Book Reviews and More

In this blog I look at both old and new books, at fiction and non-fiction, at literature written for adults and for children. I write about my books and the ideas that inspired them; I write about the books of others and the ideas that inspired them; I have a reading list to work through but often get sidetracked by new discoveries.

Hilda van Stockum – ‘The Mitchells: Five for Victory’


In this meeting of our virtual book club, I look at the moment in Hilda van Stockum’s The Mitchells: Five for Victory when Miss Merryvale, the lodger, arrives and chaos ensues:


By yonde ys a wyldernys of quarentyne

By yonde ys a wyldernys of quarentyne,
Wher Cryst wyth fastyng hys body dyd pyne;
In that holy place, as we rede,
The deuyl wold had of stonys bred;
Aboue that wyldernys ryght fer and hy
The fende to Cryst schewyd regna mundi,
And sayde, ‘Yf thow wylt me worschyp do
Al these shalt thou haue thy lordschyp to.’

Continue reading “By yonde ys a wyldernys of quarentyne”

Introducing a new reading group


Now that we have lots of time to read, I am pleased to introduce a new reading group that focuses on children’s books. In this first episode I introduce the group and our first book – Hilda van Stockum’s The Mitchells: Five for Victory.


The Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. “Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death …”

So said St Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, but he didn’t stop there. “… but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”Continue reading “The Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians”

Cynthia Harnett’s ‘The Wool-Pack’


Cynthia Harnett’s The Wool-Pack is a fascinating book in all sorts of ways. I wonder, for a start, how a contemporary publisher would react to any author who presented a book to them on the 15th century wool trade? But The Wool-Pack is by no means a dry, historical tome. The winner of the 1951 Carnegie Medal (the year before Mary Norton won the award for The Borrowers), it attracted critical acclaim and delighted a whole generation of children. It may not be a fashionable book today but it more than survives the passage of time.  Continue reading “Cynthia Harnett’s ‘The Wool-Pack’”

Kathy Clark’s ‘What if They Find Us?’


What if They Find us? is a wonderful book about two Jewish girls from Budapest who survive the Second World War in a convent in the centre of the city. It is a book about love and hope in an appalling situation and so is a book I can heartily recommend to 9-12 year olds.Continue reading “Kathy Clark’s ‘What if They Find Us?’”

Hilda van Stockum’s ‘The Winged Watchman’


Hilda van Stockum is one of my favourite children’s authors. If you haven’t read any of her books, The Winged Watchman would be a great place to start. Set in the Netherlands during World War II, it is an exciting adventure story about betrayal, resistance and eventual triumph.Continue reading “Hilda van Stockum’s ‘The Winged Watchman’”

Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Gilead’


I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it.

This is how Gilead, one of the greatest novels of the 21st century begins. As these first sentences suggest, it is a novel about life and death, old age and youth, faith and God. Yes, that’s right: God. Gilead is a faith-filled novel, which is not quite as rare as you might imagine in contemporary fiction.Continue reading “Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Gilead’”

Quotation of the Day

“À proprement parler, l’éternité n’existe pas. Elle n’est qu’une vue de l’esprit. La foi biblique ne porte pas sur cette abstraction anonyme. Elle ne cherche pas, comme les sagesses philosophiques, un état de tranquillité. Ce qui l’inspire, ce à quoi elle aspire, ce n’est pas l’éternité, c’est l’Éternel. Avec un É majuscule, monsieur. Parce que c’est un patronyme. Le nom d’une Personne, et même d’une communion de Personnes. En conséquence, l’éternelle vie n’est pas un état, mais une rencontre. Elle n’est pas l’entrée dans quelque chose, mais l’union à quelqu’un.”

Fabrice Hajadj – Le Paradis à la porte: essaie sur une joie qui dérange pp.316-7

Quotation of the Day

“Considered etymologically, [the word ‘medieval’] assumes that we have to deal with a threefold division of time, a succession of three periods in terms of Hegelian dialectic. Viewed thus, the ‘Middle Ages’ are a transition from antiquity to modern times; but if by that phrase we mean that they form a chronological link between the two, we convey exactly nothing. ‘What age is not the link between what goes before and that which follows? Every age is a “middle age,” and we ourselves shall one day be regarded as medieval by posterity.’ If, on the other hand, we mean to describe an era of preparation, of quest, and of elaboration, which is to perfect the social order, then, it is to be feared that we are still farther from the truth; for the present scene affords scant evidence of progress, in the moral or the social sphere.”

H Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade, p.6