Ex-teacher’s poorly proofread punctuation does not spoil this excellent novel

Author Gervase Phinn was a schoolteacher then a school inspector and has become a Doctor of Letters at two universities with high honours at others, but may have grown a bit rusty in some aspects of writing after becoming a “bestselling” novelist and poet with over a dozen publications to his credit. Or maybe he has suffered at the hands of a poorly-trained proofreader whose bad edits he had no time to correct?

A Lesson in Love is a great read despite misplaced or missing commas and some poor syntax. The “love” at Barton-in-the-Dale takes many forms and has good results. The village contains a multitude of characters, with myriad interactions between them, almost too many to keep track of, but this fourth novel in the Little Village School series made me want to read the others. I was not influenced by the fact that two characters were named “Robin”.

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast – another great New Zealand novel

This 360-page novel is a most enjoyable blend of rural and urban New Zealand with professional sport and veterinary “office stories” and some births touched on in interesting detail. (TMI? No, it’s all part of the charm and variety.)

One wealthy lock (a farmer’s son, who once had a pet chicken) and one country vet (whose best friend is a head nurse and whose uncle is the Mayor) get endearingly close after an unexpected stumble at a fire station and a first date where both have injured faces, but will an infection put the cat among the pigeons? Her cat ends up happy, as do several human protagonists.

Published in 1913 by Allen & Unwin, Australia, this was the second novel by farmer’s daughter, now a wife, mother, and part-time vet, Danielle Hawkins.  She and her proofreader combined brilliantly to make the book the most error-free novel I can remember reading. In the local library’s copy I placed it in the “Excellent” column on the comments page and said I loved it.

Romantic fiction around St Ives: a Miranda Dickinson novel with a lot of stars

Somewhere Beyond the Sea is based around the real St Ives in Cornwall. Beach walks, pretty discoveries, a Shedservatory, a brother who calls a grown woman “Stink”, small businesses, redevelopment of historic property, and coping with deaths of parents. Stars feature in more than one way (though some of the astronomy is fictional – the real Orion is never seen “directly overhead” from England, and you need a full 12 hours to get a half-circle star trail).

One reader of a Porirua Public Library copy said “Good but very long”. I thought it was better than good and I enjoyed the length – time to ponder the interesting questions such as “How will they find who they are?” and “Who will be the real winners of the town vote?”.

Potential sequel there, Miranda?

More fiction: How to Bake a New Beginning

I enjoyed this romantic novel by Lucy Knott – her first (of many, I hope).

Three unmarried sisters in their twenties end up unexpectedly  on the Amalfi coast, where their mother originated.  Great descriptions of places and food. The relationship with the mother’s parents is a highlight of the story, so much that I don’t remember any mention of the father’s parents.

Each sister finds a new beginning in a surprisingly short time, and all seems well at the end with some marriages and new jobs on the horizon.

As is common with modern fiction, there are not enough commas for my liking, particularly where parenthetical phrases are involved – such a phrase should have a comma at each end or none at all, not just one at the end. The use of “like” for “as” or “as if” seems to be insinuating itself into modern fiction too – languages do change.  And when you are on the Amalfi coast the east end of Sicily is due south so you don’t see the sun rising over it – but the disclaimer excuses that by saying “… Any resemblance to actual … localities is entirely coincidental.”!

Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

All of ny genealogist friends should heed this article, another excellent piece of writing from Dick Eastman.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

NOTE:This is a slightly updated version of an article I published three years ago. I have added a new section about the restrictions recently added by the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Several newsletter readers have sent messages to me expressing dissatisfaction with records that were available online at one time but have since disappeared. I am offering this republished article as an explanation about why we should not be surprised when that happens. I will also offer a suggestion as to making sure you keep your own copies of online records that are valuable to you.

Two newsletter readers sent email messages to me recently expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from a popular genealogy site. Indeed, removal of any online records of genealogical value is sad, but not unusual. Changes such as these are quite common on FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry.com…

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Royal wedding boosts viewing of genealogy site

Familypedia.wikia.com, the free genealogy and family history website, gets about ten thousand page views on the average day. Several hundred of those are from active volunteer editors but the rest are from readers. Until a week ago, it had rarely achieved more than 15,000. However, the record-breaking May 19  wedding of an American actress to a British prince (now the Duke of Sussex) made a big change.

Nearly every day at about 8 in the morning I get an email saying how many page views Familypedia has had.  Here’s the recent rundown:

May 15: 10,470

May 16: 9,860

May 17: 12,435

May 19: 13,444

(and at 11:40 that evening, New Zealand time, Harry and Meghan  became husband and wife)

May 20: 18,943

May 21: 64,678

May 22: 30,123

May 23: 18,919

May 24: 13,706

People are interested in Meghan’s ancestry. The greatest number of page views in the previous week had  been scored by her mother’s page, with several other ancestors close behind. You can see a number of their names and dates at

Meghan’s ancestry tree on Familypedia


And here’s the latest week’s list of most popular pages, showing that Meghan’s mother got the lion’s share of those 64,678 views:

Doria Loyce Ragland (1956)

Alvin Azell Ragland (1929-2011) 16,242
Jeanette Arnold (1929-2000)

Thomas Wayne Markle (1944)

Steven R Ragland (1908-1983)

Doria Loyce Ragland (1956)/descendants

Brahmin gotra system

Family History and Genealogy Wiki

Doria Loyce Ragland (1956)/tree

Jeremiah M Ragland (1883-1944)


Backwards into the Future – great NZ novel

Pakeha Mary, a widowed retired nurse, takes the four-hour drive from the big city to her hometown of Waimamae,  a highly believable fictional town at a river mouth many kilometres east of Waiouru. She plans to live the rest of her life in the house she grew up in. A special voice from her past has told her that the “way to move forward is to walk backwards into the future”.   She hopes her childhood friend Ana will come back too. A former younger acquaintance, Amiria, who now works in the supermarket  befriends Mary early and reveals some truths while sharing fresh local lemons, drinking good coffee, and bottling plums.

The novel, “Backwards into the Future”, was written by cat-lover Bronwyn Elsmore, a Kiwi writer (of fiction and non-fiction) and reviewer who has won awards for plays, short stories, and children’s verse. The 49 chapters have names as well as numbers – rare in a 21st-century novel? Publisher is Flaxroots, Auckland: http://www.flaxroots.com. Bronwyn is @flaxroots and has a presence on Amazon and Goodreads.

Much of the book is about Mary’s childhood, and chapters are separated by short mental letters the older Mary “sends” to Ana, reminiscing. The description of the washhouse took me right back to my first home in Roslyn, Dunedin! We had one just like that in the late 1940s. That’s not the only part that older readers will find pleasingly familiar. Some will find the descriptions of Vietnam and cyclone Samuel familiar in different ways. And the leather strap hanging on the bathroom door. Younger readers will enjoy much of the description of schooldays and teachers.

Waimamae has two cemeteries: the urupa for the tangata whenua at the marae and the local authority’s hillside cemetery on North Road at the southern edge of the town. The mixture of cultures is gradually and sympathetically explored, with a handy Maori-to-English mini-dictionary quite early and many other words and concepts seamlessly worked into the story throughout. The novel made me feel good about New Zealand. As the opening group of proverbs concludes – Taua tahi: We are one. But I’m still wondering where Mary found Ana. I hope there is a sequel in preparation. Ana must return, for the healing that her grandmother promised.