by Anna Sewell
A horse is a horse of course unless of course the horse is Black Beauty. Animal-loving children have been devoted to Black Beauty throughout this century, and no doubt will continue through the next. Although Anna Sewell’s classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message is universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness. Black Beauty tells the story of the horse’s own long and varied life, from a well-born colt in a pleasant meadow to an elegant carriage horse for a gentleman to a painfully overworked cab horse. Throughout, Sewell rails – in a gentle, 19th-century way – against animal maltreatment. Young readers will follow Black Beauty’s fortunes, good and bad, with gentle masters as well as cruel. Children can easily make the leap from horse-human relationships to human-human relationships, and begin to understand how their own consideration of others may be a benefit to all. Written in 1877
Anna Sewell was born in 1820 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. At the age of fourteen she injured both of her ankles in an accident, which meant that she could never walk properly again. Because of this she relied heavily on travelling in horse-drawn carriages, and it was from here that her love of horses grew. In 1871 Anna began writing a book aimed at encouraging more humane treatment of horses. Owing to her failing health the story took nearly seven years to complete but was eventually published in 1877. Sadly, Anna never got to know of the huge success of Black Beauty, her only book, as she died in 1878, five months after the book’s publication.
‘Do you think that personality and temperament are established by childhood experiences and fixed forever?.’
Black Beauty is a well know story for children about a horse who survives cruelty and hardship. Where horses and animals can think to, they just can’t communicate like it stories of Narnia or because us humans can’t read the signs until it’s too late and nothing can be done. As in another discussion of LBCPuffins, the book isn’t the story most of us remember. For a few members it was first time of reading the book and some knowing the story from the film with Mark lester in. The film was made, not through talking animals but in the usual ways of humans communicating.
“We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”
For one member of the group this was a childhood favourite, and it was one of those reads that created mixed feelings. Through this book club we have found how as adults we read differently to what we did when we were children. How as adults we bring so much to a book when we sit down to read it when really in some cases we should read like we did as children, and just absorb the story and read it for what it is. Re-reading Black Beauty for some of us, we donut it quite depressing and not what we remembered as a child. One member was a ‘horsey child’ and loved this book for it’s nature and realised that they must have read an abridged version, not remembering all this hurt and suffering. Another felt it red like a horse manual, teaching you how to present a horse and cart or put a blanket over a horses back. Another lesson was that a horse would only drink as much water as it needed and oats and barley were high spirited food so it’s best to stick to bran mash as that gives them a glossy coat and keeps them in check. However it is a story for children and it is about animals and we are very fond of them. The group found that we were all big softies at heart and almost shed a tear when the captain (horse) and Ginger (another horse) died.
Throughout the story the animals are portrayed almost like humans except they cannot speak and the human are seen as ignorant and at one point we can see if they just looked more closely into the animals eyes it might have been able to speak to them, that’s what it shows in most of the film versions of Black Beauty. Although most film versions are not suitable for a younger audience with all the images of cruelty and war and tall handsome men cue Colin Firth in Bridget Jones. The film shows more of the cruelty to the horses of the way they were treated as cab horses, because it was the fashion to be driven around by a horse, cue Gee Gee cars for a taxi or lead to battle in the wars, and pulling things much to heavy for them.
In the end it was still a much loved book, Black Beauty went on many adventures, met quite a few cruel people, found some amazing friends and showed us it’s quality and not quantity we need.
“My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my friends under the apple trees.”
The book was enjoyed by the group but did bring up mixed feelings from reading it as a child, but it does have a happy ending which for children it is a good introduction to death, however like most books of it’s time some of the group felt the writing is brilliant but a bit preachy for some readers, one of which did not turn up for the discussion.
and I end with:
“If you in the morning
Throw minutes away,
You can’t pick them up
In the course of a day.
You may hurry and scurry,
And flurry and worry,
You’ve lost them forever,
Forever and aye.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
FULL DISCLOSURE – Ross Young is a friend of a friend, who happens to be a writer. Actually, it’s a neighbour and friend – if we’re going to get nit-picky about it – who asked if I’d be interested in checking out this new novel. As he is a chap with impeccable taste, I enthusiastically agreed and then forgot all about the book for a ~mere~ matter of months…because I’m awesome like that.
Dead Heads is the first in the Gloomwood series by Ross Young.
Augustan Blunt is a washed out cop with a bad attitude, a drinking problem and a troubled past. Oh, he’s also dead but that’s okay – so is everyone else. Other than that things are just peachy.
Someone has stolen the Grim Reaper’s head and Blunt has been told to find it. In a new city where the rules of the living don’t apply; Blunt’s up to his neck in the brown stuff and he’s never been much of a swimmer. With the aid of a woman who keeps turning involuntarily invisible; a journalist who hasn’t written an article since she died and a bureaucrat who can’t say no to anyone – Blunt’s got to stop whoever is stealing the heads of the city’s elite.
As he begins his investigations he finds things aren’t all they seem. Who are the Gloomwood Youth Order? What do you call the murder of someone already dead? Why are people having their heads chopped off? And what is in the hot dogs? With time slipping away he needs to learn what makes the city tick before there’s no city left.
Gloomwood is a city for the dead – founded by no-less illustrious a personage than the Grim Reaper* himself – as the final resting places for dead people, gods, ideas and concepts. The Grim Reaper is the de-facto ruler, key holder and all round nice guy. His very visage stirs fear in the hearts of the newly dead and respect in those a little better acquainted, so it comes as a bit of a shock to the Office of the Dead when someone decapitates him and steals his head.
Augustan Blunt – an old school detective with a bad attitude, a nasty case of alcoholism** and a propensity to hate everything and everyone – is promptly recruited by Crispin Neat to find the Grim Reapers head and the culprit before any of the Gloomwood residents cotton on…about 12 hours after Blunt’s own untimely demise.
Gloomwood is grey, unsatisfying and decidedly weird.It’s also proof positive that death isn’t always the worst case scenario.
Blunt is a joy! I kept waiting for him to grate on me; as his rudeness, dissatisfaction with the world(s) in general and entitlement alienated him from everyone in the book…but it didn’t happen. Though he is Obnoxious (capital O there); I really enjoyed his cynical and bleak view of the world. It’s hard not to feel a certain degree of sympathy for someone who has had every negative assumption he’s ever made in life confirmed…and then has to do it all over again in death! Even better – he knows that he’s a jerk and takes his various snubs, beatings and general abuse as his due with a wry stoicism.
Blunt finds himself in Gloomwood to solve a very particular crime. Though it’s not really alluded too in much detail; I think that his demise felt a little too convenient and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out there was some hanky-panky relating to the how’s and the when’s in future stories!
His right hand man – Ralph Mortimer; I was a bit more up and down about. Initially I just loved him, but his meek manner did slightly irritate me in the middle. Nevertheless, I was delighted to find that he had a spectacularly glorious looking wife. Hey, I’m not saying that they’re happy, but it was so satisfying that Ralph had *something* in his life that left everyone around him speechless with envy and surprise, as he is portrayed as such a worm.
There are also hints that Ralph might have more to him than meets the eye…though I’m not sure he’d enjoy the realisation that it is in fact Blunt that brings out the best in him.
Sarah Von Faber – the barely there forensic expert – provides the final member of Blunt’s working crew. Her intangibility aside (an unfortunate side effect of an experiment gone awry), Sarah is easily one of the more intelligent members of the Gloomwood community and her astute observations and sarcasm ensure than she is a vital team member, rather than a conveniently creepy plot device. Indeed her special skills are far more often a hindrance than a help.
Quite a bit of writing is devoted to setting the scene and Gloomwood is more than a mere geographical oddity – the land is as much a character within this book as Sarah or Ralph or the Reaper. For Blunt, solving the mystery depends on his rapidly coming to terms with his new environment. I wish so much that I had one of those special edition illustrated hard back versions because I would have LOVED to see long lost hopes and dreams (such as the perennially depressed embodiment of the Earth is flat belief or Petal) illustrated! eBooks are awesome… but those colour plates of my youth are hard not to miss!
It’s a great initial idea, – a murder set in the afterlife – and is well executed for the most part, though the pedant in me has to point out that in the kindle edition I read, there were a few grammatical errors and structural mis-fires that interrupted the narrative flow. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the main wasn’t written so well.
I found the first few chapters to be gripping but also utterly discordant – I couldn’t understand how they would all link up to one another, or if indeed that was even the goal of the book! While it all works out beautifully – I think that it would have been a bit off-putting if I hadn’t been so cheerful in general that week! Talk about feeling thrown in the deep end from the first page.
Perseverance brings rewards and joy, boys and girls!
The mystery is very well drawn out indeed – while this is ostensibly a straight-forward whodunit; the set up of the world and the potential abilities of the plethora of very individualistic characters ups the game considerably. Once you read the ending you immediately see the sense of it, but I hadn’t a clue what was coming – my favourite state to finish a book!
For all that; this is a book that I would only carefully recommend. If you’re a fan of Tom Holt, Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett – you’ll probably do just fine. However, it is as weird as it is wonderful and I don’t think I’d pass onto someone morally opposed to SF or fantasy!
Two sentence summary:
Despite the weird and wacky sounding set up outlined above; this read to me as primarily a character driven SF book. The mystery is – you know – the point, but it’s the humour and drive of the characters that keeps you reading.
The second in the Gloomwood series – Get Ted Dead – will be out soon…
*Best. Backstory. Ever.
My new definitive history for the Grim Reaper.
**I assume that future books are going to explain where the heck the food and drink turns up from?! Although maybe I’d be better off not knowing. The possibilities are rather grotesque. The hot dog question I think I’ll avoid! *shudder*
There are some mild spoilers in this review, though I refrain from revealing the major plot points or ending. If you’ve read the novel and want to have a proper gab about it, please contact me on twitter (@LeedsBookClub) or via email!
This book was sent out to me for review by Waterstones. Visit their profile page for Sweet Tooth HERE!
BLURB (from Amazon)
Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere.
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a ‘secret mission’ which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one.
McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.
This is compounded I think by the authors side references to the social and economic upheaval occurring in 1972. However, as the main character has no real interest – outside of impressing a boyfriend – we never focus on them. This was a feature of #LBC3Reads book The Paris Wife and was something that frustrated all discussing it. Here however, I found myself wracking my brain (more frequently wikipedia) for more details of some throwaway background news story.
I loved the contrasts delicately described within Sweet Tooth. The differences between Serena and her sister were deftly drawn without prejudice for either lifestyle choice. Similarly, the contrasts between the comfortable middle-class lifestyle that Serena had been raised in with the love nest she enjoyed with Tom. The modesty of their lives – painstakingly detailed by McEwan – really captured my imagination.
She is propelled through life by…her looks.
I have to admit; I found her ambitions to be refreshingly predictable and fitting to her upbringing. This is not a character who sets out to change the world, or make a political statement. Serena reads as an every young-woman archetype, not a ‘girl’s girl’ perhaps, but nevertheless feasible regardless of the time period.
An affair with a married man thrusts her into the not-even-a-little-bit glamorous MI5. Here her middling talents do *not* set her above her peers. Her mentors unsavory connections – brought to life after he left her – have soured the brass and Serena is uninspired at work, though she does seem to make a few solid friends.
I’m usually very lucky in fiction, finding aspects of most protagonists that I can bring into my heart. It’s rare that I care so much about what happens to a person when I don’t actually like them at all. Never have I experienced this as much as while reading this.
When she is finally offered the chance to work with an asset – the rising young author Tom Haley – it was so frustrating to know in advance that it was all going to end in tears.
A trick that McEwan uses especially well across his novels is to present us with a stated fact, then later offer context that changes the meaning of the interaction utterly. In Atonement, this hook was the point of the novel, rather than a writing technique. There are hints of this again in both Saturday and Solar.
Here however, there are two characters who change completely from one end of the novel to the other. The fist I delighted in; recognizing the technique as soon as it appears and kicking myself from falling for it once again. The second occasions occurs much more organically and is all the creepier for it.
Yet for all that – Sweet Tooth is not without its faults.
The characters are insular and rarely seem to interact with the outside world. Serena and Tom lost contact with everyone and everything – or so you could easily believe – as soon as they find one another.
Secondary characters are developed then abandoned early in the book, not to reappear until many chapters later – sometimes a touch conveniently. It wouldn’t be so obvious except the characters are often so beautifully drawn in the first place.
The book is dotted with sex scences – no that’s not quite right. This book seems to chart the evolution of the sexual relationship between Serena and Tom Haley, from the particularly un-erotic to love making to the passions felt once the hint of betrayal is in the air. Its rather lovely, but a touch cold. Serena isn’t the warmest of people and sometimes it was difficult to evaluate what she was really feeling. Certainly, her realisation towards the end of the novel that her deception may be revealed, came far too late for me. I mean, she wasn’t daft. How could she not see past the present moment so totally?
By no means my favourtie of his novels, nevertheless; I’d definitely recommend Sweet Tooth to an established reader and/or a fan of the crime/thriller/romance genera.
The size may appear a touch alienating, but this is worth the effort. It’s remarkably easy to read – preferably in longer stretches as there are some very subtle interactions that deserve full attention. Curious till the end, I did sometimes wish that there had been a bit more humour. Still, a very enjoyable week was spent immersed!
The day after she runs out on her mortgage, Helen receives an offer she literally cannot refuse. Her ex, Jay Parker, who was by all accounts a bastard, is now managing 90s boyband Laddz, who are staging a series of come back concerts. They are going to make everyone rich and famous again, only problem is that Wayne, the ‘wacky’ one, has gone missing, walking out on rehearsals and cannot be found anywhere. Helen’s detective skills are called in and soon she finds herself zooming around the East coast of Ireland on the not particularly hot trail.
One of the first things I was asked when I fangirled on Twitter about getting this book to review (eeeeeeeeee) was ‘is it as good as her older stuff?’. The answer is yes, yes it is. Welcome home, Marian, it’s good to have you back.
5/5 and a lovely pre-Autumn treat. Beautiful book as well.
Deciding what to read next can be a daunting task for a lot of us.
It’s hard if your last read was a stinker – though at least you’ll know feeling that the only direction left is up!
It’s especially tricky if you’ve just finished something wonderful. You want a book that’s different enough that it won’t suffer from a comparison but that meets the standards set by the previous author.
With so many fantastic books out there, it can often be difficult to choose what to read next. Thankfully, The Book Lovers’ Companion is here to help, bringing together a huge range of the best and most loved titles in one comprehensive guide.
Featuring a diverse selection of books to choose from, from Pride and Prejudice to the modern classics as well as the latest bestsellers, the guide includes interesting discussion points and facts that will be indispensable for book clubs as well as potential companion books with similar themes, honest opinions from readers and razor-sharp reviews from critics, so you’ll know you’re making the right choice every time.
Compiled by a range of English literature experts and avid readers, and with a foreword by Lionel Shriver, author of We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Book Lovers’ Companionis sure to inspire any book lover. You need never read a bad book again!
The book opens with an introduction by Lionel Shriver – author of ‘We need to talk about Kevin’. I’ve recently read this book for MedusaLBC and loathed it with a passion I usually reserve for matters of life and death or Whedon cancellation. Here however, we became fast friends. I caught myself nodding emphatically on the bus, particularly in response to how they are often perceived by the literary. I couldn’t agree more with her assessment and with her enthusiasm for the creating of literate societies/comunities via book clubs.
There are over 200 entries, including many of the usual suspects – Pride and Prejudice, Brick Lance or The Great Gatsby – but there are also little gems that don’t normally make there way into an anthology of this type – Perfume and The Story of Lucy Gault – a personal favourite.
Each entry is divided up into sections including some variation of spoiler-free summary, discussion points, reader’s notes, background information and similarly regarded titles to try next. I started off with the books that I’d read. There were a number of reviewers involved in the compilation of this book resulting in a diverse range that are humourous, personal and topic specific. Nothing worse than reading a review that is blatantly inaccurate or written without having actually read the source material!
Of particularly interest to me were the thematic list choices dotted throughout the book. Initially disgruntled to see that there was a list for men yet not one for women; I was appeased and very much enjoyed the explanation offered on that page! I love top tens and look forward to spending a bit of time contrasting theirs with my mental lists.
In short – I’m a fan. There is a great range of books reviewed. More importantly each review reads honestly, albeit briefly. It’s particularly enjoyable to pick out the entry of a really weird book and watch the struggle to succinctly condense it into a few sentences.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of this book is that it slightly alters the way you think about the books you’ve read recently – providing an easy template format that allows comparative reflection. I’m hoping that if I continue to reference the book regularly; this logical layout will become habit to me, providing structure to my often meandering thoughts!
However, I would have loved for each entry to be a page longer – allowing for a slightly more in-depth look at each book. Perhaps a spoiler section at the back could be included. This would be terrific for people who have already read the book and could see another persons assessment of the plot and twists. Otherwise, there is a sense that this book is a starting point and merely that. Its actually a credit to the book that I wanted more. Had the summaries not been so impressive; I probably wouldn’t be craving their opinions on the end.
I can think of so many friends that would love to receive this and indeed I plan on putting it to good use this Christmas – matching readers to books rather then buying them something that I want to read and hoping I can borrow it.
Kidding, of course. I’d never do anything so churlish.
I read them before I wrap them
*FYI – as a collective LBC has read at least nine books on the list! Expect that to increase in 2013!
The most awesomeness Muppet of them all.
I must admit to a certain trepidation when I spotted certain names in the index. What if Ms Dunn had got it all wrong? What if she didn’t agree with me!
Anne Shirley, The Chalet School, Jane Eyre – these aren’t just books to me – they are lifelong buddies! Within moments my fears were allayed. Where I agreed; I tended to do so whole heartedly. Where I didn’t, I could feel myself forming mental arguments in defense of/or against/or from a different perspective – especially when the phrase ‘awakening feminism’ appeared!
At no point was I ever indifferent. Which is surely the point – Dunn encourages active involvement from her readers. She’s done the writing, but we’re supposed to join in with regards to the thinking!
From the sublime to the sickening – Mothers in Fiction is a great read; a good giggle and a talking point! Certainly, I’m very motivated to seek out those books I haven’t already read!
It’s one you’ll dip in and out of time and again. I can’t wait to recommend this to my friends and family.
Image courtesy of Crooked Rib (@Crooked_Rib) Publishing
Say hi to the author @CarrieSparkle
Or visit CarrieDunn.net
Notes for the author:
Might I beg that Lady Catherine DeBurgh be similarly assessed for a future book? As an aunt – she was intimidating – as a mother she must have been frightful!
Great Expectations – does Miss Havisham count as a mother figure? That’d be a very interesting one to pick apart!
What of Vivianne Abbot Walker from the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood? Or any of the combo’s from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe?
Virginia Andrews Flowers in the Attic though – that’d be a hard write.
Oooooh – I bet fairy tales would also throw up some fantastic characters to pick apart!