The Professor and the Madman


Book cover - Professor and madman

I am besotted by words in the English language.  I like the way they look, the way they sound and their meanings.  I can spend whole days following the etymology of words.

Imagine my delight then some years ago being presented with a copy of “The Professor and the Madman” the story of the compiling of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two men who were so intimately involved in it.

And now that there is a movie starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, I just had to reread it before seeing the film.

The Professor and the Madman masterfully researched and eloquently written is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the “Oxford English Dictionary”–and literary history.” From the book description on Amazon.

We are told that compiling the OED  was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.   As definitions and quotations were collected, Professor James Murray leading the overseeing committee, discovered that Dr W C Minor had submitted more than 10,000 words and their quotations.  The committee insisted on honouring him at which time the truth came to light.

That truth – Dr Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was an inmate at Broadmoor, an asylum for the criminally insane.

Dr Minor had served in the Union army as an assistant surgeon and held the rank of lieutenant. He spent about six months attending to civil war casualties at hospitals in New England before being sent to the front line in May 1864. It appears that following time in the battlefield his mental illness resurfaced.  Because of this he had to leave the army and was sent by his family to convalesce in London.  He settled in a particularly poor part of London (Lambeth) where he supported himself by painting watercolours and playing the flute.  But his mental illness was never under control and while living there he shot and killed a brewery worker who was on his way to work, thinking that the worker was out to seek revenge for an earlier incident while Minor was in the US Army.

Minor gave himself up to the police and was sentenced to be confined in the newly opened Broadmoor Asylum ‘Until Her Majesty’s Pleasure Be Known’

While detained in Broadmoor where he had two cells, a manservant, a large collection of books, and, incredibly, regular visits from Eliza Merrett, the widow of the man he had murdered, Minor heard of the   ‘Appeal for volunteer readers’ sent out by James Murray, Professor Murray asked interested members of the reading public to scour published literature for quotations to illustrate the use of English words. Minor, described by the Broadmoor administrators as particularly learned, set to work assembling lists of quotations and by the mid-1880s was sending hundreds, and later thousands, of quotations on slips of paper to Murray and his team at the “famous scriptorium at 79 Banbury Road, Oxford.”

The letters were signed ‘W. C. Minor, Crowthorne, Berkshire’, and until he called upon Minor,  Murray had no idea that his most assiduous correspondent was an American murderer and an inmate at one of Britain’s most secure and infamous lunatic asylums.

The two men became firm friends united by the complexity of the English language.  Despite this friendship and the benefits of his involvement in the dictionary, Minor’s illness became more acute and in 1902, he amputated his own penis in the belief it might curb his troublesome sexual appetite. Following this and prompted by Murray, the  Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, allowed Minor’s release and deportation in 1910.

Minor was farewelled by Murray and his wife and sailed back to New York where on arrival there, he was immediately committed to  St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He deteriorated steadily, was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut and in 1920 died of a respiratory infection

We know very little of his life after returning to the United States but his legacy as a volunteer reader can be found among the pages of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray said of him at the time that “so enormous has been Dr Minor’s contributions … that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone” (The Professor and the Madman p160).

The Nightingale

The Nightingale

In love, we find out who we want to be.
In war, we find out who we are.

Another novel set in France during the time of World War II. And this one ranks up there with yesterday’s post on The Alice Network.

This story follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and how they each respond in times of great challenge. Their parallel stories are as different as their personalities;  but both are complicated, suspenseful, and emotional.

The fictional character of Isabelle is based on well-researched truth. The late Andrée de Jongh (1916-2007), was an amazing woman who repeatedly risked her life helping British and American servicemen escape on foot from Nazi-occupied Belgium and France. One of her comments made during that time –

“A woman couldn’t carry a gun or fly a bomber jet, but she could walk unnoticed, striding down a street in a wool coat and sensible shoes as if on her way to the market or a typist’s job, trailed quietly by two or three wayward soldiers in disguise.”

In this fictional work, we learn more about women surviving in unthinkable circumstances and finding a way to take action. It shows readers that fear often proceeds acts of bravery, and we learn that even the weakest can find strength and great courage when necessary.

For me the read was emotional and at times nerve-wracking. Love and hope mixed with fear and suffering. Hard choices that are unavoidable, and seemingly easy choices that come with great risk. This book is a historical fiction roller coaster ride.

I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Note: If you want to learn more about Andrée de Jongh, click here.


The Alice Network

The Alice Network

Kate Quinn is an author of historical fiction, and how well she takes an episode in history and weaves it into a perfectly written and believable novel.

And The Alice Network is no exception. If I were giving stars, this would certainly rank a five.

“There are two kinds of flowers when it comes to women,” Eve said.
“The kind that sits safe in a beautiful vase, or the kind that survives in any conditions …..even in evil.  Lili was the latter.
Which are you?”

We are told that it is based on real characters and events. Two women meet in 1947 – Eve, an irascible old woman had been a spy during World War1 when she operated under the nose of the Nazis; Charlie is an American, unmarried and pregnant and who disagrees with her Mother’s answer to ‘the problem’. Charlie is seeking proof that her close cousin Rose, died during World War2.

Charlie’s search leads her to Eve, who drinks whiskey for most of her meals and appears to be a little bit crazy.  But Eve is badly affected by what happened to her during the war. She was a talented spy because she kept her ability to speak German a secret. Also, she had a stutter, so everyone assumed she was dull-witted,;  a definite advantage when you’re trying to learn enemy secrets. We read about Eve’s fascinating, scary and intriguing life as a spy in 1915 during WWI.

The story weaves back and forth between 1915 and 1947. It’s a well written, fast-paced novel about two women facing challenges and discrimination because of their gender. Based on real characters and events this is a book not to be missed.

Note: I read this a couple of months ago, and still can’t get the scenes depicted out of my mind. I am amazed at the strength and resilience shown by these brave young women and wonder if I could put myself into such danger should the opportunity/need arise.

I recommend this book even if some of the scenes are particularly horrific and mind-blowing in contemplation.






BAD TURN – Charlie Fox


I posted my review of this book on July 31 after reading and enjoying my ARC copy from the author. If you missed that post, click here.

And then I heard there was to be a blog tour and Growing Younger Each Day was to be part of the tour. The date for my review was set for September 30.

Here is the post on the Blog Tour

And now today – I had written and scheduled my post for the blog tour in advance as I was going to be away for a few days.  Earlier I had asked Zoe about this, one of my all-time favourite, series and she generously agreed to write something for my post. Here she gives us a hint of how she gets into a book and bit of a background into Charlie Fox’s character and the effects some of the situations in which she finds herself, have on her. So a second post for today.

And a really  big thank you to Zoe for this :

“Dysfunctional (Crime) Family

BAD TURN: Charlie Fox #13

Zoë Sharp

At their heart, the Charlie Fox novels are action-filled crime thrillers. But I hope that’s not all they are. Exploring the effect that the events of the stories have on Charlie herself, as well as on the other characters involved, has always been one of my main interests.

I like to know what makes people tick. How far they can be pushed. And, in the end, what makes them break.

It’s why my bad guys are rarely all bad. Everyone has shades of light and dark about them. After all, if you’re going to make your antagonists think they are really the heroes of their own story, you have to give them some reason to believe it. You don’t have to like them, as a reader, but you have to be thoroughly engaged by them.

Charlie usually arrives as an outsider into an already established group. Often she is seen as unwanted interference. She has to do her best to protect people almost in spite of themselves.

As was the case with BAD TURN.

Charlie walks into a complicated arrangement when she first meets Helena Kincaid. Without wanting to give any spoilers, let’s just say Helena is not having a good day.

Her husband, Eric Kincaid, wants to protect his wife above all else. He thinks making Charlie an offer she can’t refuse is the best way to go about this. And he is in a hurry to put his own choice of bodyguard in place, otherwise, he knows Helena’s overbearing father, Darius Orosco will step in.

Helena has been shielded all her life—almost to the point of suffocation. It’s hardly surprising she’s going to push back against anyone assigned to stick by her side, night and day. But Kincaid is between the proverbial rock and a very hard place. He wants to keep Helena happy but if he gives her the freedom she craves, how can he keep her safe? And if he can’t protect her, he’ll have her father to answer to.

Orosco is not a man to be taken lightly. Especially not when Kincaid not only married into the family, but into the family business as well. He went from employee to CEO almost overnight. Now it seems that his father-in-law might be regretting handing over control. Perhaps he’s not quite as ready for retirement as he thought.

Of course, it doesn’t help when you consider that Darius Orosco ran one of the largest international arms dealing operations on the East Coast—one that Kincaid is now in charge of. Kincaid wants to put his own stamp and style on the way he does business. Orosco is not keen on any changes to the old way—his way—of doing things.

The power struggle between the two men puts in jeopardy the one thing they both hold dear—Helena. But she is no passive virgin in the tower, content to sit meekly by and leave the decisions to the men of the family. No way. She wants control of her own destiny. In that respect, she’s very much her father’s daughter.

Nobody wants to admit they might be wrong, and nobody wants to back down, pulling the supporting cast in conflicting directions as they try to work out where their own loyalties lie.

All this is not destined to make Charlie’s job any easier. But then, her life would be boring if it was all sunshine and roses, wouldn’t it?”

And, thanks to Zoe click here if you want to read the first three chapters of BAD TURN.


Zoë Sharp created the no-nonsense heroine of her highly acclaimed Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist.
She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She has been making a living from writing since 1988.
As well as her award-winning series, she has written standalone works, collaborations with espionage thriller John Lawton, and numerous short stories.
Her work has been used in Danish school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for film and TV.  






ZoeSharp-BT-BlogTourPoster (1)


I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and I hope you will look at the other bloggers on this tour to see their response to it.

La Jolla Law

A new book by John Ellsworth is always worth celebrating. So today when I received the ARC copy of the thirteenth book in the Thaddeus Murfee series I couldn’t wait to start reading it.

Thaddeus receives a call from an old law school friend, Jesse Matina corporate counsel to entrepreneur billionaire Reggie Pelham.  Martina cannot represent Pelham in a case brought by Pelham’s wife and needs a lawyer from outside California.

Thaddeus meets with Pelham and agrees to represent him in the lawsuit.

Meantime, we meet  Safari Frye a detective with the San Diego Police Department. Safari has a sexual harassment claim lodged by another detective and now faces a disciplinary hearing. Several other things are happening around Safari at this time. She is Big Sister to Carrie who has been abused by her mother’s live-in boyfriend and looks to Safari for help. Carrie confronts the mother and then shortly thereafter, finds the mother has been murdered.

There are several other murders happening around this time and as usual, Ellsworth juggles all the balls in the air – murder, mayhem, a little girl looking for a safe haven, and are all the murders related? And of course, there’s lots of courtroom drama as Thaddeus not only defends Pelham in his case but acts as Prosecutor in another.

You will have to get a copy of the book once it is published to read how cleverly this story is told. In true Ellsworth fashion, all the characters are well fleshed out and believable; the story runs along at a fast pace, and the ending is satisfactory.

I recommend this book as a thoroughly good read.



Bad Turn

I was so excited to receive my ARC copy of Zoe Sharp’s latest book. Bad Turn is book 13 in the Charlie Fox series. Yes, thirteen!

At the end of the last book Charlie gave notice to her Boss Parker Armstrong and as a consequence has no job, nowhere to live and because of a non-competition clause in her contract with Armstrong Meyer, she can’t get another job in close protection in the US. So we find her house sitting in rural  New Jersey, bored with this dull life so different from what she is used to.

However, one day she drives into an ambush and immediately jumps into protective mode, not knowing who the ambushed victims are and as she is unarmed, risking her life.  Her firearms were returned to Armstrong when he gave her notice to vacate the apartment in which she was living

It happens that the ambush victim is Helena,  wife of a well-known arms dealer, Eric  Kincaid and because of the ambush, Charlie is offered the job of protecting the wife. She has no option but to agree. The owners of the house she is house-sitting are due back from Europe shortly and she has no other job opportunities on the horizon.

Enter Conrad Epps, a player in the CIA, NSA, DIA or something connected with Homeland Security. Epps it was, who had tracked Charlie to a nightclub where she worked security in the Meatpacking District in New York. Epps had a job more to her skill set and which she is unable to reject because he can have her deported if she does refuse.

So this is why she is now whiling away her days in rural New Jersey. The house owners return and Charlie takes up residence in the palatial house of the arms dealer.

And this is where we reconnect to the Kick-ass Charlie we know.  She has to use all her skills to protect her principal from several sources who try to get to her husband through her. Charlie outmanoeuvres them.  Epps has an inside person in the Kincaid organisation but doesn’t tell her who it is. and it wasn’t until the end that I realised who that person was. Well written Ms Sharp.

It is well known by my followers that I am a Charlie Fox fan and this book doesn’t disappoint. As always, the characters are well rounded and believable. The plot is fast and furious. Charlie puts herself in danger to protect Helena and at times Eric as well. Somehow they manage to come out at the end of the story unscathed.

I thoroughly recommend this book and as always, look forward to the next in the series.



The Last Hope & The Last Lies

The Last Hope is book No 2 in the Kate Murphy series. I read the first book, The Last Lies, some time ago and this review covers both books.




In the first book, we meet Kate Murphy an officer in the Boston PD hoping to become a detective. Following the murder of her parents and baby brother, she is raised by her aunt and uncle. She is married to the abusive Matt, handsome but not caring, and who wants his wife pregnant and home not out fighting crime in the Boston area. She relies on her uncle for some of the emotional support lacking in her marriage.

As with most of the female protagonists we read in novels currently, when all else fails she runs or in her case, jogs.  While out jogging one night, she is attacked and ends up in hospital.

While this is going on in her personal life, she is working on becoming a detective all the while having to contend with male officers who don’t make fitting in easy for her. This may be because she has little empathy or sympathy for others and doesn’t really try to fit in.

And then there is a spate of animal killings in the area that the mayor insists is investigated.  One day. off duty, she is in a park and discovers the killer.

The book dwells much on Kate, her horrible childhood,  her abusive husband, her constant mistrust of others and her desire to be promoted from patrol to detective. It took a while to even like this woman but I began to warm to her particularly when I found she was pregnant and what had led to that way of being. As  I read more I was keen to read the second book.


Then in book 2, she is single following a failed marriage, but she is hampered by the people/men with whom she works. Kate has little empathy for others including her uncle who raised her and who is now accused of murder, her childhood friend who now lives close to Kate and is employed in the local crime lab. Well, we already know where this relationship is going very early in the story. Her lack of empathy or sympathy come to the fore again. Her uncle is arrested charged and convicted of murder. And while she is supposedly doing all she can to prove her uncle’s innocence,  she visits her uncle only twice in prison and doesn’t go to see his lawyer until the lawyer contacts her. This is the uncle she loves.

The story then becomes a trifle mixed and rather implausible moving into the realm of sci-fi.

I read the book through to the end, but I didn’t like Kate any more by the end. She seems more taken up with her budding relationship with Luke than with the outcome of her uncle’s pleas of innocence.

Having written a less than glowing but honest reviews, I will read number three in the series as I am keen to see how the author continues Kate’s story.

Note – I was given copies of both books by the author in return for honest reviews. I think there are some good storylines here but, with some copyediting,  I know that they could have been streamlined to make better reading.



He Will Find You

An ARC from Charlie Gallagher is a reason to celebrate. So relax, fill your coffee cup and sit down to read, I did.

He Will Find You is book 3 in the Maddie Ives series.

Detective Sergeant Maddie Ives is based in Canterbury in the Major Crimes Unit. But one night she is called out to a scene where a young boy has been found running away from something or someone and is covered in blood. Whether his or someone else’s is still to be determined.

Maddie has to connect with the boy who is saying absolutely nothing. Can he be mute? They communicate just yes or no answers to her questions, by his tapping on an empty water bottle, yes and tipping the bottle over for no.

Now, added to this is a grizzly murder that Maddie and her boss, the taciturn Detective Inspector Harry Blaker have to attend. A body is found that appears to have been dragged behind a moving vehicle before being stabbed. Could the two incidents be connected?

But there is more. Several years before, Harry’s wife was killed in a motor accident when a felon trying to escape a police chase slams into their car. And now, the felon, Daniel Wootan is free having served a minimal sentence and when Harry finds out he doesn’t know how he and his two daughters will cope with this new fact.

Through a young checkout operator at a local supermarket, we are introduced to a weird group who claim to follow the ‘left-hand path’. That is they don’t do things the way others do. They make their own rules allowing one to put oneself first above everyone else. And to become a member one has to perform certain tasks starting simply with shoplifting and leading all the way to murder. The young man had performed most of the tasks as ordered and had now been involved in the final task. And now he wanted out, but there was no way out.

While the detectives are involved with the murder they need someone to head up the search for the boy’s parents and where he had been and how he got covered in blood. With the approval of  Detective Chief Inspector, Julian Lowe, Rhiannon, a CID detective,  is tasked with leading this, reporting back to Maddie.

And as the body count continues to mount, Blaker is distracted by Daniel Wootan and a daughter who is self-harming and on one sleepless night, he almost crosses the line.

To find out how all these happenings play out to the conclusion, read the book. It will launch officially on Amazon on 19 July, so get your copy as soon as the book is released.

I recommend this thoroughly engrossing book. Thank you, Charlie, for sending me the Advance Readers Copy.

Other Books in the Maddie Ives Series –


Charlie Gallagher has been a serving UK police officer for ten years. During that time he has had many roles, starting as a front-line response officer, then a member of a specialist tactical team and is currently a detective investigating serious offences.





Still Alice


Having recently read Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell, I felt compelled to revisit Still Alice. I was introduced to Alice initially through the film in which Julianne Moore plays Alice and I was so moved that I immediately went out and bought the book. Unfortunately, somebody who borrowed it never returned it but my local library has several copies.

Wendy Mitchell spoke of meeting Ms Moore and being impressed by how well she performed as a person living with this disease. Ms Mitchell is still in regular contact with Ms Moore.

Now to the book. Dr Alice Howland is fifty,. She’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics. Her husband is a successful scientist and her three grown children are moving on with their lives.

At first, Alice is mildly forgetful which she puts down to being premenopausal, the grab bag used by the medical profession for many of the small things that beset women as they age. But things do get worse and eventually, she is diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia. Once she tells her family of the diagnosis they become supportive and in particular her younger daughter, Lydia becomes her champion although in the past there have not been many things on which they agreed.

I was ambivalent about John, her husband,  through most of the book. Yes, he was there much of the time, but often he was away from her physically and even when he was there often he was away from her mentally. And as life becomes harder for her, John is offered a dream job in New York. Of course, he wants to move there. We are told that those living with the disease have a strong sense of place; they know their way around their house and their neighbourhood, most of the time. . And his assumption that he could take Alice from the only home she knew because she wouldn’t know the difference struck me as quite wrong.

But who could blame him for wanting to pursue his dream? As a full-time caregiver for so long, he had a right to do so.  The solution reached was to leave Alice with her children, grandchildren and a paid caregiver while he commuted to New York

Congratulations to Neuroscientist and debut novelist Lisa Genova. Obviously, she has years of experience in her field on which she bases and writes this realistic portrait of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. We know it is a  realistic portrayal from Wendy Mitchell who is living this life.

This is probably the disease we fear most and many of us have had experience of knowing somebody who has been so diagnosed. Note here – Wendy Mitchell says quite strongly she is not a sufferer of EOD but is living with the disease.

I strongly recommend this book and if you have the opportunity, do go to see the movie.

Somebody I Used To Know

Not a fiction book today, but a book written by an amazing woman.



When she was diagnosed at 58 with Early Onset Dementia, Wendy Mitchell had to say goodbye to the woman she knew, the life she had forged for herself and the plans made for the future, and become a totally different person.

In this book, Wendy tells us how she gets through her days, determined that the disease will not take everything from her. She is open when talking about her feelings and particularly her love for her two daughters and her concern at how her disease is impacting on their lives.  She talks about the medical profession and the lack of understanding many of these professionals have to the disease. She is active in educating these professionals and many others of the problems that living with dementia can bring.

She is clever in how she finds her way around towns that were known to her and new unknown towns while making her way to interviews and meetings. She is impressive at how many things she does accomplish.

Wendy writes a daily blog – In this way, she records her activities so that when they have left her memory they are still there for her to read.

I encourage everyone to read this fascinating book. Who knows what questions may be answered, or questions not even asked yet, in reading this book.

Five stars to Ms Mitchell for allowing us into her life.