On the TBR pile: The Terror of St Trinian’s

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Ronald Searle takes us back to the world of the Gothic Public School in The Terror of St Trinian’s. In this gloriously anarchic academy for young ladies we witness shootings, knifings, torture and witchcraft, as well as many maidenly arts. The subject of many evergreen films, St Trinian’s is synonymous with the sort of outrageous behaviour that would make a convict blench.

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On the TBR Pile: The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights

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King Arthur is a legendary British leader who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early sixth century. The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur’s name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). However, some Welsh and Breton tales and poems relating the story of Arthur date from earlier than this work; in these works, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. How much of Geoffrey’s Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown. Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey’s version of events often served as the starting point for later stories. Geoffrey depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul. In fact, many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey’s Historia, including Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, the wizard Merlin, the sword Excalibur, Arthur’s birth at Tintagel, his final battle against Mordred at Camlann and final rest in Avalon. The 12th-century French writer Chretien de Troyes, who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table. Arthurian literature thrived during the Middle Ages but waned in the centuries that followed until it experienced a major resurgence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, the legend lives on, not only in literature but also in adaptations for theatre, film, television, comics and other media. The Sir James Knowles version of King Arthur is considered as the most accurate and well known original story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

On the TBR Pile: Dream Days

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Featuring the adventures of five children – Edward, Selina, Harold, Charlotte and an unnamed narrator – Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days was such a critical and popular success that The Wind in the Willows, published ten years later in 1908, was felt to be a disappointment in comparison. A century on, it is clear that this collection of humorous, lyrical and delicately evocative tales had a profound influence on children’s literature. Rather than idolising childhood, Dream Days is, as Julia Eccleshare says in her introduction, ‘a celebration of the imaginative play of children which sets them apart from adults and empowers them at a time when, within the realities of their lives, they are largely powerless’.

In ‘The Twenty-first of October’, Selina, a devoted admirer of Nelson, attempts to celebrate Trafalgar Day by lighting a bonfire – with disastrous consequences. In ‘The Walls Were as of Jasper’ the child-narrator escapes a dull visit to a neighbour’s house by losing himself in the pictures of a beautiful book: ‘Pictures never lied, never shuffled nor evaded; and as for the story, I could invent it myself ’. ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ tells of the friendship between a little boy and a gentle, poetry-writing dragon, who has made his home in the Berkshire Downs and is blissfully unaware of the alarm his presence has caused in the local village. It is up to the little boy to make sure that the imminent arrival of St George does not spell destruction for his new friend.

Dream Days is written from the point of view of an adult looking back, and captures the frustrations of children faced by adults who have ‘forgotten what it is like to be young’. Whether playing at pirates, inventing imaginary realms, visiting the circus or simply squabbling ferociously among themselves, the five children are vividly and convincingly portrayed. Enchanting illustrations by Debra McFarlane make this edition, the only one in print today, one to be cherished.

On the TBR Pile: Life and Adventures of Robin Hood

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In the ballads, Robin Hood is represented as brave, courteous, generous, and religious; withal he was a robber. It was, however, the age that made the man. Kings and prelates in those days filled their coffers by acts as grossly wrong as those by which Robin replenished the stores of himself and band. Robin was in all likelihood driven to the course of life he adopted, more by the tyranny and wrong-doing of those in authority, than by a natural love of the life which he led. He strove against the oppression from which he and others suffered, and, in doing so, was forced to a certain extent to use oppression; but it was those only who were guilty of the oppression whom he punished.

On the TBR Pile: Sisters Red

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Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris — the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls’ bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett’s only friend — but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they’ve worked for?

On the TBR Pile: Gilded Cage

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Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

On the TBR Pile: Stealing Snow

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Seventeen-year-old Snow has spent her life locked in Whittaker Psychiatric—but she isn’t crazy. And that’s not the worst of it. Her very first kiss proves anything but innocent…when Bale, her only love, turns violent.

Despite Snow knowing that Bale would never truly hurt her, he is taken away—dashing her last hope for any sort of future in the mental ward she calls home. With nowhere else to turn, Snow finds herself drawn to a strange new orderly who whispers secrets in the night about a mysterious past and a kingdom that’s hers for the taking—if only she can find her way past the iron gates to the Tree that has been haunting her dreams.

Beyond the Tree lies Algid, a land far away from the real world, frozen by a ruthless king. And there too await the River Witch, a village boy named Kai, the charming thief Jagger, and a prophecy that Snow will save them all.