The Love Child by Edith Olivier – an Imaginary Friend becomes real in a 1927 novel now reprinted in the Women Writers series

The Love Child - British Library Online Shop

The Love Child by Edith Olivier

This is a delicately written book, in which a child, a small woman appears in a life of quiet loneliness. A book originally published in 1927, this unique novel has been republished in a stylish new format in the British Library Women Writers series. There are added sections to give context to the story of the 1920s, and the author’s life. An Afterword by the series consultant Simon Thomas points out the legal context as well as the themes of this novel. In addition to the main story there is also an account by Olivier of sightings of strange things without explanations. Overall this is a well presented book in all senses, an attractive addition to a smart series. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book. 

The story introduces the character of Agatha Bodenham, a single woman of thirty-two. It is the day of her mother’s funeral, and she is realising that with this death she is totally alone. Perceptively Olivier writes “Perhaps Agatha felt nothing. Certainly she could never tell what she felt, nor ask and receive sympathy.” A Cousin Louise notices, and volunteers to stay for a few days rather than leave Agatha alone, an offer that surprises the young woman. She is uncomfortable with her guest, unable to embark upon the necessary tasks following a death, unwilling to take any pleasure or reassurance from her relative’s presence. Her own reserve, combined with that of her mother’s, had meant that neither had really sought or achieved friendship. At the sudden realisation of her loneliness she remembers Clarissa, an imaginary friend from her childhood, who she felt able to play with until her obsession was condemned by her governess Miss Marks. After eighteen years Agatha remembers the comfort and joy of having a friend to talk and play with in her garden, to enjoy make believe games. 

After a little while it feels like Clarissa has returned in the same form she was last seen, a small girl in a white dress. For a while it seems as though she can only be seen by Agatha, and the servants and gardener wonder why the sedate lady is chasing around the garden like a child playing games with an imaginary companion. Then gradually they catch glimpses of a child, while Agatha can actually see and touch the small girl. Knowing that it will be impossible to conceal a child in a house, Agatha suddenly decides to go Brighton, which profoundly confuses her servants, and has to make secret arrangements to find something suitable for the child to wear. She has to cope with the form of a child through which things can fall, which seems to be inconsistent in how she appears. It proves difficult to explain the appearance of a small child in the life and home of a single woman. This is the central conundrum of the novel, where has the child come from, and how real is she, and can Agatha carry on concealing her indefinitely.

This book depends on a charming conceit, the existence of a child from imagination, the solid manifestation of a woman’s intense desire for company. I loved the idea of the games the two women play, of adventures in a car, of imaginary journeys that exceed reality. It is tragic in terms of the desperate loneliness of a woman in the period following the First World War, when so many women were resigned to living alone as what seemed like a generation of men had been killed. Agatha is not poor in a financial state, but for a relatively young woman she has no real hope of finding anyone to share her life with, which is extremely tragic. This is a beautifully written story which lingers in the mind, for the powerful effect of imagination, and the unexplained nature of Clarissa.      

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke – an atmospheric reading experience

The Lighthouse Witches by C J Cooke

There is something atmospheric about novels set on the coast, and with a deserted lighthouse at the centre of a story this book is extremely descriptive of supernatural sightings and events. Told in at least three time frames, this novel evokes a sense of the brutality of the treatment of women suspected to be witches in past times, an evil act which has reverberated throughout the history of the area over generations. As the years have passed, children have been seen who have no reason to be there, and people have vanished. This book does not run in a linear way throughout the disturbing history of the island to the present day; it features Liv’s first person account of her arrival in the area in 1998, the tale of Sapphire’s experiences of the same events, and Luna’s strange discoveries in 2021. There are also accounts of an older time when women of the area were taken up for alleged witchcraft and grievously treated. There is real terror in some of these passages, as the ill treatment of women is recalled. 

The focus of much of the novel is the disappearance of a family of four, as a mother and three daughters recently arrived are nowhere to be seen. This is a strange and affecting book with real depth and many layers of puzzles, a really complex book that I was interested to have the opportunity to read and review.

After a brief piece about the execution of two women, we then begin Liv’s account from 1998 of her arrival on the Black Isle in Scotland with her three daughters. She has just received a commission to paint a mural in a lighthouse, which rejoices in the name of “The Longing”. She has just bundled the girls into a car and driven from southern England, with precious few belongings and a desire to flee. Her first sight of the lighthouse is suitably unnerving; with a dodgy staircase, battered walls with scraped plaster and inches of filthy water. Despite this a local woman, Isla, remains optimistic that everything is possible, and sets in motion the painting project for the absent Mr Roberts. As the relationship between Liv and the teenage Sapphire worsens, the younger girls begin to pick up an atmosphere of fearsome uncertainty. A written account of women’s treatment and fate from some centuries before begins to interweave with the contemporary accounts of unexplainable experiences. In 2021 a pregnant Luna makes some stunning discoveries which draw her mind back to what she may remember from the 1990s, and it seems impossible to understand the full legacy of curses uttered in extreme circumstances.

This novel represents a full gothic reading experience of a fearsome quality, and has much to say about the what has happened to women through the centuries in what is an isolated community. The plot is complex, and the organisation of the different time frames is a little confusing. The relationship between mothers and daughters is well examined, as the restless Sapphire has many of the same issues experienced by teenagers who have not been uprooted from their friends, school and home, having suffered an unacknowledged loss. This is not an easy read, but for sheer atmosphere and impact it is unique.    

Christmas with the Surplus Girls by Polly Heron – The lead up to a special Christmas for women making their own way in Manchester, 1922

Susanna Bavin/PollyHeron on Twitter: "How about a taste of Christmas🎄 on  this scorching hot day🌞?! Proud to show you the full cover for Christmas  with the Surplus Girls, book 3 in #TheSurplusGirls

Christmas with the Surplus Girls by Polly Heron 

In 1922 it was feared that many women and girls would never marry, with so many men being killed during the First World War. It became important that they were trained for jobs that would mean that they could survive without marriage, or remarriage if they had been widowed. In this third novel which looks at young women who could be called “Surplus Girls”, a young woman is pressured into training for work beyond serving in a shop. Nancy Pike is concerned that office work is beyond her, but it seems that she must qualify in order to help her desperately poor family. She is therefore sent to Miss Hesketh’s school for surplus girls, and becomes involved in not only the situations in that house, but also two work placements that both challenge her in new ways. Her progress and struggles occupy a large section of this book, as well as her meeting with Zachary Miller, who has his own problems in starting a business.

The largest linking factor with this novel and the previous two is the small business school run by two sisters in a relatively large house. Their secrets and motivations are well reestablished, especially in the light of two residents in the house: a problematic niece and an inspiring war widow with a complex secret. Thus it is perfectly possible to read and enjoy this book as a standalone novel with some characters who link it with previous stories. Also, despite the title, Christmas does not dominate the story, although for Nancy it forms particular challenges, so this book does not have to be a seasonal read. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written book.

As always in books from this author, the research is so impressive, especially into the social history of a time of great deprivation in cities. Thus Nancy’s birthday celebration with her family takes place in the flat she shares with her parents and younger twin sisters above a tobacconist’s shop. Her father is not a forceful man, and her mother is ill, in a time when medical help was an expensive thing for families on limited incomes. Nancy has been working in a pie shop since she left school, and enjoys the routines and meeting the customers, even if her wages are small. When her father announces that she is to leave the shop and train for office work she is dumbfounded, especially when it transpires that she is to leave home and become a student in the school run by Prudence and Patience Hesketh. Nancy is amazed to discover that she will be entering a house which seems to her to be the last word in gentellity, even though the “highly respectable, middle – class Miss Heskeths were as poor as church-mice”. When it is proposed that she will become a paying guest/student she is amazed, and distraught, reluctant to leave her mother. She finds the lessons in basic office work, such as typing, a real struggle, and yet she is allocated to work in the office of a local orphanage. She and another young woman are to effectively compete for the single job on offer, with the decision to be made at Christmas. Furthermore she is also placed for work experience with a young man’s business, Zackary, who has established a small concern equipping places with fire extinguishers. He is dealing with the trauma of fighting on the Front and losing his much loved brother. He is not convinced that he needs Nancy’s help, and especially when she makes mistakes that threaten his fledgling business. Both young people discover an interest in the other, but events seem contrived to pull them further apart so their silent attraction seems to remain no more than secrets. With Christmas approaching, can Nancy make it a special time for the Orphanage as well as the other people around her?

This is a well written novel which kept me turning the pages well into the night, as I was so eager to discover what would happen to not only Nancy, but also those who had appeared in previous books. The setting of interwar Manchester is beautifully realised in terms of the buildings and the conditions in which the people live. This is a lovely book in so many ways with vivid characters throughout, even in minor roles, and I recommend this book to all those who appreciate female led dramas. 

Could You Survive Midsomer? by Simon Brew – An official interactive novel to survive and detect murder in English villages

Could You Survive Midsomer? By Simon Brew

An interactive book that could remind you of children’s make your own adventure book, this one is definitely aimed at adults. Anyone with the vaguest knowledge of television will have heard of Midsomer Murders, now on series twenty two, which features a collection of English villages which are the scene of multiple murders, often in a single episode. All are investigated by either Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby or subsequently by his younger cousin John Barnaby; after all, the series has been going on television since 1997 so only two DCIs and an impressive list of sergeants have had their day in searching out the motives from a host of hapless villagers, who have included many British actors over several generations. Rather than another book of photographs or guide book to the area, this book is more of a puzzle or a book to get involved in. It is usable by those of us who have seen many episodes many times, or those whose knowledge of the actual television version is sketchy. I tried it several times so far, and am very pleased to have had the opportunity to discover and review this book. 

The basic idea of this book is to survive as a brand new detective in the area as you work through the various options that the book presents. Everyone begins with the same basic scenario; on your first day as a detective in the Midsomer area you are sent out to discover the circumstances of the unfortunate death of Peter James Maddock whose body has been found under a pile of homemade damson jam jars.  This being Midsomer, the sun shines as a Villages in Bloom competition begins. At the end of two sections which describe the setting (beautiful villages, gorgeous gardens and a whole host of suspicious characters) you are asked to make a choice as to what to do next, and you flick over the pages to find a numbered section accordingly. Some feature largely bewildering interviews with village characters, some have you investigating the scene of possibly relevant developments. Not only are you looking for clues and motives, methods and possibilities, but also avoiding dangerous situations of sudden and unusual death yourself. Do not be concerned; like the television series there is definitely dark humour in each section and sometimes actual comedy in the unlikely events. 

I really enjoyed attempting to navigate my way through this book. Being a huge fan of the series I recognised many references to episodes (lethal cheese, anyone?) though it would be possible to enjoy the book without knowing anything beyond accepting the rural scene. I could even visualize certain types of actors who would take the roles. There are a few pictures to break up the text, and they are also interesting. In these days of more time at home instead of actual socializing this book would undoubtedly be in the style of murder mystery gatherings, and could definitely be appreciated repeatedly as various choices can make for a successful detection of the guilty, or a very short experience as the becoming the latest victim of the mysterious murderer. This is a very well presented hardback with clear directions and well printed directions, and even space for notes in the back. This would make a lovely treat for oneself, or a intriguing gift for a murder mystery fan.  

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Lockdown Books, Kington Hertfordshire – A special bookshop

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Lockdown Books

It is really helpful and exciting when people contact me online to tell me about bookshops that are accessible for Morgan the trusty wheelchair. That’s how I found out about Lockdown Books!

It is in a small village on the Welsh borders – Kington in Hertfordshire. It is at number 48 on the High Street, which is not very long! After essential refreshments at a local cafe, we tracked down the shop and had a long chat with the owner. 

As you can see from the website – https://lock-down-books.com/  the bookshop specialises in “Politics, social and ecological issues, feminism, queer, landscape, art and poetry” . It means that there are not huge number of books on display, but they are all carefully chosen and certainly not what you would find in other bookshops generally. Local authors also present copies to the shop so there are some really special books available. There is also a collection of lovely art for sale from local artists, which we didn’t actually take photos of – probably copyright!

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 10-5

48 High Street, Kington, Herefordshire. HR5 3BJ.

Tel: 07859 479896

We had a good time discussing book selling and life generally, so if you find yourself in the area, it’s a really good place to visit!

(Of course if you have ideas for others places we could visit – do let me know – please – twitter @NorthernReader or comment below)

The Patchwork Girls by Elaine Everest – a story of early Wartime and women working together

The Patchwork Girls by Elaine Everest

Helen is a young woman who wakes up to a nightmare: her husband John has been killed. Even though it is London in 1939 it is still a surprise; the cause is given as a gas explosion. The event forces her to return to her mother’s home with all its tensions and her offensive stepfather. After running away to London to avoid him, her difficult mother and village life, how can she survive her return given the ominous onset of war and all the implications of rationing and worse? Even her best friend has gone silent in London, and she knows no one in the village. The only person taking an interest in her is an RAF officer who seems to be investigating her MP husband’s death, but his interest does not seem to be friendly. A village sewing group may provide a lifeline for her and Effie, whose daughters need a safe home while her husband is on active service abroad. Can sewing pieces of fabric truly help with trauma on this scale?

This is a standalone book from the author of several series of wartime novels. At its heart are the memories and more of women as they deal with more than the usual cycle of marriage and life; they are looking to challenges that will require more of them than knitting socks for troops. As it introduces characters like Lizzie, the strong minded Canadian who actively tries to improve the lives of others, it looks at how women can work together to make a difference even in difficult circumstances. Aware that she may seem an outsider as Britain gears up for War, her determination to offer friendship and more to Helen is a strong theme in this engaging book. The research into the setting and various aspects of early wartime life makes this a fascinating read, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining book.

As she surveys the scene of her husband’s death, Helen is shocked at her reaction, especially as in the light of questions from the attentive Inspector Richard Gladstone. While she realises that as an important MP with responsibilities in the preparations for war his sudden death must be investigated, she is mystified as to why he is taking such an interest in her. After all, while her marriage was never passionate or even very loving, she fulfilled all the duties of the perfect MP’s wife. She had spent the day largely with her friend Felicity, and in leisurely shopping. Now she must make a quick decision about where she is going to live, and how she must come to terms with her greatly changed future. Her mother’s disappointment in no longer being associated with an MP is difficult to cope with, so when she sees an advertisement for a sewing group she snatches at the opportunity, and is soon persuaded that the simple construction of a quilt can help resolve her difficult memories, especially when more revelations further rock everything. Meanwhile Effie, a live-in housekeeper in Helen’s mother’s employ, has had to retrieve her daughters from their evacuation home, and now faces the bleak choice of returning to London and its dangers or finding a home in the village. As Helen despairs of remaining in her mother’s house, Richard is asking yet more questions, and Effie is struggling, they must find a swift answer to their difficulties. 

This is certainly an engaging and entertaining book, with a well constructed plot and a warmth in some of the characters. Helen is a particularly interesting character who has to cope with some very tricky situations. I recommend this book to all those who are interested in wartime stories, and especially those who would like to gain some knowledge of how groups of women working together on crafts made a real difference to life on the Home Front. 

Elaine Everest is the author of bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls, Christmas at Woolworths and The Teashop Girls. She was born and raised in North-West Kent, where many of her bestselling historical sagas are set. She grew up listening to tales of the war years in her hometown of Erith, which has inspired her own stories. 

Elaine has been a freelance writer for 25 years and has written over 100 short stories and serials for the women’s magazine market. She is also the author of a number of popular non-fiction books for dog owners.

When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent. She now lives in Swanley with her husband, Michael and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry. 

Her Secret War by Pam Lecky – a wartime romance becomes a thriller as Sarah must decide what do to for the best

Her Secret War by Pam Lecky

Sarah Gillespie is a young woman in trouble in this historical novel with an intense story of deceit, loss and much more. It is May 1941, and although Sarah lives in neutral Dublin, a stray bombing raid threatens her life and changes it forever. When the man she loves leaves to enlist with the idea that their relationship is over, her decision to move to England comes with its own problems and challenges. Can she cope in a world which seems to be dedicated to the war effort, but also poses a test of her own loyalty and bravery?

This is a wartime novel which enters the territory of thriller as a young woman desperately tries to do the right thing, while risking everything. From the loss of her family to discovering relatives who genuinely care for her is an interesting theme, but it is when a mysterious demand to complete a special mission emerges that Sarah is really tested; can her honesty, courage and resourcefulness be enough to ensure her survival, and at what cost to those around her? This is a brilliantly constructed novel with enough twists and surprises to satisfy any reader, as well as showing the author’s real talent for creating characters that really succeed in terms of realism. The setting of wartime England and the work of a special office is well described, with immense research into even the tiny details, but which never interrupts the narrative. I enjoyed the dialogue, especially between cousins Martin and Sarah. Overall this is a powerful and intense book of “love and espionage” which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

Sarah’s story begins on a dark night in Dublin, where she is upset after her boyfriend Paul O’ Reilly has revealed his secret plans to enlist in the RAF in England. He must keep it a secret not just because of his family’s concern about danger; Pat, his father “is a fierce IRA man, same as our Da.” Sarah has no secrets from her younger sister Maura, who she has brought up following their mother’s early death. Their father Jim is a violent bully who spends his time and money in the pubs of Dublin with doubtful associates. Sarah is aware that even on a night which is full of the sound of German planes overhead he will not concern himself with his daughters’ welfare, but will be angry if she is absent when he returns the worse for drink. Sarah tries to reassure Maura and herself that Ireland’s neutrality will keep Dublin safe from enemy bombing, but tragically on this night she is proved wrong. Sarah is left with nothing and no family in an instant, and when Paul insists on disappearing she is left with no option but to seek refuge with her uncle and family in England. Her welcome there is better than her greatest expectation, especially when it comes with a job that enables her to feel that she is really contributing to the war effort. A secret challenge to her safety then invades her life and leaves her struggling to see what to do; she wants revenge on the enemy, but at what cost?

This novel seems to begin as a romantic saga of a young woman being challenged in life and love, but soon becomes something much richer and exciting. I really enjoyed this engaging book with its picture of a young woman facing many dilemmas and the aspects of a wartime thriller which are well handled. Altogether I recommend this book for its construction, its tension, and its picture of a young woman facing enormous challenges. 

Empire’s Heir by Marian L. Thorpe – a young woman must make decisions that will affect an Empire on the edge of history.

Empire's Heir (Empire's Legacy Book 6) by [Marian L Thorpe]

Empire’s Heir by Marian L Thorpe

Intense, moving and deeply personal, this novel set on the edge of history is a picture of an unconventional family under various threats is an engaging read. A political thriller of sorts, this is a novel which features a subtle and intelligent story of a group of people who are playing for high stakes – their lives and the survival of their country in the face of a powerful ruling Empire. The talented author continues a saga in a created world which draws inspiration and historical veracity from Roman history with other elements added. This book is the second in a second trilogy of an Empire where women are frequently warriors, politicians and in the case of one of the main characters here, diplomats. Gwenna is a young woman who is the acknowledged heir to the land of Esperias, and it is largely her story which dominates this novel which I believe can be read as a standalone and indeed taster for the other novels. Certainly most of the challenges she faces in this novel are new and must be worked at independently of what has gone before; her parents have their own stories but this is Gwenna’s story. While her father Cillian is present, her mother Lena is coping with a tragic loss and her fears for the future, taking some refuge in the military role which she is uniquely qualified for given her stormy past. 

This is a novel told through the perspectives of Gwenna and Cillian as they make choices and take actions that may have implications for thousands of people as well as themselves. The inherent tension kept me reading, the world creation is superbly consistent, and yet it is the humanity of the narrative which maintains interest. Thorpe is a skilful creator of characters and settings in the little details, the small points that reveal immense research into the sources which construct an Empire on the edge of history, and I was accordingly so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this deeply satisfying book. 

As the book opens Gwenna is negotiating a trade deal with the ruler of a neighbouring state. It concerns wool as befits a largely agricultural state, but it also reveals the sophistication of the society in which Gwenna and her family live and act. Gwenna acquits herself well, despite the fact that both sides are dealing with personal griefs that will echo throughout the book. She also reveals that she has been invited to the investiture of the new Emperor of the East who was assuming his role from the abdication of his mother who had been the effective ruler of the Empire. Gwenna has been invited specifically in her role as heir to the leadership of Esparius, but also as a potential bride for this new young Emperor. There turns out to be competition for the role, other young women whose backgrounds also represent political implications as well as their own personality, and Gwenna must make fine judgements of her wishes amid huge tensions. The other point of view narrator of the story is Cillian, her father, whose own history with the Empress is complex, and together with Lena, has made decisions that have affected his own position as well as nominating his eldest child for a role that she was given as a baby. He is determined to accompany her to Casil, even though he knows that he risks his own life in several ways; as a sick man who needs constant medical attention, but also as a potential traitor who has walked a tightrope of diplomacy for decades. 

This is a vivid story of family, friends, and others whose lives are being decided by a complex set of circumstances frequently beyond their control. Though in a unique setting, their actions, reactions and emotions are common to people throughout history and everywhere. I recommend this novel as an engaging continuation of a well established story, but also a tension filled narrative of a group of people negotiating a complex situation in its own right. 

The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul – a review of a novel that brings the real woman out of the mystery of Tutankhamun’s tomb’s discovery in the 1920s

The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

A woman has memories of an incredible time in her life, but those memories are fragile and are at risk. Lady Evelyn Herbert grew up in Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey) and yet her greatest memory is of being the first person into the tomb of Tutankhamun, possibly the richest archeological discovery of the twentieth century.  This is a fictional reworking of her life, where historical events are set in a love story that lasted for decades despite all sorts of challenges. Featuring her husband Brograve who became a wealthy man as well as an MP, this is a story that jumps between the 1970s when Eve struggles with strokes that rob her of memories, and the 1920s when the great discovery took place. From a photograph of Lord Carnarvon, Eve’s father and Howard Carter, the archeologist who was the lead in the search for a significant tomb, the third figure of a young woman is given her own story with great success, as her memories are challenged by time and ill health. Her determination, individual charm and so much more are the themes of a book which transforms our understanding of the woman who helped make history, but is seldom mentioned. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this tremendous novel.

This book opens in London, July 1972. Eve has had another stroke, and Brograve is anxiously awaiting to discover what damage has been done on this occasion. The author has gathered information about stroke rehabilitation from a physiotherapist who worked in the field pre 1980s, when scans made diagnosis very much easier. As Eve’s determination to recover her facilities means that she regains many memories of significant events and emotions in the 1920s, including her loving relationship with Brograve, so many things are challenged. Her progress is described alongside Brograve’s help, as the focus returns to 1920, when she met and made good friends, and the scene was set for the archaeological work that led to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb.Various characters appear, including her volatile mother Almina, her much loved if difficult father “Pups” and her great friend, Carter. In the background is the idea of the curse that was supposed to mean disaster for anyone entering the tomb, and was probably largely created by the media of the day. An insistent Egyptian woman who insists on questioning Eve about the discovery, Ana Mansour, provides much of the impetus for Eve to remember what really happened to some of the artifacts found in the tomb, and she is an uncomfortable character in the story throughout. 

This is a beautifully written story of a life and a relationship dominated by events in the 1920. As the author points out in the back of the book, it is about memory and the loving relationship between Eve and Brograve. I found it a completely engaging read, which not only succeeds in giving a real and vibrant life to a woman who was an active participant in a significant historical discovery but also making her a memorable character in her own right. The research in this novel is impressive, ranging from the history, the biographies of the main characters where they exist, and the medical realities of a series of what were seen as strokes in the 1970s. Despite that the narrative is never slowed by facts and evidence; it rather flows between the established time periods in an entirely intriguing way. I really enjoyed reading this book; I recommend it to anyone with an interest in Tutankhamun’s tomb and its discovery, and especially to anyone who is interested in the life of a woman who has been sidelined by history but contributed to a famous series of events in the twentieth century.  

The Woman, the Mink, the Cod and the Donkey by Margerie Swash – an affectionate parody with its own cheeky humour

Scarf next to a copy of The Woman, the Mink, the Cod and the Donkey with a plate of biscuits

The Woman, the Mink, the Cod and the Donkey by Margerie Swash

This book is subtitled “An Affectionate Parody”, and it would be difficult to deny that it does take its inspiration from a certain bestseller which is generally labeled as a “book of hope”. There is hope, searching and more in this one, but it is also a bit more realistic as Emanuel Santos has captured the essence of the drawings from the original, and added a few spots of ink and wine glass stains for good measure. This book is about a woman who is in search of an open pub in a time of lockdown. It is funny in its own right, which I can definitely assert not having read the original, and I think has its own charm and points to make. Another comment is that “She was looking for wine. Instead she found friendship”, which I think is not a bad maxim for anytime, let alone the interesting times in which we live. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this charming and somehow insightful book.

Set in the “strange, sad region of yesteryear called ‘lockdown”, the author hopes that it will “make you smile” whenever you read it, because it involves wine, and a certain amount of love. The humour is gentle – never criticising or poking fun at the original, but posing a parallel situation or two. The woman is after wine, but that is not her only quest – she welcomes the odd group of companions so much that even when she does get wine, courtesy of a talkative and otherwise rejected mink, she says “there is something missing”. The odd assortment of travellers include a donkey, who is the noisiest of creatures with his constant “he haws”, but who never actually says anything interesting or remotely useful: “The irony. We all know a donkey”. The party travels far, with many questions ranging from “would you rather be famous or rich?” to “Are we there yet?”. Unusual travelling requirements are met, and yet the search goes on.

This is undoubtedly a charming little book which gently suggests an alternative set of images in a now familiar style. I enjoyed its humour, and it certainly made me smile on a tricky day. I enjoyed its clever and knowing style, and the illustrations are gently funny (such as when three of them are pointing the way in unison). Yes, it is a parody, but it has much more going for it as a cheeky book in its own right. I recommend it as a cheerful book for tricky, and not so tricky, times.