#AtoZChallenge : L is for Laura in Little House on the Prairie

Little big  Little Prairie

I have to admit that Laura of Little House on the Prairie is for me the girl I came to know in the long-running TV series from 1974 to 1983 but eventually I read Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the partly fictional autobiographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In the Big Woods, Ma and Pa Ingalls lived with Laura, Mary and baby Carrie, surrounded by many wild animals, most of which, Pa hunted for food.  Their story of life in the 1870s and 80s is told simply in child-friendly language. Later they board a covered wagon and travel west across  America as pioneers to live in the warm prairie. Here they must battle for land and to survive, working hard and sticking together through joys, hardships and sorrow. It is a life experience quite outside any we can know today which Laura tells with childlike candour.

 

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In Her Defence (A Bunch Courtney Investigation) by Jan Edwards #NewRelease #RBRT

in her defence

 “Bunch Courtney’s hopes for a quiet market-day lunch with her sister are shattered when a Dutch refugee dies a horribly painful death before their eyes. A few days later Bunch receives a letter from her old friend Cecile saying that her father, Professor Benoir, has been murdered in an eerily similar fashion.

Two deaths by poisoning in a single week. Is this a coincidence? Bunch does not believe that any more than Chief Inspector William Wright.

Set against a backdrop of escalating war and the massed internments of 1940, the pair are drawn together in a race to prevent the murderer from striking again.”

 

In Her Defence is the second investigation by Bunch Courtney and Chief Inspector William Wright in the Sussex countryside. I haven’t read Winter Downs, the first book of this series but the reader is soon up to speed with Bunch’s back story. As a result of an accident, Bunch has had to leave the ATS and has taken over management of the Perringham House estate in her father’s absence.  She is aided by a team of Land Girls but since the main house has been requisitioned by the military, she shares the Dower House with her grandmother.

Bunch is happiest when riding her horse, but the constant paperwork required by the government makes estate management really onerous. Thank goodness Cecile, her old school friend from Switzerland, has come to help her with office work. But the death she witnesses at the market and the murder of Cecile’s father drive her back into detective mode despite the protests of the intriguing Chief Inspector Wright.  Bunch is a prickly, outspoken young woman who has rejected the amenable personality of Dodo, her sister.  There is an atmosphere of fear and unease engendered by rationing and the threat of invasion, while unpleasant attacks on locals with connections to Europe, increase the danger.  The mystery behind the murders is cleverly disentangled and it is fascinating to follow the activities of a small village close to the south coast in 1940.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good “Who dunnit,” and also to those interested in the social history of the war years.  I was a little confused in the first chapter by meeting several characters who used more than one name (Bunch is really Rose) so I would recommend reading Winter Downs first, but I intend to read that now since I really like Bunch’s character and the context of the mysteries.

In Her Defence on Amazon UK

jan edwards

Jan Edwards

Jan was born in Sussex, currently living in North Staffordshire. In addition to being a writer she is also a Reiki Master Teacher and Meditational Healer. Jan is available for interviews and appearances.

Jan’s blog page: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/

Theodore and Eliza by Susan Harvard #FridayReads #RBRT

Theodore

Book Description

Theodore & Eliza is the first and only account of the eight-year marriage 1812-20 of the mixed-race couple, from whom Princess Diana was directly descended.

The story is threaded through an extensively researched background of places and people in Yemen, Bombay and Scotland during the Napoleonic era. It is an unusually intimate account drawn from a rarely-accessed private archive of the couple’s personal correspondence.

Rapidly changing attitudes to biracial marriages mean that Theodore has to choose between his family and a lucrative career. Though he still loves her, he decides to leave his wife and their three children.

My Review

This true story of the marriage of Theodore Forbes, a rich Scottish merchant, and Eliza Kewark, an Armenian from the city of Surat shines a light on the complex relationships and social niceties of early 19th century British India.  Having fallen passionately in love, the 23-year-old Aberdonian had married his teenage bride rapidly so that he could take up his post as British Resident in Mocha, which at that time was the chief port of the Yemen.  For 3 years the couple lived a happy life there. Responsible for buying and shipping the East India company’s entire annual consignment of coffee, Theodore found his multi-lingual wife a great asset and they rejoiced in the birth of Kitty and her younger brother Aleck.  In 1815 they were ordered to return to Bombay.  While Theodore lodged with friends and attended society parties, Eliza and the children lived in a house in the country, a short ride away, but they were both glad to return to Surat.  Now Eliza lived in one of the grandest houses, a great improvement on her original status in the city. Sadly, when the family returned to Bombay in 1816, Theodore was to discover that society was less liberal than it had been in the past as “respectable” British wives disapproved of “mixed” marriages.  His “dear Betsey” was not accepted at balls or dinner parties.

Many will be fascinated to read that these are the ancestors of Princess Diana and the careful research and detailed descriptions in Susan Harvard’s book reveal the fascinating multi-racial life and the difficulty of balancing ambition against love and duty.  There are stunning pictures from those times included in the book.  The author has followed the history of many of Theodore’s friends, family and colleagues, but at times movement back and forth through time can be confusing.  This is a book for the keen historian, but it will also appeal to those who wonder about the life of those who sought their fortune in the East and left a legacy to the present generation.

Theodore and Eliza is available at Amazon UK

Susan Harvard

Susan Harvard

Susan Harvard was born in London and educated in Scotland and England. She has a BA in French, English and History of Art. After a career researching and restoring pictures, she now lives on a smallholding in rural Somerset where her focus is on writing and conservation.

She has always been interested in History and its relevance to the modern world. Research into the time that Theodore and Eliza lived in Yemen from 1812 – 1815, has thrown up many fascinating parallels with our own time.

Letters from the Dead (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Book 7)

Letters from the Dead

Several years ago, I read the first three books in Steve Robinson’s mystery series about American genealogist Jefferson Tayte.  Now I have taken up the seventh story in which Jefferson travels to Scotland to help client, Damian Sinclair, break through the brick wall concealing the identity of his four times great grandfather.  But this is not just about family history, there is a legend of a valuable ruby stolen in India which the whole family hope to discover.  At first Jefferson is greatly impressed by the magnificent stately home where Sinclair lives with his elderly retainer, Murray, but within the walls he finds shabby rooms and unsafe floorboards.

The parts I most enjoyed were the letters of Jane Hardwick which began in 1822 as she returned to India, a widow and companion to a friend joining her husband in Jaipur.  Jane is a warm, caring woman who tries to look after teenage Arabella and her unhappy mother as their story gradually unfolds.  While Jefferson explores Sinclair’s bloodline, new letters from Jane appear mentioning the legendary gemstone. But he becomes increasingly aware of danger, as one by one, members of Sinclair’s family are murdered.

This book easily stands alone as a thrilling story of love, greed and treachery.  There are many red-herrings and I did not guess the outcome either in the 1820s or in the present-day denouement.  Highly recommended for anyone, not just those who love genealogy.

Letters from the Dead can be purchased on Amazon UK

Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson drew upon his own family history for inspiration when he imagined the life and quest of his genealogist-hero, Jefferson Tayte. The talented London-based crime writer, who was first published at age 16, always wondered about his own maternal grandfather–“He was an American GI billeted in England during the Second World War,” Robinson says. “A few years after the war ended he went back to America, leaving a young family behind and, to my knowledge, no further contact was made. I traced him to Los Angeles through his 1943 enlistment record and discovered that he was born in Arkansas . . .” Robinson cites crime writing and genealogy as ardent hobbies–a passion that is readily apparent in his work. He can be contacted via his website www.steve-robinson.me or his blog at www.ancestryauthor.blogspot.com.

Gaslight by Eloise Williams #MiddleGrade #VictorianHistory

Last year I was blown away by the beautifully written contemporary story of a 13 year old girl in Seaglass by Eloise Williams, so this year I have read her earlier historical novel, Gaslight.

gaslight

Gaslight is a short book which is difficult to put down. Set in late Victorian Cardiff, the heroine, Nansi, survives by working and thieving for Sid, owner of the Empire Theatre, who “took her in” after she was fished out of the sea. But he is not a kind guardian; Nansi is physically and mentally abused by him and yet she stays. Her strength comes from her determination to find her missing mother and she finds peace in night-time swimming. The story portrays all the social ills of the time but also friendship and comradeship. The environment of the theatre and its surroundings are clearly created, and the book includes several Dickensian characters. The title reflects the atmosphere of the theatre but also reminds us of the term “gaslighting”. If I was still teaching this would be the perfect book for my Year 6 book club.

Find Gaslight at Amazon UK

My review of Seaglass by Eloise Williams

eloise williams

Eloise Williams

Eloise Williams was born in Cardiff in 1972. Her second book GASLIGHT won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year Award 2017, the YBB Book Award 2018 and was shortlisted for the Tir na nOg awards 2018.
SEAGLASS was chosen in the Top 10 Books for Young People of 2018 by Wales Arts Review:
“The queen of children’s writing in Wales goes from strength to strength, and her third novel does not disappoint. A continuation of her unique brand of scary and page-turning story-telling skills, her latest book has already gone down a storm in classrooms…”

Eloise lives in a tiny cottage by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, with her artist husband, Guy Manning, and her cairn terrier, Watson Jones. She collects sea glass, sagely pretends to know about the tides and accidentally sings Welsh songs out loud on the beach.

Erebus: The Story of A Ship by Michael Palin #BookReview #Antarctic #SeaAdventure

HMS Erebus was one of the great exploring ships, a veteran of groundbreaking expeditions to the ends of the Earth.

In 1848, it disappeared in the Arctic, its fate a mystery. In 2014, it was found.

This is its story.

erebus

This is a book of heroes, the daring, handsome James Clark Ross, who mapped much of the Antarctic coastline, the unlucky John Franklin, whose ambitious adventurous spirit ended in a disastrous expedition and the gallant ship which linked their lives, the Erebus. It was the rediscovery of the wreck of HMS Erebus on the seabed in Queen Maud Gulf in 2014 that prompted this book.

Written by Michael Palin, whom we know so well as an adventurous traveller on our TV screens, this amazing story is an easy read, using quotes from fellow travellers on their incredible voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic made by this small sturdily reinforced boat. Through thick pack ice and terrifying storms, the crews attempted to reach places no-one had yet seen. With some success and eventual failure, the crews battled on in voyages made between 1839 and 1847.

Michael Palin brings these voyages to life using his own experiences of visits to the Arctic, Antarctica and the Falklands and his observations of the characters of the men who made those first explorations. His vivid account of the Christmas and New Year celebrations by the crews on the Erebus and the Terror while trapped by ice in 1842 is surreal and yet believable. The book’s drawings and illustrations add to the readers appreciation of these great endeavours.

466px-james_clark_ross

James Clark Ross

crew

Officers in 1847 in search of the North-West Passage

Erebus: The Story of A Ship on Amazon UK

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty By Mimi Matthews #TuesdayBookBlog

Victorian

Book Description 

What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history.

Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter.

As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences.

Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

My Review

Having read many of Mimi’s online blog articles I know she has a prodigious knowledge of 19th century customs, art and fashion so I looked forward to learning a great deal from this book.  Well annotated and sourced, the first part takes the reader through each decade from the 1840s to the 1890s. Looking at clothing, underwear, millinery and jewellery, Miss Matthews describes the changing female silhouette, illustrated with beautiful plates of the particular decade. But in no way is this a pedestrian account; the vocabulary of Victorian fashion; spoon busks, crinolettes, paletots etc are intriguingly poetic and yet we also read of the tragic death of a Regent Street seamstress, who worked from 6.30 in the morning till 11 pm plus occasionally working all night to complete a commission.

The section on fashion etiquette describes how clothing for specific circumstances, such as mourning, were strictly dictated. Middle and upper class ladies needed to change their dress several times a day, from a comfortable morning dress, to a walking dress and then a splendid evening dress.  Other activities, such as sport, riding and visiting the seaside required different styles just as today. Finally the section on beauty, hair care and cosmetics is particularly fascinating. I love the suggestion that to avoid wrinkles one should, “endeavour to acquire plumpness.” This is a superb book to peruse during the festive season.

You can purchase A Victorian Guide to Fashion and Beauty at Amazon UK

My review of A Holiday by Gaslight, a Christmas novella by Mimi Matthews