Monthly Archives April 2022

#BookReview ‘Daughters of War’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2 #adventure

It’s a while since I read a book in gulps, not wanting to put it down, not wanting to leave the story. Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies is the first of a World War Two trilogy about three sisters. And what characters they are, each individual, quirky, vulnerable, stubborn, brave and refreshing. I lurched from having one favourite, then another. At the end I was equally drawn to each. In the Dordogne live three sisters – Hélène, Élise and Florence – alone in their mother’s house during the German occupation. Hélène is the eldest, a nurse, the mother hen, the worrier. Élise is the rebel, helping the Resistance, disappearing at night. Florence, the youngest, is a gardener, a cook, a nature lover. They are tired of the war, terrified by the Germans and their increasingly violent and indiscriminate reprisals, desperate for a normal life without remembering what that might be. Backstory is important and there are many mysteries, unspoken memories and fears, which can only by explained when something happens to trigger understanding. We see the girls’ mother Claudette, in England for the war, only through their memories but she is a pivotal character nonetheless. The story opens in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George & Weedon Grossmith

An escape from the modern world, The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith may have been published in the 1890s but it still made me chuckle out loud. Especially the parent-child irritations and misunderstandings. First published in Punch magazine, it is written by the brothers with illustrations by Weedon. Mr Charles Pooter is a clerk at a prestigious London bank where he has been overlooked for promotion. Just like Bridget Jones, he decides to write a diary of his life. What follows is a record of the ordinary life of an ordinary man who aspires to be more than he is. Pooter’s frequent attempts to be recognised as higher-class lead to embarrassments and misunderstandings, his jokes awful though he thinks they are hilarious. Pooter’s daily meanderings through life, his need to keep on good terms with his boss, his confusion at his son’s modern language and interests, are all familiar today. His pomposity and sometimes stupid things he does – the incident with the black enamel paint come to mind – are identifiable today. Particularly funny are the discrepancies between Pooter and his son Lupin, who doesn’t know what he wants to do, struggles to hold down
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Prophecy’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Prophecy is the second instalment of SJ Parris’s Giordano Bruno books, based on the real-life Italian philosopher. Parris has taken some of the known facts about the real Bruno and enhanced rumour into fact, making him a spy for Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaker and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The result is a delicious mix of proven historical fact, betrayals, plots and assignations with a healthy dose of invention and a charismatic character to root for. The real Bruno was also a cosmologist, proclaiming that the universe was infinite and that the stars in the sky were suns, like ours, circled by their own planets, and this theme runs throughout the books. To our modern eyes, Bruno appears a scientist; in his time, he was deemed a heretic. In Prophecy, Bruno must play a dangerous game on behalf of Walsingham, living in the house of the French ambassador and party to a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Always an outsider – Bruno is a religious exile, a renegade monk who escaped his Italian friary in search of sanctuary from the Inquisition – and has learned to be an observer amongst dangerous factions in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Ammonites & Leaping Fish’ by Penelope Lively #writerslife

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors and so it was with anticipation that I picked up her memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish. And I was not disappointed. From page one I was captivated by her writing style, her openness, her storytelling. She writes about her memories, ‘the vapour trail without which we are undone’. Actually this is not quite a memoir; the sub-title is ‘A Life in Time’. Lively reflects on her life in five sections, leaving me with an insight into how she lived her life, her interests and, partly, her writing. She writes about Old Age, Memory, and Life and Times, ‘One of the few advantages of writing fiction in old age is that you have been there, done it all, experienced every decade.’ What she didn’t know, she imagined, used empathy, observation. ‘But it is certainly a help to have acquired that long backwards view.’ She is enlightening about her writing method. ‘I do need to have a good idea where the thing is going – I won’t have started at all until a notebook is full of ideas and instructions to myself. And I will have achieved the finishing line only after pursuing various
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Butcher Bird’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

When a baby is found dead in a spiky blackthorn bush, Oswald de Lacy, the youthful and reluctant Lord Somershill, must counter the myth and suspicion repeated by locals who blame a huge violent bird. Second in the Oswald de Lacy series by SD Sykes, The Butcher Bird starts fast and doesn’t stop. Kent 1351. It is a year since England was decimated by the plague. At Somershill Manor in Kent, as around the country, workers are demanding higher pay. Oswald, unable to pay them more because he can’t break the decree of the king, fears the crops will likely fail and the estate’s income will fall further. Houses on his estate are abandoned, crops unsown. Still struggling to behave as he feels a Lord of the Manor must, Oswald’s only way to challenge the untruths circulating about the baby’s fate means he must find the real murderer. Some witnesses have left, some mistake imagination for fact, while others lie. Unswerving in his dismissal of the supernatural, Oswald believes the child must have been killed by a person. He has to summon his courage and challenge superstition, greed, lies, evil and must grow up quickly. With a hypochondriac and manipulative
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lily’ by Rose Tremain #historical #foundling #orphan

The sub-title of Lily by Rose Tremain is ‘A Tale of Revenge’ and on the first page we learn that sixteen-year-old Lily Mortimer is a murderer and expects to die soon. It is a compelling beginning. This is the story of Lily’s life from when as a baby she was found abandoned in a sack being attacked by wolves. Found by a police officer she is taken to London’s Foundling Hospital from where she is placed with a foster family at Rookery Farm in Suffolk. A beautiful telling of a difficult childhood, softened by Tremain’s exquisite writing, Lily shows Victorian London where charitable works sometimes work for the orphaned child and sometimes against. It explores the nature of happiness in a rural life, often hard, but surrounded by love. At the age of six, Lily is returned to London and forbidden contact with her foster parents, Nellie and Perkin Buck, who were paid for their care of her and, after delivering her, collect a new foster baby. Lily is courageous, pragmatic, rebellious and, throughout the harsh years that follow, is sustained by the memory of Nellie’s love. And so starts the cycle of Lily’s life, of hope followed by despair.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘They Came Like Swallows’ by William Maxwell #literary

Bunny Morison is eight years old and his mother Elizabeth is the centre of his life. Published in 1937, They Came Like Swallows is the second novel by William Maxwell. An autobiographical novella based on the 1918 flu epidemic seen through the eyes of Bunny, Robert and their father James, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the depths of family love not always outwardly expressed. This is a quiet character-led story about love, anxiety and grief, beautifully-written. I most enjoyed Bunny’s viewpoint, the simplicity and power of the love of a small child who sees things he doesn’t understand while sensing a significance. Thirteen-year-old Robert, first seen through Bunny’s eyes, seems a bully but is revealed in his own section as a boy approaching adulthood, protective of his pregnant mother and desperate to please his emotionally-absent father. And finally, James’s section shows the reasons for this distance. Each character is teetering on the edge of change, immersed in his own fears and hopes. As the story unfolds we are introduced to the Morison’s wider family. Bunny dwells on his aunt Irene, Elizabeth’s sister. ‘… their hands felt entirely different and looked entirely different. From Irene’s hands he drew excitement, and from
Read More

Categories: Book Love.