Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire’

Holtby Series #2: The Land of Green Ginger

May 15th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, ARCs, Classics, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction

Following last week’s review of Anderby Wold, here’s the next in our Winifred Holtby series: The Land of Green Ginger.

Joanna dreams of the world beyond Yorkshire, the mystique of faraway places, and is in love with the idea of adventure. At eighteen she meets Teddy Leigh, and he sweeps her off her feet and into a quick marriage before heading to the trenches of World War I.

Teddy returns from the war, but the world isn’t as the magical fairyland Joanna hoped for. Teddy suffers from tuberculosis, and she has to care for him in addition to their two daughters and struggling farm.  She’s overwhelmed by her responsibilities, but she can still dream of the world she wants to see.

When Joanna is asked to take in a lodger it seems like the perfect solution to their financial woes. The lodger, a Hungarian named Paul, has seen the world, and is a healthy man. But Yorkshire in the aftermath of World War I isn’t welcoming to foreign labor, and the neighbors are suspicious of Joanna’s feelings. Will her family survive?

The Land of Green Ginger brings insight into Britain just after World War I while also illuminating the lives of women. Like South Riding and Ander by Wold, the sense of time and place is amazing.

The tuberculosis aspect of the novel is fascinating; it wasn’t until the 1940s that scientists were able to create an antibiotic to cure the disease. (Researchers are still batting TB, as the newer multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis, usually referred to as MDR-TB, has a strong foothold in parts of the world.) During the time period of the novel, patients with TB would go into sanitariums and be exposed to lots of fresh air and proper nutrition. If their immune system could fight the bacterial infection, they might go into remission with the infection dormant, but present. Teddy’s fight and fear of being stuck in a sanitarium is understandable, even if his relationship with his wife is troubling.

Next up: Poor Caroline, the third and final installment in our Holtby Series.

Title: The Land of Green Ginger

Author: Winifred Holtby

Read: March 2012

Source: ARC from Publisher



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How to combat Downton Abbey withdrawal

February 24th, 2012    Posted in Classics, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction, Popular Fiction

Going into Downton Abbey withdrawals? Here are some books to help you while away the time until season three. Since the miniseries is set at a fictional Yorkshire estate, we’ve chosen novels that feature the same region.


South Riding by Winifred Holtby

Set between World War I and World War II, South Riding follows a cast of characters as they negotiate the Great Depression. The different social background and ideals of ideals of the characters sets up their conflicts, follies, and greatest strengths. The third season of Downton Abbey will most likely coincide with this time period.

Back room land deals, political and moral intrigues, the lives of the struggling, whether they’re landowners brought to the brink of financial ruin by the depression, or working class families struggling to eat, bring this novel to life. Strong characters, like the salty Alderman Mrs. Beddows, passionate headmistress Sarah Burton, and sympathetic landowner Richard Carne might not exactly be Lady Mary, or Anna-the-maid, but they’re easy to like and care for.

We reviewed South Riding on this site, and there was a PBS mini-series as well. Colby’s other novels are being re-released this spring in the United States, and check back here in May for reviews as we’re proud to be part of the blog tour.



The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison


World War II and the evacuation of children from London to a fictional Yorkshire estate create the background for The Very Thought of You. Eight-year old Anna Sands leaves her mother for a good education and careful, but not individual, life on the Ashton estate. Lord Ashton is wheelchair bound due to polio, and his marriage to his high-strung wife is fraying.


The Very Thought of You was nominated for an Orange award, and we reviewed it here.



Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley might not be the most popular Yorkshire-based novel by any of the Bronte sisters, but it’s always held a special place it my heart. I originally read it during the long, dark, Finnish winter and Caroline, her beau Robert, and Shirley have always seemed like friends.


Shirley is an interesting contrast to South Riding, as it is set  from 1811-12 during the industrial depression sparked by the Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812. Mill owner Robert struggles to run a profitable business, and the workers he lays off react violently. His cousin, Caroline, is a bright spot in his life, and he is everything to her. When a wealthy heiress, Shirley, moves to town, she quickly befriends Caroline and Robert sees Shirley as the answer to his financial woes. Shirley, meanwhile, has her own opinion on the matter of love, responsibility, and how to spend her fortune.

Have other suggestions for novels to read while combating Downton Abbey withdrawal? Please recommend them and we’ll add them to the list!

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The Very Thought of You

July 15th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, ARCs, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction

verythoughtofyouSo far, 2011 has been the year of Yorkshire novels. The Red Riding Quartet shows the region at it’s darkest, while South Riding shows the region at a time of transition. The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison is set in Yorkshire during World War II, and shows the spirit of England at its best as it rallied to protect their country.

During World War II, children were evacuated from the London to the countryside as a well-founded precaution to shield them from German bombings. The Very Thought of You follows the life of eight-year-old Anna Sands when she ends up at Ashton House, the fictional Yorkshire estate of Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton. The novel shifts perspective between various characters, including Anna’s mother back in London, the Ashtons, and other characters.

Thomas Ashton is wheelchair bound from polio, and his marriage with his beautiful wife is unraveling. Elizabeth Ashton expresses her desperation to have a child by drinking heavily. In London, Roberta feels guilty that Anna isn’t with her, but she’s also experiencing freedom from marriage and responsibility while enjoying her wartime position with the BBC. Meanwhile, Anna and the rest of the children on the Ashton Estate are growing up in a house that seems idyllic with it’s excellent education and caring teachers, yet they’re growing up without parents and individual attention.

The prose is beautiful, yet it relies on a telling voice to explain each characters emotions and actions.  Anna’s journey from eight-year to an unfulfilled wife and mother in her early thirties didn’t quite seem believable. Yet I still enjoyed reading this novel, and am happy I had the opportunity to do so.

Note: The Very Thought of You was nominated for an Orange award.

Read by: Kelly

Title: The Very Thought of You
Author: Rosie Alison
Source: ARC
Read: June 2011

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A slice of political and day-to-day life: South Riding

June 22nd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction

South RidingWinifred Holtby’s posthumously published novel South Riding is considered the best work of  her too-short career. Set in the fictional “South Riding” area of Yorkshire (but inspired by the real-life East Riding), the novel follows the lives of multiple characters as they navigate life in Yorkshire during the Great Depression.

I read South Riding after watching the Masterpiece Classic adaptation, and I’m sure my opinion was colored by the experience. The TV adaptation focuses on Sarah Burton, the newly appointed Headmistress of the local girl’s school. In many ways she’s the heart of the story, but the novel spends equal time with a large cast of additional characters. While I enjoyed the series, the last hour or so felt a little rushed. The novel feels more complete. I’m glad I’ve read the novel and seen the series.

At its heart, South Riding is a political novel although it does focus on the relationship between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne. Carne is a landowner struggling to stay afloat, caught between providing quality care for a mentally-ill wife and keeping his farm from going bankrupt. His plight shows the lives of farmers and struggling landowners struggling during the depression. Carne is the counterpart to more progressive individuals who want to do more to help the poor—build council estates, new schools, etc—even though the local government doesn’t have the money to pay for it. Yet Carne is sympathetic to the poor, able to relate to them in ways that this fellow committee members can’t. Other councilmen—like Joe Astell—have grand ideas about helping the working (or unemployed) man, and discount the effect of the depression on farmers and landowners like Carne. Characters like the smart, talented, but poor Lydia Holly represent the people who need help while adding human interest to the story.

No description of South Riding is complete without mentioning the salty Alderman Mrs. Beddows (unique since she’s the first woman to sit on the council). She’s a friend to Carne, eventually forms a bond with Burton, and from a literary perspective, is a strong, well-written character throughout the novel.

South Riding is an especially interesting read today given our economic climate. The parallels between political scapegoats, how to best help our communities, etc, are paralleled and make our current situation seem like something we’ve faced before. The novel itself is strongly written, with memorable characters. The sheer number of characters can be daunting, but they help create a large portrait of Yorkshire life.

One final note: South Riding won the illustrious James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1936.

Read by: Kelly

Title: South Riding
Author: Winifred Holtby
Date Read: June 2011
Source: Public Library




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1983 and Red Riding Quartet Wrap-up

January 23rd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction

David Peace's1983It’s impossible to talk about David Peace’s 1983 without putting into context as the final installment of the Red Riding Quartet. The first three novels in the quartet (1974, 1977, and 1980) tell the stories of both the Yorkshire Ripper and a child rapist/murderer. Each novel is told from different viewpoints from the novels before. In 1983, the story is told through three viewpoints: Maurice Jobson, high ranking police officer, John Piggott, Lawyer, and BJ, male prostitute. These three have the perspective to shed partial light on the mysteries that permeate the novels.

Some of the shadowy characters from the first three books are pulled somewhat into focus in the final installment, such as Reverend Laws, whom I assume is an unrecognized serial killer who preys on the weak. The police in this series aren’t much better, physically abusing suspects to force confessions so they can pin crimes on the innocent. Arguably the only people in the series who are innocent—the children—are victimized by the lack of true justice, as it allows abusers to walk free and the wrongfully accused to molder in jail.

The quartet shows a murky and unclear world with flawed, unlikable, and corrupt people. People who are somewhat decent and try to get to the center of the corruption or decay end up ruined.

Peace is purposefully repetitive, with whole passages repeated verbatim between both novels and within a single passage. This creates a mood and ambiance within the novel, even if it doesn’t always push the plot forward. But that’s okay, since atmosphere is at least as important as the plot in this dense and dark series. He also uses run-on sentences, sometimes lasting over a page, in interesting ways.

1983 didn’t bring about a full resolution of the various plotlines, although key elements, such as the identity (or identities) of the child rapist/murderer were resolved. There are lots of loose ends in this series, and I assume this by authorial intent. For example:

I assume Eddie Dunford died at the end of 1974, but it’s never confirmed in the text. Several people are clearly haunted by his memory, but if it’s because he died or went crazy, disappeared, etc is never shown.  Dunford drives a Viva throughout 1974, and there’s a mysterious old Viva in 1983. Does it belong to Leonard Marsh, son of a boogeyman, or is the Viva meant to imply Dunford is still there?  Is it an echo and/or ghost from the past?

The Red Riding Quartet was adapted into a film trilogy, and I’ll have to see how the filmmakers interpreted some of Peace’s more ambivalent plot lines, and how they summed up the stories. I’ll be interested in whether or not they left plot lines dangling, or if they tied the series up neatly with a little bow. The Red Riding Quartet isn’t unlike real life. For example, look at the Kyron Harmon case in Oregon. A young child disappears from school, and nine months or so later, has yet to be found. No arrests have been made. Someone out there knows the truth, but the story isn’t resolved, and might never be.

I’d definitely recommend this series to people that enjoy crime noir and atmospheric novels, with the caveat that it’s a dark, brutal, and violent series with an open ended conclusion. It’s not going to leave you happy at the end, but it will make you think.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Title: 1983
Author: David Peace
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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It was a dark and violent noir: 1974 by David Peace

January 2nd, 2011    Posted in Crime, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery

It’s Friday the 13tDavid Peace's 1974h, December 1974, and ten year old Clare Kemplay disappeared on her way home from school. Junior crime reporter Eddie Dunford attends the police press conference, eager for his first byline, even though his father’s funeral is in two hours.

Anti-hero Dunford ties Clare’s disappearance to the kidnappings of two girls in neighboring counties. Eventually he ends up on the wrong side of both the corrupt local police and the puppet-masters of his community, e.g. the business moguls and/or the Yorkshire mafia, depending upon how you view them.

1974 is filled with unsympathetic characters, and with ugly people doing bad things. There were a few plot details I didn’t fully understand. Did police burn down the camp because they wanted to pin Clare’s kidnapping on the gypsies? Or were they clearing the ground for developers? Or both? Neither?

The story relies on dialogue to tell the story in addition to terse, fast prose. Luckily the dialogue is strong. The women of the novel, however, aren’t strong—they’re expendable. They’re also memorable, from poor Clare with swan wings sewn onto her back to the mother of another missing girl that Dunford may or may not love.

The convoluted ending left me scratching my head. 1974 is the first novel in the Red Riding Quartet. Hopefully the unresolved plotlines will be cleared up in later books.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Book: 1974
Author: David Peace
Read: December 2010
Source: Public Library

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