sweet treats in here to appeal to kids and adults alike.

The author claims that her recipes won’t take you hours or involve fiddly preparation. However, I think they are likely to require some careful thought and planning, some re-stocking of your store cupboards and possibly some searching through the health food shops for some of the ingredients. The same goes for kitchen equipment. A food processor seems to be an essential for a lot of these recipes. I have a small kitchen and I don’t have a food processor, although I do have a juicer (another bit of kit used in Melissa’s recipes). I certainly don’t have a citrus press, a dehydrator or bamboo cutting boards (other recommended kitchen gadgets). There is a bit of an over reliance on kitchen electricals in the recipes, where alternative suggestions would be useful for the average cook. In fact, ‘the food processor and blender vegan cookbook’ might almost be a useful subtitle. This isn’t a criticism but it is an indicator of how much they feature in the recipes. Time is also a factor (despite the author’s assertions that it isn’t!). She recommends making your own nut milks, for example. This is a great idea and of course they taste wonderful but it is a fiddly and time consuming job and also not a particularly cheap option – not ideal for the time-poor, over-worked or cash-strapped amongst us). The recipes also don’t translate brilliantly well to the UK market. I have other US cookbooks but reading through this proof copy, I had to look up arugula, cilantro and sriracha to see what on earth they are (for those not in the know, that’s rocket, coriander and a hot thai chilli sauce).

I haven’t made any of the recipes yet – I’ve only just had a first look at the book today. I’m looking forward to trying (amongst others) the macadamia nut cheese sauce, raspberry vanilla chia jam, homemade applesauce, apple cinnamon quinoa, sweet potato pancakes and blueberries and cream chia pudding.

There’s some nice photography in the proof edition; always a help when visualising how the finished product should look! And it does all look quite delicious and appetising. When I get around to trying some of the above I’ll report back on the blog and let you know what I think! Overall, I like the style of this book and it looks reasonably accessible to the novice vegan or wholefood cook. There are some lovely-sounding flavour combinations and, along with books like the ‘Deliciously Ella’ cookbooks, it looks like a good starting point for discovering new healthy food options.

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