Anna Sewell: Champion of Horses

Born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk on 30 March 1820, Anna Sewell turns 200 today. Her father, Isaac Philip Sewell was a bank manager and later commercial traveller (Wikipedia also mentions him running a shop) while her mother Mary Wright Sewell was a successful author, who wrote children’s books. Anna first learnt to ride when she and her brother used to visit her grandparents, who lived at Dudwick Farm in Norfolk. Initially educated at home due to lack of money, Anna attended school at the age of twelve for the first time in Stoke Newington. At fourteen, she fell and injured both her ankles severely, not being able to walk or stand without a crutch thereafter. She also began to use horse drawn carriages, as she could drive despite her difficulty with walking. [She never used a whip on her horses.] This added to her love of horses, and concern with their better treatment. In 1836, her father took a job and moved to Brighton hoping that the climate would improve her health. The family moved again, to Lancing in 1845, but Sewell’s health deteriorated. After she travelled to Europe for treatment, the family moved again, first to Wick, and later Bath.

In her youth, Anna helped her mother edit various children’s books that she wrote. From the year 1871, Sewell began to write only book, Black Beauty, which she wrote over a period of seven years till 1877. She was in very poor health at the time and would dictate the text to her mother, or write on scraps of paper which her mother transcribed. Although she abandoned the project in 1876, she began working on it again with great effort as she was anxious she would not see it complete during her life time. Her mother found a publisher, and Anna sold the book to Jarrods in November 1877. At this time, she was 57 years old, and received £40 (£20 according to another source) for it. Five months later, she died of hepatitis, but she did see it’s initial success.

Black Beauty is written in the form of an autobiography, beginning with his days on a farm as a colt, to more difficult times, and finely his retirement, recalling times of both cruelty and kindness. Having observed the cruel treatment which horses suffered, in writing the book, Sewell sought ‘to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses’. The book is said to have not only led to concern for the welfare of animals, but also to have played an important role in abolishing the practice of using a checkrein (‘a short rein passing from the bit to the saddle of a harness to prevent the horse from lowering its head’), or as another source refers to it, ‘bearing rein’ which kept the horse’s head high but also caused pain and damage to the horse’s neck. The book became an instant bestseller having sold 30,000 copies at the time of Sewell’s death, and continues to be one of the best selling books of all time, with 50 million copies sold overall. Although Sewell didn’t not intend it to be a children’s book but one for anyone who owned or worked with horses, today, it is known primarily as a children’s book.

The book has been adapted for film, television, and theatre several times, the first being as early as 1917.

Find reviews by fellow bloggers here and here.

Find the full text of Black Beauty here.

  1. Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Sewell
  2. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anna-Sewell
  3. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2530.Anna_Sewell
  4. https://wordsworth-editions.com/author/sewell-anna
  5. https://wordsworth-editions.com/blog/black-beauty-and-world-book-day
  6. https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/Norwich/anna_sewell.htm
  7. https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/author-biography/anna-sewell/
  8. https://www.sunsigns.org/famousbirthdays/d/profile/anna-sewell/
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Beauty
  10. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sewell-anna-1820-1878
  11. ‘checkrein’: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/checkrein

Pretty in Blue: Some Favourite Book Covers

A lighter post today–more pictures than writing. Last year, I had done a post on some book covers in black that are favourites (here), both ones I had read and ones I was (and in some cases am) yet to read, but essentially those that stood out to me or that I liked simply for the way they looked. Today’s post is pretty much the same, but the colour of choice today is blue–randomly picked, though I happen to be wearing a blue shirt at the moment 🙂 These aren’t perhaps all as striking as some of the ones the picked in black, but nonetheless pretty in themselves.

To start off with, Strange the Dreamer which I read recently and really enjoyed: I love this deep blue cover with the illustration (of one of Sarai’s moths? or is it one of the creatures described in the second book?). This isn’t the cover that I have on my edition, though. Syren by Angie Sage (book 5 in the Septimus Heap series) also has a very pretty cover–in the image here though, the bits in gold, the title and lines, and the designs at the bottom are not standing out so well, but in the physical copy they do.

Next is this cover of The Little Prince, again, not the edition that I have but I think it’s a rather cute one–the prince standing at the edge of his planet, perhaps, or may the the story of the one that was so small that you could see the sun rise and set many many times in a short while. Not only is this a wonderful book, I also like the original art very much.

And still on cute covers, is this one–Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. This is a first in series of a fantasy, children’s adventure series, in which Morrigan Crow, a little girl is cursed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But one day, a remarkable man called Jupiter North appears and gives her an opportunity to enter trials to join the wondrous society. The challenges are not easy nor are all the competitors fair. There Morrigan herself on the cover, and Jupiter North (leprechaun-like in green) in the background, and of course, a starry sky!

Two of the books in the Folk of the Air series by Holly Black too have shades of blue in their covers–The Wicked King, and the Queen of Nothing–and I picked these also to feature in this post. Queen of Nothing looks more white than blue in this image, but the physical copy I have is more pale-ish blue.

Next I picked The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling, a fun collection (I especially enjoyed the annotations by Dumbledore), and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky–this Bantam edition has this subdued, yet lovely painting on the cover. This is the one I have, for a change.

Half the Night is Gone by Amitaba Bagchi is the story of a Hindi novelist who has recently suffered the loss of his son, and follows both his story, and the story that he is creating in the book that he’s writing. This is one I’ve been wanting to read, and it also happens to have a nice blue cover.

Finally, and perhaps more purple than blue, is this one–The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie. In this one, a dying woman makes her confession to Father Gorman, who is troubled by it, and while he scribbles a list of names that she’s given him, he never makes it back home, having been killed in the fog. Author Mark Easterbrook becomes involved through some coincidences and investigates the matter. Christie regular Ariadne Oliver plays a part, though this one isn’t part of any particular series. I love the image of the starry sky with a full moon in the background with the Pale Horse sign in front.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones and how did you like them? Which are some of your favourite book covers in blue? Looking forward to your thoughts!

All cover images are as always from Goodreads.

#BookReview: Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett #MarchMagics #Discworld #Citywatch

Some weeks ago I came across #MarchMagics on Chris’ blog (here)—reading the books of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett in March. I haven’t read Wynne Jones so far (though I will eventually), but since I had a few of Pratchett’s books waiting on my TBR, I decided to join in and pick one up. The one I chose is Feet of Clay (1996). Book 19 in the Discworld series, Feet of Clay is the third of the books set around the Ankh-Morpork Citywatch (after Guards Guards and Men at Arms).

As one can tell from the cover, this one involves among other things golems—as the story opens, a golem is secretly being sold, and for a pittance—why? Golems work tirelessly and endlessly and need only to be let off on holy days. Meanwhile, as always, all is not well in Ankh-Morpork as not one but two murders are discovered—an old priest, Father Tubelcek, and Mr Hopkinson, curator of the Dwarf Bread Museum. The Citywatch must of course investigate but to add to these seemingly unrelated deaths, someone is attempting to poison the Patrician, and perhaps to put in his place a new King. Later, two other deaths are also discovered. Alongside, Vimes is also dealing with his new life after his marriage to Lady Sybil in the previous book, as we also learn about his ancestors and even those of some others in the Watch.

This was once again a really entertaining and fun instalment in this set of books—while I have only read a handful of Pratchett’s Discworld books and enjoyed nearly all, the Citywatch ones are especial favourites—an enjoyable combination of mystery and humour, and of course all the happenings in Ankh-Morpork. The mystery element in this one was also well done and rather complex, as like Vimes one keeps picking up different pieces of the puzzle, knowing that they are related, and yet one doesn’t really figure out how they come together, and what really happened until he does. Humour goes alongside in the writing as well as the characters, for instance, the interesting doctor that Vimes picks to treat Vetinari when he is being poisoned. I also enjoyed Vimes and the Vetinari’s conversation at the end.

The book introduces us to some new characters, Cherry Littlebottom, a dwarf who is an alchemist and joins the Watch (with a little secret), and Dorfl a golem who undergoes a rather interesting life-change. Like the previous book, Men at Arms, this one too deals with issues relevant to our world as well—specifically of diversity, and hostility that those who are ‘different’ have to face. While the point isn’t as prominent in this book as the previous one, it still does stand out. Despite this of course, Ankh-Morpork does prove to be the city where everyone can find a place. And some more characters find (as in previous books too) that once one gets to know each other, some of our fears, our doubts about those ‘different’ from us may turn out entirely misplaced. But not everyone does, unfortunately.

Among our regular characters, Carrot, now Captain, with his simple and straightforward outlook, and no ulterior thoughts or motives whatsoever manages to keep the peace, and deal with opponents rather well too. I enjoyed his arguments to protect Dorfl—reasoning over whether he is person or mechanism, but also how he should be protected nonetheless. Also, we find a rather unexpected ‘secret’ about Nobby while Angua is torn over wanting to stay in the city and wanting to return because of who she really is. It was fun following their stories and see how things are turning out for them. Death too makes a small appearance, in more than one form! Lady Sybil too barely comes in but some of her dragons do.

I love how Pratchett manages to poke fun at as well as really deal with various issues that face us in our lives, and combine humour with some deeper observations. Great fun as always. And as always I remembered to mark quotes rather late in the day, and just noted very few: I end with these:

Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.

But, unfortunately, and against all common sense, sometimes people inconsiderately throw their bound enemies into rooms entirely bereft of nails, handy bits of sharp stone, sharp-edged shards of glass or even, in extreme cases, enough pieces of old junk and tools to make a fully functional armoured car.

Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light.

Have you read Feet of Clay or any other books in the Citywatch series? Which ones and how did you like them? Do you enjoy the Discworld books? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Shelf Control #83: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black #Fantasy #YoungAdult #TBR

Wednesday, the 25th of March–Shelf Control time once again! Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. It is a weekly feature, and appears every Wednesday. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week, the second time in a row, my pick is a young adult fantasy read, and coincidentally also the final one in a series (Last week, I featured Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor-post here)–The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black. The Queen of Nothing is the third in the Folk of the Air series, the first two being The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. I picked up Cruel Prince last year, and found it so entertaining and enjoyable that I bought the sequel nearly immediately, and this was also as enjoyable and kept me hooked all through. So of course, I had to read the final instalment to see how everything turns out.

The series tells the story of Jude who with her twin Taryn and older sister Vivi are taken to live in Faerie, after their parents are brutally killed. There, many look down upon them, especially the youngest prince Cardan, who loses no chance to torment. While Taryn wants to fit in simply by falling in love and getting married, Jude wants to become a knight and be able to give a fitting response to her tormentors. But when things are not working the way she wants them to, she begins to take steps to acquire power, getting eventually involved in political games playing out around the throne of Faerie. In The Wicked King, the games continue with Jude finding herself occupying an important place as the power behind the throne. Love, hate, politics, conspiracy, and betrayal are constants, and both the plot and the characters surprise one more than once with twists, turns, and plenty of secrets.

Without going into too much of a spoiler, in this final instalment, Jude has been banished from Faerie, and to the mortal realm. She is biding her time and waiting to return. Her twin Taryn brings to her this opportunity, and Jude must return to an atmosphere where war is brewing and politics continues to be dangerous. A dormant but powerful curse is unleashed which forces her to make a choice–between ambition and her humanity. How do things turn out for her, for Taryn, for Cardan?

The Author: Holly Black is an American writer and editor. She has written several young adult and middle-grade novels, short stories, graphic novels and comics, and some poetry. Among her works are the Spiderwick Chronicles, and the Magesterium books co-written with Cassandra Clare.

Have you read this series? Did you enjoy it as much as I have been? What did you think of this instalment? Did it live up to your expectations? Looking forward to your thoughts!

I have featured The Cruel Prince in a previous Shelf Control Post (here), and my reviews of Cruel Prince and Wicked King are here and here.

Find reviews of The Queen of Nothing from the Orangutan Librarian (here), A Book A Thought (here), and Reading by Starlight (here)

Cover image and description as always are from goodreads (here) and the author (here)

Circle of Life #Poetry #Kipling

Not quite talking about the song from the Lion King, but the idea in that story, of life coming full circle, starting with the birth of one lion king (prince?) Simba, and coming to a close with another–his cub–and knowing that whatever events occur in between–happy or sad, easy or hard–the circle will keep recurring–birth and death, the new always replacing the old. Life will always thus go on (in some form or other). This is the idea that comes across, I think, in Rudyard Kipling’s short poem, ‘Cities and Thrones and Powers’, which appeared in his book Puck of Pook’s Hill, accompanying one of the stories.

Boy with Crown
Source: Pexels

Looking at it from the perspective of time, Kipling compares Cities, Thrones, and Powers to flowers that die each day, for from time’s eye, this is how they appear–as insignificant, or perhaps, as significant–since for everlasting time, the space they occupy is as small. But like flowers that bloom and die each days, cities, thrones, and power too go through cycles, of different durations perhaps, but come to an end they do, only for new ones to rise again. As he puts it,

But, as new buds put forth
  To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
  The Cities rise again.
Daffodils
Image source: Pexels

But as Kipling goes on to write, while birth and death, a beginning and an end is the natural course for everyone, everything even–living, or man-made–solace lies in the fact that for them, that short existence they have is perpetual. The daffodil, as he says it approaches her seven-day life boldly, unaware of what has become of her predecessors, considering the time spared her as perpetual:

But with bold countenance,
  And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance,
  To be perpetual.

That is the kindness that time shows everyone–time that is perpetual, that is everlasting, makes us in a sense as blind, believe in the myth of our life being everlasting, and as bold as that little daffodil who has but seven days, so that we too think that life is perpetual, and can live forever (even when we humans know that there is an end, we do too), and approach life with as much boldness and try to life it as fully. (After all, there wouldn’t really be ‘life’ otherwise, would there?) For time of course, these cycles continue forever, and each–whether the seven-day life of a daffodil, or many hundred years of a city or power–is but the blink of an eye.

But I am not quite sure what to make of the last stanza, the last couple of lines, particularly:

So Time that is o'er-kind
  To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
  As bold as she:
That in our very death,
  And  burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
  "See how our works endure!"

Does Kipling mean that time’s works are enduring, or that we (blind in a sense to the eventuality of our lives) consider our works (our cities, thrones, and powers, among them) as ever enduring?

What do you make of these last lines? Have you read this poem before? How do you like it, it’s message? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find the full poem here

Find my previous posts on some of Kipling’s other poems here and here

Shelf Control #82: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor #TBR #Fantasy #YoungAdult

Wednesday, the 18th of March–time again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. It appears every Wednesday. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week my pick is a book I got a while ago, but haven’t gotten down to reading yet–Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. Published in 2018, this is the concluding part of the young-adult duology Strange the Dreamer. Strange the Dreamer tells the story of the eponymous Lazlo Strange, brought up in a monastery as he was an orphan. On hearing stories of a mysterious and magical city from a strange monk at the monastery, Lazlo becomes increasingly fascinated with the city, but as if by magic even its name disappears from everyone’s minds including Lazlo’s own, and all that is remembered is the name ‘Weep’ (not its actual name). When Lazlo grows up and becomes first an apprentice, and then a librarian, his fascination continues, and he seeks to learn all he can about it from all the books he can lay his hands on. One day, an unforeseen opportunity comes his way as a warrior known as the Godslayer comes to his city, and he finds himself actually travelling to Weep–his dream being realised. On the other side, in Weep we learn the story of a very different young girl, half-human, half-god, Sarai, who has had a difficult life of her own, and who has a rather extraordinary talent. Their stories intersect once there, where tragedy has touched more than one life, human and other.

In the Muse of Nightmares, things have changed very much for both Lazlo and Sarai, neither of them are who they were in the first book. Lazlo must make an unthinkable choice, save the woman he loves or everyone else, while Sarai must realise what she is truly capable of. The many questions, the mysteries that the first book left unanswered must still be resolved, and a new foe who arrives on the scene must be contended with.

This is a series I came across on a Goodreads friend’s review (video here), and I liked the sound of it a lot and wanted very much to read it. A few months ago, I found Muse of Nightmares on sale on kindle and picked it up even though I hadn’t got the first one yet (silly but the first would be on sale eventually 😛 ). Finally I did get the first book (a physical copy) which I am reading now (nearly finished, in fact) and so very much looking forward to reading this second one. Despite the elements of tragedy and sadness in the book (in the lives of many of the characters), there is so much that is magical and beautiful–both the things/places the author has created and the prose itself, which is making me really enjoy this one. And of course, I want to know what happens next!

The author: Laini Taylor is an American author who writes in the young adult fantasy genre. Born in Chico, California, Taylor, who grew up as a ‘military kid’ earned a degree in English from UC Berkeley. She has written various series and collections, the best known among them being Daughter of Smoke and Bone which has three novels and a novella, and Strange the Dreamer. Strange the Dreamer is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book.

Have you read the Strange the Dreamer books or others by Laini Taylor? Which ones and how did you find them? If you haven’t yet, do you plan to read any? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Info on the book is from Goodreads (here) and the author from Wikipedia (here); the cover image and author image are both from Goodreads (here and here)

#Review: Detection Unlimited #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge #GoldenAge #Mystery

One of the reading challenges I’m doing this year is #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge hosted by Rekha at the Book Decoder (here) where one reads crime,mystery, or thriller books (British of course) published before 1965. Detection Unlimited (1953) is the third book I’m reading this year that falls in this category.

This is the third of the series featuring Chief Inspector Hemingway that I’ve read, though it is the fourth in the series/subseries. Once again in a classic setting—a small English village—this one opens one summer evening as many of the residents are heading to a tennis party thrown by Mrs Haswell. On the way to and at the party we learn of a solicitor Mr Sampson Warrenby, who has recently moved to the village, and is not well liked, in fact disliked by pretty much all the residents. The party guests are rather pleased that Warrenby chose not to attend, though his niece, Mavis, who is keeping house for him is there. Of course, by the time the games come to an end and the guests return, Mavis comes home to find her uncle shot dead in the garden of his home, Fox House. The local Detective-Inspector Thropton is away sick (similar to the case in Envious Casca), and so the Chief Constable decides to call in Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Hemingway is sent down, accompanied by Inspector Horace Harbottle.

While in some ways, the case before Hemingway is a simple one, a man shot dead in his garden, it turns out to be quite difficult to figure out as for one, there are so many suspects, all with different reasons to dislike Warrenby—from Mr Drybeck the solicitor whose practice and seats on various boards and committees have been taken away by Warrenby, to his niece, the saintly Mavis who seems to have fallen in love with a young Polish man, Ladislas Zamagorisky, who her uncle most certainly does not approve of, to Mrs Midgeholme, breeder of Pekes whose dog was kicked by Warrenby; many have reasons to dislike him, even kill him. In fact, Hemingway says at one point, ‘I don’t know when I’ve had so many possibles to choose from’ , identifying at least nine. To add to it, there are 37 rifles of the kind used in the murder in the vicinity. And if these alone weren’t enough, nearly everyone in the village from the said Mr Drybeck and Mrs Midgeholme, to youngsters Charles Haswell and Abigail Patterson, to a ninety-year-old former poacher Mr Biggleswade, has turned into an amateur detective approaching Hemingway with their theories and information they consider of the utmost importance, some to throw suspicion off themselves, but others genuinely ‘trying to help’.

I enjoyed this one, especially since like Hemingway, I certainly didn’t figure out whodunit until he did himself (in the previous Hemingway book I read, Envious Casca I did figure the ‘who’ out); so the book kept me reading till the end. The abundance of suspects and amateur detectives kept me guessing as well. Like the other two Hemingway books that I’ve read, this one too is humorous, in Hemingway’s tone and his exchanges with Inspector Harbottle for instance, as well as in some of the characters such as Mrs Midgeholme and her line of prize-winning Pekes Ultima, all named with the letter ‘U’ (Ulysees, Umberto, and Ursula, but also Uppish, Unruly, and Umbrella) and even the old poacher, for that matter. Hemingway’s observations in an instance or two do seem a touch insensitive or un-PC but overall he’s good fun. The rest of the characters too are pretty well drawn out, each standing out individually, and of course, more than one with their own secrets. I liked how Hemingway finally worked the thing out, picking up on various things that he’d missed when first told them—the explanation of who, how, and why runs into several pages where the Inspector is more or less putting together various pieces as he works it out. I find I’m really liking Heyer’s mysteries, ones more serious in tone like Penhallow as well as these lighter-hearted Hemingway ones a lot, and look forward to reading more soon.

Have you read this one or any of Heyer’s other mysteries? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Image source: Cover image from goodreads as always.