Mr Redlaw and the Phantom by John Leech. On this particular evening, just before Christmas, as Mr Redlaw remembers his youthful hopes and how they were dashed by the betrayal of a friend and the death of his beloved sister, the ghost tempts him…. It is not a selfish thought. I suffer it to range beyond myself. All men and women have their sorrows, — most of them their wrongs; ingratitude, and sordid jealousy, and interest, besetting all degrees of life. Who would not forget their sorrows and their wrongs? Frontispiece by John Tenniel. And the Phantom grants his wish.
The memories of all events from his past which have painful associations are stripped from his mind. But the ghost goes further…. Without recovering yourself the power that you have yielded up, you shall henceforth destroy its like in all whom you approach. Your wisdom has discovered that the memory of sorrow, wrong, and trouble is the lot of all mankind, and that mankind would be the happier, in its other memories, without it.
Be its benefactor! Freed from such remembrance, from this hour, carry involuntarily the blessing of such freedom with you. Mr Swidger and Milly by Frank Stone. Well, this is much more like the thing! It starts with Mr Swidger, the old caretaker of the college, and his family hanging holly as they do every year at Christmas-time, and culminates with a grand feast on Christmas Day.
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It has a strong message most suitable for the Christmas season: that it is our sorrows in life which humanise us and make us able to empathise with the troubles of others. And it has an equally powerful social message — that children abandoned to a life of poverty without love or hope cannot grow up to be anything other than monstrous. The child in this is a fuller version of Ignorance in A Christmas Carol — a thing to be prevented, or feared. The Tetterbys by John Leech. As their memories of their shared hardships and sorrows fade, so do the bonds that hold them together, and these warm, loving people become hard and cruel.
We see the Tetterbys, a family with many children and little money to feed them but with love a-plenty, turned resentful and bitter as their memories melt away of the things they have endured and overcome together. And we see Mr Redlaw learn that the only people not susceptible to the ghostly curse are those who have never known the softer emotions, for they are cursed already…. No softening memory of sorrow, wrong, or trouble enters here, because this wretched mortal from his birth has been abandoned to a worse condition than the beasts, and has, within his knowledge, no one contrast, no humanising touch, to make a grain of such a memory spring up in his hardened breast.
All within this desolate creature is barren wilderness. All within the man bereft of what you have resigned, is the same barren wilderness. Woe to such a man! Woe, tenfold, to the nation that shall count its monsters such as this, lying here, by hundreds and by thousands! Mr Redlaw and the Boy by John Leech. And, lesson learned, we see the ghost take back his bargain, harmony and love restored, Mr Redlaw wiser, and more than one loving hand reached out to raise the child up from his hopelessness.
Exactly what a Christmas story should be! Then, as Christmas is a time in which, of all times in the year, the memory of every remediable sorrow, wrong, and trouble in the world around us, should be active with us, not less than our own experiences, for all good, he laid his hand upon the boy, and, silently calling Him to witness who laid His hand on children in old time, rebuking, in the majesty of His prophetic knowledge, those who kept them from Him, vowed to protect him, teach him, and reclaim him.
Dinner in the Great Hall by Clarkson Stanfield. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century are one of the great factors in the Scottish psyche, a period which has left a legacy of bitterness against landlordism, and about which we can still become outraged, even while being proud of the Scottish Diaspora of which it formed a considerable part. The legend is that landowners and clan chiefs, in pursuit of profit, turned the land over to sheep and forcibly evicted the crofters who had traditionally eked out a precarious subsistence from their small portions of land. The story is made worse by the feelings of betrayal — the breaking of the bonds of kinship that were at the heart of the clan system.
Rather, he sets out to expand and explain — to strip out the emotion and look more closely at the historical factors that led to the Clearances, and to give an accurate, and therefore more balanced, picture of what actually happened. He also seeks to answer the question of why the similar patterns of altered land use and emigration that took place in the rural Lowlands were neither as traumatic at the time, nor have the same emotional resonances today. The Corries lamenting the Clearances in Hush Hush.
He starts by looking at Highland society in the centuries prior to the Clearances, debunking some of the myths embedded in the later romanticisation of the clan system. However, in return for their military service, the clan leaders were seen as having a responsibility to provide clan members with land. Rents were initially paid in kind, but over the years this gradually changed to cash transactions, so that eventually the relationship became more akin to landlord and tenant. Devine suggests, therefore, that the clan system had begun to decline long before the 19th century, helped on its way by the repressive measures various monarchs used against their unruly Highland subjects, culminating in the deliberate attempt to break the power of the clan chiefs following the last Jacobite rebellion in Devine then discusses the similarities and differences between Lowland and Highland society.
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Geographical factors made the Lowlands more suitable for arable farming while the Highlands were largely given over to livestock farming. This led to longer leases in the Lowlands, which in turn meant that evictions could only happen more slowly.
In the Highlands leases tended to be annual so that large numbers of people could be evicted in short spaces of time. Arable farming required more labour, especially in the early stages of improvement, giving more time for the rural population to adjust and to develop other marketable skills, such as the small cottage industries that grew up in Border villages around this time. The Lowlands had the further advantage of proximity to the towns which were beginning to grow in response to the industrial revolution, absorbing some of the excess population from the rural areas.
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The Emigrants — the statue at Helmsdale laments the Clearances while recognising our national pride in the achievements of the resulting Diaspora. Devine also points to religion as a factor, with the Presbyterian church acting as a socially cohesive factor in the Lowlands, while in the Highlands their Episcopalian and Catholic religions were out of favour and seen as a focus for disloyalty and rebellion.
There was also a level of racism involved that reduced the sympathy for Highlanders — Celts were seen as throw-backs, aborigines, lazy, while Anglo-Saxon Lowlanders were hard-working achievers. So, following the years of famines when Highlanders depended on various charities to survive, charitable impulses ran dry and there was a general feeling that ridding the country of these sub-standard parasites would be of benefit to the nation as a whole.
The Proclaimers comparing the Thatcherite industrial devastation of Scotland in the s to the Clearances of a century and half earlier in Letter from America. Even in the Highlands, though, Devine does a little to absolve the landlords of their reputation for callous greed. He makes the point that many of the hereditary chiefs by this time were in severe financial straits. Some had sold out to incomers, others had had to put their bankrupt estates in the hands of trustees, usually based in far-away Edinburgh and with a legal responsibility to return the land to profitability regardless of the human cost.
He gives examples of how some landlords tried to mitigate the effects of the changes, with varying degrees of success.
And he makes the point that a system that depends on small land-holdings only works as long as population numbers remain stable — if the population rises, as it began to do when healthcare and general conditions improved, then the system of subsistence crofting is bound to fail. This is only a brief flavour of what is covered in the book. I have a reasonable familiarity with Scottish history of this period but still learned a great deal and appreciated the comparisons between the two very different societies which make up our small country.
I also found it put the period into context with events happening elsewhere in Britain and the western world. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Scottish history. The comparisons between the impacts on the Lowlands and the Highlands of changes in land use and economic systems surely have lessons we can learn about how such changes can be managed to minimise the trauma for the people caught up in these often unavoidable shifts.
The books must have received a 5-star rating. This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:. As a result, the shortlisting has been extremely tough. All of which very neatly leaves me with five excellent contenders, so here goes…. As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar.
The two stories, though separate, have the common theme of the pursuit of scientific fame and the toll that can take on those who fail. This is Boyd at his best and the narration by Harriet Walter does it full justice. The book sprawls across time and geographic location, bringing each to life and never allowing the reader to become lost. Each separate strand is interesting and engrossing and they are well enough linked that they feel like a satisfying whole. The writing and storytelling are of course excellent — when is Boyd ever anything less? It feels perfectly balanced, a story about chimps that has much to say about humanity, and says it beautifully.
Click to see the full review. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy — the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago, when Tommaso met and fell in love with Anna. We know from the beginning that their relationship ended with some kind of tragedy that led Tommaso to cut all ties with home and take on a new identity in London.
On the face of it, this is a straightforward account of a love affair, but the quality of the writing, the great pacing and, most of all, the superb sense of place make it so much more than that. Earl Shaw takes two small planes barnstorming round Depression-era California, tempting customers to go up for a scenic flight. One day, the pilots take up two young men, Louis Thorn and Harry Yamada. Daredevil Harry decides he will walk along the wing, and Louis, feeling challenged and a little humiliated, follows suit. But the war is about to begin, and suddenly white America will begin to see its Japanese-heritage fellow citizens as more than a comic-book threat.
And Harry and Louis will find their friendship altered and strained…. While the book has some elements of the thriller, it definitely falls far more into the category of literary fiction for me. This third book cements her place as one of my favourite authors. Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the s. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. For him, life is static, his memories of their love the thing that has sustained him through the torture and now the sheer stultification of his imprisonment.
But for Graciela, life is a moving thing — she is still young, in a new city, with a job and a growing child, and for her the present is more vivid than the past. She finds herself increasingly attracted to Ronaldo, but knows that Santiago needs her love and loyalty.
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