Monthly Archives February 2016

Book review: The Farm

This book by Tom Rob Smith is the best thriller I’ve read this year, one of those ‘who do I believe?’ scenarios. It’s an ordinary day for Daniel until his mobile rings. It’s his father. “Your mother’s sick… She’s not well… She’s been imagining things.” His mother is in hospital, he says, she’s been committed. As Daniel prepares to fly to Sweden where his parents live, his father calls again; his mother is missing. His mobile rings again, it is his mother. She says his father is lying. Who to believe? And so starts The Farm, a book which questions the parent/sibling relationship, lies told within the family, and how far a family can be stretched before it breaks. It is a story of a Swedish woman and her English husband retiring to a farm in rural Sweden, looking for a new start, an active retirement, anticipating being part of a close-knit community. Tilde arrives in London and tells Daniel that his father is lying. She is not ill, she is in danger, she has discovered crimes, lies, irregularities. At all times she carries an old leather satchel which she says is full of evidence. Who to believe? Life on
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Categories: Book Love.

How William Maxwell wrote

William Maxwell “I seemed to have no more choice about this than one has about the background of a dream. . . . A set of characters seized me, and ran off with me. My function was simply to record what they said and did, rather than shape the goings on.” [talking about writing ‘Time Will Darken It’ to ‘The New Yorker’ magazine, September 8, 2008] I think every novelist longs for this, but how rarely does it happen? Read John Updike’s New Yorker article in full here. Click here for my review of Time Will Darken It.   ‘Time will Darken It’ by William Maxwell [UK: Panther] See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain JoJo Moyes Hanya Yanagihara And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How William Maxwell wrote #authors via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1I5
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Children Act

The first page of this book by Ian McEwan is a classic, an intense study of Fiona Maye, High Court judge, a family law specialist, married, childless. The Children Act is the story of a slice of her life and how an upset with her husband coincides with a particular case. Each event impacts on the other and I was left considering how our legal system expects consistent wisdom from its judges when they have human frailties. Before the story starts, there is a quotation from the Children Act, the piece of law according to which Judge Maye must compose her judgements: ‘When a court determines any question with respect to… the upbringing of a child… the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.’ But for Fiona Maye, her involvement with this case goes beyond the courtroom. Adam is a teenager whose religious upbringing prevents him having a blood transfusion as part of his treatment for leukaemia. Fiona Maye routinely moves from one case to the next, digesting complicated information in an efficient, calm and clinical manner, but something about Adam’s situation is different. Her judgement will effectively decide if Adam shall live or die. She doesn’t know it, but
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 82… ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her. It twitched her lips and rustled her breath, and she felt her son lean forward from where he kept watch by her bed. “Get…” she told him. “You should have got…” ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ by Anne Tyler Amazon Read my reviews of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Philosopher’s Pupil’ by Iris Murdoch  ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing  ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters 112 And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT by Anne Tyler #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Tb via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: A Certain Justice

It is a while since I’ve read any PD James, why did I leave it so long? Reading an Adam Dalgliesh story is like slipping into a favourite pair of old jeans. It’s that feeling you get with an assured author: you are in safe hands. It is mutual trust. The author trusts the reader to make connections and ‘get’ references without having to spell everything out, the reader trusts the author to deliver a satisfying story without distractions of blind alleys. This applies, especially I think, to crime fiction. I have read A Certain Justice before, many years ago, my paperback is old. I remembered the character of Venetia Aldridge, the murder victim, and of course know detective Adam Dalgliesh, but I had forgotten the identity of the killer. One of the pleasures of a PD James novel for me is the cultural background and the depth of knowledge she demonstrates. Dalgliesh is a poet, he is fond of architecture, of music, of the countryside. The murder of Venetia Aldridge, a barrister, takes place in her Chambers, and so as the reader I became involved in the world of law, of trial by jury, of guilty v not guilty,
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 11 Red sign ‘Pedestrians’ Go! #writingprompt #amwriting

Red means warning. Use this writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series to inspire you today, or to kickstart a flash fiction short story. Use one of these phrases in your first paragraph, using the photo for inspiration. Red light means Stop. Green light means Go. “I’m confused.” He knew it wasn’t the right sign, but there wasn’t another sign to use. So he did what he was told. “Not there, you wally. If you put the sign there, the people are all gonna walk over the ….” “Some joker’s left it there, haven’t they. That arrow points at the wall. That can’t be right… can it?’ John could see a red blur about a metre ahead and, erring on the side of caution, as always, he tapped the red thing with his cane. It sounded metallic. Not for the first time, he missed Petra. She felt her front wheel fall into nothingness, the pavement disappeared, and as her bike fell forwards, the red sign fell into the hole on top of her head. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Anonymous People Arrivals Board Belisha Beacon What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

#BookReview ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell #literary

Two families, the one from the South visits the one in the North. America before the Great War, class divides, manners, family duty, the race question and, beneath the politeness, love is turbulent. This is the world of Time Will Darken It. I don’t know why I have never discovered William Maxwell before now, but I will certainly seek out his others. Draperville, Illinois, is the setting for this observation of manners which at times reminded me of Austen. Draperville is based on Maxwell’s own hometown of Lincoln, Illinois. In 1912, the Potter family from Mississippi visit the family of their foster son. Austin King, lawyer in Draperville, struggles to live up to the reputation of his father Judge King. The interaction and resulting effects of the King and Potter families over four weeks and three days, is detailed in a way reminiscent of Austen. And the detail is fascinating. The interaction between the generations, the expectations of the men and women, norms of behaviour and what happens when those norms are broken. This pre-war period teeters on the verge of war, and all the changes that will soon be brought about. This is a wise book about relationships and
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Jane Cable

My guest today at ‘Porridge & Cream’ is novelist Jane Cable. “If I say that my Porridge & Cream book is Long Summer Day very few people will recognise the title. If I say it’s the first volume of RF Delderfield’s Horseman Riding By trilogy most readers will know exactly the book I mean.   In all honesty this book has been with me so long I can’t remember the first time I read it. What I do know is it was after the BBC made the TV series in 1978, which I didn’t watch, being far more interested in punk music. At a guess it was while I was studying for my A-levels or my degree. I’m pretty sure it was a library copy, but I asked my father to buy me the whole trilogy for Christmas. The reason they don’t match in the photograph [below] is because I lost Long Summer Day in a house move and my father replaced it for Christmas in 1988. I don’t often read books twice but A Horseman Riding By comes out if ever I’m ill. The last time was Christmas a few years ago when I caught flu and was too
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: My Name is Lucy Barton

This is a gem of a little novel by Elizabeth Strout. I read it in one sitting on a winter’s afternoon, drawn into the life of Lucy Barton. Lucy looks back, ostensibly telling the story of her nine-week stay in hospital and an unexpected visit by her mother, when in fact she tells the story of her life. Mothers and daughters, no two relationships are alike and no woman can make assumptions about another’s experience as either mother or daughter. Stranded in her hospital bed, Lucy remembers her childhood and tries to make sense of it. Economically [208 pages] and beautifully written, this is the first of Elizabeth Strout’s novels I have read. I have of course heard of Olive Kitteridge but did not realize it is a Pulitzer winner, and so have the treat awaiting me. Strout writes about the everday, the ordinary, the normal [and not-so-normal] and sees the truth behind what is and isn’t said. Lucy is a kind of everywoman. Through her Strout examines the mother-daughter relationship with an acute eye which will make you examine your own relationships. Lucy tells the story of her hospital visit and her mother’s appearance with the benefit of hindsight,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Exposure

This is a powerful novel by Helen Dunmore about the effect of the Cold War on one family, thrilling yet subtle. One night in 1960, Simon Callington’s colleague falls and breaks a leg. He rings Simon and asks him to go to his flat, retrieve a document he had taken home from work, and return it to their office. And so begins a tale of official secrets, spies, cover-ups, all told through the prism of this one family, the Callingtons. This is not a traditional spy novel, there are no car chases or killings, but it is taut with tension and threat felt within the routine domesticity of Callingtons’ home. The impact of Giles’s plea for help, and Simon’s subsequent actions, changes everyone’s lives. They are living in a time of secrets and suspicion. Lily, Simon’s wife, is a German Jew brought to England by her mother before the Second World War. As a child, Lily was taught by her mother to fit in with the English, to hide her foreignness. Her life is one of secrets and covering up, when suddenly it becomes real; her husband is accused of espionage, of passing secrets to the Russians. Lily is convinced
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Purity

I admit to feeling disappointed by Purity by Jonathan Franzen. The root of this disaffection is partly my expectations, having loved The Corrections and Freedom, and partly the subject matter. Unlike his previous two novels, which focussed on an extended family, the central narrative of Purity is a young woman’s search for her father, a search which brings her into contact with some seriously dodgy people. A large chunk of the novel is about Andreas Wolfe whose Sunlight Project brings light to the world by leaking secrets. His backstory as a young man in East Germany as the Wall crumbles is historically interesting but I found his character unpleasant. On his first foray into West Berlin, Wolfe meets a young American journalist, Tom Aberant, who becomes another constant throughout the book. Great chunks of the book are dedicated to Wolfe and Aberant’s relationships with, respectively Annagret and Annabel, who confusingly merged together in my mind. So what kept me reading? Pip, the Purity of the title, a young woman burdened by student debt and a curiosity about the identity of her father, is lured to Bolivia to work for the Sunlight Project, in the belief that she will find out the name
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Categories: Book Love.