Monthly Archives July 2016

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

When a new arrival in the Cotswold village of Carsley brings competition for the attentions of James Lacey, Agatha Raisin is tempted to turn her back on her neighbour and make a reckless decision and return to London. As usual, Agatha’s decision-making is suspect and she gets herself deeper into trouble. But observation of James and her rival in love, Mary Fortune, at the gardening club give her hope that James is not convinced by Mary’s obvious charms although Mary seems universally loved by the rest of the village. Another murder mystery in Carsley gives Agatha, ably aided by James, ample opportunity for nosiness, trespassing, the making of lots of general assumptions, all tempered by common sense and observation of human nature. Sometimes Agatha seems to have a death wish when it comes to relationships, she admits she was never good at making friends, perhaps she is likeable because she is not perfect. On occasions she is rude, grumpy and arrogant. MC Beaton’s creation – this is the third in the Agatha Raisin series – is an enjoyable well-written mystery more akin with Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, than with Miss Marple. If you want an easy read one
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: Find Missing Births

Anyone researching their family history has to start with the two main life events: birth and death. Birth seems the obvious place to start, but finding certificates is not always straightforward. Adoption may be one reason, as Rose Haldane discovers in Ignoring Gravity, but there are lots of other reasons why births go missing. If you have hit a brick wall searching for UK records, try these tips by genealogist Laura Berry:- Informal change of name: it is perfectly legal for a person to change name without officially informing the authorities. Add to that the confusion caused by people by interchanging their first and middle names, perhaps because they dislike it. Some names were simply mis-spelled, either by the record-taker or the person reporting the birth. If in doubt, search for the mother’s maiden surname. A different quarter: until 1984, the GRO birth indexes for England and Wales were organised quarterly [after this it switched to annual]. Perhaps the birth you are looking for has been recorded in the next quarter. Parents at this time had 42 days in which to record a birth. Common names: if you are searching for a common surname and common first name, try looking for
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Book review: Somewhere Inside of Happy

Yet again, Irish author Anna McPartlin tackles difficult issues. Grief – as in the superb The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes – dementia and homophobia. And there is laughter and tears. It is a thoughtful book with strongly drawn characters, Irish humour and a fair amount of ripe language. It is the story of Maisie Bean, a single mother who has fought bravely to escape a violent husband and raise her two children, Jeremy and Valerie. The story starts, on January 1, 1995, when Jeremy disappears. Ever since his mother found the strength to leave her abusive husband, Jeremy has been the man of the family. He has been responsible, thoughtful, helpful, caring for his grandmother Bridie who suffers from dementia, keeping an eye on his younger sister Valerie. In doing so he has repressed who he is because he doesn’t really understand who he is, all he knows is that he is different. Somewhere Inside of Happy is an examination of generalisations, assumptions and misunderstandings, how the crowd dynamic and a troublesome media can turn a whisper into fact. How a community looks the other way whilst a drug-addict father neglects his son and how gays are referred to
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 87… ‘Time Will Darken It’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o’clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour, friends and neighbours invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.” ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell Amazon Click here to read my review of Time Will Darken It Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon  ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes you want more: TIME WILL DARKEN IT by William Maxwell http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vh Chosen by @SandraDanby #novels
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Re-bound dates are never a good idea, and this book starts with retired PR supremo and now amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin feeling spurned by sexy neighbour James Lacey. On the re-bound, she goes out for dinner with the village’s new flirtacious vet, Paul Bladen. It soon turns out that he dislikes cats, although he does seem to have a penchance for middle-aged ladies. When he drops dead, seemingly of an unfortunate accident, Agatha refuses to accept it is not murder. And so the second novel in the prolific Agatha Raisin series sets off at a pace, as Agatha tries to spend time with James Lacey without drooling. They ignore police warnings not to ask questions where it is inappropriate, and after breaking into the bank, and snooping around the dead man’s house, they think they find evidence of wrongdoing. Except it is not quite the wrongdoing that they expected. Another easy-to-read detective romp by MC Beaton, charming to read with your feet up on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Formulaic, yes. But very funny. For my review Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, first in the series, click here. If you like Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, try:- Etta
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Don’t You Cry

This novel explores how easy it is to make assumptions and how this guesswork is so often wrong. This is the third novel by Mary Kubica, all thoughtful mysteries, carefully written and detailed. It took me longer to get into this one, but Kubica spends time drawing the characters and I was prepared to go along with her. There are two narrators. In Chicago, Quinn’s roommate disappears. After a couple of days waiting for Esther to return and wondering if she has done anything to upset her, Quinn starts to poke around looking for answers. The first things she finds are confusing, they contradict the Esther she knows, or thinks she knows. And then she starts to wonder what Esther is hiding. Quinn’s voice is alternated with Alex, a young man who lives in the small town where he grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. He is a nice guy, who passed up on college for a boring low-paid in a rundown lakeside café so he can care for his drunken father. He takes lunch to Ingrid, a housebound elderly lady and stays to eat with her, and to play cards. One day, he goes to work and
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Margaret Drabble Margaret Drabble’s latest novel, The Dark Flood, described as ‘dark and glittering’, will be published in the UK in November by Canongate. The Dark Flood is a novel about death and what constitutes a ‘good death’. We follow Francesca Stubbs through drinks with dear friends, taking meals to her infirm ex-husband Claude, and visits to her daughter Poppet in the West Country. Read this fascinating interview with Drabble, published in The Paris Review. Michelle Frances The Girlfriend, the debut psychological thriller by BBC drama development executive Michelle Frances, will be published in the UK by Pan Macmillan next spring. Described as the perfect book club read, The Girlfriend a relentless thriller about subtle sabotage, retaliation, jealousy and fear. The chilling focus is on the mother/son/daughter-in-law relationship. The mother is Laura who has a successful career and a long marriage to a rich husband. The son is 23-year-old Daniel, kind, handsome. The girlfriend is Cherry. Laura suspects Cherry is bad news. The catalyst for the drama is one lie. Sarah Schmidt Tinder Press is to publish See What I Have Done by debut author Sarah Schmidt, a re-telling of the Lizzie Borden story. Borden [below] was an American woman who
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Dark Aemilia

Shakespeare, tick. Possible identity of the Dark Lady, tick. Supernatural, witches and demons, tick. Stinking, plague-ridden London, tick. The Globe, white-faced boy actors dressed in velvet, smoke, whistles and special effects, tick. This is Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly. Based on a foundation of history, O’Reilly tells the fictional story of real-life Aemilia Bassano and her love affair with William Shakespeare. There is no documentary evidence that this affair took place, but O’Reilly’s imagination conjures a rich story in which the setting of Elizabethan London is vibrant and believable. Wherever Aemilia goes – in an apothecary’s shop, in the audience at The Globe or standing at the edge of a plague pit – you can see, smell and hear her London. Aemilia is something of a feminist, in that she struggles against men her whole life for the freedom to live her own life. Orphaned at 12 she becomes mistress to Lord Hunsdon [readers of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl will be interested to know that Hunsdon was the real-life Henry, son of Mary Boleyn] but during an affair with Shakespeare, Aemilia falls pregnant. Hunsdon arranges a marriage for her to her cousin Alfonso Lanyer, and so Aemilia’s destiny
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 13 Train Window #writingprompt #amwriting

This is the view from a fast-moving train. Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters  series to inspire you today. Study this photograph. How does it make you feel? The blurring gives a strong sense of motion. Close your eyes and concentrate on how you feel, are your senses heightened, or does dizziness dominate? Describe how you feel in one paragraph. From that paragraph, pull out three key words, and write 1-2 sentences about each. Using the sensations you experienced, give them to a character caught on the edge of speed – standing on a motorway bridge, balancing on rocks beside a fast-flowing river, waiting at the kerb to cross the road as racing cyclists fly by. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Coffee Shop Death Valley Looking Over the Parapet What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Runaways’

Today’s poem to read in your bath is from Red Tree, the debut poetry collection by Yorkshire poet Daniela Nunnari. 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. ‘Runaways’ Run away with me. We’ll drive down roads With old stone walls. We’ll close our eyes By waterfalls, And listen. You’ll how me how to skim a stone And how to pick the perfect one. I’ll catch the icy river ripples, Frozen like February, in my phone.’ So evocative of new love, the exhilaration and freedom of getting away from it all. The countryside and nature feature in examination of the fantasy/reality elements of a daily relationship. My other favourites in this edition? ‘Optrex’, ‘Buoy’ and ‘There’s Something in the Trees’. For more about Daniela Nunnari and publisher Valley Press, click here.   ‘Red Tree’ by Daniela Nunnari [UK: Valley Press]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: Curtain Call

The 1930s come alive in this novel by journalist Anthony Quinn, I stepped into his world and felt as if I was there. An effortless read, I was plunged into the worlds of Stephen Wyley, artist; Nina Land, actress; the gloriously-named Madeline Farewell, hostess; Jimmy Erskine, theatre critic; and Tom Tunner, Erskine’s assistant. The setting is a time of looming war, royal crisis, blackshirts and strict homosexuality laws. It is not an easy novel to categorize: there are murders, but it is not a detective novel; we see the world of art and theatre and prostitution, but it is not a novel about art etc. Packed with period detail, with not one detail too many, this is written with a light hand and a clever plot. It starts with a romantic assignation and chance encounter in a hotel with a murderer, known in the newspapers as the Tiepin Killer. This meeting of only seconds, brings together the key characters and kickstarts the murder plotline. Curtain Call is the predecessor, not prequel, to Quinn’s latest novel Freya. I loved Freya, read my review of here. If you like ‘Curtain Call’, try these other 1930s novels:- ‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Watership Down

It is a book which begun as a tale told by a father to his two daughters. Surely everyone has read Watership Down by Richard Adams. The story In Southern England lives at Sandleford Warren, a community of rabbits. They live in their natural environment but anthropomorphized so they have their own voices, culture, language, proverbs and mythology. This is a book which rewards re-reading. Fiver, the runt of the litter, is also a seer. When he forsees the destruction of their warren, Fiver and and his brother Hazel try to convince the other rabbits to flee with them. Unsuccessful, they set out on their own with 11 other rabbits to search for a new home. Hazel, previously an unimportant member of the warren, finds himself leader of the group. Fiver has visions about a safe place to settle, and so they find Watership Down. But still, they are not safe. First UK edition The first UK edition was published in November 1972 by Rex Collings. At the time, Collings famously wrote to an associate, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” The book took Adams two years to
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Categories: Book Love.

How Tracy Chevalier writes

Tracy Chevalier “My husband, Jonathan, is a trustee of the Woodland Trust; he’s been going on about them [trees] for years. Slowly, it’s sunk in.” [in an interview with the ‘Sunday Times Magazine’, March 6, 2016] Sometimes, as a novelist, true life ends up creeping into the story without you realizing it. Tracy Chevalier is a go-to author for me. She has always written from life and has been described as a ‘method writer’ as a reflection of the depths to which she will research a subject. Famously she explored Victorian attitudes to death for her novel Fallen Angels by becoming a tour guide in Highgate Cemetery in London, and studied weaving for The Lady and the Unicorn. So I wasn’t surprised to read her quote about trees. She is referring to her latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard. In 1830s Ohio, James Goodenough and his wife Sadie argue about which type of apple trees to plan. He wants sweet apples for eating, she wants sour for cider. Read my reviews of Tracy Chevalier’s other novels:- The Last Runaway At the Edge of the Orchard Read more about Tracy Chevalier’s novels at her website. See how these other
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.