Family history: Look locally

Once you can place a relative in a geographical location, it is then possible to fill in background information about them via your local council records. Some of these may be online, others may be found in local archives or the family history centre, and can include council minutes, education records and quarter sessions. Quarter sessions in the UK were courts of limited criminal and civil jurisdiction, and appeal, usually held quarterly in counties and boroughs [above]. Discontinued in 1972 to be replaced by the Crown Courts, these are a fruitful place to search if one of your relatives appeared
Read More

Book review: Bloodline

This is a combination of genealogical mystery, murder investigation and historical examination of the Nazis. Bloodline by Fiona Mountain, the second Natasha Blake mystery, covers a lot of ground from its seemingly innocuous starting point when Natasha hands in her report to a client. But nothing is mentioned lightly in this book, everything has a meaning. Natasha is not sure why Charles Seagrove requested this particular family tree, but knows he is unrelated to any of the people featured. The real reason for Seagrove’s interest in genealogy is at the heart of this storyline. There are many dead ends and
Read More

My Porridge & Cream read: Kate Frost

Today I’m delighted to welcome women’s novelist Kate Frost. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is the classic Chocolat by Joanne Harris. “To be honest, I have more than one ‘Porridge and Cream’ book, and they’re all quite different, but the book I’d happily pick up when feeling ill or run down is Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – a delicious and delightful character-driven novel centred around single mother and chocolatier Vianne Rocher and her young daughter, Anouk. I first read it over a summer, not long after it had been published, so around 2000 or 2001. I’d recently moved in with my boyfriend
Read More

Book review: Darktown

Darktown by Thomas Mullen is a gripping book. A combination of the social history of black Americans in post-war pre-civil rights USA, and crime story, it tells the story of the first black policemen in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948 and the physical, emotional and moral challenges they faced. Page after page, and they turned quickly, I was astonished by what happened and the knowledge that similar events really took place. It is a commentary on racial divides in the USA that the summer (2016) this novel about white police brutality was published, white policemen are still shooting and mistreating black
Read More

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Alone’

This is a short poem from a pamphlet by Yorkshire-born, Lancashire-based poet Dea Parkin. The collection is varied, designed to appeal to people who don’t normally read poetry. Some of the poems are based on stories or images. When I read the first stanza of ‘Alone’, I knew where I was standing. Read it. Where do you see yourself? Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full. ‘Alone’ I stand in a startling place White-cold and bleak With absence all around.   The clamour of the world Grows bold and strident in my ear But I
Read More

Book review: We Are Water

We Are Water by American author Wally Lamb is the examination of a family riven by differences, tragedy and horrors, how they first avoid then finally admit the truths and shame, in order to face the future. It is a story about looking forwards, not back. I loved the storyline set-up in the Prologue, elderly artist and curator Gualtiero Agnello recalls the discovery of a self-taught artist, Josephus Jones, a poor black man in the Sixties with a raw untapped gift. But then as the story develops, Jones is not centre stage. The focus is on Annie Oh, another untutored
Read More

First Edition: The Hobbit

My worn copy of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein was published by George Allen & Unwin – the edition dates from 1966 – and cost 50p/10s. I’m not sure of the date it was bought for me, I remember reading it when I was about 11 or 12, which corresponds with the dual pricing on the back cover [the UK adopted decimal currency in 1971 and for a time, goods and services had dual prices]. I particularly love the cover, which is an early sketch by the author. The story This is a quest, a journey both geographically and of personality,
Read More

How Mary Gaitskill writes

American writer Mary Gaitskill is well-known in her native land, but has passed under the radar in the UK. Her third novel, The Mare, may change things. Velvet is a streetwise 11-year old Dominican girl living with her single mother and younger brother in a tiny apartment in a deprived part of Brooklyn. Eligible for the Fresh Air Fund, Velvet takes a free summer holiday with Ginger and Paul and discovers the stables next door. There she is entranced by a mare, a rescue horse called Fiery Girl. As Velvet is besotted with the horse, so Ginger becomes besotted by
Read More

Book review: Hide and Seek

Different from the preceding five books in the series and even faster-paced. DI Helen Grace is in prison, awaiting trial. Unsurprisingly, as a copper she receives brute treatment from her fellow inmates. And then one of them is killed and the prisoners don’t know who to fear – Grace, who is accused of murder; a fellow prisoner; or a prison guard. Hide and Seek by MJ Arlidge is a relentless page-turner. The action switches viewpoint as Helen tries to identify the killer and prevent him killing again. Her friend DC Charlie Brooks is on the outside, trying to prove Helen’s
Read More

Book review: Golden Age

When I go on holiday I see a lot of people around the pool reading ‘family sagas’, usually a historical setting, based on one or two families, with characters that lock you in. That’s what the ‘Last Hundred Years’ trilogy by Jane Smiley is like. In the first book, Some Luck, I studied the family tree at the front. It started with the two key figures, Walter and Rosanna Langdon. The names in the future generations, stretching to the bottom of the page meant nothing. I was interested in Walter and Rosanna’s story. In Golden Age, the final instalment, I
Read More