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Strangers (Virago Modern Classics)
Strangers (Virago Modern Classics)
by Antonia White
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Collection of Short Stories, 1 Jun. 2011
Antonia White was one of the first writers to appear in the Virago Modern Classics series, and is best known for her first novel, "Frost in May", a largely autobiographical account of her time at a convent school at the beginning of the last century. While "Frost in May" does not exacty paint a pretty picture of life under the nuns, it isn't necessarily anti-Catholic in its view point. It seems that the author had a love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church that lasted all her life. She's on safe ground when writing about her religion, and three of the eight stories in this collection are inspired by the rather unrecontructed Catholicism (by modern standards) of the time.

The other major themes in these stories are mental illness and the asylum. Again the author is speaking from personal experience, having had a breakdown as a young woman that led to her spending time in the Bethlem Asylum, London. Perhaps this doesn't sound too cheerful! But the stories are never morbid, just honest.

Generally speaking I tend to give short stories a miss. There isn't the time to get properly into them like there is with a novel.
But these stories are often thought-provoking, as well as easy to read.


Green Lanes and Kettle Cranes
Green Lanes and Kettle Cranes
by Dominic Reeve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The latest from the pre-eminent writer on Romani affairs, 21 May 2011
Dominic Reeve (that is not his proper name) is generally acknowledged to be the most authoritative writer on Romani affairs since the publication of his first book, "Smoke in the Lanes", in 1958. This is because he has lived the Romani lifestyle for the whole of his adult life, unlike some other self-appointed Romani "experts". "Smoke in the Lanes" covers the 1950s, the last era of the horse and traditional gypsy wagon. It was followed by "No Place Like Home" (1961) and "Whichever Way We Turn" (1964). Reeve brought his story up to date with "Beneath the Blue Sky" (2007).

"Green Lanes and Kettle Cranes" is different from the first four books in that it tells the story of Reeve's early life, before he became a traveller in his late teens. He was actually brought up in a house in a respectable suburb of Bournmouth, by straight-laced parents who wanted him to get a job in an office when he left school. But Reeve decided very early on that he was not going to be a "wage slave" for anyone. In his mid teens he fell in with an extended family of Romani travellers, some of whom had settled in houses, while others were still on the road. He felt totally at home among these people, in a way he never did with his own family. They became his best friends. This led to his highly unusual decision (for an outsider)to purchase a horse and wagon, take to the road, and embrace the traveller lifestyle completely.

In the period before he became a traveller (but not after), Reeve freely admits that his main source of income was shop-lifting, which apparently he was very good at because he never got caught. Always the individualist, he skipped much of school, considering his time better spent educating himself in the public library. As with the shop-lifting, he managed to get away with it.

This book is a facinating read, especially if you have read one of his other books - and you are able forgive his youthful misdemeanors!


The Legacy
The Legacy
by Katherine Webb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, mystery, and romance, 21 May 2011
This review is from: The Legacy (Paperback)
A wonderful book with characters I really cared about. One of those books that you will still be thinking about days after finishing it. One slight quibble is that the big surprise revealed near the end of the novel, which the reader is very unlikely to see coming, is slightly far-fetched.
There is a sweeping narrative that starts in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, and ends in present day Wiltshire. The various strands of the story are brought together largely by a local gypsy family, and there are some interesting insights into the gypsies' relationships with other characters in the novel.


Smoke in the Lanes
Smoke in the Lanes
by Dominic Reeve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Way of Life Gone Forever, 22 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Smoke in the Lanes (Paperback)
Written in 1957, the great thing about this book is that it was written at the time of the events described, not decades afterwards - as some other books of this type were. There is no chance here of the author romanticizing the past. The dirt, the squalor, the hardship, and the poverty have all been left in, which makes this probably the most accurate portrayal of Romani life in the 1950s there is. Not long after the book was published, the way of life described by the author would change forever, when wagons and horses were replaced by caravans.

A book full of colourful characters, expertly brought to life, who had to endure much prejudice from "goujos" (non-travellers). Not surprising, therefore, that they stuck together, and what comes through more than anything in the writing is the great camaraderie that existed between Romanis. A fantastic read.


Days of Grace
Days of Grace
by Catherine Hall
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Grace, 7 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
This is an amazing first novel. It is one of those comparitively rare novels that I will be thinking about for days - no, weeks - to come. Sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting, it is the story of the developing friendship between two 12 year old girls brought together by chance during the last War.

When I really care about a character, I take that as a sign that the novel is a good one, and I did care about Grace, one of the two girls, despite her obvious faults. Not everyone will agree with me!

There are other novels about evacuees - it is a good way for a writer to bring children from totally different backgrounds together -but this has to be one of the best.


Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two
Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two
by Maggie Smith-Bendell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book, 26 Feb. 2011
This book is a heart-warming, yet balanced, account of a childhood spent in a gypsy wagon, moving around South West England. Set in the 1950s, it is the final era before wagon and horses were replaced by vans and caravans. The story is about traditional Romani travellers, not the Irish travellers who have been seen on our television screens recently. The Romani travellers arrived in Europe from India several hundred years ago, bringing with them their own culture and language. The author states that her first language remains Romani.

A childhood spent largely out of doors is well described - the wildlife, the changes in the seasons, the farm work that her family did toether, and of course the outside fires that were the centre of family life.

Yet the author does not look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. She talks about the bullying she received, and admits that violence among the adults in her community was not uncommon.

After reading this book, it made me realize how over-regulated we have become as a society, so that it is now almost impossible for anyone, whether a "traveller" or not, to lead a nomadic lifestyle. The "freedom of the road" seems to have gone forever, which I think is sad.


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