Book Review: The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (Catherine Johnson)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

Pages: 288

Release Date: July 2nd 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Set in the early nineteenth century, this is incredible story of the ultimate historical hustle, based on the true story of Mary Willcox. After a harrowing street attack, Mary makes a life-changing decision: to become Princess Caraboo. Speaking a language of her own devising, she manages to convince the respected Worrall family that she is just what she claims to be. Language professors, journalists and artists are captivated by Caraboo’s beauty and the story that surrounds her. But as her lies get bigger, so too does the risk involved in her deception, and when she begins to fall in love with seventeen-year-old Fred Worrall, Mary realizes that she can’t keep up her con forever, and that some stories can be very dangerous indeed…


I received a copy of this book as part of The Lady Caraboo blog tour, so big thanks to Ming and Corgi Children’s for the copy.I always feel a little anxious getting books to review, especially ones for a blog tour. It can sometimes be awkward getting that balance between wanting to promote a book and wanting to stay true to your feelings about it. I am always honest with my reviews, no matter where the books came from.

That was a sidetrack and not important because I completely loved this book!

The start was pretty brutal and it sets up the story perfectly. In that first short chapter you understand Mary’s motivations for what she does, and you’re completely on her side from the beginning. While her actions could be seen as wrong, you know she doesn’t mean any harm by it, and is just trying to escape herself a while.

I loved the contrast in characters in this book: on the one hand, you have Mary Wilcox, who has been through hell and back and knows true poverty and pain, and on the other, you have the Worralls, Fred and Cassandra in particular, whose ‘middle class problems’ seem so petty in comparison. I’m not saying that their problems are irrelevant, it just puts it into perspective against Mary’s past.

The idea of a poor girl convincing an upper class family that she is a lost princess is truly magical, and when I read the author’s note at the end and found it was based on a true story, I was even more intrigued. I’m definitely going to do some research into Caraboo’s story and read some more about her now.

This felt like quite a gentle read: everything moved at a nice, leisurely pace and I enjoyed seeing how the characters developed and the relationships formed. A favourite for me was Cassandra, whose flighty feelings changed as quickly as she changed her dresses and could have got her in a whole heap of trouble.

Things got a little heated when a certain character turned up and claimed to be able to understand Caraboo’s (made up) language. I didn’t see the problem at first and thought it was entertaining as they pretended to have conversations while speaking gibberish, but it soon took a darker turn and, like Caraboo, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen the danger coming.

I really wasn’t sure how things would turn out in the end: there were too many lies and too many strands tangled together to have a suitable solution for all, but it did all work itself in a way, although I wouldn’t say it ended happily for everyone. Mary/Caraboo is a character that you really root for, and I knew that, whatever happened, I wanted her to do well out of this.

Overall I think this is a really stunning book and a beautiful adaptation of Lady Caraboo’s story. I love books that inspire me to read more around the subject, and this one certainly has. I’d definitely recommend reading it, and I’m going to be checking out more of Catherine Johnson’s books in the near future.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit
Check out my guest post from Catherine Johnson here.

Guest Post: Catherine Johnson – Where I Work

Today I am super excited to be taking part in The Lady Caraboo Blog Tour.

Caraboo Blog Tour Poster v5


I am very pleased to welcome author Catherine Johnson, who is doing the first ever guest post on my blog (squeal!) and is talking about where and how she writes her wonderful books.

So without further ado… welcome Catherine!


Good morning! Come and sit down and have a cup of virtual coffee! There’s toast too and I have some really good apricot jam….

Hello and thanks for the invitation to your blog. I have been a writer quite a long time – my first paying job was in 1991, I think – a film treatment which never got made but did open the door in my head marked ‘stories’.

Where do I write? How do I write? Well until the year before last I wrote all my books (and scripts) on a computer at a table in my bedroom. We lived in a tiny house – here’s a picture of my old street in Hackney:


– and we have two kids. They’re grown up now (28 and 24 I am so old when did that happen?) and moved on and it’s only since we left of London a couple of years ago that I’ve had a room of my own. This is me not long after we moved in showing off a jumper I knitted, I am a manic knitter by the way, I used to have a stall in Portobello Market and sell Fair Isle hats when I was a student.


Photo on 09-06-2013 at 11.23 #2

Anyway now I have a view of my own too – lookit here!

And I will also tell you the one joke I know about writers;

Q: Why shouldn’t the writer look out of the window in the morning?

A: Because then they’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon!

I didn’t say it was good.

I think we can often put up a lot of barriers to writing; I can’t work at home, only in a café, I need space, or I need to be on the train or in a certain spot. I have to have a special notebook or a lucky pen. And I sometimes I feel like that too, (especially about trains) but I think it’s important to remember that writing isn’t magic. It’s work, and although it’s lovely to find a story that makes it feel like you’re simply channelling the characters, and can’t type fast enough to keep up, sometimes it can feel like pulling particularly painful teeth. Caraboo took a gazillion drafts. I tried writing it in first person, (which is very hard when your character only speaks aloud in a made up language), letters, multiple viewpoints, I wrote the story so many different ways before I found a way that works. Whereas other stories – Sawbones for example – was one of those word vomits that took weeks.

One thing I find helpful when I get stuck is moving, walking or swimming. And since my job involves sitting down all day it’s not a bad thing. And it does help that there are loads of good places to walk round here.

I must admit having a writing room feels like a huge luxury. And last Christmas I got a white board of my very own! It is brilliant for working stuff out on and reminding me about things that I am often forgetting.


Above my desk I’ll have helpful pictures. Until recently when I was working on the sequel to Sawbones, I had a map of Paris and a picture of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, brilliant brave hero of the French Revolutionary army and inspiration to his son Alexandre, who went on to write The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

At the moment I’ve a picture by Degas of Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando she was a black performer in fin de siècle Paris, and pinned to the white board is a story maze I did of my work in progress. I’ve never done this but a friend, Teresa Flavin, gave it to me and I filled in the gaps and it’s been a little bit of an inspiration.

I have loads of books. LOADS. Did I mention I have LOADS of books?

I tend to have a routine that goes like this.

Early start. I am so a morning person. If I’m on a script deadline it might be as early as 5 or 6. I’ll work for an hour or so then go off for a swim and come home and have breakfast. Then I’ll write some more – with breaks for food or if I am stuck, a walk by the sea and then more work until 4 (or if it’s a script until it’s done).


Of course I have days when I visit my friends and eat cake or my friends visit me and eat cake, but it is a job and I do feel very guilty if there are no words. Apart from the odd bit of teaching this is all I do this for a living.

If I’m working on a book I will try and hit word counts for a week – usually if I’m working every day that’ll be 10-12k. But some weeks I’ll have school visits or other work – and then you find yourself out of the story loop, which can be a little bit difficult when you want to get back in.

At the moment I am working on one book (a contemporary supernatural YA which is a whole lot of fun), a film project currently in development and a TV drama which is very, very, exciting – but really don’t want to say more in case I jinx it!

I think you know it’s going well when you can’t stop thinking about the characters and the world – in fact it’s a little (a lot!) like being in love!


Massive thanks to Catherine for being here and chatting on my blog today – I love hearing the ways writers work, it’s always so different from one to the next!

There are still more stops on The Lady Caraboo tour, so check the picture to see where to head to next, or to catch up with the previous posts.

I’ll be posting my review of the book on Friday (spoiler alert: I thought it was wonderful) and you can pre-order your own copy from Waterstones, Hive, WHSmiths, and Amazon.

Lady Caraboo hits shelves on July 2nd and I’d really recommend it.