Posted in Weekly Posts

Musing Mondays (October 28)


Hosted by Should Be Reading
Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…• Describe one of your reading habits.

• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).

• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!

• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

After my detour last week I’m back to My Life in Books.

This week I’m going to talk about reading at school….

So being a summer baby I actually started school in the term following my fifth birthday already able to read. Mum had harnessed my enthusiasm for books and with the help of Peter and Jane (and Pat the dog) I was a reasonably fluent reader by the time I started school.

Cover Peter and Jane

Inside Peter and Jane



This (sexist) reading scheme aimed to give children the ability to read words by the way they looked and as far as I can tell worked well for me (I actually had this set of books for when my children were learning to read, it worked for one, the other wasn’t interested!)

Alongside these I ‘read’ the books I borrowed from the library and then I went to school.

The first school I went to used Through The Rainbow reading scheme. I opened page one, was seriously underwhelmed by the lack of words but ok until I realised that when the teacher called my name I was expected to read to her in front of the class! No way – I was a very shy child and stuttered my way through the pages and was sent home with the book. Mum got in a tizz because I needed something more challenging and the whole reading out aloud got more and more of an ordeal so I very slowly inched my way through these boring books.

Through The Rainbow

I then changed schools to a very progressive 70’s school, animals in the classroom and grounds, and a very easy-going attitude to set learning styles. I look back and wonder how I learnt anything, but I did, and best of all there was no reading scheme! No competition about what book I was on and I went back to reading what I wanted (which was lots of different books with a wide range of ‘reading ages’) The result was a far happier young reader.

Unfortunately at 9 we moved and another change of school and another reading scheme. I think this one was mermaids but that may just have been the title I was given. Despite still being very shy, I told the teacher I didn’t need a reading scheme. They tried, I tried a little harder to comply and then they let me choose what I wanted to read from their small selection. I think I won them over by reading A Christmas Carol and managed to tell them all about it and so I said goodbye to the hated reading scheme!

A Christmas Carol

As an adult I understand that teachers want to know what stage each of their pupils has reached at a given time but my feeling even now is that learning how to read needs to be as interesting as possible and use a variety of methods. Children are all individuals! Thankfully these days standing up and reading in front of the class no longer appears to happen!

I then went to secondary school and soon realised with our first read Smith by Leon Garfield that reading it all in a couple of evenings wasn’t what was expected!


This brilliant, picaresque novel follows the adventures of an illiterate young ragamuffin known only as Smith. Smith picks the pocket of a stranger, only to witness immediately the strangers murder. Smiths booty from the theft is an Important Document, no doubt worth quite a lot to somebody, which is proved by the pursuit of Smith by two very shady characters. Smith artfully dodges them and winds up in the odd company of a wealthy blind man, who takes Smith into his home and provides him with an education. But this new comfort is lost when Smith himself is suspected of the very murder he witnessed. Goodreads

Also once again we were back to reading aloud to the class. So there I was all buttoned up into a skirt and blazer about five sizes to big anxiously waiting my turn to read my paragraph. Fortunately my surname began with M so it was a few weeks before it was my turn! By the time we got to the end of reading the book in ‘slow motion’ with set pages to be read at home and discussed at length, despite initially enjoying the book, I hated Smith with a vengeance.

Happily in time I got to appreciate the dissection of the text so by the time I did my ‘O’ Levels I could discuss phrases in Macbeth at ease, along with War and People Poems, and Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and English Lit was my favourite lesson.

O level texts

What are your memories of reading at school? Thinking back over my experiences it is credit to my mother that the reading habit was already ingrained by the time I reached school. I can see now that the experience could have totally put me off if I hadn’t already loved books and I can’t imagine my life without books!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Bellman & Black – Diane Setterfield

Ghost Story 4*'s
Ghost Story


As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

Having fallen in love with A Thirteenth Tale (you can see it is still on the bookshelf in my header), I have been eagerly watching out for Diane Setterfield’s next book. For a while Amazon said Untitled with a release date of 2012, then it went to 2013 so I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever happen. It did and the title was to be Bellman & Black.

Reviews began to pop up about this book, and if I’m honest most were lukewarm at best, so I lowered my expectations and realised that this was going to be a different reading experience to her first book.

I will now stop with the comparisons and review this book on its own merits.

The book itself bills this story as a ghost story. My initial impression on finishing it, was, that it reminded me in some elusive way of Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, as it had that moralistic feel to it, although the moral appeared to be a more modern concept than the Victorian time period it is set in.

We first meet Bellman as a ten year old boy playing in the fields with his cousin Charles and friends Luke and Fred. He demonstrates his creativity in solving problems when he hits a rook off a branch killing it. The boys are both fascinated and horrified in the special way ten year olds can be, but they get on with the business of growing up. As the reader we meet them later on when they are all adults.

This isn’t a fast moving book, there is an awful lot about business. William is involved with the running of his uncle’s mill and he is clearly clever, good with figures and exceptionally good at solving problems and presenting viable solutions. I found this interesting, as I did the other informative parts of the book which include Victorian mourning rituals and facts about the crow family. I particularly liked these which are spread throughout the book as footnotes. Diane Setterfield clearly demonstrates her skill as a writer with some of the drier parts of this book, as if I’m honest, I kept waiting for something to happen but was entranced enough to keep reading without becoming too frustrated.

This isn’t going to be the book for you if you want action because even now I’ve turned the last page and reflected, not a great deal happened. I’m not sure what normal ghost stories are like as this isn’t a type of book I seek out but this didn’t scare me as I felt the worst had already happened to William,and that was life and not ghosts. This story is about love, loss and death but in a quite remote way as we see William’s reaction to these events as a spectator, I didn’t feel connected to him although I sympathised with him.

If you want to lose yourself in some authentic-feeling Victorian novel then try this. I found it more of an informative read than an entertaining read but one done with great style. I do love the cover which I know isn’t a reason to buy a book but it does help to wear a good jacket!

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in return for my opinion in this review.