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review 2017-05-28 15:18
Those body snatchers
Digging in the Dark: A History of the Yorkshire Resurrectionists - Ben Johnson

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.  Note the ARC did not have a source listing, I presume this is that the case for the print version.

 

                Shortly after finishing this book, the now annual war between woodchucks and dogs started.  To call it a war is wrong, it is more like Darwinism in action as in woodchucks that are so stupid to enter a fenced in yard that contains two dogs deserved what they get, especially when said woodchuck gets caught at the apex of three fences.  This year, the new dog apparently believes that offering me a dead woodchuck as a tug toy is the way to go.

 

                I suppose it is better than dismembered woodchuck over the yard.

 

                It made me think of this book.  True, the history detailed in Johnson’s book doesn’t involve dogs wanting to play tug with dead rodents, but it does involve the digging up of bodies, and as I have had to dispose of one.

 

                My favorite story about grave robbers or Resurrection men is not included here, not surprising considering that the story takes place in Edinburgh and Johnson’s book details those of Yorkshire.

 

                We are talking about grave robbers and body snatchers in case you didn’t know.

 

                Johnson provides background before moving into full, detailed history of various resurrection men.  This overview also includes those who met have cheated death, including a piper who could not be hung but who was buried anyway.  That’s all I am going to say about that, and if you want to know about that story (and you should), read the book.

 

                Johnson’s discussion includes the most famous Resurrection Burke and Hare, but the majority of the book is centered on Yorkshire and less known cases, including ones involving children’s bodies.  The trials are discussed in details, including actual reporting and transcripts from the time.  While at times, this can be a bit slow considering the style of whichever source he cites.  Yet, what comes across quite clearly, is the fascination and interest that Johnson has for his subject matter. His interest in the subject more than compensates for various slow points in quoted material (and he gets credit for quoting the sources).

                I do hope that Johnson delivers a talk about this subject in the US because I sense that he would be fun to listen too.

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review 2017-04-20 20:01
For those interested in history from the point of view of the people in the street and a reminder of why this should not happen to any children.
Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front - Amanda Herbert-Davies

Thanks to Pen & Sword Books for offering me a copy of this book that I freely choose to review.

This book is the product of the author’s work in the archival collection of the Home Front at that Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire. It is easy to imagine what fascinating material the collection must contain, and how difficult it must be to choose some witness testimonies over others, but this collection offers a unique point of view, that of boys and girls who lived through the war in Britain. As the author explains, over 200 personal accounts have been used in its creation and they offer as many different points of view as children there were.

The book is divided into several chapters by themes. Although some are chronological (like the beginning, the end and the one about the bombing), some are more general and cover the whole period.

 The Beginning talks about the initial thoughts about the war and how life changed (many of the things were surprising to me although I’m sure many people will have heard stories about it. For instance, I knew about the blackouts, but it never occurred to me that the names of train stops would be removed and travelling at night with nothing to help you orient yourself in a city [no lit shop windows, names…] was not only difficult but also dangerous [light coloured cars were forbidden and pedestrians couldn’t be easily seen either]. The chapter ‘Air-Raid Shelters’ shows the steps the government took (steel shelters, Andersons, Morrisons…) and also what individuals themselves did (hide in the cupboard under the stairs, which saved quite a few people, simply ignore the alarms, dig underground trenches [especially soldiers who’d been in WWI], fortify a room, go to the underground in London) to try and keep safe. The pictures that accompany the paperback are an eye-opener to anybody who didn’t live through it. The chapter on evacuation is one of the most heart-wrenching, with a whole range of experiences, from the kids who left the city to face prejudice in rural areas, to those who found a second family and were made feel like royalty. In ‘invasion’ there is discussion of the plans families made in case of invasion (some determined to die rather than be taken prisoner) and also their home-spun anti-spy activities. ‘Shortages’ will probably be familiar to those with relatives who lived through the war, and it is a tribute in particular to mothers’ imagination and inventive when trying to make up for the things that were missing (I loved the mock banana sandwiches made by boiling and mashing up parsnip and mixing up some banana essence). ‘Schools’ emphasises the difficult experiences of those children who missed schooling or had to try and learn in classrooms with neither roofs nor materials, with children of all ages mixed together and hardly any teachers. ‘Entertainment’ shows that children can see opportunities to have fun anywhere. While some children were terrified, many others felt inspired and made use of shrapnel, diffused bombs, ruins of buildings, to role play or to design games and bombs. ‘War Effort’ shares the work older children (some as young as 12) did to help, including running messages, working for the post office bringing the dreaded bad news, girls helping in hospitals, and how many of them moved on to join the armed forces when they grew up. ‘The Bombing of Britain’ will bring memories to many and it covers not only London but many of the other cities, and phenomena such as the families who would leave the cities every night and go back in the morning. The resolution and the population and the way people took everything in their stride come across clear in these accounts. People who survived would dust themselves off and carry on. ‘The End’, talks about the celebrations for those who could celebrate and the sad moments of those who couldn’t.

The book has very funny moments, and sad and hard to read ones too, some inspiring and some not so much. The author is very good at remaining invisible, choosing passages that illustrate different angles of the same theme and letting speak for themselves, without interfering, and the approach increases the power of the accounts. I marked passages and quotes as I went along, but I ended up with so many it was very difficult to choose. But here are a few, to give you a flavour of the book:

Here, talking about taking refuge in cellars:

There was an element of risk sheltering in that cellar with an open fire considering they were ‘within six feet of an operating gas main and visible pipes’, but the general thinking in Charles’s cellar was that it was better to ‘be bombed in comfort’. (17)

Talking about the bombings and the state of disrepair of the houses:

Pamela had her house windows broken, then repaired and covered in sticky tape, and then had the lot of them blown out again. Her mother, being practical, merely commented, ‘Oh well, I will not have to clean them.’

And talking about the VE Day celebrations:

To Irene’s astonishment, one of the elderly church ladies ‘of staid and sober habits’ turned up resplendent in an eye-catching red dress and was later seen leading the conga up the street. (171) It seems the conga was pretty popular.

I am not a big reader of conventional military history (battles, strategy or detailed fight scenes) but I’m always intrigued by what happens back home during any wars and how the world carries on in some fashion for the rest of population while the fighting goes on elsewhere (at least in conventional wars). The memories of those children and their accounts of their experiences at the time might be tinged with nostalgia in some cases, but in others, it reflects the long-term effects of experiences lived so long ago and that have not been forgotten. It is impossible to read this book and not think about those children who, still today, live in a constant state of war and danger, and how disruptive this will be to their lives if they reach adulthood.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the home front angle of the war (World War II in Britain in particular, but any wars), in stories about children’s subject to extreme situations, and anybody who enjoys history as told not by politicians and big names, but by the people in the street. A great and important book that should be required reading for school-age children.

 

 

 

 

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review 2017-02-17 23:56
Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order
South Riding - Shirley Williams,Marion Shaw,Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-23 19:20
Final Bingo Square: Grave or Graveyard
Dracula - Bram Stoker,David Suchet,Tom Hiddleston
The Cask of Amontillado - Edgar Allan Poe

Changed my mind (yet again) and switched books for my final bingo square, as I'm not sure I'll be in much of a mind to finish my previous choice for "Grave or Graveyard," Umberto Eco's Cemetery of Prague.

 

So I switched to the 2016 BBC audio adaptation of Dracula, starring David Suchet in the title role and Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Harker; combined for good measure with Edgar Allan Poe's Cask of Amontillado: Dracula for the crucial Whitby graveyard scenes (and the fact that Whitby Abbey actually inspired the whole novel, which has drawn the goth scene to the town, which in turn has given rise to plans for a mock Whitby graveyard so as to restore some respect to the real place); and The Cask of Amontillado for the fact that ... well, one ironically-named Fortunato does end up in a grave of a very particular sort at the end of the kind of story only Poe could have come up with.

 

The Dracula adaptation is an abridged one; David Suchet makes for a great Dracula, but not all of the book's profoundly somber atmosphere translates well here – I couldn't help being reminded of some of the camp movie additions of yesteryear.

 

Poe's Cask of Amontillado OTOH is one of my favorite short stories (by Poe, as well as overall); it's a concise, perfectly-executed piece of mounting tension and dread, laced with irony and merciless resolve.

 

Anyway, so that concludes my bingo reads – wrap-up post coming separately.  Thanks to Moonlight Murder and Obsidian Blue ... I've had a blast!

 

Whitby Abbey and Graveyard (photos mine)

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review 2016-08-13 19:38
Great Story and Characters
I Don't Want to Talk About It (Yorkshire Romances) - Jane Lovering

Winter rents a small cottage trying to get over a relationship with Dan who had told her to choose between him and her sister Daisy. Dan is also her editor. She is trying to finish a book on gravestones and the stories behind the people buried there.Her first book “ Book Of The Dead” was an unexpected hit. Daisy was her twin sister and constantly gave her support. Alex is eight year old Scarlett’s uncle and all he does is take care of Scarlett for the last three years since his sister’s death and to some degree blamed himself. Both Alec and Winter are damaged souls but there is an instant attraction between them. But Dan can’t seem to stay away from Winter. Dan’s thought’s are seen through tweets, face book, emails and conversations he has with other people.

I absolutely love this story. It was well written and the plot was great. It was a very touching story. I absolutely loved the characters and choked up during this story.I loved the ins and outs and I highly recommend.

I received an ARC of this story for an honest review.

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