Archives for Book Love

#BookReview ‘The Winter of the Witch’ by @arden_katherine #fantasy

What a barnstorming end to a trilogy this is. The Winter of the Witch is the final part of the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden, a bewitching at times bewildering combination of Russian history, folklore, magic and fantasy. It’s the sort of book with depths that reward re-reading, weaving connections with the first two books into a finale that is both satisfying and heart-wrenching. These are books about fitting in, and not fitting in, of being different, and finding your own way in a complicated sometimes mystifying world. Arden sets her tale in medieval Russia, adds layers of magic and Russian myth, woven together with the true story of the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. She handles such a complex mixture with an assured, inspired hand. In my 2017 review of the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, I described it as ‘not an easy read, but rewarding’ and I repeat that again for The Winter of the Witch. You have to pay attention, make connections, take fictional leaps of imagination, but you are rewarded. As Vasya’s magical powers grow, so do the dangers to the traditional ways of life in old ‘Rus. No longer a girl but a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Skylark’s Secret’ by @FionaValpy #WW2

Aultbea, a small fishing village on the shores of Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland, was transformed during World War Two into a Royal Navy base for the Arctic convoys. Into this true history Fiona Valpy weaves the fictional story of Flora Gordon in The Skylark’s Secret. In 1977, Lexie Gordon returns to Loch Ewe from London after the death of her mother Flora. Lexie arrives home a single mother to baby Daisy, her West End singing career broken because of her damaged vocal chords. She feels a failure, gossiped about by the locals, seen as an outsider. Living in her mother’s cottage, she becomes curious about the father she never met and who her mother never spoke freely about. In this dual timeline story, the narrative alternates clearly between Lexie in the Eighties and Flora in 1940-1944. Flora lives with her widowed father, Iain, gamekeeper for local estate Ardtuath House, in a quiet village where the toughest enemy is the weather. Then one day a fleet of warships arrive, the first of many. Loch Ewe is to become the temporary base for the Home Fleet. As thousands of navy ratings and officers arrive, Iain and Flora hope
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Categories: Book Love.

#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.

#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.

#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.

Great Opening Paragraph 130 ‘Gilead’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to life a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! Because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows singed after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.” ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson BUY THE BOOK Read my reviews of Gilead, Housekeeping and Home by Marilynne Robinson. Try one of these
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

A Special Offer for you #womensfiction #bargain #ebooks

Do you like reading about female characters who change throughout the course of the story? Whose lives are not ideal, who react to the issues and experiences they face? Where a touch of romance enhances the story, but there’s a whole load of other things going on?  If that sounds like your kind of book, try this special offer of women’s contemporary fiction from 20+ authors I’ve partnered with. Simply click THIS LINK and scroll through the BARGAIN EBOOKS on offer to find one you like. This offer ends on DECEMBER 3, but don’t leave it until the last minute! Choose your To-Be-Read books to read through until the New Year. Here are three I’m tempted by. ‘Jess is dead, and it’s my fault.’ In Charcoal by JE Rowney, Anna Macbeth has spent her whole life trying to escape from her past. She left the rural Yorkshire village where she grew up for life as a family lawyer in London, but what secrets did she take with her? When a familiar voice telephones her with tragic news, Anna knows that running away is no longer an option, and that she has to return to face her demons. What led Anna to
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Categories: Book Love.

There’s still time to order a paperback for #Christmas

Don’t worry… there’s still time to order Christmas presents for your book-loving family and friends. If you know someone who loves stories about family mysteries, sagas and secrets with a touch of romance, why not give them a signed paperback copy of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ or ‘Connectedness’? Simply click the link below to order at my website. Payment is quick and secure by PayPal. Using the online form, it’s simple to specify your personalised dedication. It couldn’t be easier! Available in the UK only. ORDER ‘IGNORING GRAVITY’ ORDER ‘CONNECTEDNESS’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Give a signed copy of IGNORING GRAVITY or CONNECTEDNESS as a #Christmas gift https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Vh via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Diabolical Bones’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries

If you’ve never read a novel by one of the Brontë sisters, it doesn’t matter. There is plenty to enjoy about the Brontë Mysteries by Bella Ellis without figuring out the innumerable references to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Diabolical Bones is second in the crime series after the impressive first, The Vanished Bride. This one is better, and darker. When bones are found interred in the walls of a local house on the moor, the three detecting sisters and reluctant brother Branwell set out to confirm the child’s identity so it can be respectfully buried. There are few clues; the location of the find, the father and son who live in the house, the age of the child, and a medallion found with the bones. Top Withens, the remote house concerned, is said to be Emily’s inspiration for the house of the Earnshaw family, Wuthering Heights. Ellis has constructed a convincing world for the sisters; the parsonage, their blind father, housekeeper Tabby, the villagers in Haworth and wider circle of acquaintances. The charm of this portrayal of the Brontës is the strength of the series. Branwell’s presence is key as in 1852, lone
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘How to Belong’ by @SarahEFranklin #contemporary

How to Belong by Sarah Franklin considers what it is to belong – in a place, and within a family – and how not belonging affects one’s wellbeing. Like Franklin’s successful debut novel Shelter, How to Belong is set in the Forest of Dean, an at times stifling woodland location where community seems set beneath a magnifying glass in which everyone knows everyone else’s business and they rub along together. Except, they don’t if you don’t belong. This is the story of two women who don’t belong; one believes she does, the other thinks she is too different. Jo Porter grew up in the forest, daughter of the local butcher, and close friends with Liam whose single mum sometimes struggled to cope. Liam grew up learning to recognise his mum’s good and bad times and what to do when the bad periods happened, knowing there was always sanctuary provided by Jo’s parents. When Jo leaves the forest for university and then to work as a lawyer, Liam stays at home, marries Kirsty and has two daughters. Tessa is a farrier, loving her solitary job in the open air, working with horses. When her romance in Bristol with Marnie turns sour, Tessa retreats to
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… Ian Gouge #books #writerslife

Today I’m delighted to welcome poet and novelist Ian Gouge.  His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is EM Forster’s A Passage to India. “My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novel is perhaps an unfashionable choice: EM Forster’s A Passage to India. I first read the novel in 1976 when, having dropped out of school two years earlier, I enrolled at a sixth-form college to study A Levels before going on to take English at university. A Passage to India was one of the set texts, and – along with Auden and Yeats – responsible for kindling my love of literature. “I don’t re-read it that often, although I have done so this year – and, to be frank, was a little shocked by how dated it now seems. But for me it’s one of those books (like Heart of Darkness, which ran the Forster a close second!) where it is probably enough to know that it’s there should I ever need it. Perhaps my attachment to it is more about memory than anything. The images of the caves, a fantastic passage about wasps and heaven, the way Forster makes the landscape and environment resonate with the characters’ emotions – yes, it’s all of
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#Bookreview ‘Trio’ by William Boyd #humour #Brighton

It is 1968. In Paris, students are rioting. The Vietnam war continues while in America, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King have been assassinated. This is the timeframe of Trio, the very readable latest novel from William Boyd. Set in Brighton where a film crew is shooting Emily Bracegirdle’s Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon, the leading lady, Anny Viklund, is in bed with her co-star, pop singer Troy Blaze. The director’s wife, Elfrida Wing, is partaking of vodka from her secret stash in a Sarsons white vinegar bottle, rather than getting on with writing her next novel. The producer, Talbot Kydd, lays in his bath and tries to remember the dream he was having about a young man, pale and limber. The story follows these three characters, each of which is living a life of pretence. Talbot has a wife in Chiswick and a secret apartment in Primrose Hill. Elfrida, once lauded as ‘the next Virginia Woolf’, writes lists of book titles but no more. Anny has an unfortunate taste in older men and when her ex-husband goes on the run, she finds herself questioned by the FBI. Day by day, Boyd weaves together the twists and turns of
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition ‘The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen #oldbooks #bookcovers

First published in the UK by Knopf in 1948 [below] and in the USA the following year, The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen is one of the ‘must read’ novels about London in World War Two. Written during the war and highly regarded for its authenticity, it is both a spy story and a mystery. Time is a theme running throughout the novel both in the sense that war has severed the connection between the present and the past, and that time is precious and every minute is essential. Bowen liked to lift the lid from orderly life to see what lurked beneath. My dog-eared Vintage Classics paperback is the 1998 edition [above]. My favourite cover is probably the 1986 Penguin edition [see ‘Other Editions’ below] with its striking sketch of a young woman with her coat collar turned up. Read my review of The Heat of the Day. The current edition by Vintage Classics [above] is available as paperback and Kindle. BUY THE BOOK The story The story starts at a concert in a London park during The Blitz. Stella and Louie are displaced women in the city, both are unfaithful in their relationships. The main focus
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Tuscan Contessa’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies is a story of women at war where trust, between women, between strangers, is at the core of everything. Although the book’s title refers to Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi this is also the story of Italian-American Maxine, recruited by English special services to the fight against fascism in Tuscany. Once there and charged with assessing the ability and armaments of Italian partisans, Maxine she finds the fight is not only against the Germans but between Italian groups suspicious of each other. It is 1943 and in the exquisitely beautiful Tuscan countryside, trust is in short supply. Strangers may be spies or escaping Allied soldiers, the penalty for helping enemies has been followed by retaliation – massacres of villagers by the Nazis. Maxine, with her odd sounding Italian accent, must prove her worth if she is to do her job. She must also learn who to trust. When Maxine’s radio engineer James is wounded, he is sheltered by Sofia in her isolated castello. And so though very different characters, Maxine and Sofia find themselves on the same side; one is young, energetic and full of zeal, the other more cautious and concerned with protecting her
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Categories: Book Love.

#Christmas is coming… give someone a signed paperback

Are you planning your Christmas present list yet? If you know an avid reader who loves the touch and smell of real books, why not give them a signed paperback copy of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ or ‘Connectedness’? I’ll write a personalised dedication of your choice. Simply click the link below to order at my website. Payment is quick and secure by PayPal. It couldn’t be easier! Available in the UK only. ORDER ‘IGNORING GRAVITY’ ORDER ‘CONNECTEDNESS’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Give a signed copy of IGNORING GRAVITY & CONNECTEDNESS as a #Christmas gift https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Vc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.