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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.

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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 caroladunn.weebly.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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.

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WARNING:
DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS PAGE

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 www.pseudonymousbosch.com

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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.

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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 www.jennycolgan.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 biblio.co.uk. 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.

Review: Easy. Whole. Vegan. by Melissa King

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

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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.

Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.

I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.

The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…

I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is  equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.

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Nancy Drew novels

About the Series

Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well.  The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.

Where to Buy

The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend biblio.co.uk for collectable and out-of-print books.

Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

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How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

Having met my other half in the bookshop (him customer, me bookseller) I loved the sound of this book; it was a definite must read and just the thing for a summer’s eve.

Emilia is 32-ish and she inherits, from her father Julius, the bookshop and home she grew up in but where she has spent little time over the past few years. It has been just the two of them since Emilia was a baby, so when Julius dies there is no other family to help out and Emilia has to make all the decisions about the future of the bookshop by herself.

Julius has poured much energy,  love and money into the bookshop for the past 32 years but has he left a strong enough business for Emilia to continue his legacy…?

‘A book shop could only make things better – for everyone in Peasebrook. Julius imagined each person he passed as a potential customer. He could picture them all, crowding in, asking his advice, him sliding their purchases into a bag, getting to know their likes and dislikes, putting a book aside for a particular customer; knowing it would be just up their street. Watching them browse, watching the joy of them discovering a new author; a new world.’

Nightingale Books occupies a prime location in the yellow-stoned Cotswolds town of Peasebrook and it occupies a very special place in the heart of the community, with a core of customers who are determined to help keep the bookshop open now that Julius has gone.

There’s the ‘lady of the manor’, Sarah, who has a long-standing connection to the bookshop and understands all too well what it’s like to be in financial difficulty. There is Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher, just a few years younger than Emilia, who falls for a man she met in the cookery section. There’s Mia, a young mum who’s given up a high-flying career to have the country life at home with her baby but is looking for something more. There’s Marlowe who used to put the world to rights with Julius several times a week over a drink or two, and who Julius used to play cello with in a small chamber group and then there’s Jackson, the young builder who is trying to save his marriage and form a deeper connection with his young son, through books.

There are several love stories woven through the novel, each of them appealing in their own way and the multiple plot strands make it a great page turner; it literally kept me up one night to finish it. I was slightly less enthused about the inner workings of the bookshop, renovations and practicalities but that’s only the bookseller / bookshop owner in me picking holes in the detail. It is a novel after all, not a factual account. Very few readers are going to notice anything to grumble about there; just bookshop owners like me! My only other grumbles are extremely minor but they niggled at me so I’m going to mention them. Book Shop or Bookshop? There are so few examples of ‘Book Shop’ being used these days; the norm being bookshop or bookstore (bookstore being slightly more American but both terms are used in both countries). This bothered me, perhaps unduly. What do you think? My only other niggle was just a tiny editorial thing. Near the beginning of the novel Veronica Henry has the characters going ‘up to London’ from Oxford… and that just didn’t work for me; you don’t go ‘up’ to London from Oxford, you definitely go down. They really are tiny grumbles.

I haven’t read any other novels by Veronica Henry so I can’t make any comparisons with her other books but when I fancy a light-hearted romance I would read another. I enjoyed her style and multiple plot strands and anything that keeps me up into the early hours of the morning has to get the thumbs up from me.

About the Author

Veronica Henry lives in Devon and has penned 14 romance novels; one of which won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award, A Night on The Orient Express. Before trying her hand at fiction she also had a successful career as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, amongst others

Where to Buy

You can buy How to Find Love in a Book Shop from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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 current RRP for a new hardback is £12.99. ISBN no 9781409146889. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Orion in hardback in 2016.

Review: Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I chose Mobile Library as my next read; something cute and fluffy about books and reading perhaps. The story is about a 12 year old boy and I think I was expecting a children’s book. What I got was something quite different. Mobile Library is something of a contemporary fairy tale, complete with all the dark and dismal parts that usually crop up in fairy tales, as well as the redeeming fairy-godmother.

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Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

 

Twelve-year-old Bobby lives a bleak and lonely life, devoid of affection since his mother died. His father and girlfriend appear to care little for Bobby and show little interest in the boy, except for when they are venting their anger. When he’s at home Bobby spends his time neatly arranging and rearranging memories of his mother into files, or boxes, so that she can pick up her life where she left off when she returns… Bobby is also bullied at school but has a best friend, Sunny, who is his greatest protector. Bobby and Sunny are on a mission to turn Sunny into a cyborg so that he can protect Bobby from bad things forever.

Then Bobby meets Rosa when he’s passing by her house on his way home from school. She is 13 and she asks Bobby if he’d like to play. She has a disability of some sort, has a loving and trusting nature and immediately takes to Bobby as a friend. Rosa is attacked by the same bullies picking on Bobby (while Bobby, through fear hides in the bushes) and through this situation Bobby comes to meet Val, Rosa’s mum. Val and Rosa both warm to Bobby very quickly and take him into their hearts. Bobby spends more and more time with them, learning better how to communicate (after the silence he endures at home), taking baths (another forbidden thing at home), reading books, playing, eating proper meals and indulging in treats like ice cream (not allowed, his father says). Val enjoys Bobby’s company – for many years she has had little company other than her daughter – and Bobby feels love and a sense of belonging for the first time since his mother’s death. The little trio start to become like a functional family unit, although Bobby still has to go home to his father at the end of the day.

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so that the things that happen in them will happen to you.’

‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’

Then events occur which put their surrogate son-mother relationship in danger and Val decides to take off across the country with Bobby and Rosa in the mobile library which she cleans once a week. In their time together this library has become like a dreamworld to Bobby – full of stories, adventures and escapism:

Morning hours vanished somewhere inside the books. Bobby read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, amazed that a man whose name he couldn’t pronounce might write a story that seemed like it was written just for him. Like the young prince, he too found the adult world strange. He too saw very few certainties in it.

They encounter quite a number of adventures while travelling and trying to evade detection, including picking up a fellow traveller-on-the-run who leads them all the way up to Scotland, from middle England, and back down and Bobby, Rosa and Val are all having the times of their lives when reality strikes. Will they be able to stay together in their new-found family unit…?

The novel starts at the end, which I didn’t particularly mind; it’s usually a device that annoys me as I like the novel to tell the story but in this case it is the ending told from a slightly different narrative perspective to the actual ending which is narrated in more detail and with Val’s voice, so the story isn’t fully revealed at the beginning. I didn’t get into the book right away, perhaps because it was so different to what I was expecting. I found the characters all a bit extreme and therefore not very believable and the plot a bit far-fetched. But. Then I settled into the fairy-tale-type style and it no longer mattered to me if the characterisation was over-the-top and the accumulation of events unbelievable; the characters were living out their own story and that’s when it started to work for me and fall into place. There’s no doubt that child abuse on this level does take place, disability discrimination, and so on. And there’s no doubt that reading stories, along with love and nurture, can really help unlock a child’s potential. The author also explores the theme of imagination and how far one can go with imagination before harm is done, i.e. is it always good to be imaginative, or should the self or another inflict boundaries to protect you from harm? A number of deep themes are explored.

There is some interesting philosophising in the novel, some great snippets about books, reading and the influences of literature, and some deeply disturbing aspects regarding child abuse and abusive relationships. It is not a novel for children, that much is clear but it doesn’t otherwise fit into a neatly arranged category. It is a good, thoughtful read. I often find it easy to forget a book almost as soon as I’ve read it but I won’t forget this one. The book isn’t perfect and can feel overdone and blatant but I would recommend it, particularly for the universal message about the power of stories to change, heal and transform.

About the Author

David Whitehouse was born in 1981 and lives in London. His first novel, Bed, won the inaugural 2010 To Hell With Prizes Award for unpublished work, the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in eighteen countries. His journalism has appeared in the national press and he has undertaken TV and film projects as well.

Where to Buy

You can buy Mobile Library from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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 current RRP for a new paperback is £7.99, ISBN no 9781447274711. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Picador in hardback in 2015; Picador paperback edition 2016.

Independent Booksellers Week 2016

It’s that time of year again -the 18th to 25th of June is Indie Booksellers Week (IBW) here in the UK and it’s a week for celebrating all the great things about being independent  – as a bookshop, that is….

In 2012 Jonathan Cape produced the first little booklet essay to be published in Independent Booksellers Week and sold exclusively in independent bookshops. This first one was A Life with Books by Julian Barnes and was followed in 2013 by Ann Patchett’s The Bookshop Strikes Back (Icon Books), 2014’s The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books) and this year’s The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane.

4 IBW TITLES

These little essays each epitomise what’s best about books, book buying and the giving and reading of books for pleasure.

In A Life with Books Julian Barnes, at a time when we were all a little bit nervous about the future of the printed book vs the e-book, made a strong case for the supremacy of the printed book over its electronic counterpart. Like many writers he has had a deep love of books from a young age and this love of books stems not just from the words themselves but from the handling of the books, the turning of the pages, the touch and the sight of them on the bookshelves (your own or in the library). To quote from the beginning of his essay:

I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. It was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head…

Later in his essay he goes on to say:

I have no Luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.

And a little earlier in his essay, I love this snippet as it rings so true with me:

…how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life.

The year after Julian Barnes’s essay, Ann Patchett gave us a heartwarming and optimistic read with The Bookshop Strikes Back. In 2011 Ann Patchett bucked the trend and opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. Disappointed to wake up one morning and find that her city no longer had a bookshop – not a chain, nothing – Ann slowly came around to the idea of doing something about it. Parnassus books is now a roaring success and it’s on my ‘must see if I ever take a world tour of fabulous bookshops’ list.

If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.

Jump forward to 2014 and Mark Forsyth’s essay for IBW. Mark has a delightful way with words and his essay is witty and succinct, though much more philosopohical than the previous two. How can you know what you want if you don’t know it exists, or in other words how can you know what books you want unless you browse a bookshop and discover them?

The internet is a splendid invention, and it won’t go away. If you know you want something, the internet can get it for you. My point, and the whole point of this essay, is that it’s not enough to get what you already know you wanted. The best things are the things you never knew you wanted until you got them… The internet is, ultimately, a huge army of machines. And machines do not allow in the element of chance. They do exactly what you tell them to do. So the internet means that, though you get what you already knew you wanted, you’ll never get anything more.

And then there’s bibliomancy – there’s a word I learned from Mark Forsyth – bibliomancy: the art of foretelling the future by interpreting a randomly chosen passage from a book, especially the Bible. He applies this to bookshop browsing as well, ‘Yes. This is what I’m going to read next.’ Forsyth believes that in a good bookshop you should be able to go into the shop ‘blindfolded, reach out your hand at random and find something wonderful.’

Good-Bookshop

This year we have an essay from Robert Macfarlane about the pleasures of giving and receiving books as gifts, The Gifts of Reading. Macfarlane reflects on how such gifts have affected and, in some ways, shaped his life so far. He particularly mentions Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, a book that was given to him when he was studying for his PhD.

If you have never read ‘A Time of Gifts’, may I urgently suggest that you buy a copy as soon as possible, or better still ask someone to give you one as a present?

He goes on to say:

When I first read ‘A Time of Gifts’ I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles. It rang with what in German is called Sehnsucht: a yearning or wistful longing for the unknown and the mysterious. It make me want to stand up and march out – to walk into adventure.

And walk he did and has now walked many miles under the influence of Leigh Fermor; all from the the simple influence of a book received as a gift. It’s a delightful addition to the IBW essays about books and will hopefully inspire the gifting of many more books.

IBW is a celebration of bookselling on the High Street, a celebration of independence (something I’m pretty passionate about), a celebration of readers and browsing, of authors and writing, a celebration of the serendipity of discovering books you never knew you needed, a celebration of giving and receiving books and watching the joy on a child’s face when they describe to you a book that they’ve really enjoyed reading, or when they discover on the bookshelves a new book by a favourite author. Above all, it’s a celebration of booksellers, without whom there would only be algorithms to help us discover the books we want to buy and it’s a celebration of the printed BOOK.

Where to Buy

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane is published by Penguin Books and has an RRP £2.50. It is only available to purchase from independent bookshops, so get yourself to an indie bookshop near you very soon as stocks will be limited. Essays from previous years are out-of-print but if you’re very lucky you may be able to find a few copies in independent bookshops as well. Just remember, every little purchase (however small) helps to keep an independent bookshop alive and on your High Street – Thank You!

IBW quote

Review: Awful Auntie by David Walliams

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Awful Auntie by David Walliams

What’s not to love about a David Walliams book? Well… nothing. They’re great! They’re warm, funny and meaningful. They’re also brilliantly illustrated and they have appeal right across the 8-108 age range; they are not just restricted to kids!

I have now read most of his books (skipping The Demon Dentist – I’m really not that keen on the theme) and I haven’t yet read Ratburger. All the ones I have read have been brilliant. David is definitively the new Roald Dahl of children’s literature. No other children’s writer has come close to pulling off the Roald Dahl style of humour but Walliams does it brilliantly. Three of his books have won the National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year – Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger and they’ve all sold a crazy number of copies.

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Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, illustration from Awful Auntie by David Walliams. Picture by Tony Ross.

Aunt Alberta is a truly awful Auntie. Her niece Stella has been orphaned – parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, killed in a horrific car crash – and Alberta is ‘looking after’ Stella at Saxby Hall, the family pile, while trying to trick her niece out of her inheritance. Aunt Alberta has a pet Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, called Wagner, who assists her in her evil schemes and has been devoted to her since he was a little owlet. There is also an ancient butler at the hall who is deaf as a post and gets everything muddled, so he’s no help to Stella for protection from her wicked aunt. Stella’s one salvation comes in the form of the ghost of a chimney sweep but will he be enough of an ally to help her overthrow her wicked aunt?

…’the butler was marching proudly down the corridor carrying his silver tray. Wobbling on top of it was a tiny pot plant. “Your breakfast, Duchess!” he announced, as he opened the door to a cupboard and stepped inside.’

The butler only makes brief appearances but he’s a firm favourite with me. All of the characters are well-described and then brilliantly brought to life by Tony Ross’s illustrations. There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, especially if you read it aloud and I have no hesitations in recommending it to anyone and everyone. And once you’ve read Awful Auntie, get down to your local bookshop or library and buy or borrow some more David Walliams novels to enjoy with, or without, your children or grandchildren!

About the Author

I’m not sure that David Walliams needs introducing so I’ll confine this to mentioning his literary output. So far David has written Camp David (2012), his autobiography; co-authored Inside Little Britain (2006); 4 children’s picture books – The Slightly Annoying Elephant, The First Hippo on the Moon, The Queen’s Orang-utan, and The Bear Who Went Boo! – and 9 novels for children; they are:
The Boy in the Dress
Mr Stink
Billionaire Boy
Gangsta Granny
Ratburger
Demon Dentist
Awful Auntie
Grandpa’s Great Escape
The World’s Worst Children

Where to Buy

You can buy Awful Auntie from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk 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 current RRP for a new paperback is £6.99, ISBN no 9780007453627. Like most of our new books, we usually have this for sale in the bookshop at a discounted price. Published HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2014.