Monthly Archives September 2016

Book review: Beginnings

A teenager abandoned and at the mercy of a 1970s London gang, Eleanor Chapman is the ‘same face’ in the romantic thriller series ‘Same Face Different Place’ by Helen J Christmas. London’s East End is the starting point for the first novel, Beginnings. Eleanor’s father must disappear from England after killing in a man in a gang war. Sixteen-year-old Eleanor is taken under the wing of her father’s boss, gang leader Sammie Maxwell. And from that point, her life spirals out of control. Forced to work in a brothel, she escapes and joins up with another teenager-on-the-run, Dutch musician Jake. Together they attract the attention of organised crime gangs and the police. Unsure who is really chasing them, they run from hiding place to hiding place and lose the ability to judge who is trustworthy. Sharing their fears, spending every minute together, Jake and Eleanor live on borrowed time. They fall in love. At times the story takes surprising twists, sometimes the outcomes are a little more predictable. I found it a little difficult to keep track of how time was passing, they seem to fall in love very quickly, and it will be interesting to see if Eleanor’s father
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Rachel Dove

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Rachel Dove. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris which Rachel summarizes as ‘telepathic waitress meets vampires and shapeshifters in the deep south of Bon Temps, finds love and the answers to her very existence.’ “It was 2009. My second baby in fourteen months had not long been born, and having two boys under two while my husband worked long hours was hard work. I was studying for a degree and writing in my spare time, with dreams of being an author and teacher when the children were older. My days consisted of looking after my children and the house, staying awake and reading to escape, to relax. I remember seeing an advert for the new HBO True Blood series, and seeing it was based on a book series. I immediately went online, newborn in one arm, and found the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I immediately bought the full set of what she had written so far, and devoured them. They kept me sane for weeks, and made my world feel less small, more exciting than nappy changes and nipple cream. Night feeds meant pages of vampires
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Orphans of the Carnival

What to say about this unusual novel by Carol Birch? First, I loved part of it. Second, I didn’t realize until I got to the end that it is loosely-based on a true story. If you loved Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, try this. A young veiled woman travels by train from Mexico to New Orleans. She is disfigured but we don’t know the exact details until quite a way into the book: this is a novel which rewards patient reading. Julia Pastrana becomes a music hall attraction – singing, dancing, playing a guitar – while undergoing examinations by doctors who proclaim her part-human. Her successive managers make the most of the doctors’ pronouncements. This is a linear narrative, Julia’s life story, driven by her search for unconditional love. The real Julia Pastrana had large ears and nose, irregular teeth and straight black hair all over her body. Despite her obvious intelligence – she spoke three languages – the myths continued until her death. It is an indictment of the way people not considered ‘normal’ were treated in the 19th century, seeing them as attractions rather than people with feelings. The modern-day storyline of Rose, a young woman who collects unwanted items,
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 89… ‘The Children Act’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise longue, staring past her stockinged feet towards the end of the room, towards a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake. Below it, centred on a round walnut table, a blue vase. No memory of how she came by it. Nor when she last put flowers in it. The fireplace not lit in a year. Blackened raindrops falling irregularly into the grate with a ticking sound against balled-up yellowing newsprint. A Bokhara rug spread on wide polished floorboards. Looming at the edge of vision, a baby grand piano bearing silver-framed family photos on its deep black whine. On the floor by the chaise lounge, within her reach, the draft of a judgment. And Fiona was on her back, wishing all this stuff at the bottom of the sea.” ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan  Amazon Read my reviews of The Children Act and Nutshell. Try one of these 1st paras
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Family history: was your relative a nurse?

If you are searching for a nurse who worked between 1898 and 1968, your search has just been made a lot easier. Over 1.6 million historic nursing records for the UK and Ireland are now online at Ancestry. There are three new collections:- UK & Ireland, Nursing Registers, 1898-1968 from the Royal College of Nursing: the largest of the three archives. It includes scans of the original documents and details about individual people including home address, education and previous employment history. Among the nurses listed is Dame Sarah Swift, founder of the RCN. UK & Ireland, Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, 1891-1931: these records were supplied by the Wellcome Institute, and further records will be released this autumn. Many of these nurses were trained as midwives and health visitors, treating patients in their own homes before the beginning of the NHS. Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945: these records date from the beginning of state registration of nurses in 1921. Most fascinating is the additional information provided about individuals, which may fill in essential gaps in family history research. If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, you can view the RCN records at the RCN Library. For help on how to
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: The Secrets of Gaslight Lane

I found the first few chapters of this book confusing and was still confused at the end. This is partly because it is fourth in the ‘The Gower Street’ detective series by MRC Kasasian and I haven’t read the previous three, but partly because the author seems to confuse the reader on purpose. Two murders are to be solved, one new, one ten years earlier, involving the same family, in the same house. I got both events totally confused. March Middleton is the god-daughter of ‘personal detective’ Sidney Grice. It is London, 1883 and this series is billed as an alternative ‘Holmes and Watson’ detecting duo. Grice is a pedantic character, a bit like Sherlock Holmes but without the charm. I found his arrogance and language intensely irritating. March’s way of dealing with his rudeness is to plough her own furrow, defending herself and occasionally going her own way. I liked March, I kept reading because of her. We see the story from her point of view. The duo is employed by Charity Goodsmile to investigate the murder of her father. Grice and Middleton visit the scene of the crime and what follows is told in minute detail, unlike any
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 14 Plastic Bag #writingprompt #amwriting

Here’s an everyday scene from any city. Use this FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to kickstart a flash fiction story. Study this photograph. Describe the colour tones, the textures, the movement and the feeling of the breeze which is blowing the bag. Now use this situation either by putting yourself into the action, or by creating a storyline based on the photograph. Are you running after the bag, did it slip from your grasp and you must catch it, no matter what? What would it mean to you to lose the bag? Who are the people, the two dark shadows on left and right? While your eye is caught by the bag, are they closing in on you? Is their intention helpful, sinister, threatening? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Feet Looking Over the Parapet Cranes on the Skyline 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so after a spell in London’s PR world Agatha Raisin is pleased to return to Carsley. Everything seems the same, except she cannot shake her crush on neighbor – and detective buddy – James. James, however is concentrating on writing his history book and so in an effort to distract herself, Agatha takes up rambling. To cut a long story short, there is a murder, Agatha and James investigate, and all sorts of trouble ensues. This series is a great example of the ‘cozy crime’ genre, involving a bitchy walking group, a miltant leader determined to challenge landowners who block access to their land, and lots of sexual crossed wires. MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books are like that paint: they do what they say on the cover [or, it does what it says on the tin]. Read my reviews of the first three Agatha Raisin mysteries:- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death AR#1 Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet AR#2 Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener AR#3 ‘Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley’ by MC Beaton, AR#4 [UK: Constable] Buy at Amazon And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Thin Air

1935, the Himalayas. A team arrives in Darjeeling, in preparation for climbing Kanchenjunga. A retired climber, who attempted the same climb, warns the team’s doctor to cancel the climb, or take another route. And so begins Thin Air by Michelle Paver, a tale balancing the power of nature, the vulnerability of man’s minds, and the toxic mix of superstition and arrogance. Is the retired climber right, is there something bad out there? If so, what? Can the past come back to haunt you? No-one has stood on the very peak of Kanchenjunga, the locals believe it is bad luck to do so. At her website, Michelle Paver writes about her expeditions – she travels extensively to research her novels – and it shows that she has been there. Throw into the mix some bitter sibling rivalry, class snobbishness and Sherpa superstitions, and you have an atmospheric thriller which makes you really feel you are there, with them, stranded in a tent in a Himalayan blizzard. Billed by some as a ghost story, this is more an account of psychological terror: as the mountaineers climb higher, the tension tightens. Is their bitching, sniping and forgetfulness a symptom of altitude sickness? Is
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: The 1939 Register

The obvious place to start when researching previous generations of your family is the Census. Unfortunately, the UK’s 1931 Census was destroyed by fire during World War Two, and no Census was taken in 1941. But in 1938 the British Government announced a National Register would be taken to assess war needs and to issue identity cards. The records of 41 million citizens were taken. These records are now available at Find My Past. If the person you are searching for is not there, try military records at the National Archives. TNA has a number of research guides to help find members of the Armed Forces. This post was inspired by Laura Berry’s article ‘Missing from the Census’ in the April 2016 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Click here for more information.   I used the 1939 Register when I was writing Sweet Joy, the third adventure in the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series. For more about Ignoring Gravity, first in the series, watch the book trailer here. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Book review: Angel

The rise and fall of one woman. Fifteen-year old Angel Deverell has always known she was different, determined to do better in life than her mother, when she is 15 she decides she is destined to live at nearby mansion Paradise House, where her aunt works as a maid. Angel starts to write a novel, allowing flight to her fantasies, caring nothing for accuracies of history, detail or context. Her publisher agrees to take on The Lady Irania with misgivings but it flies off the shelves and a new romantic novelist is born. Angel, already living the life of a grand novelist, writes a second and a third. This is Angel by Elizabeth Taylor. As well as the obvious interest for readers who are also novelists, this book is a wonderful study of a girl’s life, a girl who doesn’t take no for an answer, who grows into a woman who finds it impossible to accept advice or guidance from anyone. She learns to ignore the insults of the critics and relish her sales figures, whilst remaining separate from her readers. Elizabeth Taylor is a novelist with an acute observational eye and in Angel she has created a monster heroine:
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Categories: Book Love.

Cover design: a new look for ‘Ignoring Gravity’

As the two-year anniversary of Ignoring Gravity’s publication approaches, it seemed timely to give it a fresh look. Connectedness, second in the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series will be published next year and I was keen for both books to have a co-ordinated image. That meant finding a new designer for both books and also third in the series, Sweet Joy [currently evolving]. Below is the existing cover which has been an important part of my branding as a debut author. Enter cover designer Jessica Bell, who sent me a long and very detailed questionnaire. This was an instructive process and made me re-consider my own vision of the book, no doubt evolved now since publication in November 2014. Jessica says her questionnaire enables her to construct the ‘perfect cover without having to read the book.’ In particular she highlighted my phrase: Trees/leaves/roots/growth are a constant metaphor throughout the series for family history/family tree. I would like the covers for each of the books to have a common theme. Something simple. Jessica explains: ‘This really sparked my ideas for this cover as I very much like ‘simple’ as well. I find that the less a reader’s eye has to focus on
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Categories: Book design, Book Love and On Writing.