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review 2019-11-04 15:35
Highly recommended to Brontës fans and to early XIX century historians
The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick - Sharon Wright

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Despite being a fan of the Brontës, having visited Haworth, and read about them (although I’m no expert), on seeing this book I realised I didn’t know much about their mother, other than she had died when they were very young. The author explains quite well why that is the case, as there seems to be very little trace of her, other than some letters she wrote to her then husband-to-be, Patrick, and a religious tract she wrote. There are also comments and memories collected by others, mostly by those writing the biographies of her famous daughters, but little dedicated solely to her. I am grateful to the author for putting that to rights. She has done a great job, digging factual information about Maria Branwell, compiling written records (be it newspaper cuttings, diaries written by neighbours or social connections, correspondence and accounts by others), introducing and interpreting the few writings we have by Maria herself, and pulling together information about the era and the places where the family lived to help readers place the family as actors and social beings in the period and the locations where they lived.  The level of detail is just right, as well. Wright explains how dangerous and dreary the trip from Penzance to Yorkshire would have been in the early XIX century, the unrest in Yorkshire due to the Industrial Revolution and the machines replacing workers (the Luddites had much to say about that, although their actions didn’t have any long-term impact), and the differences in the social settings of Penzance and Thornton, for example, but these explanations never detract from the story. Rather the opposite; they make it all the more compelling.

I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil the enjoyment of the many interested readers, but I thought I’d share some of the things I noted as I went along. I’ve already mentioned that Maria was from Penzance, but it seems that her father and the rest of the family were likely involved in smuggling (that, to be fair, seems to have been an almost universal occupation in the area). Hers was a large family, and to illustrate just how hard life was at the time, although they were fairly well off, five of her siblings died before they got to adulthood. Religion played an important part in her life, and it’s only fitting that she would end up marrying a priest. She knew Humphry Davy (later Sir Humphry Davy) when she was young, her life was quite full and she was well-connected in Penzance, so we get a sense of how much she must have loved her husband to sacrifice all that to follow him in his career moves, and also what a change in her circumstances she must have experienced. She was a keen reader, and their love of books was one of the things likely to bring her and Patrick together, and it is clear from her letters that she was a good (and even passionate at times) writer, with a sense of humour. She was a woman of her time, and although she had the confidence of those around her, she wished for a life-long companion to support her and guide her in accordance to the norms of the time and as we can see from her own religious tract, her ideas (or at least those she expressed in writing for the public) were pretty conventional. I was gripped by the difficulties Patrick had to face to get the post as priest in Haworth. It seems they were not fond of being told what to do or who to choose there, and he renounced twice to his position before everybody was finally in agreement with his nomination.

I was fascinated by the comments of the author about women’s diarists and their importance to get to understand what everyday life was like at the time. Men of the period wrote the official history, but they hardly ever took the time to note the little details, those we are truly interested in, that help us bring to life a particular era. I am particularly fond of the entries from the diary of Elizabeth Firth, one of the Brontës’ neighbours. My favourite must be: “We sat up expecting the Radicals.” For your peace of mind I’ll let you know that it seems they never came. Wright also defends the importance of the local press, as again they are the ones that keep records of those things that are not considered notice-worthy by big publications, but help make a community what it is. She laments the demise of many of those papers, and I could not agree more.

The book includes two appendixes with the full text of Maria’s letters and also her religious article titled “The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns.” There is also an index with all the texts the author has consulted when writing this book, and I am sure people interested in learning more about the Brontës will find plenty of material there. There are also a number of illustrations, mostly photographs from the houses and locations mentioned in the book, some portraits and illustration, and also a recreation of what Patrick and Maria might have looked like on their wedding day (that I loved).

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Brontës, in the history of Haworth and Thornton, and in the history of the early XIX century England, especially those who, like me, enjoy getting transported to the era and having a sense of what life was really like then. A deserved homage to a woman whose heritage was so important and so little acknowledged.

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review 2019-09-26 10:09
Me & Jack by Danette Haworth
Me & Jack - Danette Haworth

Joshua Reed is used to moving around since his dad became an Army recruiter and the Vietnam War broke out. Their latest home, in the mountains of Pennsylvania, feels special somehow and Josh's new dog, Jack, is like no other dog he has ever seen. But when a local boy is killed overseas, the town turns on the new army recruiter. And when a few late-night disturbances all point to Jack, it will be up to Josh to save his best friend.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Joshua Reed is a military kid. His dad, Rich Reed, works as an Air Force recruiter during the Vietnam War, requiring the two to frequently move around the country (Joshua's mother is deceased). Their most recent move has them settling in to a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. While Rich does have a hired cook / housekeeper to help around the house while he's away, he's still concerned with his son being left alone too much, so he suggests to Josh that maybe they adopt a dog for protection as well as companionship.

 

Father and son take a tour of the local shelter, Rich being instantly drawn to a nice German Shepherd. Joshua's eyes, however, lock onto a unique looking dog with golden (almost to the point of glowing), slick fur. Feeling an immediate bond with this one, Joshua takes him home and names him Jack. Good thing too, since they come to find out they adopted "Jack" the day before he was scheduled to be euthanized!  

 

Joshua's first attempt at building new friendships in this town is with the neighboring family, The Praters. Ray Prater is around Josh's age and they hit it off easily, but Josh quickly comes to find out that Alan, Ray's cousin, happens to be one of the biggest bullies in school.... and he has a crippling fear of dogs (revealed by Alan's adorable little sister, CeeCee).

 

Because it is a time of war, and an unpopular one at that, Rich, as a recruiter, feels extra pressure to appear likeable to his neighbors. He wants to avoid stirring up any unnecessary tension or disputes whenever possible and encourages son Josh to do the same. Josh tries his best for the most part, even going to extra efforts to try to befriend Alan. While Josh tries to build a good friendship with Ray, he feels obligated to extend all invites he gives Ray to Alan as well. Ray likewise feels obligated to cut Alan some slack from time to time because they are cousins, but he's absolutely fully aware of Alan's abrasive personality. 

 

 

I stared after the crumpled figure of my father. What was happening to people? Why were they acting this way? It made me afraid of becoming an adult. They seemed so full of hate. I did not want to be a person like that....As I lay in bed that night, I imagined myself tracking down the people who threw rocks at my father. They said they didn't want war but then they opened fire on my dad. That sounded like war to me.

 

 

Though Josh really works at showing kindness to Alan, at least in the beginning of their acquaintance, it gets progressively more difficult, what with Alan taking everything Josh says or does as a potential challenge or argument. Tensions between them come to a head on the matter of Jack. When some mystery animal starts causing havoc to the personal property of several residents around town, Alan (*remember his dog phobia) takes the opportunity to place blame on Jack. Wanting answers and justice, Josh's neighbors are quick to jump on the hate-on-Jack bandwagon. Feeling the pressure to fit into his community, Rich warns Josh multiple times that "one more incident" and Jack is getting re-homed. But Josh suspects the real culprit is a coyote yet to be spotted. If he can catch the problematic critter on camera, hopefully all can be set to right once again. 

 

 

There are some bonds that are sacred. Like the bonds between soldiers. Between families. Between Jack and me. 

 

Only I could protect Jack. It came down to me. He was more loyal than any friend I'd ever had, and he trusted me. Prater, that policeman, even Dad --- they were all against Jack. But he was innocent and I knew it. I would capture that coyote on film and deliver the true enemy.

 

It's a mostly cute story about a boy and his dog, with some dramatic moments thrown in to keep the reader hooked. Will Jack get to stay with Joshua? Will Alan ever be able to mellow out his aggressive nature? The characterizations are really well done, the dialogue flows nice and natural, and there's just a touch of historical fiction element to the plot, with everything taking place during the Vietnam War era. Honestly, through most of the story I forgot about the time period, except for moments when Rich has some important talks about the short fuses of many during that time and how we're all just trying to figure it out the best we can, etc. As literary fathers go, Rich was a good, solid, respectable man just doing his best to take care of his son and instill good values in him during a tough time. There's also a nice humor to Joshua, and an impressively strong character, when you consider all he's had to shoulder at a young age!

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review 2019-06-09 12:40
A wonderful gift for lovers of the Brontës, walking and history
Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës - Catherine Rayner,David F. Walford

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I love walking. Perhaps because I was a clumsy child (and I can’t say I’m the most graceful of adults, either), overweight, and lacking a good sense of balance, many sports didn’t like me (it was mutual!), but walking I could do, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity it gives us to contemplate life at a slow pace and to discover things, people, and places that might pass us by if we use other means of transport.

I love the Brontës as well. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre have long been among my favourite novels (I must read some of Anne’s novels in English, I know), and I’ve lived and worked in Yorkshire, quite close to the area where they lived for lengthy periods, and loved the landscape as well. So, of course I had to have this book.

Wherever I visit, if I can fit in, I try to join a literary walk. It’s a great way to combine two of my favourite activities: reading and walking. (I also listen to audiobook while going for walks sometimes). If the guide is skilled and knowledgeable, you can learn fascinating information about the city or area, about the author or authors, and feel as if you were going back in time and experiencing what the place might have been like when the author lived there. This book offers us the same kind of experience. Although it is written as a companion for people planning a visit to Haworth and its vicinity, it is so packed with information, photographs, maps, literary references, and advice, that it will be indispensable to anybody who wants to learn more about the sisters and submerge herself or himself in the landscape the authors loved so much.

The book is divided into 20 chapters, it contains 19 walks of varied difficulty (some are short walks within the town of Haworth itself, and the first one, in fact, is a walk around the Parsonage where the Brontës lived, now a museum), and a few introductory chapters. There is the introduction proper, explaining the reasons behind the writing of the book, chapter 2 talks about West Yorkshire and the Haworth area, chapter 3 offers a guide to safe and responsible walking, chapter 4 summarises the history of the Brontë family and chapter 5 talks specifically about the Brontës in Haworth and what happened to them there. Then follow the chapters about the walks (some containing one walk in detail, while some of the later ones, which are longer and stray farther away from Haworth, sometimes include a couple of walks that might be combined, always offering options to reduce their length. There are even some that include the option of jumping on a train). The final chapter talks about the art of walking and what effects it had (positive and negative) on the Brontës. There is also a bibliography that will be of interest to anybody keen on increasing their knowledge on the sisters.

All the chapters are structured in a similar way, first offering a narrative, a fact file of the walk (including the Ordnance Survey Map, general information as to the terrain, level of difficulty, length, likely duration, facilities, and also any relevant warnings), followed by maps or graphics (depending on the topic), and then a collection of photographs, all in black and white, which can aid people going for the walks to find their location easily, but will help readers imagine what the place is like as well. (I must confess I would have liked to see colour photographs, but I can see how the black & white pictures recreate the nostalgic air of the area and help us imagine the old times, as they combine more seamlessly with the archival old photographs. It is also true that the moors change colours so dramatically with the seasons that it would be difficult to give readers an accurate idea of what the place is like in different times of the year).

What did I enjoy the most? Having visited Haworth, the surrounding area, the Parsonage, and having walked around (in town, but also some of the longer walks that include landscapes and buildings said to have inspired the sisters’ writing), I enjoyed the pictures, which reminded me of many familiar places and others that had passed me by (I must visit Thornton, where the family lived before they moved to Haworth, if I can). I also enjoyed the titbits of information about buildings, how those had changed over time, and how the authors managed to make readers imagine what the sisters and their family would have experienced and seen at the time, including also poems, and references to their work.

These are the moors above and beyond Haworth spreading for miles to the west and containing old farmsteads and ruined houses dating back to the Elizabethan era and where people have lived and worked for centuries. They can be covered in swirling mist or blazing sunshine, snow and piercing gales, or have an eerie calm. They can be loud with the cries of animals and birds or silent as a tomb in their deep holes and clefts. They are harsh and they are beautiful. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 5).

While most of the book centres on the beauty and the wonders one can see and experience when visiting the place, the authors excel also at explaining what the living conditions were like at the time. Although today Haworth might feel quaint, charming, and romantic (yes, it is all that and lovely to visit, believe me), this is quite different to what it had been like at the time, when the living conditions were quite terrible, the industrial revolution was steamrolling everything, mills were popping up all around, filling the atmosphere with smoke and soot, transport was difficult, sanitation ranged from bad to inexistent… It is not surprising that the six Brontë children died young, as did their mother, and they were not the only ones.

“Through hard and dangerous work, squalid living conditions, polluted water supplies, poor sanitation and disease, the town of Haworth was killing its own community in the nineteenth century” (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 8).

The chapter of the walk around the graveyard attached to the Parsonage, chapter 8, reads at times like a gothic horror novel, with graves piled up 10 to 12 high, and rainwater running from the moors down the graveyard filtering into the drinking water, and likely being the cause of cholera, typhoid fever, and some of the other illnesses common at the time. (Life expectancy was 25 at the time). On the other hand, this same chapter also includes information on the symbolism of the carvings on the graves (for instance, a Celtic cross would mean eternity, and an angel with open wings, the flight of the soul to Heaven).

One of my favourite chapters (and yes, if I go back to the area I’ll be sure to take the book and follow as many of the walks as I can) is the last one, on the art of walking. It is a fascinating reminder of a time when people mostly walked everywhere, and they didn’t have appropriate clothing or shoes in most cases (the authors remind us that the father of the Brontës never owned a horse, and tells us of a visit of Branwell [their brother] to Charlotte that would have meant a 65 km (40 miles) round trip, walking, in one day. If you didn’t have a lot of money, there weren’t many options then, and your health could suffer if the weather was bad. But nowadays, we are lucky, and walking is a healthy option with many benefits, for our bodies and minds.

In summary, this is a fantastic book for people planning a visit to Haworth and the surrounding area, but also for anybody who loves the Brontës and wants to learn more about their time and lives in a visual and tangible way. It will inspire readers to visit (even if it is only with their imagination) the landscapes and the streets the sister walked, and will help them understand better what makes their voices so haunting and distinct. This book is also a beautiful gift to walkers and historians who want to learn more about this time and area in an engaging and enjoyable way.

As the authors say:

It is important to remember the old ways and the people of the past and the efforts they made to improve and enhance society, so that in the 21st century people in this country, and many others, can live healthier, easier and more entertaining lives. There is still much evidence of the past remaining which can help modern society to recall and appreciate its heritage. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, pp. 273-4)

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review 2016-07-01 10:25
Y Negative - Kelly Haworth

This book.

Is special.



In so many ways. Man, this really rocked my world for a few days. I read it slowly because I was studying very hard for the exams but I couldn't put it down when it was (more than) time to go to sleep. The cover doesn't do justice, this tale is more than a story or two. It's about Ember and the world he lives in. A world divided by genetics, full of dangers and disdain from the mascs towards the Y negatives, the lowest of the food chain. In between we have the andros, Y negatives who have already served the purpose of continuing the species with their bodies. They inject testosterone in order to fit into society and look more “normal”. But it’s a society they will never fully belong to. It's a battle lost before they even begin it. They will always be disregarded and considered less than human. They will always be used and pushed aside. Mascs will never consider them equals and even less bond with them.

The world is so well built it felt like a movie. I related it to Blade Runner, with bodily paints with flavor as a plus but with the same look-where-are-you-stepping-on feeling. Ember doesn't dream of electric sheep. He dreams of becoming a masc and being close to one. An impossible aim. He has desires he is afraid to acknowledge out loud but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming. Because he knows there is no hope to fulfill them. But still, he goes on, he works out in the gym and struggles to earn his next testosterone dosis rather than eating real food. Misery in the whole sense of the word. Because when Tuesdays come, he feels like a man, although this feeling is not enduring. I could feel his loneliness as a stone, his emptiness and his longings sharp like a knife. He indeed left a mark on me.



Despite this, life goes on, and we get glimpses of what being an andro implies, how they barely have a decent existence. How they get by with the constant abuse and the reminder that they will never be enough for the rest of the world. The author managed to slap me in the face once and again, moving me in ways I never expected her to. I wanted so badly for things to change, as much as Ember does. And they do. Suddenly there is a masc, Jess, at his door, offering him a job for several weeks. A job that takes him apart from everything he has ever known, alone with 4 mascs with no way to escape. Sounds like the best plan. He clutches the straw and agrees.



The Outskirts are dangerous, and Law takes a whole different meaning out of the big cities where people manage to survive. But what is even more dangerous is the proximity he feels towards Jess, by each passing day. The atmosphere turns into something more intimate at this instance, more secluded, and more meaningful that everything they hade ver experienced. It was beautiful to see their struggles, the conflicts and the sweet surrender to each other and to themselves.



I truly loved Jess but I think he wasn’t wholly developed as a character. Sometimes the author skipped parts of his personality and scenes that could have been so much more. We was such a faint-hearted guy I wanted to shake him up now and then. Still, I could see he had never been one to harm other people just for the sake of it, as other mascs do for fun or to fit a certain mold. But he has never been brave enough to break said mold and swim in the opposite direction. He is quiet and thoughtful, letting others take the reins and adapting to their wishes when the momento requires it. But when he meets Ember, he feels alive for the first time in his life, which fills him with confusión and doubts. He wants to get closer, but at the same time he knows shit will hit the fan the moment he makes a movement. Is Ember worthy of it all? Or is it better to keep blending and silencing his needs and resigning himself to what people has always been expecting of him?



I was truly enchanted with it all. The writing style drew me in with no effort at all. The environment is ugly but uncannily attractive at the same time. There is that special magic in the air, the certainty that something signiticative and beautiful will happen eventually. And it does. Along the hopelessness, there are bright moments and wonderful insights of the MCs' minds. I wanted to dwell on it forever. The story covered me like a warm blanket, it's a feeling I don't usually have while I read post-apocalyptic books, but there was a familiar comfort here.



Yes, it's a bizarre story, that with the androgynous character and all that he has to go through. I think this is the first ambiguous MC I have ever read. The events and the characters' actions are not the ones I waited for. They just came, never following a certain scheme. The story just flowed and I just devoted myself in reading and reading. I love it when authors don't restrain their imagination and creativeness. Because even though after a while I realize nothing that occurs in this book is really original in the big scheme of things, I still felt I had never heard of them before.

No, it's not perfect. I must admit there were some moments which felt too strange for me. For instance: (view spoiler)apart from that I could find a scene or two that felt a little lacking because they left things unexplained and unsolved. But overall, I must say this is a pretty solid read, and that managed to take my mind elsewhere.



****



***Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

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review 2016-02-01 00:00
Y Negative
Y Negative - Kelly Haworth Interesting concept, tough is was painful to read about Ember's life. Happy he had Jess.
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