Monthly Archives December 2020

#BookReview ‘The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon’ by Sarah Steele

If you’re looking for a little escapism, a trip to the Riviera of the Sixties, then The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon by Sarah Steele is for you. A family mystery spanning two generations is unravelled by Flo, Nancy Moon’s great-niece, who treads in her aunt’s footsteps across Europe following the clues. It all starts with a photograph. Told in two timelines, it is Nancy’s story that came alive for me and I would have been happy if the book had focussed solely on Nancy. Brimming with nostalgia for life in the 1960s, the Riviera, Paris, Nice, Venice, Capri, Steele tells of Nancy’s trip as companion to Pea, a teenage girl sidelined by her distracted artist father and disinterested step-mother. It is clear Nancy is running from something and, though this is billed as a historical romance, it is essentially a tale of grief and moving on. Clearing her grandmother’s house after her death, Flo finds a photograph of her grandma Peggy and three friends. One is a complete stranger. The next discovery is a cache of dressmaking envelopes. Each is dated and inside are cut-out dress pieces and other momentoes left by Great-Aunt Nancy, photographs, postcards and oddments. Flo
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The End of the Day’ by Bill Clegg #literary

Three girls grow up living near each other in Wells, Connecticut. Dana. Jackie. Lupita. Each in a different social class. With or without wealth. With or without expectations. Privilege, no privilege. One betrayal touches their lives and has ramifications for the next generation. The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is about the fragility of loyalty when teenage bonds are tested by love, jealousy, indiscretions, secrets and lies. ‘To end a friendship, it just takes someone willing to throw it away.’ Because when a decision is taken, more than one life is affected. Clegg has written a genealogical story wrapped up in two timelines, the years not defined but basically the Sixties and the Noughties. An elderly woman, frail and confused, sets out from New York on an excursion. Another old woman wakes in her family home to a beautiful passage of memories. A taxi driver in Hawaii ignores the repeated messages left on her mobile phone. These three are connected by a youthful flirtation, a pregnancy, arrangements made and lies told, assumptions made. A fascinating story, characters so believable, but the details lacking in clarity – perhaps because so many lies have been told. In the Noughties are
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 49 Painted Sky #writingprompt #amwriting

Today you are an artist and you will paint a picture of this sky. First work out the practicals – where are you, time of day, what is your skill level, what are your expectations. Don’t worry about the technical details of painting, your artist can use paints, pencil, crayon, charcoal, iPad apps, felt tip pens, whatever you want. Amateur or professional, it doesn’t matter, you decide. Choose a name. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Now put your mind inside your artist. Consider the sky, the shapes, the colours, the contrasts, the images it conjures in your mind, the things it makes you think of – including the odd associations you mind may jump to. Take one of these images or thought associations, and include it in your artist’s day. How does it change the painting – does the artist decide to paint something else, do something else. Perhaps someone arrives and interrupts. The sky changes – a storm approaches, a plane leaves a con trail, a noise nearby interrupts his/her concentration. What happens after this disturbance and how does your artist react? How important is the picture of the painted sky? Why is a picture of
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

#BookReview ‘The Streets’ by Anthony Quinn #historical #sociology

The Streets by Anthony Quinn is part sociology, part history, part mystery, part political discussion. Set in the 1880s, it sets a fictional tale within true history, the sort of thing hated by historians themselves who fear that readers will believe it is all true. They should credit we readers with the ability to recognize fiction from fact. This is a story encompassing poverty, pride, crime, corruption, community and, almost, eugenics. David Wildeblood has a new job. He is an inspector, a fact-collector, charged with touring the North London borough of Somers Town, conducting interviews and collating information to be published in Henry Marchmont’s weekly news sheet The Labouring Classes of London; living conditions, work, income, religion, diet, pastimes, crime, health etc. Marchmont is based on Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor and Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People of London. At first Wildeblood is an outsider and woefully naïve, until he stumbles on costermonger Jo. Soon Wildeblood learns the argot, the alleys to avoid, and how to best submit his report to Marchmont’s loyal assistant Mr Rennert. Then he stumbles onto a scheme in which criminal landlords defraud their tenants, refuse to repair their properties
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Midnight Library’ by @matthaig1 #contemporary

I loved the concept of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig as soon as I read the blurb. A young woman finds herself in the mysterious midnight library where she can choose a book, live a version of her life as it might have been and so mend the regrets and disappointments she has with her life already lived. Nora Seed has had a horrible day and wishes she was dead. She has let everyone, including herself, down. Her brother isn’t talking to her. She’s lost her job. And her cat is dead. ‘Every move had been a mistake, every decision a disaster, every day a retreat from who she’d imagined she’d be. Swimmer. Musician. Philosopher. Spouse. Traveller. Glaciologist. Happy. Loved.’ She has a long list of things she can’t do and no list of what she has achieved. Instead of dying Nora meets the enigmatic Mrs Elm, librarian at Nora’s school nineteen years ago. Between life and death, explains Mrs Elm, there is a library. ‘Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices.’ In a kind of literary Sliding Doors combined
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Charlotte Brontë A Life’ by Claire Harman #books #writerslife

How did Charlotte Brontë create the character of Jane Eyre? Was Villette really based on a doomed love affair in Brussels? How much of the real author is in these novels? If you have read Charlotte Brontë’s books, you will have asked yourself these questions. The biography Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman provides some fascinating answers. This is the first biography of Brontë I have read and I wish I had read it sooner. Harman tells the enthralling story of the family whose losses, grief, hardship, isolation and disappointments populate the novels of the three sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne. It is impossible to write about Charlotte without writing about the family, and particularly about Emily, Anne and brother Branwell. Everyone knows the headline facts about the Brontës – Haworth parsonage, mother and siblings dying, Branwell’s addiction, and the imaginary kingdoms of Angria and Dondal in which the children lose themselves. But Harman makes the history accessible, telling the life of Charlotte in chronological order starting briefly with her father Patrick. There are clear references to real life appearing in the novels and Harman casts light on the writing process of Charlotte and her sisters. For a novelist, this
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… @MaggieCobbett #books #Yorkshire

Today I’m delighted to welcome Yorkshire novelist Maggie Cobbett. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke. “The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke has been a favourite of mine since childhood. The now tatty illustrated edition, published in 1922, belonged to my father and we used to read it together. It is that memory that often draws me back to it, together with the fact that Paragot, the main character, (as depicted in the wonderful illustrations by Jean Dulac, see below), bears more than a passing resemblance to Dad as he would have liked to be. An artist, writer and rover at heart, he was trapped for most of his life in mundane occupations that kept him in Yorkshire.” Maggie’s Bio Born in Leeds, Maggie studied modern languages at the University of Manchester and then spent many years teaching in the UK and abroad, taking every opportunity to travel more extensively in the holidays. Since taking early retirement and now based back in Yorkshire with her family, she writes short stories, articles, reviews, ‘fillers’ and even the occasional poem. Until the pandemic struck, she also appeared regularly as a ‘village regular’ on Emmerdale. Maggie’s
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas #poetry

Dylan Thomas’s most famous, arguably most familiar, poem is a villanelle with five stanzas of three lines followed by a single stanza of four lines, making a total of 19 lines. It is structured with two repeating rhymes, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘Rage, rage, against the dying of the light’. Written in 1947 when Thomas was in Florence with his family, it is popularly thought to refer to the death of his father though his father did not die until 1952. In contrast to many poems of death, popular for reading at funerals, this speaks clearly and strongly at the anger and resentment at dying. Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot reproduce the whole poem here. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and race at close of day; Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.   Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.   Good men, the
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Categories: Poetry.

#BookReview ‘Scratched Enamel Heart’ by @troutiemcfish #shortstories

Scratched Enamel Heart, the latest collection by award-winning short story writer Amanda Huggins, does not disappoint. Featuring ‘Red’, the story shortlisted for the 2019 Costa Short Story Award, the other stories include some gems. There are three stories that stayed with me, returning to me at unexpected moments when I had moved on to another book. ‘Light Box’ is about Alice, a daughter grieving for the loss of her father but glad to be free of the stepmother she never liked, who had tried to wipe the house and their memories clear of Alice’s mother. Huggins has a wonderful simplicity of description that feels just right, such as the beach, ‘a slip of a thing, a nail clipping of pale sand beneath a wide sky.’ With a darker tone than any other story by Huggins that I recall reading before, ‘Uncanny’ is unsettling. When I remember it, it leaves a sense of discomfort. Like looking over your shoulder when walking in the dark, clutching your bag to your side. Perhaps she should try writing suspense fiction. Alan eats every night in the same café where Carol is a waitress. It starts when she comments that a blue shirt would suit
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Bird in the Bamboo Cage’ by @HazelGaynor #WW2

What an engrossing story this is if you’re looking for a world to lose yourself in, a world more horrific and frightening than we can ever imagine. A war story that is at times both traumatic and heart-warming, The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor tells the story of a teacher and pupil interned in China during World War Two, a story often forgotten and seldom told. Based on the true story of a real school – the China Inland Mission’s Chefoo School in Yantai, Shandong province in northern China – as the Japanese army invades and school life is changed overnight. Gaynor tells her fictionalised story through the viewpoints of teacher Elspeth Kent and pupil Nancy ‘Plum’ Plummer. Elspeth is struggling to write a letter of resignation, intending to return home and join the war effort, when war arrives at the school gates. At first Chefoo School proudly continues to operate under armed guard but after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the entry of America into the war, the school is moved to Temple Hill internment camp and later to Weihsien. At each step, privations, hardships, hunger, threat and sexual exploitation threaten
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Categories: Book Love.