Monthly Archives December 2015

Book review: Toby’s Room

As the second book of a trilogy by Pat Barker, this can be read also as a standalone novel. The Toby of the title is the brother art student Elinor Brooke, whose story is told in Life Class. This story starts further back in time with a secret shared by the siblings, something not hinted at in the first book. In fact this whole book is about secrets, things hidden for shame, war too horrible to talk about, fear and emotions to be ashamed of, and things simply not spoken. Society was very different then, pragmatism coloured everyday lives, people did what they had to and tried to forget the bad things. Toby is reported ‘Missing, Believed Killed’, a parcel of his belongings is returned. Elinor believes the true story is being hidden and enlists fellow art student Paul Tarrant – who returned from Ypres injured and is now an official war artist – to help. She believes another war artist, Kit Neville, who served with Toby, must know the truth but refuses to say. Kit suffered a horrific face injury and is being treated at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup. Visiting Kit there they find not only Kit but
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Book of Lies

What is the truth and what is a lie? Is a fib a lie, is an omission a lie? And what would make you lie? To save yourself, to save a loved one? Is it okay to lie in war? I read this book by Mary Horlock without keeping the title in my mind, but at the end I knew what the title meant. The island of Guernsey is the setting for this family story told through the eyes of two children: in 1985, Catherine is 15; in 1940, her uncle Charlie is 12. He sees the German soldiers arrive to occupy the small island; a generation later, Cat still feels the after-effects of the lies told then. More lies are being told now, the difficulty is in identifying truth from lies. Cat is central to the novel. She is an irreverent narrator who tells us not only her own story but also the history of the island and her family’s war story. She was told both stories by her father, and now that he is dead Cat wishes she had asked him more questions. Cat’s voice is a true teenager, her banter is littered with humour, insecurity, crushes, curiosity
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’

This is one of the most sensuous poems I have read, it conjures up love and desire and… cinnamon. By Michael Ondaatje [below], better known for novel and film The English Patient, it is an assault of the senses. I first read it in the anthology Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley [UK: Bloodaxe]. That’s why I love anthologies, I own all three of the Astley trilogy: Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human. All are excellent, a great way of finding new poets, great to dip in and out of. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ If I were a cinnamon peeler I would ride your bed And leave the yellow bark dust On your pillow.   Your breast and shoulders would reek You could never walk through markets Without the profession of my fingers Floating over you. The blind would Stumble certain of whom they approached Though you might bathe Under rain gutters, monsoon. To listen to The Cinnamon Peeler, read by Michael Cerveris for The Poetry Foundation, click here.   ‘The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: The Truth Will Out

A great beginning, it made me want to check that the loft space of our house is sealed and inaccessible from outside. In The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaac, the lives of two young women are never the same again after a holiday to Italy. The truth of their trip dawns on them on their way home, and the days after their return are fraught. One is attacked, the other flees. Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery is on the case, hindered by the appearance of a central police team led by her ex-lover [odd that so many crime novelists feel the need to add a romance theme, is this because so many crime novels are read by women?]. So, a good combination of tension: will the baddies catch up with Eva, will the attacker strike again, and how will Helen cope with seeing her ex? A competent crime thriller with a female detective who, refreshingly, is not an alcoholic, on the verge of a nervous breakdown or being bullied by male officers. A few plot weaknesses aside – I never fully bought-into Eva’s flight and lack of concern about Naomi – this was a good tale though perhaps it
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Categories: Book Love.

My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: Shelley Weiner

Today I am pleased to welcome novelist, Shelley Weiner who will share her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read. “Tiring of a well-worn book is like outgrowing a friendship, or a fashion statement, or a taste for cheap confectionary – depressing but, sadly, a fact of life. We change, our tastes change, the priorities that seemed so immutable ten years ago can alter or become irrelevant And so, having scoured my bookshelves to find a ‘Porridge & Cream’ read, I had to conclude that the old faithfuls by the authors I chose (sorry Carol Shields, apologies Jane Smiley …) no longer moved me. I might have darted back to Dickens, to Austen, to Tolstoy, for classics of that calibre are beyond fatigue. Instead I consoled myself with a movie – the excellent screen adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn – and a large tub of popcorn. And as I sat in the darkness imbibing salty kernels and Irish angst, I recalled the spare beauty of Tóibín’s prose and resolved to return to the novel. Which I did. And – relief upon relief – it’s as I remembered it; as simple and quiet and engrossing as when I devoured it on publication eight years ago.
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Master of Shadows

Master of Shadows starts with a historical note about 1453 and the advance of the Ottomans on the eastern Christian empire of Constantinople. Rumoured to be among the city’s defenders was a Scot called John Grant. Neil Oliver – historian and TV presenter – takes the real life Grant and fictionalizes him in this, his debut novel; a novel rich in detail, historical context, colours and smells. It starts with disparate snapshots: a boy lies in a meadow and feels invisible; a stranger arrives at a Scottish village; a woman, chopping wood, feels threatened; a young girl leaps from a high wall, expecting to die. A Moorish solider, tall and imposing with his curved blade, arrives in Scotland at the castle of a Lord. Secretly he is seeking a specific woman. He had fought in wars alongside her husband and promised to keep her and their son safe if he should die. Badr becomes a surrogate father to the boy and teaches him everything he knows, later they fight side-by-side in battle. Leña lives amongst nuns. Given her name – which means ‘firewood’ in Spanish – I thought was a Spanish woman but in the memories of her childhood we
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 80… ‘Original Sin’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“For a temporary shorthand-typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficiently rare to prevent its being regarded as an occupational hazard.”  ‘Original Sin’ by PD James Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Rainmaker’ by John Grisham  ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway  ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ by Andrea Newman  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: ORIGINAL SIN by PD James #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1C3 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Due Diligence

An accountant, at the beginning of a crime novel? Stick with it because what at first appears to be a quiet first chapter takes off with a briefcase full of cash and leads to money laundering, assault, murder and all sorts of financial shenanigans. This is the first in the Jenny Parker series by DJ Harrison. Set in the business world, and underworld, of Manchester, accountant Jenny Parker is sent to conduct due diligence of a company’s finances. That briefcase full of cash, £20,000, is the beginning of the trouble for Jenny which sees her lover dead and risks her marriage, her son, and her life. A quick-moving story, Jenny is a likeable heroine who finds toughness she never knew was harboured within herself. The storyline jolts around a little but DJ Harrison has drawn a support network around Jenny, including the wonderful security boss Gary. The financial and business background is well constructed, and the fraud all too believable. To read DJ Harrison’s thoughts on writing, life and crime, click here or follow him on Twitter. If you like crime, try:- ‘Business as Usual’ by EL Lindley ‘An Uncertain Place’ by Fred Vargas ‘Eeny Meeny’ by MJ Arlidge ‘Due Diligence’ by
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Categories: Book Love.

Flash fiction: Left or right

The tall dark figure stood behind the small pink one, at the open door of the coffee shop. They looked out at the wet pavement, the December squall pushing the rain horizontally into their faces. “We’re going to go left. Which way is left?” “This one.” A hand waved in the air and was quickly shoved into a pocket. “No… Try again.” The man shared the same dark brows as the pink figure which leant backwards against his legs, sheltering from the chill wind which arrived in their High Street from snow-blocked continental Europe. “Grandpa, can we go. Please.” She stamped her feet. “It’s freezing here.” “Where to next?” “To get Mog.” “Show me the way then.” “The library’s over there.” She waved her left hand vaguely in a left direction. Her hands were cosy inside hand-knitted mittens, each with a crocheted-flower sewn on it. She was so proud of her new mittens. She had chosen the colours and her grandmother had done the special crocheting with a huge grey needle. The pair clasped hands, his left in her right, and disappeared into the cold rain. In the coffee shop, Mary watched them go. She sat at the table beside
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Categories: Book Love, My Flash Fiction and On Writing.

Book review: Life Class

Pat Barker is one of my top five novelists. She writes sparingly with not a word wasted, but creates a world so real with detail and characterization. Life Class is the first of her #LifeClass trilogy of novels which tell the story of brother and sister Elinor and Toby, and Elinor’s fellow art students Paul and Kit, through the Great War. I first read this book when it was published in 2007 and devoured it. I have re-read it now to refresh my memory of the story and characters, before I read the newly published third volume of the trilogy, Noonday. The story starts in 1914 in a life-drawing class at the Slade School of Art in London. The class is taken by Professor Henry Tonks, a real-life character, artist and surgeon. Barker weaves her fictional story around the true story of Tonks, the Slade, and the outbreak of the Great War. For student Paul Tarrant, the presence of Tonks is intimidating, as he struggles to find his identity as an artist. This is a novel about young people and their journey from youth to maturity via art and love, brutally influenced by the horrors of war. Interwoven with Paul’s
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Categories: Book Love.