Monthly Archives December 2017

Book review: How To Stop Time

How To Stop Time is another hugely inventive novel by Matt Haig with a thoughtful message about identity. Tom Hazard is a history teacher with a difference. He can talk authoritatively about the Great Fire of London, because he was there; about Shakespeare, because he met him; about witchfinders, because he was terrorised by one. Tom Hazard is 439 years old but he looks forty one. When he was thirteen, the process of ageing slowed down. Tom and his mother are protestant Huguenot refugees in England when their life falls apart; his impossibly youthful looks draw accusations of witchery. We see snapshots of Tom’s past life as he teaches history to bored teenagers in London. And all the time he struggles with the past, so much so that he is unable to live in the present. So he exists, rather than lives, changing his identity to survive and losing sight of who he is. This is a fascinating study of humankind, our development through history and inability to learn from what went before. Tom encounters threats and suspicions in the 21st century. Is he safe? Is a sinister bio-tech company searching for albas – short for ‘albatross’, ie long-lived –
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a delight, the page-turning story of a disappeared teenager whose experience was something I did not expect. An excellent un-thriller; that’s a phrase I use after giving it some thought. This is not a psychological thriller in that it is frightening. It didn’t make my pulse race with a sense of danger, but it did make me very curious. Ellie Mack is fifteen the day she fails to come home from the library, she is due to take her GCSE examinations the following week. She is a clever student, a golden girl. But she disappears, never to be seen again. Life goes on. Except it doesn’t for her family, each being trapped in some way by Ellie’s absence. Until ten years later when Ellie’s mum Lauren, now divorced, meets a nice bloke in a café. Her ex, Paul, has a new partner and so do Ellie’s siblings. Laurel is the one who is really stuck, visiting her elderly mother bed-ridden after a stroke. Then she meets Floyd and his daughters Poppy and SJ, and she blossoms. I would like to say from the beginning I had unsettling feelings of the ‘that’s not
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 104… ‘The Rainmaker’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“My decision to become a lawyer was irrevocably sealed when I realized by father hated the legal profession. I was a young teenager, clumsy, embarrassed by my awkwardness, frustrated with life, horrified of puberty, about to be shipped off to a military school by my father for insubordination. He was an ex-Marine who believed boys should live by the crack of the whip. I’d developed a quick tongue and an aversion to discipline, and his solution was simply to send me away. It was years before I forgave him.” ‘The Rainmaker’ by John Grisham  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor ‘Lord Jim’ by Joseph Conrad ‘A Severed Head’ by Iris Murdoch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE RAINMAKER by @JohnGrisham http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vd #books via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Anderby Wold

Winifred Holtby was born seven miles from where I was born and I have always felt a connection with her, forged primarily by reading South Riding as a teenager and reinforced by re-reading and two television series. And she also did what I wanted to do; she left the Yorkshire Wolds and became a writer. But until now, I am ashamed to say, I had not read her earlier novels. Anderby Wold is her first; published in 1923 it is a portrayal of a Yorkshire Wolds village in the first years of the twentieth century. I was struck by the similarity to Jane Austen: both focus on the personalities, tensions, the pettiness, resentments and emotions of small communities, and both combine acute social observations with sharp humour. The novel opens with a family party at the farm, Anderby Wold, as Mary Robson and John, her husband of ten years and also her cousin, are celebrating a decade of hard work and penny pinching to clear the mortgage on the farm they had inherited. We are introduced to Mary and the family from the viewpoint of John’s sister, the spiteful Sarah. If ever there was a negative first chapter that makes
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Escape

The Escape by CL Taylor fairly gallops along without time to take a deep breath. It is a tale of escape, pursuit, lies, vulnerability, long-hidden secrets and selfishness. At times I didn’t know which character to believe and I didn’t particularly like any of them. I wanted to sit them down at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits, and bang their heads together. There appear to be so many lies it is difficult to sift out the truth, which became a little frustrating after a while. In the end, there are many types of escape. Jo and Max have a toddler daughter Elise. Max, an investigative journalist, has just completed a long-running story which resulted in a conviction, and he is jubilant. Jo, who became agoraphobic after the loss of their first child Henry, lives from day to day, her small world surrounding Elise. Jo feels Max is less sympathetic to her condition than he used to be. Max tries to be patient but is finding it increasingly difficult. Into this fragile world steps Paula, a stranger, who threatens Jo and Elise. The first crack appears as Max doubts Jo’s judgement of the
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Categories: Book Love.

How Jilly Cooper writes

Jilly Cooper: “You have to be very careful not to use real people’s names by mistake, as they might sue you if they behave badly in the story… I find it safer to use towns and villages for surnames.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, May 15, 2017] Like Jilly, I like to use a road atlas to choose character names. Other useful sources are books of baby names, plants, trees, astrology, astronomy, and a world atlas. To avoid misunderstandings, it is wise to avoiding using a name which belongs to family or friends. Here are some quick rules:- Use alliterative initials: Bilbo Baggins, Severus Snape. If you are writing a historical novel, make sure your chosen name is correct for the era. Check your cast of characters to avoid the repetitive use of first initials, and vary the number of syllables. Say the name aloud, remember your book may become an audio book. Check the origins of the name and root meanings. If necessary, change the name or amend character traits and background appropriately. Adapt a name by combining two elements, for example Burton [village] and colour [green] to make Greenburton. Keep your names realistic, add a John
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: Girl in Trouble

Funny, sad and believable: Girl in Trouble by Rhoda Baxter is the third in her Smart Girls series and, though some of the characters have cameo appearances throughout the series, can be read alone. Which is what I did, quickly, particularly enjoying the second half of the story. I was worried that the first chapter, in which we meet Olivia at a stag night, meant the book would be too chick lit for me but as the story progresses the themes become darker and complex. Olivia is thirty, relationship-phobic and surrounded by friends. She is quite independent, thank you very much and does not need a man to look after her. She has never been in love, never allowed herself to be in love and knows this dislike/distrust of men can be traced back to her father who left her and her mother when she was a child. She also has a health issue that makes pregnancy a big risk, though to be honest I was a little in the dark about the specifics of this. Instead she is a serial one-night girlfriend. When she falls accidentally pregnant, Olivia thinks the decision to have an abortion is straightforward and sensible.
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Tulips’

Anyone who enjoys gardening understands this poem, the feeling of planning for a garden of the future, digging, sowing, hoping, and then the temporary feeling of joy when the flowers appear. To be replaced again by the annual cycle of planning, digging and sowing. Wendy Cope obviously has a garden. 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. ‘Tulips’ Months ago, I dreamed of a tulip garden, Planted, waited, watched for their first appearance, Saw them bud, saw greenness give way to colours, Just as I’d planned them.   ‘If I Don’t Know’ by Wendy Cope [UK: Faber]  Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘The Boy Tiresias’ by Kate Tempest ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Towers ‘Elegy of a Common Soldier’ by Dennis B Wilson And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Tulips’ by Wendy Cope http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Uo via @SandraDanby SaveSave
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: The Travelers

What a non-stop ride this is. I resented everything which made me put this book down. The Travelers by Chris Pavone is a spy thriller about an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job who finds himself in an extraordinary position. It reminded me a little of Robert Redford in the film Three Days of the Condor. Travel writer Will works for New York-based Travelers, a luxury travel magazine. Married to Chloe, who works as a freelance for the same magazine, they live in a rundown money-pit in Brooklyn. Things change in a short space of time. On a press trip in France, Will flirts outrageously with an Australian journalist and goes home, relieved he didn’t succumb to temptation. But on his next press trip to the wine area of Argentina, Elle is there again and this time they do have sex. Except Elle isn’t what she says she is, her name isn’t Elle and she isn’t Australian. She gives Will a choice. Cooperate, supply information about his contacts and people he writes about, or else he will be exposed to his boss Malcolm and to Chloe. And so he cooperates. The action is rapid. Some sections – identified only by
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Margaret Skea

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Margaret Skea. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. “When I was a child, the lady next door had a wonderful library of children’s books and I could borrow as many as I wanted. So over about 18 months I read lots of full sets, including all 12 Swallows and Amazons and the 10 ‘Anne’ books. Both series have remained favourites, but if I have to make a choice of just one it has to be the first of the ‘Anne’ books. “We used to foster children, and Anne of Green Gables was a wonderful story either to read to them or watch with them. It has so many resonances for their circumstances and such a positive ending. I vividly remember one child stopping me half-way through, saying, ‘Please tell me this ends well, or I can’t bear to hear any more.’ The plot involves an elderly couple who, intending to adopt a boy to help on their farm, are sent a girl instead. Despite their initial misgivings and her capacity for getting into scrapes, they keep her. I usually re-read the book or watch the film
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Great Opening Paragraph 103… ‘The Guest Cat’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.” ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Couples’ by John Updike ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE GUEST CAT by Takashi Hiraide #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xk
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.