Here are my two latest reviews from We Love This Book:
Andrew Lovett, Everlasting Lane (2013)
When his father dies, young Peter Lambert finds himself with a new life before he has had much chance to make sense of the old one.
Peter’s mother (now insisting that she’s going to be his Aunt Kat) whisks him away to an old cottage on Everlasting Lane in the village of Amberley. Kat tells him that this is his grandmother’s cottage, and that he has lived here before; Peter doesn’t remember that, but the house does seem strangely familiar. And Peter would very much like to know what’s in one particular room which is hidden away behind heavy drapes.
Andrew Lovett’s debut is partly a tale of growing up in the 1970s, and he populates Everlasting Lane with some memorable secondary characters who come into Peter’s life. These include his new teacher, Mr Gale, who comes up with his own insulting nicknames for his pupils (‘Lambchop’ in Peter’s case), and generally treats them shabbily – until a cricket match goes wrong. Most of all, there’s Anna-Marie Liddell, the pretty girl next door who is only a year older than Peter, but likes to act as though she’s far superior. She and Peter become something like friends; their relationship has a thread of uncertainty that’s very well realised.
The mystery of Peter’s new circumstances adds an extra dimension to the novel, a sombre undercurrent stemming from suggestions of tragedy in his family’s past. This turns Everlasting Lane into a dark riff on Famous Five-style tales of children solving mysteries. I’m not sure that the full force of the novel’s adult issues always emerges from Peter’s viewpoint as a child; but there is a clear and poignant sense that he is trapped in his own story. Everlasting Lane is an interesting coming-of-age tale which never quite settles into the shape you might expect.
David and Hilary Crystal, Wordsmiths & Warriors (2013)
In Wordsmiths and Warriors, linguist David Crystal and his partner Hilary take us on a historical tour of Britain to show us how – and, more importantly, where – the English language was shaped.
Each chapter of Wordsmiths and Warriors focuses on a particular place of significance in the development of the English language in Britain – from the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons at Pegwell Bay in Kent in the fifth century, through to Randolph Quirk’s Survey of English Usage, inaugurated at University College London in 1959. The book is a mixture of a historical accounts, anecdotes and illustrations from the Crystals’ own road trip. There are even directions to each site if you want to make your own visit.
There’s a lot of interesting material in here, whether you are unfamiliar with the history of English or, like me, studied it at one time then headed in a different direction (for those with greater knowledge, I’m less sure; this feels like a general-interest book). Amongst many other topics, the Crystals’ survey takes in the Paston letters; Robert Burns and the development of Scots; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Dylan Thomas’s contribution to Welsh English; and Roget’s Thesaurus.
The book is arranged chronologically rather than geographically, which (perhaps inevitably) reduces the sense of a journey. But the history is the main thread, and it is fascinating to view that history through its places, gaining a vivid sense of how the story of English in Britain moves (broadly speaking) from battlefields, castles and ecclesiastical establishments to scholarly halls and writers’ rooms. It remains a dynamic story, wherever it takes place, and the Crystals capture that dynamism superbly in Wordsmiths and Warriors.