Posts by sandradan1

#BookReview ‘The Duchess’ by @Wendy_Holden #historical

The Duchess by Wendy Holden turned out to be a surprising read. After all, we all know the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, don’t we? I started the book half-expecting not to finish it, unsure whether I could empathise with Wallis Simpson. But having read Wendy Holden’s first novel – Simply Divine, published in 1999 – and many since, I was curious about her subject matter. I finished it wanting to go back to the beginning again, reading it with fresh eyes. Holden, a former journalist, has done her research to portray the middle-aged American divorcee. Wallis arrives in London in 1928 with her second husband Ernest, determined to be a part of the party scene. Scrimping and saving, and with the quick mind and equally quick tongue of her mother, she learns to deal with the snubs, putdowns, cold shoulders and snobbishness, all the time backed by her steady husband. After a difficult childhood raised alone by her mother without much money, followed by an abusive first marriage, Wallis now reads the Court Circulars and newspaper stories about the parties of the Bright Young Things and longs to have fun. But she hadn’t bargained on the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Moonlight & the Pearler’s Daughter’ by @LizziePook

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, the debut historical mystery by Lizzie Pook, is a surprise, full of twists and turns with a determined female lead character who defies 19th century conventions to find the murderer of her father. The gritty, sometimes disgusting descriptions of the pearler’s living conditions are vivid and not for the faint-hearted. Set in an 1896 at Bannin Bay, a poor Australian pearl fishing settlement on the edge of the coast, the settlers are surrounded by indigenous people and their lands. When her father’s pearling lugger, the White Starling, returns from a long sea trip without him, Eliza Brightwell is told her father Charles disappeared from his boat overnight and is assumed drowned. Her brother Thomas, under pressure to keep the family business out debt, departs immediately to the nearby town of Cossack to sell his catch to traders. Alone, Eliza refuses to accept her father is dead but when she asks questions, is advised to accept the inevitable.This is a raw town of crime, racism, jealousy, blackmail and abuse. A detailed examination of the available facts, and a mysterious note she finds in her father’s diary, lead Eliza to places she cannot go. Fettered by conventions
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance

Sometimes I hear about a book when it is launched but somehow miss the tide. Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce was published in 2018 and two weeks later became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. In 2019 it was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. The first few pages are fresh and engaging, light humour at a time when people when people were living day to day in the Blitz. My only doubt was that I would find the jolly tone too much if it continued for the whole novel. It is 1941 in London and Emmy Lake applies for a job as a war correspondent and  instead finds herself typing up letters for the problem page of a distinctly faded women’s magazine, Woman’s Friend. The premise is fascinating. The tone is full-on jolly which at times is irritating. The strength of the book for me lies in the second half. Emmy lives with her friend Bunty on the top floor of Bunty’s grandmother’s house. Both girls have daytime war jobs and volunteer in the evenings. Emmy is frustrated by her boss Mrs Bird’s dismissive rules about letters from emotional young women and starts to reply directly
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Brat Farrar’ by Josephine Tey #mystery #thriller

What a revelation is Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, a thoughtful mystery of assumed identity I didn’t want to put down. It is the first Tey novel I have read and I now have that wonderful prospect ahead of me, anticipating seven more novels to enjoy. The book first came to my attention on social media – Twitter or Facebook I don’t recall – when a fellow writer, sadly I don’t remember who, said she re-reads this novel as the brilliant telling of a mistaken identity mystery. Brat Farrar, an English orphan, has returned to London after years travelling, most recently living in America working with horses. Horses are an important part of the story. Crossing the road, he is seen by Alec Loding, a fading actor who recognises Brat’s uncanny resemblance to Patrick Ashby, a thirteen year old boy who committed suicide years earlier. Patrick’s body was never found and Loding – who grew up nearby and knew the Ashby family well – sees the opportunity for Brat to appear at the Ashby family home and stud, Latchetts, as Patrick. In return for coaching, Loding will receive a regular payment for the rest of his life. Brat proves to be unexpectedly convincing during the training
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘An Unfamiliar Landscape’ by Amanda Huggins

An Unfamiliar Landscape, the new short story collection by Amanda Huggins, is made for dipping in and out of, comprising longer reads with satisfying snappy flash fiction. There is something in every story that made me think, ‘that’s so right,’ or ‘that happened to me,’ or ‘I know how that feels.’ That’s why everyone should read her work. The landscape changes from story to story, from Huggins’ native Yorkshire via Paris and London to Spain and Japan. Each story offers a glimpse of a relationship, an insight into the emotions of love, hope, longing, loss, betrayal, regret and grief. She writes about everyone’s emotions, her stories seem familiar, so well-worn and lived-in they must be true. ‘Ten of Hearts’ is a short, hard-hitting story about magic, about vulnerability, gullibility and sleight of hand. Once bitten, it is difficult to move to a new relationship but often too easy. A previous version of this story was broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds in 2021. In ‘Eating Unobserved,’ Marnie rents an apartment in Paris where she will work on her next book. Seduced by the beauty of the apartment and the simple delight of the food, she spends her time alone. Until one
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘French Braid’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Anne Tyler writes about everyday relationships with a sharp eye and a silken pen, choosing subjects which to people who have never read her may appear boring or worthless. Her books are never boring. French Braid, her 24th novel is, like all the others, about people, individuals and their families, ordinary people who become so familiar they could be real. We first meet college students Serena and James, on the train returning to Baltimore from a Thanksgiving visit to James’s parents in Philadelphia. They’re in love and think they know each other well but this visit has highlighted differences in their experience of family and childhood and the expectations each has of how their own family will be in the future. Not all families are alike, they discover. After this shortish section, Tyler settles into the main story of Mercy and Robin – Serena’s grandparents – and their three children Alice, Lily and David through births, marriages and deaths from the 1950s to today. The Garretts think themselves an awkward family, aware they’re not perfect – as Robin thinks when preparing for his and Mercy’s fiftieth wedding anniversary party, ‘Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Jumping the Queue’ by Mary Wesley #contemporary

Jumping the Queue is a must-read for fans of Mary Wesley’s writing. It is a slim volume about a deadly serious topic. Widow Matilda Poliport prepares to commit suicide. She cleans the house, organises her papers, destroys anything incriminating and gives away her pets. On the day she judges the tide to be favourable, she makes a picnic and takes a bottle of wine to the beach. She plans to wade into the sea and drown. What happens changes the course of Matilda’s death, and life. This is a quirky mixture of a book with heavy topics which, as you get older, become more familiar and understandable, with dark humour and a touch of forbidden romance. There is also betrayal, all kinds of betrayal actually – between husband and wife, between parents and children, between friends. As Matilda contemplates suicide, she thinks, ‘I am the great betrayer… That is my sin. I am not a sticker. I betray from laziness, fear and lack of interest.’ The story is told from Matilda’s point of view, at times despairing, at times wickedly funny and lusty. It’s hard to believe Jumping the Queue was Mary Wesley’s first adult novel, published in 1983 when
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson #literary 

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is a sparkling portrayal of London in the 1920s, a heady mixture of madly-themed nightclubs, teenage runaways and the Bright Young Things. It is 1926 and the generation most damaged by the War to End All Wars is dancing to forget. But 1920s London is not as glittering it seems. Though the nightclubs sparkle by night, they are dank and dowdy in daylight. London has a dark, dangerous underbelly. When veteran gangland boss Ma Coker is released from Holloway prison, a train of events is set in place. Her six children jostle for her attention, approval and power. The police at Bow Street station are either in her pay or are trying to convict her. Meanwhile, others are plotting the takeover of her rich kingdom – the five nightclubs the Amethyst, the Sphinx, the Crystal Cup, the Pixie and the Foxhole. Each is carefully targetted at specific clientele, each is managed by one of her five eldest children. The Amethyst is the jewel in the crown but Nellie, post-prison, is acting oddly and has taken to sitting alone in the immaculate, unoccupied, pink-decorated flat above the Cup. Is she losing it? Two young women
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘One Moonlit Night’ by @Rachelhore #WW2

Life can turn on a sixpence and that’s what happens to Maddie and her two small daughters in the Blitz. One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore doesn’t start with a glimpse of the main character’s ordinary life before the change happens. It starts with a shock… a family made homeless by a bomb. Alone in the midst of chaos, her husband Philip has been missing for ten months since the British army’s retreat from Dunkirk, Maddie takes Sarah and Alice to Knyghton in Norfolk to stay with Philip’s elderly Aunt Gussie. Maddie is caught in limbo, unable to grieve for Philip, unable to make decisions, not accepting his probable death, while living in an isolated country house – where Philip spent his childhood – which is the focus of long-held rumour and superstition in the nearby village. Trying to make a living as a book illustrator, Maddie is seldom without a pencil and paper. But when she draws the face of an unfamiliar young girl, enigmatic, mysterious, she doesn’t know where her inspiration came from. Instinctively she keeps her drawing secret, not wanting to upset the fragile atmosphere at Knyghton. A secret is being kept, by Aunt Gussie, Philip’s cousin
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Wildwood’ by Roger Deakin #trees #nature

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees is the first nature book by Roger Deakin I’ve read, now I want to read more. I’ve always loved trees, in nature, in art, the timber, wooden objects. As we know, it is beneficial to lose ourselves outside in nature, breathing in the fresh air, absorbing the quiet, acknowledging the trees and flowers, and so I found the experience of reading this book. It will make you want to camp outside in the woods. The first half of this book is a journey through the woods of Suffolk around Deakin’s home, talking to woodlanders and slipping in literature, poetry, woodworking and science. The second half is travel writing… about trees. Deakin travels to Kazakhstan in search of wild apple groves, the founding trees on which all our domesticated apples are based. In complete contrast are the chapters about Australia. Deakin lives and travels with local people in both places, enthusiasts and specialists in their subject, and this comes through in his writing. Both parts of this book are fascinating, just different. In the UK he talks to artists, woodcarvers, naturalists and thatchers in East Anglia, the New Forest, Wye and the Forest of Dean. His memories
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Companion Piece’ by Ali Smith #SeasonalQuartet

Companion Piece by Ali Smith is about truth, the telling of stories, real stories, fake stories, fairy stories, perceived truth and real truth, and how language and data can be used and abused. Smith tackles some of the biggest issues facing society today, not so much providing answers but making us ask questions about life and the modern concept of ‘truth.’ A ‘companion’ novella to Smith’s lockdown-themed Seasonal Quartet, Companion Piece sings from the beginning. Twining together present and past stories, two motifs run throughout. ‘Curfew,’ the idea of restriction of physical movement, on access and egress, the feeling of being constrained and the invasion of our space. And ‘curlew’, the freedom of nature, the bird’s odd-shaped bill, a reminder that there is room in nature for things that don’t quite fit the norm, the ever presence of wildlife whatever happens in the human world, the familiar pattern of a bird’s day, of nature’s life cycle and therefore also of ours. Artist Sandy is struggling during lockdown to distance-visit her sick father who is in hospital. She must stay isolated and free of the virus so she doesn’t prejudice his health and is accompanied only by Shep, her father’s dog.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Books ‘This is the Night They Come for You’ by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard is a thriller writer with a particular skill at writing mysteries where the past remains entangled with today. This is the Night They Come for You features Algerian police Superintendent Mouloud Taleb; believable, likeable, he’s the type of character you instantly root for. The story starts today in Algiers as Taleb, sweating in his dingy un-air-conditioned office, considers approaching retirement. But when Wassim Zarbi, a former agent convicted of corruption, is released from prison and then disappears, it is feared he is reuniting with old colleague Nadir Laloul. Events in Paris in 1961 come alive again and Taleb is pulled into the dangerous search for Laloul, Zarbi and the truth of a cold case murder. The history and peoples of Algeria and France are entwined and Goddard puts at the heart of his story a shadowy organisation in Algeria named ‘hizb franca’, the ‘party of France’, dedicated to undermining the success of the fledgling Algerian republic. A small practical note, it would have been helpful to have the Glossary at the front of the Kindle edition rather than at the back. And, for a novice at Algerian politics as I am, a short historical context would also be
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Paris Apartment’ by @lucyfoleytweets #thriller

I read The Paris Apartment, the latest thriller by Lucy Foley, in two sittings. It kept me guessing nearly to the end, with some unexpected twists along the way. When penniless Jess arrives in Paris to spend some time with her half-brother, he has disappeared. What follows is a page-turning story of the apartment block where Ben has been living, its inhabitants and the confusing discoveries Jess makes as she tries to find him. It makes her question if she really knows her brother and why he has been so distant from her. This is a book about secrets, small ones, shameful ones, old and new secrets. And one huge one. Jess, at times vulnerable at times recklessly brave, attempts to be pleasant to Ben’s neighbours in this surprisingly elegant old Parisian apartment block. The snobbish couple in the penthouse, the two young women sharing on the fourth floor, a thug and his wife, the silent concierge plus Ben’s old university friend, Nick. The viewpoint swaps quickly between Jess and the other residents as Foley pushes the action quickly from event to event. The chapters are short and snappy and this makes it easy to read just one more, and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Love in a Time of War’ by @adriennechinn #WW1

Love in a Time of War by Adrienne Chinn is the story of three sisters during wartime, how the inconveniences of war can shatter dreams and promises, disguise lies, hide secrets and offer opportunities previously unimagined. In 1913, Cecilia Fry, eldest of the three Fry sisters, is nineteen when this story starts. She has fallen in love with her young German teacher and must decide whether to spend the summer with Max in Germany or in London working for the suffragist movement. Eighteen-year old Jessie is studying at nursing school and has been offered an amazing opportunity of which her mother disapproves. Jessie’s twin Etta visits the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts where she meets an Italian artist. All three sisters have dreams for the future, but those dreams are to be thrown into disarray by the Great War. Love in a Time of War starts with a Prologue set in Italy in 1891. A young Englishwoman called Christina, visiting her Italian family on the island of Capri, falls in love with a young tourist. What happens during this Italian summer reaches through every page of this novel with its themes of the life of women at
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Leviathan’ by @rosieandrews22 #historical 

Soldier Thomas Treadwater returns home on leave from the army, summoned to Norfolk by a pleading letter from his sister Esther. ‘Our home is under attack by a great and ungodly evil’, she writes. The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews is a tale of religious extremism and intolerance, fear of witches, superstition and the power of evil. The atmosphere at all times is full of foreboding. As Thomas approaches his father’s farm at dawn, he sees dead animals in the field. This is 17th century Norfolk when England is riven by civil war. The story of Thomas and Esther, narrated by Thomas in two timelines – 1643 and 1703 – is ultimately a slow one. The beginning is excellent, ‘She is awake,’ and moves quickly as Thomas investigates the strange goings-on. When this moves from witchcraft to theology and the meaning of evil, the pace slows. The explanation of the title is remarkably late in arriving and I was distracted by trying to fit ‘the leviathan’ into the domestic story of the Treadwater family. According to Esther, their religious father has been corrupted by their servant Chrissa Moore who is with child. Richard Treadwater is now insensible after suffering a stroke
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Spook Street’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

Read in entirety on a train journey, Spook Street by Mick Herron is an absorbing tale of 21st century spies and terrorists combined with old-school tactics of indoctrination. The story, fourth in Herron’s ‘Slough House’ spy series, opens straight into the action with a flash mob bomb attack unsuspected by the security services. When the ‘OB’ – the elderly former-spy grandfather of slow horse employee River Cartwright – says stoats are on his trail, his claims are dismissed as advancing senility. Until a man is shot at the OB’s house and the old man disappears. This a story with a tight timeline, everything takes place within a couple of days of the first page. This brings an urgency to the danger and also makes the pages turn quickly. For Slough House fans, there are a couple of new characters to adjust to – Moira Tregorian has taken over the administrator’s desk previously occupied by Catherine Standish, and River now shares an office with the silent, hoody-wearing JK Coe. No one is sure why the latter is there, ie what he has done wrong to deserve being sent to Slough House, or the nature of his particular skill. Jackson Lamb may
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Darling Blue’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

The Blue of the title is Ishbel Camberwell but Darling Blue by Tracy Rees is not the story of one woman but three. Although the main voice is that of Blue’s, this is really an ensemble piece about a year in the life of a wealthy family living in Richmond-upon-Thames in the 1920s. At her 21st birthday party, Blue’s father makes a startling announcement. Suitors interested in marrying Blue must woo her by letter within the next twelve months. Blue, who wants to be a writer and has no pressing desire to marry, is horrified by her father’s challenge. She’s even more appalled when she receives three letters. Determined to make her own decisions, she gets a temporary job as a reporter on the local newspaper. Delphine Foley is trapped in a violent marriage. Desperate to escape and determined to protect her mother and sister from potential threats from her husband, she forges a secret plan. When her plan takes an unexpected turn, she finds herself in Richmond-upon-Thames, a beautiful place only miles from where she lived but somewhere she didn’t know existed. When an accident throws her into the path of the Camberwell family, she senses a chance of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Silver Wolf’ by @JCollissHarvey #historical

The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey is first in the Fiskardo’s War series set in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years War. If, like me, your history is a little hazy, the author’s note at the beginning is helpful. This was a time of sprawling wars and disputes, religious, political and national plus local personal grudges being settled. Into this soup of battle, Harvey has inserted the story of Jack Fiskardo. And what a story this is. Young Jack is an orphan, surviving on his wits in the Amsterdam docklands. Around his neck he wears a silver token of a wolf. He knows neither its provenance nor its meaning. People who meet him and recognise it, look at him askance. Jack is a brilliant hero. Feisty, brave yet considered, he has a fondness for the bullied and those weaker than himself. And he is also something of a horse whisperer. This is a long book – 560 pages, though not as long as Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth – and slowly we pick up hints about the relevance of Jack’s wolf necklace. There is a huge cast of characters, but a limited number in each place that
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Pod’ by @LalinePaull #contemporary

Pod by Laline Paull is an environmental allegory for the ocean today, for the state of the world, the climate and for humanity. The topics are huge. Man’s misuse of the ocean and its creatures. Migration and our treatment of refugees who are different from us. Violence against women. Drug addiction. Selfishness and the betrayal of trust and respect for others. The connections of family and the meaning of home. It reminded me of Watership Down, not read since childhood but which made a lasting impression on me.There are several narratives. The main voice is Ea, a spinner longi dolphin whose inability to hear the music of the ocean prevents her from spinning beautifully. Unable to take part in the annual Exodus ritual, she feels a failure. When tragedy happens in her small pod, she flees and finds herself alone in the ‘vast’. When she joins a huge pod of bigger bottlenose tursiops dolphins, Ea finds a society completely alien to the world she knows. The First Alliance is ruled by lord Ku who, with his second in command lord Split, maintains a strict structure of order using the vira military officers. Devi, first wife and head of Ku’s harem,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Woman Made of Snow’ by Elisabeth Gifford #historical

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford is a historical mystery moving between post-World War Two Scotland and the Arctic in the nineteenth century. This is an ambitious, well-researched dual timeline story encompassing exploitation of the Inuit people, the whaling industry, racial prejudice, the maintenance of sprawling country estates and the iron will of a mother for her son to marry the woman she prefers rather than the woman he loves. In 1949, Caro moves to Kelly Castle near Dundee with husband Alasdair and new baby Felicity, to live with his mother Martha. As the two women scratch along together, Martha asks Caro to organise the family records which have fallen into confusion. Sorting the piles of documents, Caro finds an intriguing photograph of Oliver Gillan, Alasdair’s great-grandfather, and two unknown young women. As she sets out to identify the strangers, workmen on the estate uncover bones of a woman in an unmarked grave. Caro jumps to the assumption that the bones might belong to one of the women in the photograph. This 1949 storyline is alternated with that a century earlier of Oliver, a medical student, who grew up at Kelly Castle. Gifford lays clues for the reader
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Categories: Book Love.