The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer


In mid-18th century London, Robin is trying to avoid exposure as a participant in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion by pretending to be a woman, whilst his sister Prudence is pretending to be a man.  Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it have been better to have kept a low profile in some quiet part of the countryside, rather than prancing about in London High Society, pretending to be a member of the opposite gender?!

Rather unconvincingly, only one person twigs what’s going on.

Meanwhile, their dad is claiming to be the long lost heir to a viscountcy, but not even they know whether he’s telling the truth or not.   It eventually transpires that he *is*, and both siblings make happy marriages with suitable partners.  And their involvement in the ’45 seems to be forgotten.  Strangely, we never learn exactly what Robin did during the ’45, nor why he was supporting the Jacobites.  But a gold star to the author for not romancitising the Jacobites as so many authors do.  Yes, the escape to Skye makes a good story, and yes, you can tie yourself in knots over social contracts and de facto/de jure and all the rest of it; but a Stuart restoration would have been a disaster, and probably wouldn’t have lasted very long.   They’d have wanted to rule like the French monarchs did, and look what happened to them.

There are various swordfights along the way, and two attempted forced elopements, and a lot of dances and card games.  It’s entertaining enough, but the plot is just bonkers.  Why didn’t they just lie low somewhere, instead of going around London in disguise?!  Bonkers!



The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer



This one’s the first in The Shogun Quartet: I somehow seem to have got them all out of order!  It tells the story of Okatsu, a real historical figure, a girl from a relatively obscure samurai background who becomes the wife of the shogun, at a time when Japan’s struggling to cope with increased contact with Western powers.

There’s a fictitious subplot about her having a childhood romance with a man who becomes prominent in politics, but the main interest is in the powerplay in the Women’s Palace.  We learn that Okatsu’s mother-in-law had many of her son’s half-siblings killed at birth – she sounds like a villain from a Greek or Roman play, but she was also a real person, and this was fewer than 200 years ago!

Like so many women in history, Okatsu is a young girl used as a pawn by men, and her story’s quite sad; but it’s an interesting read.  Three books of the quartet read, one to go!

The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer


This is another of Lesley Downer’s Shogun quartet, this one set in Japan in the 1860s.  The protagonist, Sachi, is a fictional character who becomes the concubine of the young penultimate shogun shortly before his untimely death (by poison?).  Many of the characters are real people, including the shogun himself, and his wife Princess Kazu, daughter of the emperor.  The book shows how the city of Edo (Tokyo) was overrun by southern forces during the civil war which formed part of the Meiji Restoration, and how the thousands of women who lived in the palace there were turned out.

Sachi’s own life story is rather unlikely – the princess picks her up whilst travelling through her village, and it subsequently turns out that she’s actually the illegitimate daughter of a previous shogun’s concubine and her illicit lover.  However, the book’s very entertaining, and very informative about the lives of women both at the shogun’s court and in the Japanese countryside at the time.

Two books of the quartet down, two to go!

Ten Pound Poms – BBC 1


This is an interesting idea for a TV series, even if it’s all a bit overdone – nothing good seemed to happen to anyone, either in Britain or in Australia! A lot of fiction’s been written about emigration, but most of it’s about people from 19th century Eastern Europe or Ireland moving to New York: the subject of the million or so people who moved from post-war Britain to Australia and New Zealand’s been rather neglected.  The Assisted Passage Migration Scheme offered a new life in Australia for £10.  A lot of people who took it up were expecting sun, sand and well paid jobs; but life’s never that easy.  For some people, it worked out well.  The papers have been busily reminding us that the Ten Pound Poms included two future Prime Ministers of Australia, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, and the parents of Hugh Jackman and Kylie and Dannii Minogue.  For others, it didn’t.

This is written by Danny Brocklehurst, so our emigrants/immigrants, a family of four and a young single woman, are local.  I’m not sure that the depiction of Manchester/Stockport in the 1950s needed to be quite so bleak: I mean, it didn’t snow all the time!   And I was a bit bemused by their arrival in Australia only ten minutes into the first episode – surely we could have seen at least a bit about the decision-making process and the journey.

Like the bleakness of life at home, the bleakness of life on arrival in Australia was laid on with a trowel.  Our family were put up in rather grotty huts, and, within about five minutes, had been called “whinging Poms” and had to deal with a cockroach.  The dad’s Australian colleagues were all horrible to him.  The mum went shopping and found that indigenous people were sent to the back of the queue.

Half an hour in, I was wondering if anything good was ever going to happen to anyone!  Then it seemed that things were looking up for the dad … until his colleague ran over an indigenous child and said that it didn’t matter.  And there’s a mysterious sub plot involving the single woman – has she got a brother, or maybe even a child, who was sent to Australia by an unscrupulous children’s home manager?

Maybe everyone’s lives will look up as the series goes on!  The first episode was far from brilliant, but I’ll keep watching because it’s an interesting and neglected subject.


The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan


I still think of D’Artagnan as Dogtanian, but I think most people who were kids in the ’80s have that problem!   Anyway, this film, which is a) part 1 of 2 and b) in French with English subtitles, is satisfyingly full of swashbuckling swordplay and horseriding, although it could have used a few lighter moments.   It was entertaining watching on a miserably wet Bank Holiday morning.

Dashing young D’Artagnan makes his way from Gascony to Paris to try to join the Musketeers, and makea friends with The Three Musketeer pals, Porthos, Athos and Aramis.  He also falls in love with Constance, the Queen’s confidante.  There’s then a lot of plotting and fighting as Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter try to bring down Queen Anne, who’s having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham, and Athos, whose brother is the leader of the Huguenots.

The plot against Queen Anne is foiled, Athos is pardoned, D’Artagnan becomes a Musketeer and it looks as if all’s going to end well … but then Constance is kidnapped and D’Artagnan is knocked unconscious, setting the scene for the start of the second instalment.

It’s all a bit mad, but, as I said, it’s very entertaining … even if it does annoyingly flip between “Your Majesty” and “Your Highness” at random, and refer to the Holy Roman Empire as just “the Holy Empire”.  Still prefer Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, though!

Malory Towers (Season 4) – CBBC


It’s lovely to see this back for a fourth series.  It’s obviously proven to be a hit – so take that, all ye Blyton naysayers, especially the primary school teachers who used to moan about how much time I spent reading her books!

In the book, new girls Clarissa, Connie and Ruth are in the same form as Darrell & co, but the BBC have put them in the First Form with Felicity, June and Susan.  It’ll upset purists, but I can see why they’ve done it.   I can’t think of any mention of any other girls in that form, other than Jo who doesn’t appear until a later book, and it’d look a bit daft to have a form with only three girls in it!

Also, Darrell’s been made head of the entire Lower School, not just her own form, which gives her authority over Felicity and should make for some interesting sibling interaction.  But I assume that we’re still going to get the “canon” storylines of Connie’s behaviour towards Ruth, Gwen’s wish to be friends with Clarissa. and Darrell losing her temper.

Incidentally, Enid Blyton really muddled her form systems in the fourth book of the series!  We’d had the First Form, the Second Form and the Third Form, but then suddenly we had the Upper Fourth, with Ruth talking about moving up into the Lower Fifth.  Er, no.  If you’re using the Upper IV, Lower V system, Upper IV is the third year and Lower V is the fourth year, and the first and second years are Upper III and Lower IV respectively!  In this adaptation, they were just referred to as “the Fourth Form”!

Anyway, as I said, it’s great to have this back, and I look forward to watching it all!

Karitas Untitled by Kristin Marja Baldursdottir


Karitas, the eponymous heroine of this novel, was born in Danish-ruled Iceland during the Great War.   She showed promise as an artist, and was able to study art in Copenhagen, but then life and the need to pay the bills got in the way of her talent.

The book showed, realistically if rather sadly, how, instead of pursuing a career in art, she became one of large numbers of girls responsible for laying out and salting fish, and then one of large numbers of women whose husbands were away with the fishing fleet for much of the year.

It wasn’t a very cheerful book, but it gave a good insight into the lives of many Icelandic women during the twentieth century.    Quite interesting.

28 Days by David Safier


It’s currently the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which lasted from 19th April to 16th May 1943, and this is a “young adult” novel about Mira, a (fictional) young woman who sneaks out of the Ghetto to smuggle food into it, then joins the resistance movement, then takes part in the Uprising.

It’s not quite what I was expecting: I thought that the whole book was going to be about the Uprising itself, but a lot of it was set in the months leading up to it, and then we didn’t see the aftermath because Mira, perhaps rather improbably, escaped.

However, the fact that it started in 1942 meant that we saw the mass deportations to Treblinka, and the conditions under which those who remained in the Ghetto were living.  There was an ongoing sub-plot about Mira and her sister making up stories set in a fictional universe, which I could actually have done without; but overall it was a very interesting book, by an author who lost two grandparents in the Holocaust.

What If It’s Us? by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli


This was a Facebook group reading challenge book.  It made me feel about 100.  It was an on-off teenage romance between two 16-year-olds, Arthur and Ben, and a reminder that the 2020s are a completely different world from the 1980s and 1990s!   The kids were all constantly messaging each other or on social media.  Arthur actually tracked Ben down via social media, after they met but didn’t exchange numbers.

Is being a teenager today harder than being a teenager in our day?  Or is it easier?  I don’t know: I just know that this made me feel very old.   It was a nice enough story, though, and both boys were very likeable.   It just made me feel like a dinosaur!

The Flight of Anja by Tamara Goranson



This is the sequel to The Voyage of Freydis, but it’s entirely fictitious.  The character of Anja Freydisdottir is invented, and the book shows co-operation and even intermarriage between the Norse settlers in Vinland and the indigenous Beothuk people, whereas the Sagas only mention conflict.

There are three parts to the story.  The first is in Greenland, where Anja mistakenly believes that she’s the daughter of Freydis’s estranged husband and a Beothuk woman.  She then joins an expedition to Vinland to escape an unwanted betrothal, and we get an adventure story as she’s shipwrecked, attacked by a bear, and goes on a dangerous trek with a Norse settler called Bjorn.

Then she joins the Beothuk and meets her father, and we hear a lot about Beothuk ways, insofar as they’re known, before leaving with Bjorn.

It’s entirely made up, but it’s an interesting suggestion about what life *could* have been like in Newfoundland a millennium ago, and the story keeps the reader’s attention.  The third book in the trilogy is out later this year, and I hope to read it.