Monthly Archives March 2019

A poem to read in the bath… ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’

John Betjeman is an English poet so identified with his times and interests. Born in 1906, his family ran a firm in the East End of London making furniture and household items distinctive to Victorians. Betjeman remained fascinated by Victoriana, its architecture, English nature and society, and this is evident in his poetry. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society, and became Poet Laureate in 1972. In his introduction to his collection Slick But Not Streamlined, published in 1947, he wrote of himself ‘so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.’ I read ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ on a freezing cold February morning, in a public library in West London. It was the sort of day on which you doubt you will ever be warm again. In a few words, I forgot my surroundings and was with Betjeman on a spring day. 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. ‘Belbroughton Road is bonny, and pinkly bursts the spray Of prunus and forsythia across the public way, For a full spring-tide of blossom
Read More

Categories: Poetry.

#Bookreview ‘The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by @sophiehannahCB1 #crime #mystery

I am not a great lover of continuation series, books written by a new author after the death of the much-loved originator. It seems a cynical moneymaking move and I fear it will ruin my love of the original author’s books. I grew up loving Agatha Christie and have not, until now, been tempted to read the new Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah. But about to go on holiday, feeling tired and longing for something familiar but new, I picked up The Mystery of Three Quarters. And what a delight it is. The story starts as Poirot is challenged in turn by four strangers, each accusing him of naming them as a murderer. Affronted that fraudulent letters have been sent in his name, Poirot sets out to investigate. He suspects however that the supposed victim Barnabas Pandy does not exist. But Pandy does exist, or did, for 94-year old Barnabas Pandy is dead, drowned in his bath. Told by Poirot’s police sidekick, Inspector Edward Catchpool, this is a clever and mystifying story of Pandy, his two grand-daughters, and long-buried guilt and shame. Hannah writes with ease and I slipped seamlessly into loving and believing in her Poirot. As with all
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Famous #writers, reading… @StephenKing

Tripwire, Lee Child’s third book in the Jack Reacher series, is keeping Stephen King’s attention from whatever game he’s watching. Perhaps basketball? As any true reader knows, it is torture to put down a book to go out when really you just want to read to the end. And Stephen is very near the end. There are 23 books to date in the Jack Reacher series, I wonder how many Stephen has read now? Stephen is reading an American Penguin edition [above] with a distinctive cover.   ‘Tripwire’ by Lee Child Amazon UK See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Grace Kelly  Charles Dickens Gregory Peck And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, reading… @StephenKing picks up a @LeeChildReacher novel #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3AI via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘Down to the Woods’ by @mjarlidge #crimefiction

One thing you know to expect from a DI Helen Grace book; the first theory and suspect she comes up with will not be the killer, usually the second one isn’t either. And you believe her each time. So just when you are wondering who the killer can possibly be, the book races to its conclusion and you never guessed it though the clues are there. Down to the Woods is the eighth in the Grace series by MJ Arlidge. He is expert at twisting, turning, somersaulting the plot and part of the fun as a reader is figuring out the puzzle he has set. In the New Forest, campers are disappearing from their tents and being chased through the isolated woods before being killed. I didn’t dwell on the gruesome bits; I prefer the puzzle part of crime novels, the answers are always with the people. Apart from PD James and Susan Hill, this is the series of crime novels I keep on reading. Why? Because Helen Grace is an unusual heroine; she is strong but vulnerable, confident yet quaking inside, spiky but desperate for companionship. For the moment that support comes from her team. The secondary story of her
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ by Thomas Pynchon #oldbooks

I admit here that I read Thomas Pynchon’s post-modern novella The Crying of Lot 49 at university and enjoyed it without really understanding it. First published in 1966, it tells the story of Oedipa Maas and what happens after her ex-partner dies. Pynchon had fun creating wonderful character names, so unusual and clever they reminded me of Charles Dickens – Oedipa’s partner is Pierce Inverarity, her husband is Wendell “Mucho” Maas, Oedipa’s lawyer Metzger works for Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, and in a bar she meets Mike Fallopian. The plot is labyrinthine, it is a Marmite book, love it or hate it, and I suspects features on many people’s lists of unfinished books. It does, however, have some interesting cover design. The first edition in the USA was published by JB Lippincott & Co [above]. The current Vintage Classics edition [below] was published in 1996. Buy here The story In brief, Oedipa’s ex partner Pierce has died and she is named as co-executor of his will. The catalyst to the story is her discovery of a set of stamps which may, or may not, have been used by a secret underground postal delivery system called the Trystero. As she travels
Read More

Categories: Book design and Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: LM Milford @lmmilford #books #crimefiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer LM Milford. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. “My Porridge and Cream novel is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. I think it may even be the first Agatha Christie book I read and began my love affair with her writing. It’s the book I pick when I’m feeling tired and want something easy to read. I almost wrote ‘simple to read’ but of course Christie’s plots are never simple. The copy I have is old and battered and I think bought from a second-hand bookshop while browsing. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I read it, but it’s probably back in my early teens and it helped me to find the writing genre where I belong. “Miss Marple is one of my favourite characters. She looks like a fluffy old lady but underneath that outward appearance is a core of steel and a very quick brain. I love the way she solves the crime by using just her wits and her experiences of living in a quiet country village. Her knowledge of the psychology of human behaviour is what makes her so formidable. I also love Lucy Eyelesbarrow, quietly competent and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Horseman’ by Tim Pears #historical #Devon

The Horseman by Tim Pears is an account of the slow, meandering life on an estate farm in rural Devon. It is 1911 when, for modern readers, the sinking of the Titanic is not far away and the Great War looms. Two children, born into very different worlds, grow up not far apart; both have a strong love of horses. This novel is billed as a coming-of-age tale but it is also a description of rural farming methods. Told in a month-by-month format, the seasons unfold in a remote Devon valley where the passing of time is marked by the weather and the tasks undertaken on the farm. There is a long list of characters and at the beginning I confused who was who, but gradually they settled into their roles. Leopold Sercombe is the youngest son of the master carter working on the tenant farm of a large estate. He longs to escape school every day to run home and help his father with the horses; these are working animals, cart horses and cobs, they are almost characters. We are there as Noble gives birth; as Leo’s father shares one of the secrets of his trade, the use of dried
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#GuestPost ‘Short Story Talk’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories #amwriting

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! “There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row. “It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.” “As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘When All Is Said’ by Anne Griffin @AnneGriffin_ #Irish

This book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry. Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Family history: was your relative a detective?

If there is a record of your early 20th century relatives serving in the police, don’t miss the accounts from 1902-1909 of Frederick Wensley [below]. A British police officer from 1888-1929, he was head of ‘H’ Division in the East End of London before becoming chief constable at Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Department. If you want to know what the job of a detective in Edwardian London was like, read Fred Wensley’s notebooks. When he retired in 1929, Wensley told his story including serialisations of his major cases in the Sunday Express in 1930. He also wrote his own memoir in 1931, Detective Days, retitled 40 Years of Scotland Yard [below] for publication in New York. While serving in Whitechapel, Wensley was involved in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders, a still unidentified serial killer in East London in 1888. The Ripper’s victims were women, female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End [see the map below]. Their throats were cut and their bodies mutilated. The Ripper case aside, Wensley’s notebooks are probably most valuable for the glimpse they give of life before the Great War. Crimes mentioned include murder, housebreaking, theft, running an illegal gaming house, stealing alcohol,
Read More

Categories: Family history research.

#BookReview ‘The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

In 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, The Almanack. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come. Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s Vox Stellarum, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 114… ‘Agnes Grey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.” ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘Family Album’ by Penelope Lively And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: AGNES GREY by Anne Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xM
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton @Soniavelton #historical #Huguenot

Blackberry and Wild Rose, the debut novel of Sonia Velton, is entrancing. So many novels are hyped prior to publication but disappoint on reading. This does not. Carefully imagined and cleverly plotted, it kept me reading until the end. It reminded me of Tracy Chevalier’s early novels in which the reader is immersed in a historical world down to the smallest detail. Blackberry and Wild Rose tells the story of two women in eighteenth century Spitalfields, London, where the houses are full of weavers and looms clatter every hour of daylight, set alongside the everyday noise, bustle and smells of market stalls, shops, inns and bawdy houses. In 1768, Sara Kemp arrives in Spitalfields from the country, sent away from home by her mother for something she does not understand. Obviously alone and lost, she is taken up by Mrs Swann and put to work in her brothel. Esther Thorel is an Englishwoman married to a Huguenot master of silk. Dissatisfied with her life with a husband obsessed by his business, Esther paints naturalistic flowers which she longs to see reproduced in silk. Dismissed by her husband, instead she fulfils the role expected by her husband and does good works with
Read More

Categories: Book Love.