Monthly Archives August 2018

Book review: Nucleus

Summer 1939. Germany has invaded Czechoslovakia. Jews desperate to flee Nazi persecution queue outside embassies in Berlin in the hope of getting a visa, while sending their children on Kindertransport to Britain. In the UK, the IRA’s bombing campaign continues. Scientists in Europe and America are researching atomic fission, and also at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. It is a vulnerable, combustible time. This is the setting for Nucleus by Rory Clements, second in his trilogy of history professor and amateur spy, Tom Wilde. In the first book in the series, Corpus, Tom Wilde was more an amateur detective. In Nucleus, the stakes are higher, war is imminent, spies are everywhere and so are traitors. The problem is, they look like friends. Asked by none other than the US president Franklin D Roosevelt to be a ‘clear and unbiased voice’ for him on research at the Cavendish, Wilde is drawn into a world of American millionaires, a Hollywood actress, champagne, tennis parties and horseracing. And then one of the Cavendish physicists, a withdrawn, complicated genius due to move to the USA to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam. Was he killed because he had unlocked the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding is another between-the-wars comedy of manners by Nancy Mitford. With scathing observation at times as sharp as Jane Austen, Mitford introduces a new character, Lord Lewes: ‘He was tall, very correctly dressed in a style indicating the presence of money rather than of imagination, and had a mournful, thin, eighteenth-century face.’ This is her second novel and features some of the personalities featured in her first, Highland Fling, though familiarity with the first is not essential for enjoyment. The action takes place over one month around Christmas, the pudding of the title refers to Mitford’s mixture of personalities in two house parties in the Cotswold countryside. Paul Fotheringay, whose debut literary novel has been heralded as a comic farce, is desperate to escape London and find inspiration for his next book. Wanting to be taken seriously as an author, he settles on a biography of Victorian poet, Lady Maria Bobbin. When he is refused access to the diaries by the current Lady Bobbin he conjures a plot with her teenage son Bobby to masquerade as Bobby’s tutor over the Christmas holidays and so gain secret access to the diaries. And so Paul becomes part of a love triangle
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous people, reading… Johnny Depp

Sitting in a bar, American actor Johnny Depp seems engrossed in his book. The edition of Hell’s Angels that Johnny is reading looks like a first edition [below] published in 1966 in the USA by Random House. It is a close-up look at a Hell’s Angels motor cycle club at a time when the gang was highly feared and accused of numerous criminal activities. It was Thompson’s first non-fiction book, but the book for which he is best known [and the film in which he was portrayed by Depp] is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, published in 1971. The film for which Depp is most likely preparing, by reading all Thompson’s books, was released in 1998 and directed by Python, Terry Gilliam. Gilliam also co-wrote the screenplay. Described as a black comedy road movie, Depp plays Raoul Duke alongside Benicio del Toro as Dr Gonzo. Watch the trailer here.   ‘Hell’s Angels’ by Hunter S Thompson [UK: Penguin Modern Classics] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Gregory Peck Madonna James Patterson And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous people, reading… Johnny Depp #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-38H via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ 99p #KindleCountdown promotion

Nothing to read for the Bank Holiday weekend? Sitting in the back garden and want a new book to read? Why not download Ignoring Gravity at Amazon UK. It’s only 99p this weekend, which is quite a #KindleCountdown bargain when you think the paperback costs £9.99. You’ll love it if you like the novels of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore. A mystery with a bit of romantic suspense and a contemporary storyline. DOES YOUR FAMILY HAVE SECRETS? REALLY? ARE YOU SURE? IGNORING GRAVITY, the debut novel by Yorkshire author Sandra Danby, is a compelling story about an ordinary family with a secret. Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. The day she finds her mother’s hidden diary is the day she starts to search for who she really is. A story about identity, adoption, family mystery and ultimately of love, IGNORING GRAVITYconnects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. As Rose untangles the truth from the lies, she begins to understand why she has always felt so different from her sister Lily. Here’s what readers are saying about IGNORING GRAVITY: “It took me a little bit to get into the book, but once
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

My Porridge & Cream read: Jackie Baldwin

Today I’m delighted to welcome Scottish crime writer Jackie Baldwin. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. “The book that has never failed to delight and soothe me over the years is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I must have been in my early teens when I first read it and so embarking on a turbulent adolescence of my own alongside those of the March girls. At a girls school and with no brothers, the world of boys was something of a mystery to me too so I loved the character of Laurie and the subtle shifts and turns in his relationships with all the girls over the scope of the novels. “I have had many copies of the book over the years but this one [above] is my favourite as it contains all three books in the series. Part of its enduring appeal for me is the characters who are all just flawed enough to make them endearingly frail and human. My favourite character is Jo who is unruly and tempestuous and rails against the confines of poverty and the expectation that women should conform to the domestic role expected of them rather than pursue any
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Whistle in the Dark

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey begins with an ending; a sixteen-year old girl, lost in the Peak District, has been found and is in hospital with her parents. Healey tells the story of the aftermath as Jen, Lana’s mother, tries desperately to unravel the truth of what happened to her daughter. In the face of Lana’s reluctance to speak, Jen’s desperation evolves into obsession and the story circles into myth, obfuscation and misunderstanding. For the reader, there is a lot to unravel. Told entirely from Jen’s POV, by halfway through I was beginning to question Jen’s state of mind and whether she was an unreliable narrator. There is a lot of smoke and shadows in the telling of this story, interwoven with the crystals of Jen’s friend Grace, the fibs of Lana’s schoolfriend Bethany, the pragmatic questioning and Instagram comments by Jen’s mother Lily, and Jen’s fertile imagination. There were times when it felt a little like being whizzed around in a washing machine. But through it all shines Healey’s ability to draw pictures with words, “The heavy summer foliage that lined the motorway seemed to have taken on its own light, as if the sun had splintered
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Rebecca

Never out of print, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is loved for its opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It is a timeless combination of romance, jealousy, intimidation, mystery & death. First published in 1938 it was an immediate hit and sold nearly 3 million copies between 1938 and 1965. Ultimately, there are a lot of secondhand editions out there. It has been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, German, Portugese, Spanish, Persian, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Greek, Latvian, Dutch and Czech. That’s quite a list.  This first UK edition [above right] comes with a Menabilly headed letter from du Maurier which briefly discusses her Christmas and New Year, and is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Daphne du Maurier’. Rare, it is for sale [at time of going to press] by John Atkinson Books for £2,750. The story A naïve young woman marries wealthy older widower Maxim. When he takes her to his home, Manderley, the unnamed narrator, the young wife, learns about the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. Housekeeper Mrs Danvers continually tries to undermine the second Mrs de Winter, showing her contempt for the young woman, her inefficiency, her mousiness, her naivety. Believing Maxim still
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Poor Caroline

I can’t help but think this novel would be helped by a better title. Poor Caroline is such a negative sounding title for this, the fourth novel by Yorkshire author Winifred Holtby. From the first page, it is clear this is a fond but sharp satire of the inter-war years showing how the expectations of people can on the surface appear aligned but in reality are self-serving. Caroline Denton-Smyth, honorary secretary of the Christian Cinema Company, works hard in the belief that her company is doing good. But the people on the board of directors each have their own reason for being involved with the company, reasons that are not admitted and which diverge hugely from Caroline’s intentions. One hopes to leverage connections with the chairman to gain entrance for his son to Eton. Another wishes to sell his new type of film. Caroline has so many ideas but little success. At the age of 72 she has no money and is dependent on loans from long-suffering relatives. But she is always hopeful. This is the story of Caroline, her fellow directors, and the Christian Cinema Company. Holtby tells the story of each person in turn so the full picture, and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Skull Beneath the Skin

A classic closed room whodunit, The Skull Beneath the Skin is the second of only two Cordelia Gray private detective mysteries by PD James. I wonder why she didn’t write more? Gray’s fledgling detective agency is relying on finding missing cats when Sir George Ralston arrives unannounced to request Gray ensure the safety of his actress wife, Clarissa Lisle, at her next performance. Lisle has been receiving threatening letters and worries about freezing on stage. Sir George seems unconvinced of Clarissa’s danger. ‘The job I’m offering is a mixture of functions. You’d be part bodyguard, part private secretary, part investigator and part – well, nursemaid.’ Which sounds unpromising but the job pays well. So Cordelia leaves for Courcy Island, location of an amateur private performance of The Duchess of Malfi in which Lisle will play the starring role. As with all James’ novels, there is a delicious laying of pragmatic fact about those in attendance mixed with literary references and poetry. Of course, Clarissa Lisle is murdered. The police arrive and Cordelia finds herself one of the suspects. There is the usual ragbag of potential murderers. The cuckolded husband; the dying former lover; the pampered stepson; the unsuccessful sister; the silent and
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 31 Clock at Waterloo Station #writingprompt #amwriting

Time marches onwards. What if you could stop it… for a minute, for an hour? Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things. What might happen if time were to stop, to pause… for a moment, a minute, an hour, a day? What would the consequences be? How would this affect one person? Where does it happen? Does time stop just for this person, or for everyone? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Beware danger from high tides beyond Moon rocks These feet were made for walking  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 are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Corpus

It is 1936. The Spanish civil war is in full swing. A constitutional crisis looms as Edward VIII considers abdicating in order to marry the woman he loves. Corpus by Rory Clements starts in Berlin as a young Englishwoman slips away from a friend to deliver a secret package to an unnamed man. Soon after, Nancy Hereward is dead. It is Nancy’s death which makes Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde ask questions, awkward questions which lead him to uncover conspiracy, lies, and pre-war positioning by Stalin and Hitler. Wilde makes an interesting amateur detective. For one, he is American with a different reading of human nature; he sits on the fence and observes. For another, he is a professor of history; he analyses and looks for proof rather than opinion. And third, he has a cool motorcycle that he uses to cross the fens and investigate isolated country houses. The story starts rather slowly as Clements fleshes out various groups involved without letting the reader know how these people are connected, and who is traitorous. There is one out-and-out baddie, another who looks like a baddie but possibly isn’t, and a journalist who may or not be a spy or
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 109… ‘Sea Glass’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite. The door is mackereled, paint-chipped – green or black, it is hard to tell. Above the knocker. There are panes of glass, some broken and others opaque with age. Overhead is a portico of weathered shingles and beyond that a milk-and-water sky. Honora pinches the lapels of her suit together and holds her hat against the wind. She peers at the letter B carved into the knocker and thinks, This is the place where it all begins.” ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis Read my review of The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book Review: Days Without End

There is not a word out of place in this harrowing and beautiful tale of love, war, duty and sacrifice. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry deservedly had award success in 2016/2017. I already knew Barry could write about war, having read and loved A Long Long Way set in the Great War. What is different about Days Without End is the relationship between Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Barry tells the epic story of the Indian and Civil wars in America, combined with a heart-stopping tale of love. The story is the first person narrative of Thomas, an Irish émigré fleeing the Irish famine. He arrives in a young America with so many disparate groups, contrasted and never seeming to connect: men, women; officers, foot soldiers; gay, straight; white, black; American, Irish immigrant; army, native Indian; north, south. Barry does not shy from telling the reality of the American wars, the brutality, the atrocities of army against Indians and vice versa; but also the comradeship and solidity of men fighting alongside each other. There is betrayal on both sides, brutality on both sides, and soldiers hating and turning on each other. At the core of this though is the story
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Categories: Book Love.