Monthly Archives November 2016

Book review: The French Lesson

This is an entertaining account of Henrietta Lightfoot’s time in the Paris of 1792 during the French Revolution, a period of which my knowledge is scanty. The French Lesson is a women’s story told with authority by social historian Hallie Rubenhold, at a time when the new order replaced the old and changed women’s lives in the process. Years after the event, Hettie writes her account of what happened at the request of a benefactor. As the novel opens, she is living in Brussels with the love of her life, George Allenham, 4th Baron Allenham of Herberton, expecting to be married and so calling herself Mrs Allenham. But when Allenham’s mysterious work takes him to Paris, he does not return. She receives a letter from him saying Paris is dangerous and though he must stay there for his work, she must return to England for her safety. But Hettie follows her heart to Paris. With the Revolution threatening, she is attacked, robbed, rescued and so finds herself indebted to Mrs Grace Elliot, an English woman who survives in Paris as a lover to rich important men. Hettie is drawn into this life too. The French Lesson is an enjoyable account of a fast-paced,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Deadly Descent

It all begins when West Kansas historian Lottie Albright receives a submission for her oral history project. Written by Zelda St John, aunt of political hopeful Brian Hadley, the piece examines torrid racist attitudes in the family’s history. This is the sort of book you settle into and read with relish. Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger is a mystery thriller which moves with steady detailed steps as the tension twists and twists like a screw being slowly turned. A first murder is followed rapidly by a second, Lottie is sworn in as a deputy and balances her twin jobs of detecting and collating historical records. The two jobs fit neatly together until anonymous letters start to arrive. Lottie is ably supported by her quiet long-suffering husband Keith, and her clinical psychologist twin sister Josie. Remember the twin thing, it is important later. Sam Abbott, sheriff of the woefully-underfunded Carlton County police, welcomes the resources of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and so distracts Lottie with research into an old dead case: the old Swenson murders. This feels like a massive diversion, but go with the flow of this book and you will be rewarded. Hinger plots intricately and draws a
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 91… ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.” ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis  ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve  ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by @SJ_Watson #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vw via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Museum of You

This novel by Carys Bray starts with a wonderful description of twelve-year-old Clover watering her father’s allotment on a hot summer’s day. It is the beginning of the summer holidays and it is the first time she has her own front door key and is allowed out on her own. I smelt the dust, could see the shimmering heat and feel the cool of the water splashing from the tap. It is not a book in which a lot happens; rather it is a sensitive portrait of a single father and his daughter and how the past refuses to be ignored. After a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Clover decides her holiday project will be to curate an exhibit of her mother. She has no memories of her mum, who died soon after Clover was born, and her father never talks about the past. Clover never used to mind about this, not wanting to press him and cause distress. But now, poised on the edge of womanhood, her curiosity mounts. And so she ventures into the spare bedroom, a repository of the unwanted and unused. Amongst the piles of old clothes and broken things, she discovers
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Another World

World War One, a speciality of Pat Barker, is present in every page of this tale of war veteran 101-year old Geordie, living through his final days with his grandson Nick. Woven through Geordie’s story are the threads of Nick’s life, his extended family involving wife, step son and half-siblings. In the modern day there are tensions between siblings, as there were between Geordie and his brother. Pat Barker is an author who does not flinch from showing the human reactions that in real life we prefer to hide: sibling jealousy, sibling hate and underlying it all, selfishness. How these emotions affect this family, from 101-year old Geordie to his great-grandson Jasper, a toddler, is fascinating and often a difficult read. A sideline from the main story is the life of the family who lived in the house where Nick has just moved with pregnant wife Fran, Fran’s son Gareth, and Fran and Nick’s son Jasper. Also visiting is Miranda, Nick’s daughter. I said the family ties were twisted. Tidying an overgrown rose on the wall of the house, Nick unveils a plaque labelled ‘Fanshawe’. This is the name of the family who lived in this house, Fanshawe made his
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Translation of Love

How to describe The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake? What a charming and unusual novel it is, if at some times a trifle confusing. The setting is unusual, post-war Tokyo when the country is being run by the US General MacArthur and at times it reminded me of Rhidian Brook’s wonderful The Aftermath set in post-war Berlin. It is about war and what it does to us, how a broken society can ever begin to heal, how the young will ever be able to live a normal life, when the word normal ceases to exist. Sensitively written, each page draws a picture of Tokyo from a different point of view – Aya, a Japanese-Canadian schoolgirl feels the odd one out in her new school; her classmate Fumi misses her elder sister who left home to find work; Sumiko has a job in a dance hall dancing with the GIs but is ashamed to tell her family what she is doing; Kondo Sensei, the teacher of the younger girls and also part-time translator and writer of letters; and Matt Matsumoto, the Japanese-American soldier who translates the letters sent to General MacArthur by Japanese citizens. Letters are an important tool in
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘On Turning Ten’

This is the second time this year I’ve chosen a poem by Billy Collins [below] but I make no apology. He had me by the second stanza [below], I was ten again having already been a champion showjumper and a soldier. 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. ‘On Turning Ten’ … At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible By drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince. I defy you to read this poem, and not remember when you also were ten.   ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes‘ by Billy Collins [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Poems’ by Ruth Stone And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘On Turning Ten’ by Billy Collins via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1YS SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: Jellyfish

Genre fiction can sometimes be a bit predictable but often that is why we buy it: because we know what we are getting and we become attached to the characters. Crime series in particular fit this description, but sometimes a new voice appears which is a little bit different. Jellyfish by Lev D Lewis is such a debut novel, featuring the Philip Marlowe-obsessed private investigator Frank Bale. Frank is a solicitor who lost his legal career because he liked the girls too much. Now he works as a PI but most often as a process server, tracking down individuals and giving them the legal papers they do not want to receive. But he longs to be a PI like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Classic detective fans will love this novel, I am sure there are loads of Marlowe references I missed. I love Frank’s wry turn of phrase, such as the goon who has a face ‘a bit wonky, like it had been painted on by children.’ But Frank doesn’t just have a smart mouth, there are hidden depths: he prefers the radio to television, he knows his Doric columns from his Ionic, but beneath the swagger is a gentle
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Sue Moorcroft

Today I’m delighted to welcome contemporary women’s novelist Sue Moorcroft. “I wish I still had my dad’s copy of A Town Like Alice. It was one of those Reader’s Digest leather-bound books, bright red with gold. Sadly, I lent it to someone. A Town Like Alice was the first adult book I read. I was nine. I watched the film one afternoon with Dad and he told me he had the book. As a bookworm, when the film finished the obvious thing to do was locate it in the bookcase and carry it off to my room. If I close my eyes I can still see the red ribbon to mark reading progress and the dark blue and white pattern on the inner cover. In A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute taught me a lot about storytelling. He showed me that a story arc doesn’t have to contain a mystery (Famous Five) or a school (Malory Towers) and can be set against the ugliness of war and yet contain one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. That love can triumph over seemingly impossible odds, even over man’s inhumanity to man. It taught me a lot about characters having
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin: PR supremo, city lady, now retired to the Cotswolds. Where she reaps havoc as a cross between Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and Hattie Jacques as Matron in the Carry On films. This is the fifth in the series by MC Beaton, and it is helpful to read them in order because of ongoing story threads. Agatha is about to get married and she can hardly believe her good luck. And that is the key to what happens next: Agatha’s [unfortunately not] ex-husband turns up, the wedding is off, and the ex is murdered. Agatha, suspected bigamist, is now a suspected murderer too. Plus, her fiancé has done a runner. So begins another murder hunt in which Agatha stumbles along, putting her foot in it, making mostly wrong but sometimes right assumptions, and generally stirring things up. In the course of which she reviews her first marriage, and her second marriage which never happened: had she really been in love at all? These are formulaic, fantastic, funny novels that I cannot resist reading. Read my reviews here of the first four Agatha Raisin mysteries:- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death AR#1 Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet AR#2
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 16 St James Park, polite notice #writingprompt #amwriting

When you live in a place, you cease to see things. We all become victims of subjective vision. Try looking around you, at your everyday scene, as if you were a stranger. Take an ordinary object and start writing. Here’s a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. This is a sign from London’s St James Park, discouraging cyclists from leaving their bicycles. Try this scenario:- You are a student on holiday in London, this is your first visit; Choose a nationality, and decide how much English you can a) speak and b) read; You have your own bike and need to leave it unattended in the park, outside a park building for some reason [you decide what]; Do you ask for help? Ignore the sign? Walk away? Perhaps a passer-by stops to help? And what happens as a result of your actions? Are you arrested? Is your bike stolen? Write 500 words based on this photograph. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Beach Plastic bag Anonymous People 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,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Vinegar Girl [The Taming of the Shrew Retold]

I love Anne Tyler’s writing. It is so simple and under-stated. She lets you slip so easily into the head and the world of her characters. This is her re-working of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Generally I dislike these artificial re-writes, but I made an exception for Tyler. After this, I may try some of the others. Kate is a pre-school teaching assistant and housekeeper for her distracted scientist father and teenage sister. She is dissatisfied with her life, can never seem to get things right, but doesn’t know how to change things. Admonished by her headmistress for being too frank with her young charges, she is not in the best of moods when her father introduces her to his lab assistant, Pytor. He seems a lumbering foreigner and Kate does not understand her father’s eagerness that they meet. Pytor has a problem, his work visa is about to expire and he must leave the country. Kate’s father is frantic, he simply cannot lose his irreplaceable assistant or his research project into autoimmune disorders will fail when it is so near success. What happens next is predictable except Tyler turns Shakespeare’s tale of Katherina and Petruchio into a
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Categories: Book Love.