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!


Check out my haul!


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


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!

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” ― George Orwell

Roger Martin is an ‘expendable’ young journalist.

The Blue Pencil – David Lowther


David Lowther’s debut novel ‘The Blue Pencil’ was published in 2012 and encompasses the author’s love for historical fiction. It is 1936, Britain is in recovery, emerging from the depths of the greatest depression of all time and still reeling from the effects of the Great War. As expansionist forces in Germany threaten to turn Europe into a fascist dictatorship, the British government cling desperately to any hope of peace. The Blue Pencil focuses on the coverage of foreign events in London’s Fleet Street from 1936-1939, shedding a new light on the lengths the British Government went to, to hide the truth from the Great British public.

The book takes its name from the infamous ‘blue pencil’ traditionally used by editors and sub editors to show corrections. The dreaded receiving back of a piece of work covered in blue pencil akin to the corrections shown by teachers in secondary school is something most of us can relate to. These days the blue pencil has been largely replaced by a red pen. I’ve had many conversations with fellow writers over the despair of receiving a piece of work back covered in red ink.

The Blue Pencil is written in the style of a diary, and follows the life of recent university graduate Roger Martin.  Coming from a comfortable middle class background, and having just graduated from Cambridge, with a “good degree”, Roger feels he owes it to his parents to decide what he wants from life. Roger’s news savvy girlfriend awakens within him a renewed interest in international affairs, which sets him on the path towards his future career:

“The Spanish Civil War, and the interest in it from newsreels and newspapers changed my life. For the first time I became aware that there was life away from Cambridge and that greedy men wanted to seize power for themselves without caring two hoots about the quality of life for the majority of citizens.”

With support from his university tutor Roger writes to several newspapers, and soon lands his first real job as junior reporter at ‘The Globe’, a fictional left wing newspaper. Roger describes at length his first impression of the newspaper’s press office during his interview, and the effect that the atmosphere had on him:

“Everybody in the room seemed either to be talking into the phone or typing, and those phones not in use seemed to be ringing. The air was thick with smoke and most desks seemed littered with ashtrays, piled high to overflowing, and cups and saucers.”

Lowther’s description of the Globe’s offices particularly appealed to me, conjuring up vivid images of Lois Lane tapping away at her desk in the Daily Planet press office.

Roger quickly settles in to his new role and before long finds himself more or less leaving behind film and sport reviews for more important coverage of international affairs. He covers Hitler’s movements throughout Europe, attempting to make his stories as hot and hard hitting as possible.

As it becomes evident that the government is determined to strangle the press, Roger has a different aim in mind, to let his readers know the secrets the government is working so hard to cover up. Despite several warnings from those close to the Prime Minister, which put much more than just his job in danger, Roger insists on publishing nothing but the truth. When faced with confrontations with ‘the blue pencil’, the owners of the newspaper, and even the police Roger does not back down.

The Blue Pencil is an incredible story of the attempts by authoritative figures to suppress the press in what turned into the most devastating war in British history. The novel introduced me to a piece of history I knew nothing about. While Roger may be a fictional character I know that his unpleasant experiences at the hands of Chamberlain’s government, whether direct or indirect are Lowther’s description of a very real, and shocking truth.

I was particularly impressed by the detailed picture of the 1930s which Lowther presented; the level of research which must have gone into writing this book is truly incredible. The story is historically accurate but this goes far beyond the realms of European politics at the time. Lowther clearly put an awful lot of time and energy into discovering the entire time period. The journalists and reporters who Roger comes into contact with are all real people; the hard hitting news stories were actually published, including ‘The Tragedy of Guernica’ by George Steer. Lowther even keeps up to speed with the results of the Ashes, and the films of the time, often sporadically name dropping films and actors. This is all done so naturally that it feels as though one were actually living at the time of all these events.

Lowther’s unique writing style, which combines the commonplace with historical events, has the effect of drawing the reader into deep into the pages of the book. Through this method the main character grows, becoming a person that the reader relates to, and knows on an almost personal level. Roger travels to Berlin and relates first-hand one of the most horrific nights in Jewish history “Women were screaming, children were crying and the Nazis were celebrating”. He tells the reader of the anti-sematic rag, Der Stürmer with it vulgar caricatures of Jewish men. At the same time we are made aware of the way Roger feels, his terror and disgust, and the emotional exhaustion he felt upon returning to England. Roger is more than just a hard boiled reporter, he has a real life and is a person like any other, with a mother who worries if he is not home for dinner, and a girlfriend, with whom he goes on country outings, and trips to the cinema: “things quietened down for a while. I spent a lot more time with Jane. We saw Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (Not bad) and Will Hay in Oh Mr Porter (very funny)”. Historical fiction is at its best when it is relatable to those who have not lived through the events in question, and Lowther’s original method of interlacing the poignant with the mediocre achieves just this.

Overall I would rate The Blue Pencil very highly, it was comprehensible and interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I was captivated by Roger’s story, and drawn in by the realness of the characters and the situations; it really did feel as though I was stepping back into the 1930s. My one slight gripe is that there are multiple grammatical errors and spelling mistakes throughout the text, which is a shame. That said the mistakes were not so frequent as to ruin the book for me, and I would definitely still recommend it to others.

Many thanks go to Sacristy Press for providing a free copy of the book for review.

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” — Wallace Stegner

A tramp is a man like any other

Down and Out in Paris and London ― George Orwell


Originally published in 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London was Orwell’s first full length novel, written when Orwell was a struggling author in his early twenties. The book, set in two parts, is Orwell’s memoir of a seemingly depressing time when he found himself jobless, homeless and penniless. The experience was, however, very much self induced, as Orwell was from a privileged background and set out for Paris with the intention of submerging himself in the dregs of society. Somewhat ironically, it was this period in Orwell’s life which allowed him to establish himself as an writer.

Orwell tells of a time when he first set out in Paris, living in the dingy, insect infested Hôtel des Trois Moineaux, of persistent shouting in the streets, singing at night, and a constant overturn of so called ‘floating’ lodgers. The desperate search for employment, at times going for days without food, having to pawn all but the clothes he stood up in in order to buy a loaf of bread. His bizarre friendship with ‘Boris’ the starving Russian, and final pitiful employment as a dishwasher in the dismal Paris kitchens, working physically and mentally exhausting 17 hour days.

Finally overcome by the long hours of work required to ‘live’ in Paris, Orwell sought help from a friend to return to England, at the promise of securing employment caring for a mentally disabled gentleman when he returned.

Orwell’s story was only just beginning, as he found himself without the hope a job for another month. Fending for himself on the streets of London Orwell tells of life in the overcrowded English bedsits, gathering round the fires in the communal kitchens, the biblical sustenance that was the a cup of tea and bread and butter, or ‘tea and two’. And, when luck was really down, finally resorting to the ‘spike’ – the dreaded poor house, locked away, tobacco confiscated, being forced to sleep on the cold stone floor, and always with the possibility of unwanted homosexual advances.

At the time of publishing Down and Out was a sneak peek into an underworld that the educated knew little about. Indeed even today I feel the book has a lot to say about a part of life which remains fairly hidden from the more privileged in society. Allowing the reader a more ‘educated’ if you like, understanding of the homeless, those people whom we all see, every day, with their eyes permanently fixed towards the ground on the look out for spare change. A sad, lonely and exhausting existence.

While tramps today cannot so easily be compared to the men Orwell rubbed shoulders with in the 1920s, I feel one can take a lot from the straight forward way in which Orwell describes the plight of the tramp. A man who is has found himself shunned from society, and has become something other than human, a man despised by everyone, a lazy, greedy, corrupt creature.

I feel Orwell’s argument is best summed up in this extract from chapter 36:

“It is said, for instance, that tramps tramp to avoid work, to beg more easily, to seek opportunities for crime, even—least probable of reasons—because they like tramping. I have even read in a book of criminology that the tramp is an atavism, a throw-back to the nomadic stage of humanity. And meanwhile the quite obvious cause of vagrancy is staring one in the face. Of course a tramp is not a nomadic atavism—one might as well say that a commercial traveller is an atavism. A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so. A destitute man, if he is not supported by the parish, can only get relief at the casual wards, and as each casual ward will only admit him for one night, he is automatically kept moving. He is a vagrant because, in the state of the law, it is that or starve. But people have been brought up to believe in the tramp-monster, and so they prefer to think that there must be some more or less villainous motive for tramping.”

To think that anybody would choose this life for themselves. The life of a wandering vagrant, shoved from pillar to post, never allowed to spend more than one night in an evil smelling, cold and hard bed before being moved on. Never able to sustain himself beyond the point of mere existence.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orwell’s memoir. I found it thought provoking and insightful, and would strongly urge any keen bookworm to add it to there ‘to read’ list.

“Even bad books are books and therefore sacred” – Günter Grass

My journey into the really obscure

The Man Who Was Thursday ― G K Chesterton


One of the best reviews I have read of this book was very short:

‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’

That almost sums it up for me I’m afraid. Needless to say I was horribly disappointed by this book. I did not begin reading with any sort of expectations, I had never heard of G K Chesterton before, and was just taken in by the unusual title more than anything. I found this little book on the shelf of a charity shop and decided to give it a go.

I really enjoyed the book at first. I like the style in which it is written, it remind me almost a bit of P.G Wodehouse. It’s a pleasure to read, and full of wonderful, intricate little descriptions. One is simultaneously drawn into the depth of the story, and laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it.

I feel it necessary to give you a brief overview.

It begins with two poets arguing in a park in London as to whether poetry is more akin to law or anarchy. One Poet, Gregory, claim to be an anarchist, the other, Syme, does not believe Gregory can possibly be so. Later that night Gregory takes Syme to his secret anarchist meeting place, after swearing him to secrecy.

The anarchist lair exists underground, below a public house, and has wall lines with firearms. Gregory confides in Syme that the anarchist council is run by seven men, each taking their name from a day of the week. Gregory feels he is about to take the place of the recently deceased Thursday. At this point, right before the Gregory’s fellow anarchists enter the room, Syme drops a bombshell and tell Gregory that he is in fact an undercover policeman. That was it, Chesterton had my complete attention.

When the other anarchists enter the room, they hold a vote, and as predicted Gregory is selected as the candidate to replace Thursday, and asked to say a few words. Gregory, worried by Syme’s presence, changes his tune and tries to trick Syme into believing that anarchists are not dangerous at all. Upon which time Syme adopts the disguise of a true anarchist, and finds himself -quite hilariously- elected the new Thursday.

What follows is a terrifying journey for Syme, who soon finds himself surrounded by the other six leaders of the anarchist council. Including the terrifying Sunday:

‘They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking’

Without going into too great detail, in the proceeding chapters Syme discovers little by little that the other leaders -all except Sunday- are all in fact members of the same secret police service as himself. Having all been recruited by the same mysterious man in a dark room. Despite all being terrified of Sunday, the group decide to confront him, and find out exactly who he is, and what his plans are.

The meeting takes place on a balcony, and when confronted Sunday merely says: ‘There’s one thing I’ll tell you though about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen’ before leaping from the balcony and escaping into London. The ensuing chase is absolutely fantastic, with Sunday absconding first via handsome cab, then on a stolen elephant and finally in a hot air balloon.

The six friends continue their pursuit in vain, exhausted, bedraggled and covered in their own blood, and begin discussing their views on Sunday. It now comes to light that each man’s thoughts, though almost completely different to the next, have one thing in common, they all view Sunday as the universe.

At this point in the story I realised it wasn’t going to be the ridiculous ending I had hoped for – although I’m not entirely sure what exactly I was hoping for.

The group are eventually picked up by an employee of Sunday’s, who packs them each into their own private carriages and takes them off to Sunday’s house (it gets stranger). Once at the house they are each given a bed chamber, and a change of clothes for the fancy dress party (but of course!). Each man has a costume that corresponds to their day of the week  in the creation story, with Thursday suitably decorated in the sun, the moon and the stars. There were seven thrones present at the fancy dress party -which was further attended by an assortment of forest type creatures, all dancing round a giant bonfire- each would-be anarchist has his own throne, with Sunday sitting in the middle throne, dressed as if made out of light itself.

I’m everyone can work out where this is going. Sunday, is God. Of course! Of course Sunday is God! Why on earth wouldn’t Sunday be God? It completely ruins what was otherwise quite an interesting, quirky little book, that’s why. It also turns out that Gregory (remember him?), represents evil. To top everything off, the book ends with the fancy dress party fading out of sight, and Syme finding himself walking along a country lane with Gregory at his side.

I find it quite difficult to describe to you my disappointment, in everything, and especially in the ‘he woke up and it was all a dream’ esque final paragraph.

Upon doing a bit of research of Chesteron after finishing this it turns out he liked to write about Christian theology, in ALL his novels. So needless to say I won’t be picking up one of his books if I pass it in a charity shop again. I don’t think I can claim to have fully understood exactly what Chesterton was getting at when he wrote this, that God is a terrifying joker perhaps?

As I said at the beginning, I think this book is best summed up by ‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all, but any enjoyment I felt was completely ruined by the ending.

Overall I think the book would have been a hell of a lot better is Chesterton wasn’t obviously so terribly keen on being Christian.