Monthly Archives November 2015

Book review: Liar Liar

I loved the ending… a tasty titbit to make me anticipate the fifth book in the series by MJ Arlidge about Southampton detective Helen Grace. Don’t start reading an MJ Arlidge novel, unless you have nothing to do but read. Because the story moves so fast you won’t want to put it down. Liar Liar is the fourth in Arlidge’s Helen Grace series set in Southampton, UK. Arlidge is an expert storyteller, he has created two likeable female detectives – DI Helen Grace and DC Charlie Brooks – and put them in a real, gritty, believable setting. The writing is graphic. The theme of this book is fire – there’s an arsonist on the loose in Southampton, setting serial fires – so the description of fire in all its stages and its after effects is at times graphic. Is someone trying to cover up a crime? Could it be a revenge attack on one person disguised by multiple fires? Or is it an insider with a grudge? It is a quick read, 448 pages. Arlidge writes TV drama and his skill at keeping the tension going is clear on every page. For my reviews of the other Helen Grace books, click here:-
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Road Not Taken’

You may perhaps be aware of this poem by New England poet Robert Frost, for it is often quoted and often misunderstood. But that doesn’t lessen its impact. I read this first as a student, and it has stayed with me since. In our lives we all face a choice at times, a forked path, take the left or the right? And so rightly this poem is thought fondly of at times of indecision, choice and how the uncertainty of the future. It speaks to everyone, I think, to poetry lover and poetry novice. ‘The Road Not Taken’ Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;   Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that, the passing there Had worn them really about the same,   And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: In the Blood

Steve Robinson is a new author for me and this is the first in his series of novels about American genealogist Jefferson Tayte. I warmed to JT quickly, he’s not a typical hero and seems very real. His assignment – to uncover the truth of what happened to a family who set sail from Boston to England in August 1783 – takes him across the Atlantic to Cornwall. There are two parallel timelines, the ship voyage in 1783 and JT’s trip to England set in the present day. The story weaves back and forth between the two, in fact I enjoyed reading the eighteenth century strand and would have liked more of the Fairbornes’ story. JT’s search, initially for documents, suddenly becomes dangerous when local woman Amy discovers a wooden box. Now Amy’s life is in danger too. But who stands to gain from a mystery 200 years old, and which Cornish locals can JT trust? At times I wished there was a cast list at the front of the book as I got a little confused between the family connections, but as that is what JT was researching I guess it was inevitable. If you like reading mysteries, try
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

My Porridge & Cream read: Lisa Devaney

Today I’m delighted to welcome clifi novelist Lisa Devaney who will share her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read. “As winter pends, and the leaves are turning beautifully vibrant colours, before they die off of the trees here in London, UK, I like the idea of turning to a comfort book, that can see me through the days that turn dark early and warm me up in the cold nights. When Sandra Danby invited me to blog about my ‘Porridge & Cream’ favourite book, I had a hard time, at first, picking just one that would qualify as the way she describes it as “It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it.” “Some on my selection list included a non-fiction title of Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, and the collected stories of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, but ultimately, I feel I turn most often to the book, that bred the movie that I watch most often as a comfort film. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep wins my pick for being my ‘Porridge & Cream’ novel. Published first
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Devices and Desires

Perhaps of all the Adam Dalgliesh books so far, and this is the eighth in the series by PD James, this is the one with the strongest sense of place. The East Anglian coast: a bare, windswept, desolate landscape, its coastline dominated by Larksoken nuclear power station, it is a tight-knit community where there are few secrets and no hiding places. The power station’s staff, its purpose and existence are at the centre of this murder mystery. Dalgiesh’s Aunt Jane has died and he visits her house, which he has inherited, both as a break after the Berowne murder [featured in the previous book, A Taste for Death] and as an opportunity to consider the house and decide whether to sell it or keep it. Meanwhile, the community on the remote coastal headline is being terrorized by a serial killer, The Whistler. And, of course, a few pages into the book, The Whistler kills. Or does he? This is a magnificent mystery, I challenge anyone to work out the plot twists and turns. But it is not just James’ talent at plotting which sets this book aside from its predecessors. It is thoughtful, considered, and very moving: about death, love,
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: British Newspaper Archive

The days are gone when researching old newspaper articles meant a trip to a library. Nowadays there is a fantastic online resource for anyone trying to trace lost relatives or researching their family tree. The British Newspaper Archive has almost 11.5 million newspaper pages on its archives from the 1700s onwards, across 473 UK newspaper titles. As part of my research for Ignoring Gravity, I read countless newspaper and magazine articles about adoption, the stories of birth mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents. I tested the BNA database. A random search for ‘Sandra Danby‘ produced three results, none of which were about me. Here are two:- May 6, 1950 Hull Daily Mail [above]: Sandra Danby was a principal performer at a concert in Hessle Town Hall, along with Elsie Meek, Sylvia Cowling and Michael Goforth. I’ve made a note of the name Elsie Meek, inspiration for a character name perhaps?June 19, 1950 Hull Daily Mail [above]: Sandra Danby from Hessle came second in the Haltemprice Fancy Dress Prize Winners ‘Most Attractive’ section, she was dressed as a Dutch girl. First prize was won by Patricia Partington, who dressed as Bo Peep. Next, I searched for ‘Rose Haldane’ and had more success with 13
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Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Book review: The House on Cold Hill

Is it a crime story, is it a ghost story, is it a thriller? I don’t care, it’s great. This is the first Peter James book I have read, and I loved it. It is a mystery about a family moving to a new house in the country, then everything starts to go wrong. Have they just bought the wrong house? Bad luck? Co-incidences? Or is someone attacking them, and why? As the oddities become more frequent, Ollie becomes more frantic as the house crumbles, his new business clients are sabotaged, and he fears for his wife and daughter. The tension is handled brilliantly, the first quarter of the book is a slow build as we get to know the family and the house, after that the screw is turned relentlessly. James is a skilled storyteller. After finishing reading this novel, I discovered that Peter James used his own experience of living in a haunted house. This shows on every page, the things that happen in the house, Ollie’s reactions, the understandable belief that ‘this is not real’. Peter James’ novels are published in 36 languages. To find out more, click here for his website. If you like The House
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Please Release Me

This book by Rhoda Baxter really grew on me. It was a trifle slow to start with lots of everyday detail, and I wondered where the story was going. And then there is a huge jump and the story flies. I finished reading it on a plane, exactly the right sort of book for my location as I was completely unaware of the time. This is a romantic comedy about tragedy, grief, death and… no, I won’t give away the clever twist. It also questions how well we actually know the person we are closest to. The endpoint of a lot of romantic comedies is a wedding. This book starts with one, and a car accident. We meet Sally, who is marrying Peter. Sally is bright, bubbly, seems manipulative, and has a gambling problem. I can’t say I took to Sally, who is the first character we meet. On the surface this seems a light and fluffy read but there is much more going on. After the accident, Peter recovers but Sally is in a coma. After months of no response from Sally, Peter meets Grace, another hospice visitor. Their relationship triggers all sorts of issues for the three main
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 79… ‘Illywhacker’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“My name is Herbert Badgery. I am a hundred and thirty-nine years old and something of a celebrity. They come and look at me and wonder how I do it. There are weeks when I wonder the same, whole stretches of terrible time. It is hard to believe you can feel so bad and still not die.” ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell ‘Fortunes of War’ by Olivia Manning ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: ILLYWHACKER by Peter Carey #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1KP via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Writing tips: read on the page not the screen

When re-drafting, print the m/s and read it on the page. Write your corrections in coloured pen so they are easy to spot, and tick them once you’ve made the correction. I date things too, but that’s just my journalistic background showing. Once I’ve corrected everything on a page, I draw a line across it. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Writers’ BLOCKbusters: read on the page http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1uo #writingtips via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: The Ends of the Earth

Don’t do what I did, and read the first two books in this series by Robert Goddard and then leave 12 months before reading the third. Ideally this trilogy should be read back to back, in full sun when sitting on a sunlounger. The story runs along at a cracking pace, with dense plotting, loads of characters, politics, spies and locations from Europe to Japan. The pace of this, the third book, is constant, hardly time to draw a breath. Questions that I had forgotten about from the first book are revisited, challenged and solved. Japan is the scene for the climax of this tale of James Maxted, ‘Max’, and his hunt for the truth about his father’s death. But this is so much more than a single case of murder, on it hangs the future of post-Great War Europe and the twentieth-century relationship of Japan and America. At times things happen which seem a little convenient, a person turns out to have a skill or history of which we knew nothing before, but I forgave Goddard for this. He is a prime storyteller. It is clear he knows his settings – Paris, Marseilles, Switzerland, Japan – and this adds
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Categories: Book Love.

Beware: the cost of quoting song lyrics

I think all writers do it. We try to put words into a character’s mouth, and a familiar, much-loved song lyric leaps to mind. DON’T. USE. IT. The expense of paying a royalty fee for using song lyrics cannot be exaggerated. Author Blake Morrison learned the hard way. “I still have the invoices. For quoting one line of Jumpin’ Jack Flash: £500. For one line of Wonderwall: £535”. Before you jump up and down to protest, these songwriters are protected by the same copyright rules that we authors are. Songs, books, the same. You cannot expect something for nothing, every artist has to earn a living. And it is the author’s duty – not the publisher’s – to secure the necessary permissions. Next time a line from The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel comes to mind, I will do as Blake Morrison [above] advises: make up the song myself. After all everyone knows what the Stones sound like playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, just mention it for atmosphere/setting/characterization [delete as appropriate] BUT do not quote the lyrics. Click here to read Blake Morrison’s full article in The Guardian. For more about Blake Morrison’s writing, check out his page at The Guardian
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: Stormy Summer

This is not my usual sort of book. I guess I grew out of chick lit novels three decades ago. But this book made me laugh. So I’ll put a warning up front for the sensitive: the book starts with a sex scene. But don’t let that put you off. Yes, this is a fun read as author Suzy Turner takes her eponymous character Summer on a relationship road trip. For a year she has been manless and therefore sexless, and when she does meet a nice guy it goes wrong for an unexpected reason [I did see this coming, but it still made me smile]. So, Summer and her best friend Gwen fly off to the Algarve for two weeks of intended flirting, laughter and girly gossip. Of course when she isn’t looking for a nice man, she stumbles over one. Turner is good at writing physical comedy scenes. Summer is a likeable klutz, we all have/had a friend like her at some point in our lives. She is prone to misunderstandings and is rather gullible, accepting the most obvious explanation of a situation rather than thinking ‘what if?’ This is a coming-of-age story, Summer learns to look beyond
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 9 Nothing of Value Left Overnight #writingprompt #amwriting

Today’s writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series is a sign in a shed, though it could easily be a sign in a van or truck, on an office door or the front window of a house. Imagine a situation featuring this sign and  use one of these prompts:- A shed, bought off eBay. What happens when you take it apart to transport it home? Jessica and Charlie took it in turns to smoke the cigarette, puff after puff, trying not to swallow the smoke so it wouldn’t be seen. This was their secret place, it was derelict, their den. ‘Nothing of value’? Isn’t the notion of value a relative thing: one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. Boot sales exist on that very notion. Home for mice, or rats… or a homeless man. Why is he there, where has he come from? Where does he eat and wash and… This is a joke sign my husband fixed to the window of his allotment shed. All there is of any value in there is beer. Cans and cans of it. Home-made. Tastes disgusting. Marnie painted the outside of the shed all over in Translucence, supposed to be a gentle white,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.