Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Common People – Alison Light


For those of us who have done some research into our family trees it is often harder if you are born into the more common class, that of the common people. Alison Light had little idea beyond a few stories passed down about her grandparents when she embarked on her own project which was initially to find the grave of her grandmother who had died when her father was just a small child. The search was prompted by her father’s ill health and this initial search led her to wonder about her ancestors and what place they had in the world.

The author, like the majority of us I suspect, had no nobility or infamous people to seek out. She had some tales which hinted at better things, but nothing concrete and of course some of the historical research she undertook disproved the little she thought she knew. What she did find was the dates and places for the key events in a life; birth marriage and death. The beauty being that as a historian those snapshots in addition to some census records, enabled her to delve into the life of people as wide ranging as a needle maker who worked from home and a kitchen assistant on a ship.

Alison Light does a fantastic job of illustrating just how precarious life was for those who were common people when the death of a man could mean absolute devastation for a wife with young children with no family to support her. Even those with family were not immune these people living hand to mouth anyway making a living from seasonal work as and when they could find it. Not so very different from the zero hours contracts that we hear so much about nowadays!

Not only does the author give us a good picture of the lifestyle of those working class men and women, she also gives us an insight into the areas they lived in and how this did influence the type of work they did, none more so than towards the end of the book when she describes Portsmouth from her own childhood back in time when this was an important port for both the Merchant and Military Navy. In turn the neighbourhood in the wider sense is altered due to the absence of all the men who worked at sea leaving more of the dockside jobs to the older men but on the whole leaving a neighbourhood dominated by the women except when the men returned from their voyages.

Alison Light’s paternal family were on the whole staunch Baptists and the link between this church and the politics of the working class is knowledgeably explained. I had no idea of quite how closely entwined the pairing of the non-conformists and politics were although I could see the appeal of being preached to by a man from within your own community rather than the educated churchmen who played the same role in the Church of England.

There are inevitably sad stories from times when poverty, not only individual, but of entire areas meant that death was far more part of daily life, the lack of clean water and so many families living on top of one another meant that diseases like Tuberculosis spread unfettered. One of the saddest tales was that of a woman born into the workhouse, orphaned soon afterwards and who died decades later in the local asylum. However, the author is quick to remind us that as tempting as it is as family historians to get fixate on the death of an ancestor, it is the life they lead between the certificates that is far more enlightening.

Common People is the type of history I most enjoy, brilliantly researched and informative touching on the social lives of many of our ancestors but also acknowledging how important tracing our own families are to make sense of our place in the world. This is a book jam-packed full of details which informs and entertains throughout.

Common People is the tenth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in August 2017 so I gain another third of a book token! That’s three and one third books earned!


First Published UK: 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 356
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Marriage Certificate – Stephen Molyneaux

Genealogy  4*'s

I love family history and one branch of my family tree originated in Essex, in fact my grandmother grew up in Leytonstone (which is the next stop on the underground to Leyton) so this book which centres around Peter, an amateur genealogist who comes across a marriage certificate at an antiques fair in Essex was one of those books I simply had to try.

Once Peter buys the certificate for £5.00 he is determined to discover more about the couple, Louisa Crockford and John Williams who married in 1900. Who were the couple? What happened after they married and why was their marriage certificate up for sale when surely it should have been kept by their family?
This story alternates with that of Rosetta Ince beginning in 1898 and Peter’s search in the present. In the past we get to know more about the young draper with ambitions to own her own shop, her hopes and her dreams and the understanding that as a woman at the turn of the century she couldn’t have the marriage and the career it just wasn’t possible.

The groom is off to fight in the Boer war in South Africa. This is not a war knew much about but Stephen Molyneaux’s writing certainly appeared to be well researched. When Rose moves to the Isle of Wight the bond between her and Lousia remains strong with letters and the newly invented postcards made their way between the two women.

I really liked this book, it was strong on the historical aspect which is important to me. It also realistically portrayed quite how easy it is to make assumptions when researching family history, although Peter had more lucky finds than I ever have had! There were plenty of sad moments and I got quite involved, wanting to know the full story. The book concluded on a twist, which although not entirely unexpected, rounded off the story nicely.

This book didn’t have the thriller aspects of my favourite genealogical mystery writers Steve Robinson and Dan Waddell it was an informative and enjoyable read.

Read more about Family History in Fiction in my related post.


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Posted in Weekly Posts

Musing Monday (September 9)

musingmondays51 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!

This week I’m musing about the use of Family History as Fiction; This genre combines two of my interests in one:

It I have traced some of my ancestors mainly through tracking them back through the UK Census using birth, marriage and death certificates to add a little flesh to the bones of this 10 year glimpse at their lives. I often wonder what their lives were really like. How did my Great-Grandmother cope at the age of 24 when she realised she was pregnant and unmarried at the turn of the century?  Funnily enough this wasn’t passed down in the oral history I’d been told by my beloved Grandmother. Oh, I knew that Rose, her mother, had married a man who had been widowed and was 20 years older than she was. No-one said that she married him 6 months to the day after his first wife had died and my Great-Aunt was born less than 4 months after that – I did the maths! I’m sure the internet has uncovered many such secrets from the past leaving those of us in the present to imagine the back-story.

I digress; Dan Waddell who wrote the tie-in the to the popular family history program Who Do You Think You Are then wrote his first novel, The Blood Detective, (nominated for he CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger, the Macavity Debut Novel award in the USA and the Cezam Prix Littéraire in France.)

The Blood Detective

As dawn breaks over London, the body of a young man is discovered in a windswept Notting Hill churchyard. The killer has left Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster and his team a grisly, cryptic clue…
However it’s not until the clue is handed to Nigel Barnes, a specialist in compiling family trees, that the full message becomes spine-chillingly clear. For it leads Barnes back more than one hundred years – to the victim of a demented Victorian serial killer…
When a second body is discovered Foster needs Barnes’s skills more than ever. Because the murderer’s clues appear to run along the tangled bloodlines that lie between 1879 and now. And if Barnes is right about his blood-history, the killing spree has only just begun…
From the author of the bestselling Who Do You Think You Are? comes a haunting crime novel of blood-stained family histories and gruesome secrets. . .

He then followed up with Blood Atonement, featuring the same central characters, genealogist Nigel Barnes and DCI Grant Foster.

Blood Atonement


Katie Drake was an affluent single mother living in Queen’s Park – until someone cut her throat and tore out her tongue. Worse still, the killer has abducted her fourteen-year-old daughter, Naomi.
Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster quickly sees chilling parallels with the disappearance of teenager Leonie Stamey three years earlier. With hopes fading of finding Naomi alive, he calls on genealogist Nigel Barnes to piece together the links between the families of the two girls.
The trail leads Nigel back to 1890, when a young couple arrived in the UK. A husband and wife fleeing a terrible crime in their past, and harbouring a secret that’s now having bloody repercussions in the present …

Read more about Dan Waddell on his website

This led me to seek out other books in this genre and I came across Steve Robinson’s first book featuring Jefferson Tate. JT, to his friends is the genealogist who doesn’t know his own past but goes on thrilling adventures to find the truth in the past. His first adventure was within the pages of In the Blood

In the Blood

The story starts with American genealogist Jefferson Tayte, JT, having to board a plane to Heathrow before catching a train to Cornwall in order to complete an assignment for a client’s birthday, only problem is he is scared of flying. It took a while to get into the story as early on we are introduced to the Fairborne family boarding the boat, Betsy Rose, in America to sail to England in 1783. Once the JT had to Cornwall the parts from the past linked well with the many twists and turns happening.

JT is portrayed as a likeable character desperate to do a good job with integrity. There is quite a large cast of characters to get to know both in the past and in the present, and some of those baddies are really bad!!

This book is well written; it has a lot going for it and I would love to follow JT on his next adventure and maybe find his birth family in the process.

The second episode To the Grave and is set in World War II. This one is my favourite, possibly because of the time period.

To the Grave

Our American Genealogist Jefferson Tayte aka JT has been employed by Eliza Gray who has received a suitcase with some effects telling her that she was in fact adopted. JT travels to Leicestershire to discover who the mysterious Mena Lasseter was. The story of Mena is based towards the end of the war in 1944/45 but the current day story has just as much, if not more to offer.

The characters are well drawn and Mena’s story is an emotional one but at the same time there is a lot of intrigue in the present day. JT finds himself in danger but who wants to cover up what happened all those years ago.

This is a stand-alone story however I would suggest reading Steve Robinson’s previous book first. As before the genealogical angle is covered accurately but not laboriously so it only serves to enhance the story not get in the way of it.

This emotional, thrilling tale thoroughly deserves 5 stars, I can’t wait for the next one.

The latest book is called the Last Queen of England

The Last Queen of England
This time the story revolves around Queen Anne and the Jacobites, a period in history that I didn’t know much about. Jefferson Tayte meets his old mentor, Marcus Brown and soon there is a murder and a puzzle to be solved. This is a fast paced story with JT getting into all sorts of difficult situations as he races to finish what his friend had started.

The beauty of Steve Robinson’s books are they can all be read as stand-alone books as they are all so different. Each one is written in an engaging way with JT being a rounded likable character. In this outing we are introduced to Jean, another strong, well-defined character who adds a different dimension to JT and one that I am hoping stays for the next instalment.

To give the reader a history lesson in a way that enhances and doesn’t interfere with the story indicates what a good writer the author is. A thoroughly good read particularly for anyone interested in genealogy and history.

I love JT and was thrilled that Steve Robinson has got a signed contract with Amazon Publishing even though it may mean a slight delay in the next book. Read more about JT and Steve Robinson on his website