The Young Victoria – Alison Plowden (1981) – A Real Life Review



Like many people my knowledge of the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign has been based upon what I have seen in the ITV drama series “Victoria”.  There were still things that I was unsure about, namely, how the line of succession played out so that she came to the throne in the first place.  For my second book in the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge at Sandown Library I pulled out of the hat “a book with a green cover” and I chose Alison Plowden’s non-fiction work because a) it had a green cover and b) I wanted to know more about the young Victoria.

 Plowden’s book was written in 1981 although I read a paperback reprint from The History Press which was published in 2016.  It falls firmly into the category of popular history, there are no references to get you leafing through to the back of the book, a shorter bibliography than one might imagine and an author’s note which credits especially two biographies, one from 1972 and one from back in 1964.  Plowden has synthesized this information into her very readable work which suited my purposes but may frustrate the more serious historian. 

 It does read like a novel, especially with its characters that we know from the TV series here being fleshed out and it was a little surprising to find that the ITV drama does not deviate too far from the facts as presented here. 

 The characters who feature strongly in Victoria’s early years and are brought to life well by Plowden are her mother, the Duchess of Kent, whose relationship with her daughter became strained during the teenage years largely because of the influence of Sir John Conroy, who placed himself and his family close to Victoria and her mother and who the Princess came to hate.  Victoria had the most time for her beloved governess Baroness Lehzen and for Dash her dog.  The book ends with Victoria’s marriage to Albert but the most fascinating relationship here (as it was in the early episodes of the ITV series) is the one between the young Queen and Prime Minister and mentor Lord Melbourne with Victoria demonstrating anti-Tory tendencies in her desire to keep him in power.

 I still haven’t totally got the succession to the throne bit as her grandfather had so many children that it all gets a little confusing and I could have really done with a family tree appendix to sort this all out in my head.  Inexplicably, the edition I read devoted two pages at the back to completely the wrong tree, that of the House of Tudor, which has no relevance whatsoever to Victoria’s time.  That is a bad mistake from The History Press that I hope was put right in subsequent editions. 

 Alison Plowden was best known for her non-fiction on the Tudor period so that suggests that the family tree here was intended for another of her publications.  She wrote around 25 books mainly on female historical figures.   She died in 2007.



Young Victoria was first published in 1981.  I read the 2016 History Press edition.  The History Press have republished a number of her books.


The Various Haunts Of Men – Susan Hill (2009) – A Murder They Wrote Review



It’s very unusual for me to read two unrelated books in succession by the same author.  Susan Hill has benefited by producing the short “Printer’s Devil Court” which I chose as a successful reintroduction to the world of audio books- a format I’d struggled with on previous attempts and there’s also a story behind my selection of this book. 

At Sandown Library, one of the libraries I work at on the Isle Of Wight there is a year long initiative going on.  It’s the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge which involves pulling from a hat a reading theme or suggestion.  It is running throughout 2018 (new participants welcome) and will culminate in a prize draw for those open-minded and determined towards their reading choices who manage to complete 20 of these challenges.  It’s a little like the Book Bingo which I set up and which is still running at Shanklin Library, but without the bingo card and the route to success cannot be planned in quite the same way, adding a randomness which has led to the Russian Roulette title.  My initial challenge was to read a book which is first in a series.  I’d heard good things about Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime series and this instantly sprung to mind, with the first book being conveniently on the shelves.

 The most surprising thing about this series starter is the rather low- key presence of the Chief Inspector of Lafferton Police, Simon Serrailler.  He does not play much of a role in the solving of the crime here.  That falls more to members of his team, namely recent arrival from the Metropolitan Police, DS Freya Graffham and the man described as having a face only a mother could love, the enthusiastic DC Nathan Coates.  Serrailler has an in-charge role to play.  He is good-looking and known as a heart-breaker due to his playing hot and cold with female emotions.  It is intriguing that he is the character the series is built around because on this showing I found him to be one of the least interesting characters.  Probably the author is allowing him to develop over the ten more novels to date rather than having him shine too brightly in the opener with us losing interest in him.

 Also, unusually for a twenty-first century crime novel this takes quite a while to get going.  There’s a disappearance quite early on and then we are drawn into a series of characters who are using alternative medical practitioners as well as us finding out how newbie to Lafferton, Freya, is establishing herself socially in the town whilst getting the hots for her new Chief Inspector.  At one point I was concerned that the novel might be a little too pedestrian for me.

 But then, events began happening and the groundwork had been so cleverly laid by the author that it really drew me in, and, perfect reaction for a crime novel, I sped up as the book progressed.  There were twists I didn’t see coming and it ends up as a highly satisfactory read and a great introduction to a series.  I’m still not sure of the relevance of such an evocative title though.


The Various Haunts Of Men was published in 2004 by Chatto and Windus.  I read the 2009 paperback edition.

Printer’s Devil Court- Susan Hill (2014) – A What I’ve Been Listening To Review



I tend to steer clear of short novels.  They often feel a little sketchy for my taste, lacking in the depth of characterisation and plot which are probably the two things I seek out the most in my book choices.  I have though, often found myself attracted by the slim volumes by Susan Hill, most famous for her short novel “The Woman In Black” boosted by a long-running West End adaptation and a so-so 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.  Up to now I hadn’t read any of Hill’s books.

 That changed because the Isle Of Wight Library Service where I live and for whom I work have recently moved their platform of E-Books and Audio Books to Borrowbox, run by Bolinda, a major audio books publisher.  After training to show how much easier it was than our previous system I thought I’d do something I’d never done before and borrow an audio book.  As I know that my listening skills are fairly rudimentary I looked for something that would both appeal to me and be short and at 1 hour 40 this seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

 The joy of this new system is you can stop mid-track, easily rewind and set a sleep timer for it to switch off.  I have listened to most of this in bed in 15 minute chunks over the last few nights, long enough to stay awake and short enough to keep me following the story.  And it has worked.  I have listened to it all and have actually slept better once I’ve switched off the light.

This all may seem rather obvious to the audio book listener but my experience with this format up to now has not been great.  I did have concerns.  If I’m just listening can I actually class “Printer Devil’s Court” as a book I have read?  If I can then what about my compulsion to review everything I read?  Would I even be able to produce a review without having the book to consult?  This one was more of a problem (I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember characters’ names without seeing them written down) so I borrowed a copy off the library shelves.  This I’ve done before with my only other experience of a spoken word novel when I took out a bulky set of CD’s of Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” in addition to the book.  On first listen, I fell asleep, woke with no idea as to what was going on, checked the book to discover it was only a few pages in, which seemed such a ludicrously slow pace that I abandoned the CDs and read the book instead.  This time I told myself I couldn’t even open the book until I finished listening and I did manage to do this.

 As an audiobook it kept me entertained, it didn’t get too bogged down in detail and I wanted to know what was going to happen.  I actually feel that on this occasion I would have been less drawn in had I just read the book, as the tale is slight.  It’s a ghost story of a group of young medics who experiment with bringing a woman back from the dead.  It is rich in atmosphere but not much happens and it’s not at all scary. The horror is largely psychological as main character Hugh Meredith (thanks, book!) comes to terms over his lifetime with what he witnessed one evening.  Listening to it I was misled as to time setting.  I was in Victorian London mode until a mention of Blitz-damaged buildings made me think again.  Looking at the book I would have been even more misled by the attractive yet distinctly nineteenth-century illustrations.  I suppose it is part of the skill of the suspense writer to unsettle the reader.

stevenpaceyPrinter’s Devil Court is read by Steven Pacey

 The audiobook is narrated by Steven Pacey, whose rich tones lends it the authority and gravitas the story needs and has enough of an Alan Bennett feel to his voice to keep me listening.  I know how important the choice of voice artist is and this works well here.  All in all “Printer’s Devil Court” provided an experience I would certainly repeat and even thought I wasn’t blown away by Susan Hill’s tale I was motivated enough by it to pick up her first in her crime series featuring Simon Serrailler, a far more substantial novel, which I am currently reading.


Printer’s Devil Court was published by Profile Books in 2014.


National Libraries Week – Isle Of Wight Libraries

Like most areas, the Isle Of Wight had a planned week of activities to celebrate National Libraries Week.  We wanted to use the occasion to highlight the good work that is going on in the libraries.  On the island we have a mixture of council-run and community libraries and both, despite what the powers that be might want us to think, continue to thrive.

One of the libraries I work at wanted to offer something completely new for the week and we got to racking our brains.  I had mentioned a bookshop I had been into in Bath where a customer was sat with a member of staff who was talking to them about their reading interests and acting as a personal shopper for them.  I mentioned how this would be a perfect job and an idea was formed.

We decided to hold a Reader’s Advisory Day.  A quick visit to the internet suggested that this is something which happens in libraries in less cash-strapped areas than ourselves and that some people in certain areas (although we didn’t find any evidence of this in the UK) have this as their job title.  There were some basic resources on the internet to ensure that you got the best out of making recommendations, but these largely involved listening to what the person you were advising was telling you!  And who was deemed the most appropriate person to be the said Reading Advisor.  How about someone who spends their time reviewing and blogging and writing about books?  So that’s how I  became the Sandown Library Reading Advisor for a day (or the Book Doctor as colleagues have termed me, or the Book Guru, which is probably worse!).

Here’s how we advertised it.


To be honest, people didn’t flock to make appointments as they were unsure what it was all about.  Nevertheless, we made cakes and in a fit of getting carried away by the idea decided to pitch a mini-marquee in the middle of the library for me to work from.

On the day you couldn’t help but notice something was going on in the library and I had people in my tent with me talking about books for the whole of the time the thing was running.  Basically, we chatted about what it was they liked about their favourites and saw if that rang any bells in my head (sometimes it didn’t sometimes it did).  When it didn’t there are loads of online resources out there (including Amazon and I’m pleased to say New Books magazine and the Nudge website where many of my reviews and interviews can be found).  We ate cake and had a very nice day.  The whole thing was deemed a success- although it took us a while to remember how to take the marquee down!



It was great fun but all that concentration did leave me a little tired by the end of the afternoon.  We are certainly going to do it again in the future and my line manager wants me to work the idea for other libraries on the island.

Some of the authors I recommended during the day:   Chris Cleave, Ann Patchett, Frederick Backman, Robert Harris (more than once actually), Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, C J Sansom, Frances Hardinge, Ann Tyler, Rachel Joyce, Nina George, Stephen King, Joe Hill, David Gemell, Rory Clemens.


Book Bingo – The End!

Well, I did it.  Once again it was right up to the line but I managed to get all of my stickers on my Book Bingo card.  Here is the proof!

IMG_20170828_0001It did mean in the last month I had to make some slightly odd reading choices, which might explain the randomness of some of the last few reviews.  At the end of my last update my card was looking like this;

IMG_20170727_0001 (2)It looked possible, but I wasn’t convinced because the Man Booker longlist had been announced and I was itching to get started on those and couldn’t find any place for those titles in my remaining categories.  I had six books to read and this is how I did it:

On the top line I still had “A book with five words or more in the title”.  I first pulled from the shelf French crime best-seller “Murder On The Eiffel Tower” (2003) by those fascinating Parisian book-seller sisters Lilianne Korb and Laurence LeFevre who write together as Claude Izner with their series about a nineteenth century bookselling sleuth.  I have the first three of these waiting to be read and I thought this would be my chance until I was seduced by a copy of “The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken (1962) which I really wanted to get my teeth into and which I knew would be a quicker read.  Time was at a premium by this point and so Izner has temporarily returned to the great un-read.

From the second row I needed a book that was “Shorter than 200 pages” so I went for the Quick Read “Chickenfeed” (2006) by Minette Walters.  Considering the third row I’d thought about polishing some worthy tome of poetry but went instead for children’s poetry collection (Well, it did suggest children’s poems in the square) “How To Embarrass Teachers” (2006) which, had I still been teaching Junior School Children, I would have added to my Essential Classroom Books list because I think there was a lot of fun to be had with this selection by Paul Cookson.

I needed to buy a book from the “For Sale” shelves at my local library and I was pleased to discover “Eeny Meeny” by M J Arlidge.  I know why the previous reader donated it, because although it looked in very good condition and had only probably been read once it was badly bound and fell apart as I was reading it.  I didn’t let that put me off too much and really got into Arlidge’s dark debut.  (This also happened when I read “The Night Circus” (2012) by Erin Morgenstern a couple of years back which, together with me being in bed with flu whilst reading  most of it and its self-destructing tendency did prejudice me against the book).  Arlidge’s novels have been getting really good reader-feedback in the libraries where I work from a real range of readers.

There were two squares for me to complete on the bottom line of the card and these were probably the two I was least enamoured by.  I don’t often read “Family Sagas” and find the look of those mob-capped mill girls of this genres stalwarts Catherine Cookson, Dilly Court etc all rather depressing.  I did discover something a lot lighter and more recent in Wendy Robertson’s “Sandie Shaw And The Millionth Marvell Cooker” (2008).  To be honest it wasn’t really a family saga at all but I think it had been categorised as such to fit in with a number of Robertson’s other novels which are more obviously family sagas, but it came from the right section, had the right sticker stuck on the spine and so it fitted the bill (and actually I really rather enjoyed it),

A book set before 1700 remained my final  square to cover.  This had caused a bit of panic amongst other Book Bingo participants who had this as some misinterpreted the category to be a book written before 1700, which caused blank looks around the library to find the medieval scripts section.  The correct interpretation opened the reader up to a whole range of highly readable historical and historical crime novels.  I went with the twelfth century and the introductory book to Bernard Knight’s Crowner John series “The Sanctuary Seeker” (1998) which gave me my last “Well Done!” sticker and finished off the card.

Once again the Book Bingo has been popular and successful and people are already talking about next year (maybe starting it earlier in the year).  I very much enjoy setting it up and doing it, but I’m glad I can move onto the pile of books waiting for me that I couldn’t fit in the categories as the squares began filling up.



Book Bingo – A Monthly Update

Let’s start this monthly update on my local library’s Book Bingo fund-raising initiative by showing you what my card looked like last month.


And here is how it is looking today:

IMG_20170727_0001 (2)

I did say last month I needed to crack on a bit to get those stickers and there are seven squares filled and with one month to go it’s looking a bit more do-able.  What did I read to achieve win these stickers?  Proof I’ve read these can be found in my reviews which you can get to by clicking on the titles………….

Firstly, two of the squares were “Questions”- with a little less time to play with this year we threw in a few random Question squares and I devised a book related quiz.  When someone brings back a book they can opt to be asked a question from this list- get it right and there’s a sticker, get it wrong and they’ll have to try next time.  As I thought up the questions and my memory is not so bad that I’ve forgotten the answers this bit has meant I’ve had to have rapidly made up questions asked me.  I will let you know the questions on my list which have been causing the most problems for the participants.

What kind of author would not have been eligible to win the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction or the Orange Prize?

Which crime writer almost won the Grand National on “Devon Loch”?

I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to catch out any readers with those two…….

Onto my books read.  The top line (flower sticker) was for a book I found in the teenage/young adult section of the library.  This one was also recommended to me.  Patrick Ness’ The Knife Of Never Letting Go – the first part in his Chaos Walking trilogy (could also have been “first in a series” but I had another one lined up for that).  Reginald Hill’s “A Clubbable Woman” is the first in the Dalziel and Pascoe series.  You may recall I had reservations about this particular title but readers have been urging me on, it seems I have just touched on one of the great British crime writers.  FictionFan kindly wished that;  “I hope you get as much enjoyment from the series as it has given me over many decades and many re-reads…”This book got me the flower sticker on the third row.

The tulip (?) on the second row covers an author whose names begin with consecutive letters.  We allow this to go in either direction so Charlotte Bronte is as valid as Charles Dickens (but not Jane Austen).  Feels like a literary party game when I describe it like this. Rupert Smith was my preferred author here and I read his “Man’s World.”

The piggy sticker covers “With a family member in the title”.  Perfect for this would be a couple of titles by David Walliams.  I chose “Awful Auntie.”  (Gangsta Granny would have done just as well, but someone had already borrowed that from the library).  Lastly I had to have a book lent to me by someone so thank you to my friend Penny for passing on her copy of Robert Seethaler’s “The Tobacconist“.

I felt more confident about finishing yesterday but I can see I am going to be distracted by the announcement today of the Man Booker Longlist – of which I have read just one, “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith.  Unfortunately none of the longlisted titles have five words or more in the title, nor can be found in the library’s saga section nor are they poetry and almost certainly all longer than 200 pages.  I suppose if I researched them a little more I might discover that at least one is set before 1700, but I already had something lined up for that category.

So seven squares down this month and six to go before the closing date…………….



Book Bingo – A monthly update

It’s already month number three on my local community library’s Book Bingo fund-raiser and I feel that I’m just pootling along a little and will need to crank up to a higher gear if I’m going to finish within the next couple of months.  It’s not that I’m not reading, it’s just that what I’m reading for review purposes does not always fit in with the categories on my Bingo card.  I’m not griping because I love having a stack of books to read!  (Publishers take note!!)

Last month my Bingo card looked like this:


And this month


So let’s see what is newly covered………..

On the top line to get the bunny I had to purchase a book from the local charity shop.  That was certainly no hardship with a local hospice charity shop, The Earl Mountbatten charity shop having a good selection of books at three for £1.  From this I purchased Michael Crichton’s “Next” alongside two other books which will sit on my shelves for  a while longer.  I’ve had to stop buying books from this particular shop as sometimes I can come out with 6 or 9 so it was great to have the opportunity to go back in there and put my book-buying to a worthy cause.

Underneath the bunny sticker there’s “written under a pseudonym” and one of the most famous pseudonyms of the last few years helped out here.  When JK Rowling began writing as Robert Galbraith I bet she never dreamed that one day she would help me get a dog sticker on a Book Bingo card, but she has with “The Silkworm“.

When I started reading this I had it lined up for the top left hand corner which needed a book with “an animal in the title” and then a copy of “The Mayfly” by James Hazel turned up on the doorstep, which meant I could use Robert Galbraith for other purposes and got me the chicken sticker.  I also answered a question this month which was on the author of “Black Beauty”- not going to catch me out with that one!

Right, concerted effort to get more stickers covered starts here but I’m lacking a little in confidence as I know that the books I have lined up will not help out.  I’m just going to have to read more…………shame………..!



Book Bingo – A Monthly Update

It’s month number 2 of my local community library’s Book Bingo fund-raiser (something I initiated last year).  If you want the whole story behind it just track back through the posts using “Book Bingo” as the search item -but for those of you keeping up with me here is how my card was looking last month……………..


And here we are this month…………….


That’s another three stickers added.  It looks like I’m doing this systematically but I’m not, it’s just how the books I have been reading have been stacking up.  And, as I am sure you will have noticed I’ve got a line! (It took me three months to do this last year).   For my “line prize” I had a choice of a Roald Dahl Character pencil and rubber or a free  DVD or Spoken Word Audio CD set rental.  I thought I’d push my boundaries a bit and went for the audio CDs.  This is not a medium that I’ve ever got to grips with in the past- I’ll let you know how I got on with that in due course.

So three new stickers and these are the books I read to achieve this.  My “Good Job” sticker was for a book not originally written in English and for that I read my first Inspector Montalbano novel, “The Shape Of Water” by Andrea Camilleri which was translated by Stephen Saratelli.

The corner square was occupied by Any non-fiction book and now you know why I ploughed my way through The Young Oxford History Of Britain and Ireland which looked a little out of place on my review stream.  Finally for this month, I needed a book with “and” in the title and good old Marina Fiorato came to the rescue with her newly published “Crimson & Bone“.  All these books have been reviewed on the blog (further proof that I’m actually reading the books and not just cheating to get the pretty stickers!).  To find the review just click on the highlighted title.   Incidentally, it was a bit of a pain to source the stickers before we started this year.  Last year we had balloons which looked lovely but worked out a little pricey with the number needed.  This year I had almost given up hope of finding anything until I found these flowers and animal stickers at WH Smith for a bargain price.  I bought almost their whole stock so hopefully we won’t run out.

The book I am currently reading will fit into the animal in the title category and is the follow-up to a book I have read and reviewed this year.  Any guesses?


Book Bingo – A Monthly Update

And we’re off!  One month into the Book Bingo organised by my local Shanklin Community library and I’ve managed to achieve four stickers.  Here’s a little reminder of what my card looked like ……………


And here is how it is looking one month later……………….


That’s four stickers this month.  On the top line is “set in another country” for this I chose Iceland in the nineteenth century for “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent.  The sticker on the second line was for a book set in wartime Britain and for this I read the rather marvelous “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven” by Chris Cleave which has both wartime London and Malta as its setting.  I know a lot of the cards have a book written by an author whose surname begins with the same letter as the first name, I haven’t got this on my card, but Chris would be a good choice for this category too.  I got the frog sticker for “A book published in the last three years” and was helped out here by a review copy of “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru, which also would have been useful if I had a “book with a colour in the title” as some cards have.  Final sticker this month needed a one word title.  Take a bow Ian McEwan with his one worded “Nutshell“.  Ian has written a number of one word title novels, so a useful author for this category!  Three out of the four books were borrowed from the library.

Not that bad for the first month.  I’m ploughing through quite a long non-fiction book at the moment so we’ll see how many more stickers I can claim next month…………………


It’s Book Bingo Time Again!


Those of you who have been visiting since last year may remember that I set up a Book Bingo fund-raiser at my local library.  It was very successful and I posted  a monthly update on here to let you know how I was getting on with the challenge.  It finished back in August and I managed to complete my card two days before the closing date.  That momentous post can be found here.

Well, we have just started it again, with a couple of rejigs and rewordings in the categories and a few new challenges.  We are running it from now until the beginning of August.  As that is a bit less time than we gave it last year I sneaked in some more Bonus Squares into the random mix (although I don’t have any of these on my card).  We’ve also put in some Question squares so that when people bring in a book they have read they can be asked a book related question, which if they get right, will give them a sticker to cover the square.  I have three of these Question squares on my card- which shouldn’t be too difficult for me as I set the questions!  ( I think someone is coming up with some dastardly book posers for me).  As before there is a prize for a line, and the completed cards will be put into a hat to find a random cash prize winner after the closing date.  The cost of these cards is £3 and last year it raised a pleasing amount of money for the Friends Of Shanklin Community Library- but on this occasion, fund-raising is not the whole intention.

I want to give people the opportunity in the library (which is staffed largely by a group of volunteers) to be discussing, recommending and sharing books.  This was my ploy in setting the whole thing up and I’m pleased that it made money but I’m also pleased that it got people really talking about books and trying out new things.  Over the past year I’ve heard numerous times about new enthusiasms for authors and genres kicked off by last year’s Book Bingo.  There were plans that we would do it only every other year but the demand has been to bring it back for this year and so here it is.

So looking at my card I can see that I have 21 books to read before August 1st.  The categories were randomly selected from around 70 possibilities.  Inevitably there is going to be some overlap from my last year’s card and  surprisingly there are 7 repeats.  Last year I also had lent to you by someone; poetry; young adult/teenage novel; with an animal in the title; published in the last three years;bought from the library “For Sale” shelves and first in a series.  The book  I was reading up until the last minute was from the published before 1900 category but I do not have that one this year. I’m very pleased  that I’ve got Book published in the last three years as now most of my reading for review fits into this.   I’m looking forward to getting my first stickers (the book I am currently reading will fit nicely into the set in another country category) and I’ll give you a monthly update to let you know how things are proceeding.