Monthly Archives December 2016

Family history: DNA test for ancestral connections

Just think how it would revolutionize family history research if a DNA test could tell us which regions of the UK we are descended from. Now a partnership of 100 DNA experts, Living DNA has compiled a database of results from the 2015 People of the British Isles project which created a genetic map of the UK. The Living DNA test compares a person’s genetic markers with those from 21 distinct areas of the UK, including Cornwall, Norfolk and North Wales. The results are then displayed on an online platform, where there is the option to identify connections with a further 59 worldwide regions. The results are shown on a map with a guide to how far back each component of genetic material comes from; this gives genealogists the chance to verify the DNA findings with traditional paper-based research. This post is inspired by an article in the November 2016 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here. Future novels in the ‘Identity Detective’ series will involve the use of DNA to find a missing relative. My heritage is in Yorkshire, my surname shared with a small Yorkshire village. So would my DNA point me to
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Categories: Family history research.

Book review: The Penny Heart

This is the sort of novel which creates a world into which you can sink. It is a story of revenge, cookery and two women in 18th century England, connected by one man. The story of The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey is told by the two women, who cannot be more different. It is about the nature of truth, the passage of time and the difficulty of deciphering the lies hidden within truth. In 1787 when Mary Jebb is caught playing a confidence trick on a young man, she is sentenced to the colonies. Before she leaves, she sends two pennies, each engraved with a promise, to the two men she blames for her fate. These are the penny hearts. In contrast, virtuous and timid Grace Moore marries handsome Michael Coxon in a property deal arranged by her father and husband. She soon learns that her husband is not what he seems. At the isolated and rundown Delafosse Hall she is lonely but finds a friend in her new cook, Peg. By halfway through I really didn’t want to put the book down and the last third runs along with an ingenious ending that was impossible to foresee. Whose
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Categories: Book design.

Book review: Fair Exchange

This story by English/French author Michèle Roberts starts with a woman dying, she has a secret to confess. We must wait until almost the end of the book to find out the truth. In a village near Paris, Louise is dying, it is the early 1800s, after the French Revolution and during the subsequent English/French war. Fair Exchange is the story of that secret, of Louise’s part in it and how she impacts on the lives of two other women, one English one French. In an Author’s Note, Roberts explains the inspiration for the story: William Wordsworth’s love affair, at the beginning of the French Revolution, with Annette Vallon. This is not a true account, it is historical fiction about the romances of two couples – English poet William Saygood and Annette Villon [note the mis-spelling], and Jemima Boote [sketchily based on Mary Wollstonecraft] and Frenchman Paul Gilbert. Roberts’ telling of the story combines the detail of poverty at that time – the grinding daily life of Louise and her mother Amalie in the village of Saintange-sur-Seine near Paris – with sumptuous description. Louise is picking plums: ‘The plums were so ripe that they fell into her hands. They smelled
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 17 Stairs to Who Knows Where #writingprompt #amwriting

A spiral sweeping upwards to the sky, a slope to stride up and run down, flushed by the heat of the sun and blinded by reflections. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC photo to beat writers’ block – it could be used for a historical, timeslip or science fiction short story. Imagine… You are walking up the walkway at the Reichstag in Berlin, a guidebook is in your right hand, your right hand is pressed to the earphone in your ear as you listen to the audio guide; You imagine the craftsmen who built the original building, and the men who built the modern extension. The building was finished in 1894 after 10 years of construction. In 1994, architect Sir Norman Foster re-designed the damaged building and added the glass dome. As you stand and look at the view across Berlin, a Tall Man brushes past you, hurrying upstairs. Beneath his arm he carries large rolls of parchment. He is in a rush, his brow is sweaty. Outside, the Tiergarten is full of summer visitors. Overhead, you hear the drone of an airplane. It is a loud, guttural noise, unlike a modern airliner. The engine stutters,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Pale as the Dead

This is an unusual mix of genealogy mystery and history, centred on the glamorous Pre-Raphaelite artists and Lizzie Siddal, the girl in the famous ‘Ophelia’ painting. Ancestry detective Natasha Blake meets a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Bethany, who is re-enacting the Lizzie Siddal scene for a photographer. Bethany confides in Natasha her fear that her family is cursed following the deaths of her sister and mother. After asking Natasha to research her family tree, Bethany goes missing. Has she run from a failing love affair, committed suicide, or has she been murdered? The trail is cold. Natasha must turn detective in two senses: she searches the birth, marriage and death records, census returns and wills, to find Natasha’s ancestors; at the same time, she is being followed by someone driving a red Celica. Adam, the photographer, is also Bethany’s boyfriend but Natasha feels there is more to his story than he is telling. The narrative wandered rather from the central story, complicated unnecessarily by Natasha’s own history and love life which added little. Perhaps this could have been avoided by telling part of the story from Lizzie Siddal’s point of view. There were so many peripheral characters, both in the
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

My Porridge & Cream Read: Jane Lambert

Today I’m delighted to welcome contemporary women’s novelist & actress Jane Lambert, whose Porridge & Cream book is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” When I was about fifteen my mum gave me a copy of her favourite book, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It is my Porridge & Cream read and makes me think of her. The book opens in Monte Carlo, where the heroine (we never know her name) meets and marries widower Maxim de Winter after a whirlwind courtship. He whisks her away to Manderley, his Gothic mansion in Cornwall. The new bride soon discovers there are dark secrets lurking in Manderley and that the memory of the first Mrs de Winter, the beautiful and witty Rebecca, is very much alive. Maxim spends more and more time away on business, leaving the second Mrs de Winter alone with her insecurities and the creepy housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who resents her taking the place of her adored Rebecca. When the boat in which Rebecca supposedly drowned is raised, we learn that things are not as they seem: the perfect Rebecca was promiscuous and wicked and made Maxim’s life a misery, driving him to shoot
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Taunting the Dead

The first in the Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton series, Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt hits the ground with a bang. Literally, the murder victim has her head bashed in. Nine out of ten murders are committed by someone who knows the victim, unfortunately for DS Shenton, the husband of the victim is a local businessman/crook. Unfortunately, too, that Allie and Terry Ryder seem to have some sexual chemistry going on. And the third unfortunate thing is that Terry has an alibi. Steph Ryder is killed on a girls night out, then the story retreats to show her life in the days before she is killed. An abrasive alcoholic, she has few friends and has arguments with her husband and daughter Kirstie. She is also having an affair with one of her husband’s employees. Not a clever thing to do. The Ryders flash the cash around and accumulate enemies. At one point it seems as if practically everyone has a motive for killing her. This is a full-on read without pause so if you want a book to keep you reading through a boring journey, then this is the one for you. The action is brutal and unremitting and the pages
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Murder at Catmmando Mountain

I nearly gave up on this in the first few pages, and what an error that would have been. I am a novice to #cozymysteries that genre of crime/mystery stories which exclude violence and graphic gory details. Cozy mysteries are about character and quick-moving plot rather than bangs and flashes. Anna Celeste Burke is an American writer specializing in the genre. So, why did I almost stop reading Murder at Catmmando Mountain? It might be a journalist’s thing, but I don’t like to be told too much information upfront. But once I got past the bit about who Georgie Shaw is – she’s the narrator with a smart voice who works in PR at a tourist attraction, Marvellous Marley World, based on the cartoon characters of tycoon Max Marley – the action starts in chapter two. Then the fun starts. Early one morning, a body is found. Not just any body, a dead body. The body of Mallory Marley, obnoxious daughter of Max Marley. Lying next to the body, and dipped in Mallory’s blood, is Georgie’s scarf. Georgie, who recently moved to the PR department from Food and Beverage rather than take retirement, is forced to consider her life in
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 92… ‘Back When we were Grown-Ups’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. She was fifty-three years old by then – a grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colourful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady. Give her credit: most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes. What’s done is done, they would say. No use trying to alter things at this late date. It did occur to Rebecca to say that. But she didn’t.” ‘Back When We Were Grown-Ups’ by Anne Tyler Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Couples’ by John Updike  ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey  ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami    This is my old Chatto & Windus paperback edition, 2001 Read my reviews of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS by Anne Tyler #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Tg
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Under A Pole Star

In 1883, twelve-year-old Flora Mackie is taken by her father, captain of the Vega, a whaling ship, to the Arctic. She returns to the Arctic as a young woman, a meteorologist, heading her own expedition. ‘Under a Pole Star’ by Stef Penney is Flora’s story and that of the troubled 1891 Armitage-de Beyn expedition to Greenland. The story starts in 1948 as an American group leaves New Jersey, the purpose unclear. Onboard the plane are scientists, air force men, a television crew, a journalist, and Flora Mackie. The Snow Queen. What unfolds is the story of the two rival expeditions: the British, told by Flora, and the American, told by Jakob de Beyn, geologist with the Armitage party. It is quite a while before there is even a hint of what the controversy may be. Until then, we follow the lives of Flora in Dundee and London, and Jakob in New York, as they grow from children to adults. Finally the separate Greenland expeditions set off, unaware of each other. When Flora and Jake meet in Greenland in 1892 there is a spark between them. At this point I was unsure what the book was about – Arctic exploration, romance,
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Surely every child and adult knows the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or has seen a film version. I remember receiving the LP [below] of a musical production for Christmas as a child and being enchanted. Perhaps it is a story we think we know, but re-reading may surprise us. Listen to my British musical version of the story, featuring Dirk Bogarde, Tommy Cooper, Beryl Reid and Frankie Howerd, at You Tube. The story Bored and drowsy one afternoon, a young girl called Alice notices a white rabbit, wearing a waistcoat. She follows him and falls down a rabbit hole, entering a fantasy world where she encounters fantastical creatures. She is questioned by a caterpillar smoking a hookah, plays croquet using a live flamingo, and attends the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. When Alice awakes, it seems that Wonderland was a dream. The American first edition  This is a first edition, second issue book featuring 41 illustrations by John Tenniel and published in New York by D Appleton and Co in 1866. The issue consisted of 1,000 copies. The selling price is $9750. The current UK edition Lewis Carroll’s Alice has been enchanting children for 150 years. Curious
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Categories: Book Love.