Posts by sandradan1

#BookReview ‘Broken Faith’ by Toby Clements #historical

Broken Faith, second in the Kingmaker series by Toby Clements, takes place in the lull after the 1461 battle of Towton and 1464 when Edward IV marries Elizabeth Woodville. The history of these intervening years is subject to much confusion, guesswork and mystery, wonderful territory for an imaginative novelist. Clements gives Katherine and Thomas, who we first met in Winter Pilgrims, a secret which if revealed will change the succession to the throne of England. Exactly what the Yorkists and Lancastrians are fighting about. The battles are bloodthirsty, the battlefield surgery by Kit [aka Katherine in disguise] is gruesome but surprisingly modernistic, the betrayals of self-seeking lords are countless and amongst it all shine the people of genuine morals, driven by belief in what is right, with humble and generous natures. That brave and endearing pair Thomas and Kit are separated, not sure if the other is alive, and forced to do what is necessary to survive. Life in the 15th century was tough enough without living through war, Clements describes the life of a common soldier, the weapons, the methods of fighting, the battle tactics, the food, the smells. Although the detail is fascinating, Clements doesn’t leave the story
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘This Rough Magic’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

Until re-visiting Mary Stewart again I’d forgotten the exoticism of her settings and so, inspired by The Gabriel Hounds which is set in Lebanon, I quickly moved onto This Rough Magic. I remember being enchanted by this book when I read it as a teenager. The magic of Corfu, the beating heat, the warm dust, the blue sky. My memories didn’t let me down. Set in Greece, this is another fantastic romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart which to be honest is more adventure story than romance. Difficult to believe it was first published in 1964 [here’s the cover of the Hodder & Stoughton first edition]. More moody and atmospheric than the disappointingly generic front cover of the current edition. When young actress Lucy Waring goes to stay with her sister Phyl in Corfu, she meets the neighbour living at the adjacent mysterious Castello dei Fiori. None other than Shakespearean master Sir Julian Gale. Although Sir Julian is flattering, sharing his theory that Shakespeare based The Tempest on Corfu and that Prospero’s cave is nearby, his son Max is cool and unwelcoming. So later, when Lucy is on the nearby beach where she meets a tame local dolphin, shots ring
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Real Tigers’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

When recovering alcoholic and slow horse Catherine Standish goes missing, alarm bells ring at Slough House. Real Tigers by Mick Herron is third in his series about the unfashionable not-quite-up-to-it spies who have been sent to MI5’s version of Coventry. After an intriguing start, I found myself immersed in the tortuous twists and turns of Regents Park v politicians, all playing I-can-betray-you-better-than-you-can-betray-me, when I wanted more Standish. Standish, who has been kidnapped, seems the most unlikely target for attack. But this is Herron’s take on London’s spy-stitching-up-another-spy-for-promotion world where power and accountability don’t go together. Add in slimy Home Secretary Peter Judd and I lost track of the double-crossing. Thankfully Jackson Lamb who, despite disgusting personal habits and an apparent ‘don’t care’ attitude, was an operative during the Cold War and so can still cut through the lies. When Slough House is the focus of a surprise assessment, and it becomes clear that Standish is not coming back, Lamb’s Cold War trickery comes in handy. After a soggy middle, the pace picks up in the final third. The real tigers of the title are of course the slow horses who find their claws at last. The action scene in the
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Categories: Uncategorized.

#BookReview ‘Devotion’ by @HannahFKent #historical #emigration

In Prussia, 1836, fourteen-year-old Hanne lives in a world-within-a-world, a strict religious group where worship must be kept secret and hidden from the sight of neighbours. Devotion by Hannah Kent is the story of Hanne’s persecuted community. They live in fear of expulsion or worse. But when a new family arrives Hanne meets another outsider, Thea, and her life is changed forever. Kent takes her time with the first half. This is a slow start, a painstaking building of the relationship between Hanne and Thea, drawing the world in which neither fits. As Hanne reaches womanhood, her life is changing in small ways. Her mother increasingly separates her from twin brother Matthias as they are prepared for different adult lives. Hanne simply longs to be free to be in the woods, to listen to the sounds of nature alive. But in times of fear or uncertainty, when she bristles against the strict confines set by her mother, the unshakeable belief of her father, she cleaves to her twin. The glimpse of a different world offered by Thea’s family, the more open way they behave with each other, makes Hanne’s mild dissatisfaction with her life become an acute fear of being
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Fatal Crossing’ by @TomHindle3 #crime

‘When amateurs are involved… mistakes are made,’ says the detective. It is 1924 when a suspicious death occurs on board a transatlantic liner bound for New York with 2000 passengers.  A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle is set up as a classic closed room murder mystery. The detective has four days to find the murderer before the ship docks in New York. Key elements are mixed together. An elderly gentleman travelling under a false name is found dead, a key witness disappears, a painting is stolen, the captain wants an easy final voyage before retirement, while a Scotland Yard detective James Temple won’t say why he’s travelling to America. The captain, who is desperate to believe the death was accidental, permits Temple to investigate the crime only if accompanied by ship’s officer Timothy Birch. They are a mis-matched pair. Grumpy Temple is irritated by Birch’s interference. Birch, whose unspecified grief makes him an outsider amongst the crew, is intimidated by Temple. They begin to interview witnesses. Soon, Birch receives a death threat. The story is told through the first-person narrative of Birch which is limiting and repetitive. It is a feature of crime novels to use more telling – not
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Key in the Lock’ by @bethunderdown #historical

Two unrelated deaths, thirty years apart, set in motion a chain of cause and effect. Decades later, so many answers remain unspoken. The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown is an unusual multiple timeline historical mystery set in Cornwall, rather like Mary Stewart mysteries but darker. Ivy Boscowen has known two deaths in her life. In 1918 she is mourning the death in the Great War of her son, Tim. The exact circumstances of his death cannot be confirmed and this haunts her, she becomes afraid that her reluctance for him to enlist actually forced him to go and so feels responsible for his death. At night she dreams of Tim when he was a child, hiding beneath a bed. This dream morphs into the memory of another young death; when Ivy was nineteen, young William Tremain died in a house fire at the nearby Polneath. He was found asphyxiated beneath a bed. The two deaths are unconnected in terms of circumstances and cause, but are forever connected in Ivy’s mind because of decisions taken. When she was a teenager, Ivy was sweet on Edward Tremain, son of ‘Old’ Tremain, owner of Polneath and the gunpowder works. Appropriately, at
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen’ by @janelinfoot 

I’m not a great reader of novels described as ‘heartwarming’, particularly with cheerful pastel-coloured covers. But as an impulse read for a winter day when I was feeling under the weather and in need of comfort, Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen by Jane Linfoot proved to be a bit of a surprise. Second in the Little Cornish Kitchen series, I hesitate to call this a ‘cosy romance’ but it is fun, flirty and funny. Novels set in Cornwall are almost a genre of their own and the fictional seaside village of St Aidan with its pastel-coloured houses set on steep windy streets leading to the beach is ideal for a ‘community’ novel with a strong list of characters. There are lots of alliterations, hashtags and cute names starting with Cressida Cupcake, the social media name for hit online baker Cressy Hobson. Dog and apartment-sitting for her brother Charlie [owner of the Little Cornish Kitchen Cafe and star of the first book in Linfoot’s series, one of a collection set in St Aidan] Cressy will be at Seaspray Cottage for six weeks. She’s glad to escape London and the embarrassing fallout after an online baking disaster. She’s trending
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tempted by the Runes’ by @PiaCCourtenay #romance #timetravel

Having visited Iceland and loved the wild beauty, I was pleased to discover Tempted by the Runes by Christina Courtenay. A time-travelling Viking romance combining Sweden, Iceland and Ireland in the 21st and 9th centuries, this is a light romance which skips along nicely. Geir Eskilsson is a Viking adventurer who sets sail from Sviariki [Sweden] in AD875 in a ship bound for Iceland, loaded with fellow travellers, livestock and tools. During a stopover in the port of Dyflin [Dublin, Ireland] to buy thralls [slaves] to work the land, he sees a strangely dressed woman being attacked. In 2021 a nineteen-year-old Swede, Maddie, is visiting Dublin with her parents and brother to attend the Clonarf Viking Festival. Maddie’s father is an archaeologist, her mother a conservator, so she and her siblings have attended Viking re-enactments since they were small and have learned the practical skills of Viking life at workshops. When Maddie explores Dublin on her own, she finds steps down to the shore of the River Liffey where she sees a knife half-buried in the mud. From the beginning it’s necessary to ignore the large number of conveniences and coincidences that occur; just abandon the questioning voice in your
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Red Monarch’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #crime

I’ve loved both of the Bella Ellis’s Brönte Mysteries series to date and the latest, The Red Monarch, is my favourite so far. If I could give it 6*, I would. It ticks so many boxes. Fast action, thoughtful detecting, literary and Brönte references, romance, the dirty violent underworld of London, dastardly baddies to defeat and wrongs to be righted.When Lydia Roxby runs into trouble in London, she writes to her former governess Anne Brönte appealing for help. Lydia’s actor husband Harry has been imprisoned by a violent gang, accused of stealing a jewel. Heavily pregnant Lydia is given seven days to return the jewel or Harry will be killed. The four Brönte siblings rush to London and find Lydia living in an attic room at the Covent Garden Theatre, run by Harry’s father. The first problem for the Bröntes is how to find a jewel when no information is available. Lydia knows nothing and either people are ignorant or frightened to speak. The streets around Covent Garden are run by a gangster, Noose, and his network of thugs and spies. So, naturally, the first thing the Bröntes do is seek a face-to-face meeting with Noose. Operating out of their
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

What a painful, heart-wrenching read is In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor. It is about love – giddying heart-spinning young love, the intensity of teenage crush, the love and companionship of friendship, parental love, second love, age-gap love, tragic love and lust-love. Widow Kate is seen by friends and family to have married again, unwisely, to a younger man, the charming and feckless Dermot. Kate’s sixteen-year-old daughter Louise hates the way Dermot speaks to her mother, while Kate’s son Tom struggles to make his way in his grandfather’s business and retired teacher Aunt Ethel fears for the new marriage which she believes is founded solely on sex. As Kate adopts new hobbies to fit in with her husband – going to the races, the pub – Dermot feels excluded by the things he doesn’t know, and by Kate’s shared experience with first husband Alan. The household exists in an uneasy alliance. For the first half of the book, this calm is layered with a troubling current eventually brought to the surface by the arrival of Alan’s oldest friend, Charles, and his beautiful daughter Araminta. Tom becomes too caught up in his own calf love for Minty to worry about
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Swift and the Harrier’ by Minette Walters #historical

The latest historical novel from former thriller writer Minette Walters is an absolute cracker. I raced through The Swift and the Harrier which is a fabulous mixture of dramatic history, medicine, family divisions and romance, all set in the English Civil War. Three days before the English Civil War begins in 1642, a Catholic priest is hung in Dorset for treason. Gentleman’s daughter and physician Jayne Swift is introduced to us in the public crush on Dorchester’s streets as people press to see the action. To avoid confrontation, Jayne steps into a doorway and finds herself drawn into the house by a thin-lipped elderly woman. They are strangers and in the current political unrest, all strangers must be mistrusted. This meeting is the catalyst for a narrative which takes us through the twists and turns of this war which sets brother against brother, where unpaid soldiers are ordered by superiors to loot and ransack civilian property, where small towns are attacked under siege for little gain and where men choose sides on blind belief rather than an understanding of the facts. Disguise and dissimulation are necessary to avoid the attention of whichever band of soldiers are encountered. Jayne is a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Change of Circumstance’ @susanhillwriter #crime

Lafferton, the small town at the heart of the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill, has until now only known small-scale drugs crime. In A Change of Circumstance, a young local man is found dead of a presumed overdose in a flat above the Chinese pharmacy in neighbouring hippy village Starley. County lines drug gangs are using local Lafferton children and people are beginning to die. This is the eleventh instalment of this excellent series. Hill’s Serrailler novels are always a delight to read, thoroughly grounded in the town of Lafferton with familiar characters and landmarks set against beautiful countryside. A reminder that crime happens in pretty places too. I wasn’t so sure about the veracity of some of the police procedure but the stories of Brookie and Olivia feel real enough, both children from fractured families pulled into crime by lies and bribes. A Change of Circumstance is a horrible portrayal of the manipulation and abuse of children but lacking in the narrative drive of earlier books. I finished it quickly but it is short – 315 pages compared with first in the series The Various Haunts of Men which is 448 pages long. As always, a network
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Categories: Book Love.

#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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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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
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Women of Troy’ by Pat Barker #historical #myths

The Women of Troy is the second of the Trojan War novels by Pat Barker, telling the post-war story of Trojan woman Briseis, a trophy of war owned by Achilles. I loved the first, The Silence of the Girls, but wanted to hear the stories of more of the women. That’s what we get in this second book. Briseis, now pregnant with Achilles’ child, is again narrator along with a new male voice, that of Pyrrhus, eldest son of Achilles and Briseis’ stepson. Now Achilles is dead Briseis belongs to Alcimus, charged by Achilles before his death with caring for his unborn child. The story starts with Pyrrhus inside the wooden horse, constructed by the Greeks, to trick the Trojans. ‘Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.’ It is Pyrrhus who kills Priam, king of the Trojans, and that murder echoes throughout The Women of Troy. As storms rage – punishment of the victorious Greeks by the Gods for their impious behaviour – the army and its captives are now trapped on the beach waiting for a chance to sail home. This enclosure at close quarters raises emotions,
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Categories: Book Love.