Childhood Memories: Ursula Moray Williams

I don’t usually review children’s books on my blog, but in my new series of Childhood Memories posts I’ll be spotlighting some of my favourite authors from my childhood, many of whom seem to have been largely forgotten today.  In this first post I’m remembering Ursula Moray Williams.

Ursula Moray Williams was born in Hampshire, England on April 19, 1911. Throughout her career she wrote nearly 70 children’s books including Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Good Little Christmas Tree. She died on October 17, 2006, having had one of the longest publishing careers of any children’s author.

Author Trivia:

  • Ursula had an identical twin sister called Barbara.
  • Her uncle, Sir Stanley Unwin, was the founder of the George Allen and Unwin publishing house, who published J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1937.
  • She married Peter John in 1935 – he was the great-grandson of the poet Robert Southey.

Ursula Moray Williams obituary from The Independent

Wikipedia entry with bibliography

Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat was one of my favourite books as a child. I had a copy at home, but I remember reading it at school as well (where we also learned a song to go with the book – no, I’m not going to sing it for you! I was able to find the lyrics, though.)

Gobbolino is a witch’s kitten, but unlike his sister Sootica who enjoys learning magic spells and flying a broomstick, he dreams of becoming an ordinary kitchen cat. When the witch notices that Gobbolino has blue eyes and one white paw (apparently a witch’s cat should be black with green eyes), she abandons him and he sets off alone in search of a warm fire and a family who will love him.  In quick succession, Gobbolino attempts to become a farmhouse cat, an orphanage cat, a show cat, a ship’s cat, a princess’s cat and a woodcutter’s cat – but every time he thinks he’s found the perfect home, his new owners discover that he’s really a witch’s cat and ask him to leave.

“Oh, why was I born a witch’s cat?  Oh, why?” thought Gobbolino when at last they were out of sight. “I could wish for nothing better than a home with such kind and pleasant people as these, but no!  Everyone turns against me, and oh my goodness, what is to become of me now?”

Gobbolino is such a lovable, kindhearted character it would be almost impossible not to like him and to want him to find the happy home he’s been wishing for!

Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse was published in 1938, a few years before Gobbolino, and was a very similar story.  The little wooden horse is a toy who doesn’t want to be sold, preferring to remain with his creator, Uncle Peder the toymaker.  When Uncle Peder becomes ill, the little wooden horse is forced to go out into the world and attempt to make his fortune – while dreaming of the day when he and the toymaker will be reunited.  

Although I loved these books I used to think they were very sad, and would cry every time Gobbolino or the Little Wooden Horse had to leave yet another potential home – though I didn’t find them quite as sad when I re-read them this week in preparation for writing this post!  I think these books would be perfect bedtime stories because of the way they are structured with each chapter being a complete little story in itself.

Have you read any of Ursula Moray Williams’ books – or have you read them to your children?

Review: The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Being a lover of Victorian fiction, I have wanted to read something by Anthony Trollope for a long time but didn’t know which of his books to begin with. I’ve heard a lot about The Way We Live Now and Can You Forgive Her? but I decided to go with The Warden because it’s relatively short and I thought that if I wasn’t enjoying it I’d be more likely to finish a book with 200 pages than one with 800. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem – I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t have minded if it had been longer.

In the year 1434 John Hiram established a hospital (or almshouse) in the town of Barchester where for centuries to come, twelve elderly, infirm men could live under the care of a warden. At the time when the story takes place, Septimus Harding is the current warden and whilst the amount of money given to the old men has barely changed at all over time, the warden’s income has increased to eight hundred pounds a year. When reformer John Bold decides to investigate, Harding finds himself facing a moral dilemma.

The book really made me stop and think, because none of the characters seemed to be either completely in the wrong or completely in the right.  Although it was clearly unfair that Mr. Harding was receiving so much money, I sympathised with him because as soon as the unfairness of his position was brought to his attention he became determined to do the right thing.  As for the other main characters – John Bold and Harding’s son-in-law Archdeacon Grantly – although they are on opposite sides of the debate and have very different opinions regarding the warden’s situation, Trollope presents them both as well-intentioned people with normal human flaws.  The female characters don’t play a very big role in this book, but I loved the relationship between Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor.

I really liked Trollope’s writing style which is elegant, insightful and witty in a gentle way.  There are a few chapters where he departs from the main storyline to spend several pages talking about politics or the media but this is a common trait of Victorian writers.  Although it was slow moving in places, Trollope managed to keep me interested from beginning to end.  I’m sure some of his other books will be better, but this one was good enough to make me want to read more of his work.


Publisher: Penguin Classics/Year: 1984 (first published 1855)/Pages: 240/Source: My own copy bought used

Here I am!

Hello and welcome!

To those of you who have followed me over from Helen Loves Books, you’ll see that all my old content is still here (including your comments) – I wanted a fresh start with a new name and new look, but I didn’t want to lose all those reviews I’d worked so hard on!  If you’re wondering about the new name, see the quote at the top of my sidebar (it’s not completely true because I do sometimes read the Sunday papers, but I’m much more likely to spend my Sundays with a novel).

There is one other change that you might notice – I’ve made the decision to remove my five star rating system.  From now on my reviews will not be given conventional ratings, but if it’s a book I particularly enjoyed it will be marked as either Recommended or Highly Recommended.  Other than that, everything else is the same.

To those of you who are visiting for the first time and are wondering what I’m talking about, I have just moved from Blogger to WordPress.  I’ve successfully imported my old Blogger content but there may still be some broken links or things that just don’t look right – don’t worry, I’m going to be working on tidying things up over the next few days.

I hope you all like the new blog!

Review and Giveaway: Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow

Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow is a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the Holy Land. Keep reading for your chance to win a copy.

My review:

Our Promised Land follows the lives of two families, each on different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The story begins during World War II when we see Ellie Liebowisc, who is a Jew, being herded onto a train with his mother and a group of other Jews from their town, having been told that they were going to be ‘resettled’ (‘resettlement’ being a euphemism for the concentration camp and gas chamber). However, Ellie is one of the lucky ones who survives the war and makes his way to the newly created Israel, determined that his people shouldn’t have suffered for nothing.

Next we are introduced to Yasif, a Palestinian boy whose family and neighbours are growing increasingly unhappy about the arrival of the Jews. Yasif is given the chance to go and study in America, but even there he can’t escape from what is going on – and a mysterious voice refuses to let him forget…

Before I started to read this book I thought I might have difficulty understanding it, as the Palestinian-Israeli situation is a subject I know very little about. However, I felt I came away from the book with a better knowledge of the origins of the conflict and why the people involved feel the way they do.

One of the things I really liked about the book was that it is told from both the Israeli and the Palestinian viewpoint, so that the reader is able to see things from two different perspectives. Whilst I was reading Ellie’s sections of the book I felt saddened and angered by the treatment the Jews had received and I could understand his feelings. The opening scenes when he and his mother arrived at the concentration camp were very moving and stayed in my mind even after finishing the book. On the other hand, during Yasif’s part of the story I could sympathise with the Palestinians. This was a good approach for a neutral reader like myself who has no personal involvement in the conflict. The only characters I didn’t sympathise with were those who unfortunately thought the way to solve things was through violence and terrorism.

The book has an unusual structure being told in a series of vignettes, or snapshots of particular moments, moods and ideas. This means it’s sometimes necessary for the story to jump forward in time quite abruptly, but overall I think it was an effective structure. The author also provides a time line at the front of the book to help clarify the historical background.

I would recommend this book to readers who want to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Publisher: Synergy Books/Year: 2010/Pages: 192/Source: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

Giveaway (Open worldwide)

Would you like the chance to win a copy of Our Promised Land? Michael T. Darkow is kindly offering 5 copies of the book to readers of this blog.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post, including a valid email address. Only one entry per person please.

This is an international giveaway and will end on Thursday April 29th.  Good luck!

Read-a-Thon: Final Update

Well, the April 2010 Read-a-Thon is almost over. I hope everyone enjoyed it! I’ve been reading some more of The Warden this morning and am almost finished now, so my total for the read-a-thon is one and three-quarter books. I knew I wouldn’t read as much as a lot of other bloggers, so I’m quite happy with that. It was fun anyway – I took part in a few mini-challenges and was even chosen to win a prize in Hour 11!

Thanks to all the read-a-thon co-hosts, mini-challenge hosts, cheerleaders and everyone else who was involved in making this such a great event!

Hour 10 Update

Hour 10 already! The book I’m currently reading is The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I’ve been wanting to read something by Trollope for such a long time but for some reason have just never got round to it until now.

I’m going to have to go to bed soon, but since the read-a-thon doesn’t finish here until 1pm tomorrow afternoon, I should have plenty of time to continue reading in the morning. Good luck to everyone in a different time zone or who is planning to read all night!


This hour I also took part in another mini-challenge – Where in the World Have You Read Today? hosted by nomadreader. We were asked to place a pin on a map to show the location where the book we’re reading is set, so I posted one in England which is where The Warden takes place.

Hour 6: Update

1/4 of the way through the read-a-thon now – and I’ve finished my first book, Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow. You can look out for my review of that one later in the week, as I’m not planning to post any reviews during the read-a-thon.


I couldn’t resist taking part in this Mini-Challenge hosted by Bart’s Bookshelf. For this challenge we were asked to put together a sentence formed by the titles of three or four books – here’s what I came up with:

Wild Swans Haunted The Italian

I hope everyone who’s taking part in the read-a-thon is having fun. I’m going back to my books now!

The Read-a-Thon Begins!

It’s 1:00pm here in the UK which means the April 2010 Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon has begun! This is the first time I’ve participated – I had only been blogging for a few days when last October’s Read-a-Thon took place and I didn’t know about it until it was too late. I’m very excited about being able to join in this time!

Here are my answers to the Hour 1 Meme:

Where are you reading from today? I’m at home and at the moment I’m in my nice peaceful bedroom away from the noise of the TV! It’s a lovely sunny spring day here, though, so I’ll be spending some of the day reading outside in the garden.

3 facts about me…
1. I work in admin.
2. I have one younger sister.
3. My middle name is Louise.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I haven’t decided exactly which books I’ll be reading, but I have about 10-15 that I’ll be choosing from depending on my mood.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? No – as this is my first read-a-thon I didn’t want to set any goals for myself. I just can’t seem to read as quickly as a lot of other bloggers and I don’t want to feel under any pressure. I’m also not planning to go without sleep – I work full time during the week so I look forward to being able to catch up on some sleep at the weekend!

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? No – not a veteran.

Good luck to everyone else who is taking part!

I’m planning to spend most of my time actually reading rather than blogging etc, but I’ll post a few updates throughout the 24 hours to let you know how I’m doing.

The first book I’m reading is Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow.

Review: The Doctor’s Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Isabel Sleaford lives in a dream world filled with characters from novels by Dickens, Scott and Thackeray. She longs to break away from her boring existence as a children’s governess and live the exciting life of one of the heroines in her favourite books. When parish doctor George Gilbert proposes to her, she accepts but quickly finds that her marriage isn’t providing the drama and adventure she’s been dreaming of. George is a good man, but he’s practical, down to earth – and boring, at least in Isabel’s opinion. After meeting Roland Lansdell, the squire of Mordred Priory, she becomes even more discontented. Roland is romantic, poetic and imaginative – in other words, he’s everything that George isn’t…

This is the second Mary Elizabeth Braddon book I’ve read – the first was the book that she’s best known for today, the sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret. Apparently The Doctor’s Wife was Braddon’s attempt at writing a more serious, literary novel, with a plot inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The Doctor’s Wife is not very ‘sensational’ – apart from maybe the final few chapters – and although it’s interesting and compelling in a different way, if you’re expecting something similar to Lady Audley you might be slightly disappointed. At one point in the book, Braddon even tells us “this is not a sensation novel!”

The focus of The Doctor’s Wife is the development of Isabel Gilbert from a sentimental girl with her head permanently in the clouds into a sensible and mature woman. I didn’t like Isabel much at all, though I’m not really sure if I was supposed to. Throughout most of the book she was just so silly and immature – wishing that she would catch a terrible illness or some other tragedy would befall her, just so she could have some excitement in her life – although as several of the other characters pointed out, she wasn’t a bad person, just childish and foolish. It was sad that her own romantic notions and ideals were preventing her from having any chance of happiness.

I thought some of the minor characters were much more interesting and I would have liked them to have played a bigger part in the story. I particularly loved Sigismund Smith, who was a friend of both George and Isabel, and a ‘sensation author’ – probably a parody of Mary Elizabeth Braddon herself. Sigismund (whose real name is Sam) is a writer of ‘penny numbers’ – cheap, serialised adventure stories. His enthusiasm for his work and his unusual methods of researching his novels provide most of the humour in the book.

Due to Isabel’s reading, almost every page contains allusions to characters and events from various novels, plays and poems – most of which I haven’t read – so I found myself constantly having to turn to the notes at the back of the book (until I decided I could follow the story well enough without understanding all the references to Edith Dombey and Ernest Maltravers).

Overall, this was another great book from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, although not quite what I was expecting.

Highly Recommended

Genre: Classics/Pages: 431/Publisher: Oxford University Press/Year: 2008 – originally published 1864/Source: My own copy purchased new