The Picture Book by Jo Baker

It feels terribly clichéd to talk about words painting pictures but, although I have tried to find other words, I can really think of no better way to express my feelings about this book.

The author allows her reader to observe lives, visiting and watching. And it works beautifully, because she understands the maxim show don’t tell.

She writes in the first person present tense, something I don’t usually like. But after the first page I didn’t think about it. I was caught up.

The story opens in The Electric Theatre on York Road in Battersea. The date is 14th August 1914.

William and Amelia have come to see a film. Of course in 1914 that was a grand adventure, and a wonderful treat.

It  was also a farewell. William was to go to war and Amelia was to be left behind. That was why William gave Amelia the picture book.  An album that she could fill with the picture postcards he promised to send from wherever he might be sent.

William sees and wonders at the world. And he must face the war at Galipolli.

Amelia raises their son, Billy, and they must both face battles of their own.

Billy marries Ruby, who is Jewish, before he is caught up in another war.

Billy and Ruby’s son, Will,  grows up in a very different, post-war world and becomes an academic.

His first child is a daughter, Billie, and she moves the story into the present day and brings it full circle.

That broad story is perfectly captured. The world changes, and yet so much remains the same. Patterns repeat, and patterns change.

But there is so much more. So many crucial, small details. Actions. Events. Emotions. They show exactly what you need in order to understand. No more and no less. And they show how choices, both conscious and unconscious, can have repercussions long into the future.

The Picture Book shows real people, real lives, real emotions. Painted perfectly. Pictures of childhood, adulthood and old age. Pictures of a century of history and social change. So many pictures.

I knew nothing before I picked up The Picture Book and I gained so much from reading with no foreknowledge. That is why I shall share no more details. And that is why I shall write no more.

Still Book Counting : 1 2 3 4 5

I never could resist the chance to make a list, and so Simon’s Five Book Meme is completely irresistible …

1. The book I’m currently reading

The story of the 20th century told through snapshot of one family – a family saga like nothing I’ve read before, and I am loving it.

2. The last book I finished

A wonderful addition to the Persephone Books list: a long out of print novel from 1911 that captures the heart and soul of the struggle for female suffrage. I’m still gathering my thought, and I’ll write a little more soon.

3. The next book I want to read

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth by Chris Priestley

I’ve saved this one for a while, torn between really wanting to read it and not wanting to run out of Chris Priestley’s spooky short stories. But I think Halloween is the time …

4. The last book I bought

Speaking of Love by Angela Young

I spotted this one on a low shelf in a charity shop. It rang a bell, and I placed it when I looked at the back cover and saw:

‘If you like Maggie O’Farrell, You’ll Love Angela Young’  STUCK IN A BOOK

5. The last book I was given

The Yangtze Valley and Beyond by Isabella Bird

My fiance is a trained Virago spotter, and he bought this one home for me last week.

So those are my five books – what are yours?

Books Off Shelves and Knitting Off Needles

Now books off shelves may not sound that newsworthy, but bear in mind that I had to move in with my mother because she’s reached a point where she can’t manage alone, and I really don’t want her to have to leave her home, in the same street where she grew up.

What that means is that most of the bookshelves in the house are double banked and a lot of my books live in boxes. I use my LibraryThing catalogue to note where books live, and I am pleased to report that the system works.

I’ve had The Mermaid’s Child by Jo Baker for ages, and I decided that it was the perfect book for this year’s Once Upon a Time challenge. So I found it in my catalogue, went straight to the right shelf, and there it was! I’ve read the first couple of chapters, and I’m very impressed.

Pulling out Persephone Books is even easier. They have their own shelves, too shallow to double bank, and I even have the books arranged in series order. Today I pulled out two for group reads on GoodReads.

I’m very bad at group reads, but I’m determined to reform. How do you do with group reads? Any tips?

I’m having a library ordering embargo for the month of April whick should help. I was supposed to have one in March, but first I forgot and then I was swayed by the Orange Prize longlist. This month it’s serious!

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski is for the Persephone Group. I ‘ve loved Marghanita Laski’s other three Persephones and the subject of this one – the effect of WW2 on lives and relationships – is one that intrigues me.

And The Priory by Dorothy Whipple is for the Between the Wars group. Now how could I resist that?!


I always have at least two pieces of knitting in progress. One interesting bigger project, and one smaller simple project for when I only have a little time and for when I need to knit as a stress-buster.

Today I finished a very simple project.

A Montego Bay scarf in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock. It was so easy, and the yarn was just right for the pattern. So now I have a lovely spring scarf. And a good excuse to rifle through the yarn boxes and the pattern folders for my next simple project.

Then, with my library pile and my reading and knitting works in progress, I’ll have a pretty good reading and knitting plan for the month!

How about you?

Once Upon a Time

“Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time IV criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.”

I couldn’t possibly  say no. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this challenge, pondering books for ever.

And here are the books:

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. That secret – and her vocation – is witchcraft, and with her cat and a pact with the Devil, Lolly Willowes is finally free.”

Witchcraft may suggest another, autumnal challenge, but this definitely feels like a magical springtime book.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

“Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where it seems that everyone has a story to tell about the Waverley women. The house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, the rumours of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic.”

I have heard so much good about this book, and I think that this is its time.

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

“Her idyllic childhood ends when her mother dies and her father goes away, leaving Coriander with her stepmother, a widow who is in cahoots with a fundamentalist Puritan preacher. She is shut away in a chest and left to die, but emerges into the fairy world from which her mother came, and where time has no meaning. When she returns, charged with a task that will transform her life.”

This has been waiting for me in the library for a while. Another book that has found its time.

The Mermaid’s Child by Jo Baker

“Growing up motherless in an isolated community, Malin Reed has always been made to feel different from everybody else. The fact that, according to Malin’s father, the absent mother was actually a mermaid only makes matters worse. When Malin’s father dies, leaving behind nothing but his stories, Malin’s choice at last becomes clear: stay, and never feel at home, or leave and go in search of mermaids and the fantastical inheritance that, up to now, has always seemed completely out of reach.”

I live by the sea, so there had to be a mermaid somewhere.

Iron & Gold by Hilda Vaughan

“Lured from her underwater home, to become a farmer’s wife in the Brecon Beacons, the fairy bride discovers that both her difference and her acquired familiarity breed marital breakdown and tragedy.”

I’ve been promising myself this book for this challenge for ages.

Five wonderful books. What could be better?