Prudence and the Crow – A vintage book subscription box

Is there anything more wonderful than treating yourself to a new book?

I think I may have found something.

Last month a friend introduced me to Prudence and the Crow, a little london-based company which offers monthly subscriptions of vintage paperbacks.

She pretty much had me at the Crow.

…I’m sorry, that was terrible.

Anyway, after visiting their elegantly designed website and learning a little more I wasted no time in signing up. A vintage paperback and extra SURPRISES for only £12 a month, seriously, you’d have to be an idiot, or some kind of book-hating weirdo, not to get in on this.

Today my first package arrived and I am fairly sure I have never been so excited in my entire life. The envelope alone was enough to get me to screaming like an excited school girl. A mystery book, selected especially for me!

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Check out my haul!

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The box was filled to bursting with all kinds of treats including a handmade book bag and bookmark, Prudence and the Crow library card, motivational mini postcard and a collectible tea card featuring an English spindle tree. I also got some interesting tea samples and a few sweets adorably packaged in a striped bag and sealed with a triceratops sticker.

I love every, single thing.

But of course the star of the show is my very own, handpicked vintage paperback – The Crystal Gryphon by Andre Norton

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I’ve never heard of Andre Norton, but I am super stoked to try this one out.

Kerovan of Ulmsdale is born different from other children: he has small hoofs instead of feet, and his strange eyes are the colour of amber. Fearful tales spread about Kerovan – but is he really a monster, or has he inherited some of the power of the mysterious Old Ones who inhabited his country long ago? And what about the potent magic of the crystal globe he sends to the bride he has never seen?

The blurb-cover combo on this book has me well and truly intrigued. I’m moving this straight to the top of my ‘to read’ list, so I’ll let you know what I think really soon!

In the mean time, get on over to Prudence and the Crow and treat yourself!

UK General Election 2015 – Make it count

If you do only one thing today, please take the time to place your vote.

Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the polling booths. I get such a thrill from exercising my duty as a British citizen, but I know there are a lot of people out there that are not planning on voting – please reconsider.

Not agreeing with any particular candidate is not an excuse not to vote. In a general election all votes are counted and recorded in constituencies across the UK, and this includes ballot papers where the voter has not voted for a candidate. Protest votes count – so have your say.

Remember that the right to vote is a privilege, and a privilege that was not always enjoyed by all. Don’t abuse it.

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I’m aware this post is a little out of the ordinary, and so while I’m here let me introduce my newest literary gift to myself. It’s been a difficult week so far and I wanted a treat to cheer myself up. In the spirit of things I chose a book from The Guardian‘s top 10 books about the Suffragettes. 

Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

91QV+7AkEtLOne cold January morning, in the wake of Queen Victoria’s death, two young sets of eyes meet across the graves at Highgate Cemetery. One pair belongs to smartly dressed Lavinia Waterhouse, whose mother clings to the traditional values she sees slipping away; the other to Maude Coleman,

whose mother longs to escape the stifling grip of Victorian society. Thrust together by the girls’ friendship, these two very different families embark on a new century that promises electricity, emancipation and other changes that will shake the very foundations of their lives.


Happy voting!

May bank holiday – I like books that tell a story

A long weekend is the perfect excuse for a leisurely Saturday. Today we headed into town for a spot of lunch and a wander around market, and I just couldn’t resist slipping into the Oxfam bookshop on Sidney Street.

After treating myself to a few new books last week, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy anything. I reasoned that I would only go in for a look, just to be around the books for a bit and soak up that great used-book smell. After spending a few idle moments perusing the classic texts I stumbled upon the collectables – truth be told, I was looking for the children’s section, but it seems they’ve rearranged the place since my last visit.

Nestled in amongst some dusty hardbacks by authors whose names I’d never heard, and ancient cook books the likes of which might have graced my Grandfather’s kitchen shelves, I found a well-loved volume of children’s stories.

Children’s Stories From Japanese Fairy Tales and Legends

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I love old children’s books. Our sitting room contains a bookshelf dedicated to children’s literature, where all the old fables and fairytales I was given as a child sit amongst Sebastian’s French Tin Tin comics and several tatty picture books by Hungarian photographer Ylla.

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I knew I wanted to add this one to my collection before I had even taken it off the shelf. I’ve never read a Japanese fairy tale, and was interested to see how they would compare to my childhood favourites by Hans Christian Andersen. A quick glimpse inside the book let me know I was making the right choice.

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I’ve never managed to pick up an old book with an inscription without buying it. There is something so beautiful about an inscription, as though it gives the book a story of its very own. Questions about the previous owner immediately started entering my mind. Were they a little boy, or a little girl? Why was Daddy gifting the book alone? Are they the only previous owner?

After trying, and failing, to strike up a conversation with the gentleman behind the till by informing him, somewhat excitedly, that there was an inscription in the book, I wandered home with my loot.

I spent the afternoon sat out sunshine getting to know my new friend, running my fingers lovingly over the pages to feel the indentations left by the old printing presses, and reading the first tale ‘The Daughter of the Moon’ – a charming story about a bamboo cutter who adopts a beautiful fairy.

As much as I liked the first tale, the thing that got me really excited about this book was the illustrations. There is the occasional printed colour plate often found in children’s books from the early 20th century, but there are also images included in the text that have been coloured in by hand.

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Towards the front of the book the pictures have been filled in delicately, with something resembling watercolour paints (above left). I had a look at other editions of the books online, and the images were definitely in no more than black ink when the book was first published. They must have been coloured in by one of the previous owners – was it the child who first received the book from ‘Daddy’ in 1930?

As I got further into the book I noticed that the images were no longer coloured with paint, but instead with coloured pencils, and the signature scratch of a much younger child (above right).

Without knowing anything about the previous owners, I can’t know for sure who coloured the pictures in, but this makes it all the more exciting. This book has its own mystery; a secret story told only in marks left behind by the ghosts of the past. If the first owner of the book did contribute to the coloured in images, and I like to think that they did, I do hope ‘Daddy’ wasn’t too cross.

My hand slipped…

…into my purse, and I got out the money to buy these little beauties.

Room – Emma Donoghue 

ROOM-IITo five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.


The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

8bc91d5455e90ab1672faa19ecbe1c59The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.


We are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

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Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion … she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.” As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.

In We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler weaves her most accomplished work to date—a tale of loving but fallible people whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences.


Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

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Maud, an ageing grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?


How often do you treat yourself to a new book (or four)?

Spring has sprung – Byron’s pool

The last week or so has felt like a new beginning after a very long and dreary winter. The other morning I was overjoyed to wake up with the sun on my face and more or less leapt out of bed. A sunny day off is not to be wasted. So my beloved and I headed down to one of my favourite local walking spots – Byron’s pool.

Byron’s Pool is a small nature reserve on the outskirts of Cambridge in the village of Grantchester, named after the poet Lord Byron, who it is said, would swim at the weir pool on warm summer’s days. It’s a picturesque location, and perfect for a leisurely walk along the River Cam.

If you have never been to Grantchester you could do worse than to plan a day trip, the village is a truly beautiful location.

Banks_of_the_Cam_at_Grantchester If you need more convincing, this should do the trick:

…………………. would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, Or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:…
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester ….

Rupert Brooke, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, 1912

Byron’s pool itself is just outside of Grantchester. A public footpath through the reserve takes you in a loop alongside the River Cam, and around a small patch of quiet woodland. The river is calm and quiet, brimming with water lilies, with small shallow streams of crystal clear water and darting sticklebacks running through the woodland. The woods, though just beginning to bud in the early spring, comes to life in the summer with hundreds of sweet smelling wildflowers, daisies, willowherb, hogweed, ragwort, dovesfoot, meadowsweet, elder, ivy and cows parsley to name but a few.

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I think the main thing which draws me towards Byron’s Pool is the knowledge that Byron spent time there, and, if you listen to Brookes, perhaps still does:

Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.

I like to think that the playful spirit of Byron still roams the area.


George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron_by_Richard_Westall_(2)Fun Byron fact – Lord Byron was a great lover of animals, and while he was a student at Trinity College installed a tame bear in his quarters. He was compelled to do so after becoming upset that the university forbade the keeping of dogs – they neglected to mention that bears were also forbidden. The college authorities had no had no legal basis to complain, although it is said that they tried to tell him that domesticated animals were not allowed, to which he replied: ‘I assure you that the bear is wild.’


I love the idea of wandering around with the spirits of poets past, and always feel compelled to slip beneath the water as to become even closer to the celestial body of Byron – Alas!IMG_0039

As always I had to settle for a quiet walk, pausing every now and then to try and capture the scene through the lens of my camera.

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Walking with the boy on this warm spring day we spoke casually about the location and came upon a bit of difference of opinion. Sebastian thinks the location is ruined by its close proximity to the M11, and while I will concede that this doesn’t add to the experience it does not ruin it for me. I would be lying if I said I can’t hear the road, it is there, in the background, but the sounds of the river, the birds, and the breeze through the trees disguise this for me. Focus on the road and you will hear it, lose yourself in the location and it can pass you by.

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Busy week, lazy weekend

Apologies for neglecting you guys this past week – I know you must have missed me like crazy!

I just spent three days carrying out some work experience at the Hunts Post for my NCTJ – an amazing experience I hope to revisit later in the year.

If you want to see what I got up to you can check out next week’s edition of the paper online from Wednesday.

But in the mean time, here’s a little sneak peek

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© Helen Drake

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” ― Oscar Wilde

Hi guys and girls!

Just a little update to let you know I am currently not accepting any new reviews until further notice.

Please rest assured that this a TEMPORARY thing.

When I first started blogging I never imagined I would have so much interest in my reviews. I’ve been overwhelmed by your support, and all your lovely feedback. It’s great to know my work is appreciated.

Those of you with books listed on my future reviews page, don’t panic. I will honour all former requests. I’m in the process of writing a couple at the moment which will be up in the next week or so.

This is all for the greater good, as I have decided to embark on a little personal development in the form of an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism.

I’ll be sure to let you all know as soon as I am accepting review requests again 🙂

“Never be so busy as not to think of others.” ― Mother Teresa

I know I haven’t been posting quite as much recently. My ‘one review a week’ rule went out the window when my body decided to gift me a two-month spell of headaches and nausea. Now, don’t get me wrong, getting ill is never convenient, but this came at a really, really terrible time. We’ve been working on three books on top of one another at work, and there really hasn’t been much time for feeling sorry myself [although I will confess I’ve managed to fit a little of that in here and there].

Thankfully, last week was a bit of a turning point. Not only did one of the books go to press [Whoop whoop!] but I finally woke up without a nagging pain in the side of my face and a desire to crawl back under the covers. It really is amazing how good a couple of months of feeling awful can make you feel.

So to all of you reading this, I know some of you are waiting for reviews from me, don’t worry I haven’t forgotten you. I’ve got a mound of books to get through, but I am getting through them. The next one is coming, very soon!

In the mean time, feel free to enjoy these pictures of Umlaut reading a book, and just be thankful you don’t need to use your own face every time you turn a page.

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‘There are two kinds of idiots – those who don’t take action because they have received a threat, and those who think they are taking action because they have issued a threat.’ – Paulo Coelho

Hello there new visitors and followers. I can’t help but notice that my blog hits have gone up somewhat today, over 900% actually, but who’s counting?

I’m sure most of you can already guess what this post is going to be about.

I started reviewing books because I love to read, and I am always keen to practice my writing. To begin with it was just a hobby, something to fill up an empty evening. I only reviewed books I specifically wanted to read, which was great, but I started to want more.

Recently reviews have become a much bigger part of my life. I have started reviewing books for the publishing house where I work (check out issue 17 of Global magazine). I have also been offering my services to authors, when requested. My experience on the whole has been very positive. Reviewing for people gives me a chance to widen my connections, and most authors are happy to receive some honest feedback.

Note – most authors.

Today I had a very unpleasant experience with one author who had gifted me a book to review. After reading what was, on the whole not a very successful novel, I attempted to relate my honest opinion to the author in question. I was met with verbal abuse, and threats that if I published my review I would be ‘destroyed’.

Any author should be prepared to encounter tough criticism to begin with. First, second, and even third novels are often not met with the reaction that an author desires. George Orwell’s first few novels were very badly received, and it was the process of rejection which eventually led to the successful publishing of Down and Out in Paris and London.

I am an open, honest and fair critic and thus some reviews, particularly of first time authors, can seem a little discouraging. However, all of my reviews are conducted with respect for the time and effort put into any novel and with particular sympathy to first time authors. While I may at times be tough, I am never nasty.

The purpose of this post is to emphasise that no amount of abuse will stop a reviewer from saying what they feel. I will continue to give an honest review of any book I read. Any author who asks for a review should be open to the prospect that not all comments will be positive.

Threatening behaviour helps no-one and achieves nothing.