Archives for Book Love

#BookReview ‘Crossing the Lines’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish

I read Crossing the Lines, the new novella by Amanda Huggins – whose previous book won the 2021 Saboteur Award for Best Novella – in one sitting. Based on Red, Huggins’ runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, this is the fuller story of runaway Mollie and her dog, Hal. Fifteen-year old Mollie grows up on the New Jersey shoreline at Atlantic City but when her mother moves to boyfriend Sherman Rook’s home five states away in the west, Mollie goes too. She hasn’t even arrived at Oakridge Farm when she knows she’s made a mistake, and that her mother has too. At her new home she makes one friend, a stray dog. Then after weeks on edge waiting every night for the sinister Rook to stumble in from the bar and rattle the locked door of her bedroom, Mollie hears a gunshot in the henhouse and sees the body of a dead dog. She grabs $20, a road map and a sweater and sneaks out of the house. When she sees Rook’s pick-up with the keys in the ignition, she takes that too. This is a road trip back east as Mollie faces situations and people unknown, strange,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Town Called Solace’ by Mary Lawson #literary #smalltown

My favourite book of the year so far is also the discovery of a new author to love. A Town Called Solace is the fourth novel by Mary Lawson. The previous three have been nominated for, and won, many awards and much acclaim. I’m not sure how I have overlooked her but I’m now planning to catch-up. Such a quiet book with a powerful emotional punch, the story is set in a solitary lakeside town in northern Canada in 1972. It is a story of mistakes made and paid for, longed-for recompenses, the complexities of child/parent relationships and how things can so easily go wrong. Most of all it is about deep love, understanding and forgiveness. Told through the experiences of three people – eight-year old Clara, widow Elizabeth who is seriously ill in hospital, and Liam who appears one day and moves into the house next door to Clara’s family. Clara has a key to Mrs Orchard’s house next door so she can feed the shy cat Moses and spend time playing with him so he won’t be bored alone. Clara prefers this to being at home because her older sister Rose has run away and her parents aren’t
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Jane Austen A Life’ by Claire Tomalin #books #writerslife

As a lifelong Jane Austen fan, how I wish I had read this biography years ago. So many details from Jane’s life, her observations in letters to sister Cassandra and comments about Jane by her own relatives shed a spotlight on characterisations and situations portrayed in her novels. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin was first published in 1997. Limited by the destruction of so many of Jane’s own letters, Tomalin builds a picture of Jane’s life from the accounts of her family and acquaintances, and of life at that time in Georgian England. The amount of research done must be formidable but Tomalin sets her story of Jane Austen’s daily life against her literary progress, including the times when she was unable to write. She is revealed as having a sparkling and at times dry wit, perhaps more Lizzie Bennet than Emma Woodhouse.  Also interesting is the account of first her father then her brother Henry at getting her books published. On Jane’s death, Cassandra was sole proprietor of Jane’s copyright though Henry continued to negotiate with publishers. Any writer will be familiar with the reactions of one’s closest relatives to the publication of a new book. The
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ #romance #WW2

I prefer to come to a book without reading reviews so I can make up my own mind. But sometimes there is a book that I missed in its early days but which goes onto be hugely popular. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows is such a book. It was first brought to my attention by fellow author Claire Dyer who chose it as her ‘Porridge & Cream’ comfort read. When I asked Claire why it was her choice, she said, “it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent.” Now I know what she means. The story is told in letter form, a structure I admit to having doubts about before I started reading. But the manner in which the letters flow and the information is dripped in means there are no information gaps, no repetitions. It is 1946 and writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who by chance owns a book that once belonged to her. And so begins Juliet’s correspondence with Dawsey Adams and his fellow members of the Guernsey Literary
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Brush with Death’ by @fkleitch #crime #cosycrime

A Brush with Death by Fiona Leitch is the second Nosey Parker cosy mystery and the first I’ve read. Jodie Parker, ex-Metropolitan police officer, and newly single mum has returned home to Cornwall. It’s the week of Penstowan’s inaugural arts festival and Jodie, no longer working for the police, is doing the catering. The festival’s main attraction is painter Duncan Stovall, famous for his Penstowan series of sea paintings. This is a story with instant fizz. Written in the first person, Jodie’s, I loved the sly sometimes saucy asides that pull you straight into the jokes, the personalities and the action. If it were an item of food on a menu catered by Jodie, this book would be a mash-up of a Cornish saffron bun slathered with butter and clotted cream, a mug of steaming tea and a glass of scrumpy. Cornwall is a part of the book’s DNA, not just the dialect of the Penstowan residents or the food but the wonderful descriptions of coastal scenery that make you want to get into the car and head south on the M5. When a visiting author is found dead at the bottom of the cliffs Jodie can’t resist sticking her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Beneath the Keep’ by Erika Johansen #fantasy #Tearling

Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen is the standalone prequel novel to her Tearling trilogy, the first of which was excellent, the second good, the third disappointing. Beneath the Keep is every bit as good as the first novel, if not better. If you haven’t read the trilogy, read this first. It’s a rollercoaster ride, a dystopian story of a country at war, the rich denying the poor, drought, famine, rebellion, cruelty and the hope of a True Queen who may exist at some time in the future. Many names are familiar from the trilogy, many are completely new.Christian is twenty. An orphan, he was born in the Creche, the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Tear’s capital city New London. The Creche is only one layer of the underground and it is not the worst, in some dark places unimaginable horrors take place. Since he was a small child, Christian has been a fighter. Now he is a legend, unbeaten, still alive unlike the many he defeated. It is a deadly game of kill or be killed. He cares only for one person. As small children he and fellow orphan, now prostitute, Maura were sold together into slavery, together they learned
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Blessing’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford tells of the wartime romance and marriage of young Englishwoman Grace Allingham and dashing Frenchman Charles-Edouard de Valhubert. Both are aristocratic but from completely different backgrounds. How, you wonder, could this marriage possibly work. Mitford has great fun with the gulf of understanding between the two nationalities, still recovering after the war. At the beginning of the war, Grace’s fiancé Hughie goes off to fight. Despite being engaged, she falls head over heels in love with the flirtatious Frenchman Charles-Edouard and marries him. A fortnight after their wedding, Charles-Edouard returns to Cairo. Nine months later, Grace gives birth to a boy, Sigismond. The war years pass by. Grace ‘lived in a dream of Charles-Edouard, so that as the years went by he turned, in her mind, into somebody quite divorced from all reality and quite different from the original.’ Even when peace is declared, Charles-Edouard’s return is announced and delayed, announced and delayed. Always, there is a gap between expectation and reality. Not all is as it seems. When he finally returns, he collects his wife and now five-year-old son and takes them to live in France, first at the family seat Bellandargues in Southern
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Deadly Discovery’ by @JCKenney1 #cosycrime #crime

Needing a change one day, as I sometimes crave a calming walk in the green countryside, I picked up cosy mystery A Deadly Discovery by JC Penney. Knowing the book was fourth in a series, I didn’t know what to expect. Literary agent Allie Cobb lives in Rushing Creek, Indiana where her life revolves around her clients, their manuscripts, taking her cat Ursi for a walk, family and friends. Having previously investigated local murders, and being injured in the process, before this book starts Allie had promised her nearest and dearest that she would drop her private investigating. But when a body turns up in the local woods, everyone wonders if it could be a girl who disappeared twenty ago. As Allie asks questions around town, tensions with the police department arise with suspicions of clues missed at the time of the original disappearance. This is a different style of whodunnit in that the story is firmly anchored and clues processed in the head of detective Allie. This is a tell-don’t-show style that sinks us into Allie’s daily life and concerns, the reader must unravel the clues from the seemingly ordinary. Of course this is a mystery story so clues,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Winter Pilgrims’ by Toby Clements #historical

This is the first of a four-book series about the Wars of the Roses. Toby Clements is a new author for me, I admit to picking up the paperback in a bookshop when browsing and am happy to find an unknown historical author to explore. Winter Pilgrims is the first of the four novels, telling the well-documented story of the Lancaster versus York wars through the eyes of two fictional people on the edge of the action. In February 1460, at a priory in Lincoln, two people flee from marauding soldiers. Despite living yards apart in the same priory Brother Thomas and Sister Katherine have never met until this morning, their previously segregated lives are to be entwined as they escape danger only to encounter new threats. And some old ones. At first I worried that the plot was moving slowly and felt occasionally drowned by detail, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. By the end – and it’s a long book, the paperback is 560 pages – I wanted to starting reading the second novel straight away. Clements excels at historical detail, particularly soldiers and fight scenes, living conditions and basic human detail. Both characters are conflicted
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Heiress’ by @MollyJGreeley #historical #romance

An intriguing premise for this second novel by Molly Greeley which re-imagines the story of a minor character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In The Clergyman’s Wife it was Charlotte Collins, in The Heiress it’s the turn of Anne de Bourgh. Well-written in a slightly modernised style of Austen, it is easy to slip into the head of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s sickly daughter who at first sight seems an unpromising protagonist. But keep reading. Greeley starts with the birth of a daughter to a young married couple. In order for this book to work you have to both forget Austen’s portrayal of Anne, to sink yourself into the life of this delicate child, but also to remember the original. That is the path to enjoying the asides, thoughts and occasionally darting but puzzling urges that Anne experiences growing up. Scenes I looked forward to, critical in Pride and Prejudice, were skirted over here in favour of new material. Familiar characters occur, some more importantly than others – Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Collins – but this is 100% Anne’s story. Sickly from birth, Anne is dosed twice daily with laudanum drops. She is protected from exertion, emotions and unspecified dangers of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Time to be in Earnest’ by PD James #writerslife #diary

Time to be in Earnest by PD James is not a conventional writer’s autobiography. Instead it is the year in her life between her 77th and 78th birthdays during which A Certain Justice, the tenth Adam Dalgliesh book was published, and in which dates, places and events trigger memories from her life. She died in 2014 at the age of 94 and was prolific to the end. Her final book Death Comes to Pemberley was published in 2011 and two editions of short stories were published after her death. James sets the tone of the autobiography in the Prologue, “There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things. They are over and must be accepted, made sense of and forgiven, afforded no more than their proper place in a long life in which I have always known that happiness is a gift, not a right.” Her diary entries, some brief, some long, make this an ideal book to dip in and out of. She is a pragmatic, factual commentator who is at times forthright, other times secretive. Like all good autobiographies, familiar names are scattered throughout –
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Here We Are’ by Graham Swift #literary #Brighton

What a delightful slim story is Here We Are by Graham Swift. On the surface it’s a simple tale of a summer season at the theatre at the end of Brighton Pier in 1959. It’s a tale about a magician and his assistant. It’s also a tale about perception and delusion, truth and lies, what is real and an illusion. When young magician Ronnie Deane gets a job for a seaside summer season, he advertises for an assistant. Evie White has experience in the chorus line but has never worked for a magician before. They are both on a steep learning curve. Their guide in Brighton is Ronnie’s friend Jack Robbins, compere, listed on the bill as Jack Robinson. ‘Some patter, some gags, some of them smutty, a bit of singing, some dancing, some tapping of his heels.’ As Ronnie and Evie, listed as ‘Pablo & Eve’, perfect their act, work their way up the bill, they go out as a foursome in the evenings with Jack and his latest girl. They change so frequently Evie can’t keep track of their names, instead thinking of them simply as ‘the Floras’. This is principally Ronnie’s story, how at the age of
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton #oldbooks #bookcovers

Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel and the one which would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921; the first woman to do so. This [below left] is the American first edition, published by D Appleton. It is said the first choice of the Pulitzer judges was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, which was rejected on ‘political grounds’. Wharton’s story first appeared in 1920 in the magazine Pictorial Review, serialised in four parts, then published in book form in the USA by D Appleton. It is believed the title of the novel was taken from the painting by Joshua Reynolds [above] which was much reproduced in the late 18th century and came to represent the commercial face of childhood. The current edition by Wordsworth Classics [above] dates from 1994. BUY THE BOOK The story Set in 1870s upper class New York society, The Age of Innocence was set around the time of Wharton’s own birth. She wrote the book had allowed her to find “a momentary escape in going back to my childish memories of a long-vanished America… it was growing more and more evident that the world I had grown up in and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Amy & Isabelle’ by @LizStrout #contemporary #literary

The mother and daughter portrayed in Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout are at odds with each other. The events of one long sweltering summer in Shirley Falls are simple, familiar across the ages, but are told with a hefty emotional punch. So strong is this book it’s difficult to see that it was Strout’s first novel, published in 2000 to be followed only eight years later by her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge. Strout is adept at peeling away the layers of character and events to show the raw emotion, shame, guilt and pain beneath. When Isabelle Goodrow arrived in Shirley Falls with her baby daughter, she took a job at the local mill. Now, in a time that feels like 1970s America, Amy is sixteen and has a summer job in the same office as her mother. They sit and fume at each other, barely talking, brushing past each other without a word. Amy, who has fallen in love with her maths teacher, believes her upright, unemotional mother, has no idea of what she is feeling right now. Isabelle despairs of her daughter’s behaviour. Told in absorbing detail, switching between the two viewpoints, the trauma of the two women
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #historical

When she is 21, a moment’s dalliance in a bush forces orphan Elizabeth to marry soldier John Macarthur. The story of their marriage in 1788, journey to the colony of Australia on board a convict ship and life in the new settlement called Sydney Town, is told in A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville. Elizabeth was a real woman but little is known of her, though her husband features in Australia’s history books as the British army officer who became a politician, legislator and pioneer of the Australian wool industry. Grenville is free to imagine what life must have been like as a white settler, and a woman, in a rough, uncultured town where the native people are viewed as animals. Very quickly Elizabeth finds her new husband is a bully and her new home is a brutal, unforgiving, judgmental place. She spends much time alone with her sickly son and survives by disguising how clever she is, particularly from her husband. More children quickly follow and she bonds more with the convicts who work for her as servants, than she does with the wives of her husband’s friends. An outlier, she decides to improve her learning and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan #amwriting #writetip

The advice often given to inexperienced writers is to read, read, read. But alongside this reading must go the ability to analyse the novelist’s technique, learn, and apply that to your own writing. Professor John Mullan dissects the craft of the novelist in How Novels Work, based on a series of essays originally written for The Guardian newspaper. From structure to voice, he considers the mechanics of putting a novel together with frequent references to familiar novels from Robinson Crusoe to Brick Lane, The Corrections to From Russia With Love. This book is a toolbox of writing techniques, starting with Beginnings – title, epigraph, prologue – right through Narrating, Genre, Voices, Structure and Style to Endings – epilogue, postscript, false endings. It is a dense read, but each chapter is broken into 2-3 page sections making it easier to digest. I found the Devices section particularly interesting, including the use of fictional documents presented as real in a narrative. Signs, advertisements, maps and timetables in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, letters in Possession by AS Byatt and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, emails in The Human Stain by Philip Roth and I Don’t Know
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Moonflower Murders’ by @AnthonyHorowitz #crime

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a sandwiching together of two mysteries – one murder, one disappearance – that take place eight years apart in the same place. Second in Horowitz’s crime series featuring literary agent Susan Ryeland and Atticus Pünd, the fictional hero of her client Alan Conway’s 1950s detective books – are you keeping up? – this is at the same time a page-turning read and a mystifying Rubik’s Cube challenge. Definitely a book that will reward re-reading. Susan’s, now deceased, author Conway loved word play and riddled his short novels with in-jokes, complicated clues and witticisms. Many of these only make sense at the very end of Horowitz’s book. Susan, now living in Crete with boyfriend Andreas, running the just-surviving Hotel Polydorus, is asked by the owners of Branlow Hall hotel in Suffolk to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily. Eight years earlier, one of the hotel’s staff was convicted of murdering a guest, Frank Parris. Shortly after the trial, Conway visited the hotel after which he wrote, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. The book was edited by Susan who knew nothing about the links to the real-life crime. Cecily, who manages Branlow Hall with her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Cecily’ by @anniegarthwaite #historical

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite was a gradual falling-in-love process for me as I became so immersed in the story and fell in fascination with the character of Cecily Neville. What a wonderful fictionalised account of the Duchess of York it is. Mother of two kings, equal partner to her husband Richard, mother, politician, diplomat, kingmaker. I started knowing nothing more of her than that she was mother to both Edward IV and Richard III. Garthwaite paces herself in the telling of Cecily’s story and there were times when the [necessary] exposition of England’s 15th century politics and the seemingly endless battles and arguments of the Wars of the Roses, seemed to pause the narrative. But as the pages turn, the tension builds as you wonder how the family will survive. The politics and family connections of the time were intricately linked and can be confusing, so the exposition is a necessary part of the novel. Cecily is a gift of a character who was somehow overlooked in the history books, as Garthwaite explains in her afterword, ‘Writing Cecily’. “Cecily lived through eighty years of tumultuous history, never far from the beating heart of power. She mothered kings, created a dynasty,
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Invisible Man’ by @MargaretAtwood #poetry

At Christmas I was given Dearly, the slim hardback book of Margaret Atwood’s poems. I’ve never thought of her as a poet but Dearly is a revelation. As with her novels, Atwood crystalises those intense emotional moments of life, the ones that stay with us, and sets them into everyday context. This is a wonderful collection about growing old, rememberings, endings and beginnings, passing by and moving on. Dedicated to her partner it is a personal collection, and very touching. The poem I have chosen is ‘Invisible Man’. A short poem of five verses, full of how it feels to lose your lifelong partner. The absence at the table, on a walk, like an invisible man in comic books, still there but seen only by the one left behind, remembering This poem is subject to copyright restrictions so here’s the first verse as a taster. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Invisible Man’ It was a problem in comic books: drawing an invisible man. They’d solve it with a dotted line that no one but us could see’ BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:-
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

#BookReview ‘Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams @adelegeras #Rajah

Like Adèle Geras, who as Hope Adams wrote Dangerous Women, I saw the Rajah quilt at an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2009. What a fascinating piece of history, and what a twisty fictional story Geras has written using the quilt as inspiration. Dangerous Women is set in 1841 aboard the transport ship Rajah as it sails from Woolwich, England bearing 180 female convicts to Van Dieman’s Land [today’s Tasmania]. What a fascinating piece of history this is. Geras takes the true story of the ship – some of her characters are real, including matron Kezia Hayter – and tells a tale of troubled, sometimes wronged and abused women, confined together on a ship for three months. Miss Hayter is the only free woman on board and, at the behest of the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, organises a team of 18 women who can sew. Every day they stitch patchwork, creating the now famous quilt, but also stitching together the truth of their own lives, their crimes and hopes for a new beginning in a strange country. Miss Hayter is a young well-meaning woman, perhaps naïve, but with a strong belief in
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Categories: Book Love.