Archives for books

#Bookreview ‘The Butterfly Room’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance #suspense

The latest family saga from Lucinda Riley sweeps from Southwold in Suffolk to Bodmin Moor, London to Cambridge, carrying with it the tangled secrets of three generations. The Butterfly Room is a big book, 640 pages, but I didn’t notice. This is so much more than a romance, though there is love – and betrayal – in its pages; at the centre of it all is Admiral House in Southwold, the home of the Montague family. The book opens in 1944 as Posy Montague catches butterflies with her Spitfire pilot father, just before he returns to the airforce for the last few months of the war. I actually found this a stuttering start, the first person voice of a seven-year old is difficult to pull off convincingly, even if she is bookish and described as ‘precocious’… a sharp, intelligent child, but one who doesn’t understand the behaviour of adults around her. In fact this first chapter is something of a prologue, setting up behaviour which rattles through the following generations. The story really took off for me when the 2006 strands start – Posy, now seventy; son Nick and girlfriend Tammy; daughter-in-law Amy; old friend Freddie and novelist lodger Sebastian.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #literary #WW2

Noah Selvaggio, a widower and retired chemistry professor, is about to leave New York for Nice, France, on an 80th birthday trip to discover his childhood roots. He expects to travel alone. Except in Akin by Emma Donoghue, Noah finds himself in temporary charge of his 11-year old great nephew Michael. The trip to Nice goes ahead, the old man and the boy learn new things about themselves, each other, and about the world. This is effectively a road trip in a book, more of a ‘holiday trip’. The unlikely travelling companions are quite sparky, irritating each other, each reacting wildly to the other’s strange cultural habits. Donoghue does an excellent job with the Nice setting, effortlessly bringing it alive; the gardens, the architecture, the food, the carnival, the French themselves. I loved the grumpiness that both characters demonstrate. Michael’s weary ‘dude’ when Noah tries to educate him about something – ‘it’s a selfie, dude’, ‘eyebleach, dude’; Noah’s repeated requests that Michael eat a proper meal that includes vegetables. Any adult who is not natural with children and who has spent uncomfortable time with an awkward teenager, will identify with Noah’s dilemma. Michael can be gentle, inquisitive, cocky, snide, exhausting and infuriating.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young @rileypurefoy #WW1

This is a Great War story of love/war, of duty/self-sacrifice, of denial of the truth and fear of change, of physical/mental scars. At the centre of the story is a lie told to protect. In My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, children from different classes, meet in a London park. When war is declared, knowing the gulf in their backgrounds prevents them from marrying, Riley volunteers and goes off to war. In the trenches he meets commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife Julia and cousin Rose remain at home in Kent throughout the war. This is the story of these five people. The first half of the book is a long set-up for the second half, when the interesting stuff begins. I made myself continue reading through the first half, and raced through the second. We see Riley and Nadine meeting, Riley’s transition from boy to teenager, his introduction to a new world. Nadine’s father is a famous conductor; their friends include musicians, writers and artists. He is taken under the wing of artist Sir Alfred who introduces him to art and music; good-looking Riley becomes a model for Sir Alfred
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Single Thread’ by @Tracy_Chevalier #historical #literary

Winchester in 1932 is the setting for Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel, A Single Thread. Chevalier is the most reliable novelist I know, time and again she writes books I grow to love and to re-read. She is the true example of an iceberg novelist. The depth and detail of her research is invisible, hidden below the surface of the written word, but it is there nonetheless informing every sentence so the reader is confident that the description of various embroidery stitches is accurate. Chevalier has written about fossil hunters, weavers, runaway slaves, orchardists and a famous Dutch painter. In A Single Thread the story involves Winchester Cathedral, bell ringing and embroidery. Violet Speedwell escapes her mother’s house in Southampton by getting a transfer to work in the Winchester office. Her mother is an emotional bully and Violet is desperate to get away, but not expecting it to be quite so difficult to survive alone on a typist’s salary. Lonely, desperate to make a success of her move, Violet looks for something to occupy her time so she does not have to sit with the other spinsters in the drawing room of her boarding house. One day she steps into the cathedral
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins #historical

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe. Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me. This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous #writers, writing… @jk_rowling

This is a typical writer’s scene. Laptop. Coffee. Intense concentration. Notebooks. Stack of reference books. JK Rowling appears to be writing in a hotel room [my assessment based on the hotel-style lamp and glossy table top]. Is she writing about wizards, or a private detective? I have a feeling she may be writing about Harry, rather than in her later guise as Robert Galbraith.   ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith BUY See these other writers, writing:- Rose Tremain Zadie Smith John Updike And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous #writers, writing… is @jk_rowling writing about a wizard or a private detective? #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3B1 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Long View’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard #literary #marriage

The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard is not so much a ‘what happens next’ novel as ‘what has happened in the past to lead to this situation’ story. It is a novel about choices and where they can lead. Howard tells the story, backwards from 1950 to 1926, of the marriage of Antonia and Conrad Fleming. As the story starts, the marriage seems doomed and you cannot help but wonder how these two people ever got married in the first place. In fact, once I finished it I was tempted to read it again from back to front. The first paragraph is a masterful example of scene setting. It opens with a dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Julian Fleming to June, who has secretly spent the afternoon alone at the cinema. As Antonia considers the complicated marital affairs of her son – and her daughter, Deirdre, who is pregnant by a man who does not love her – I wondered how her own marriage must have shaped her children’s handling of relationships and how hers, in turn, was shaped by her parents. I found Conrad an almost totally unsympathetic character, indeed in the first part he is
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Categories: Book Love.

#HistoryIdeas: #Circus #amwriting #researching

Welcome to a new series! A side effect of researching genealogy for my ‘Identity Detective’ series of novels is a rediscovered fascination with history. As a result I am reading more historical novels – perhaps you’ve noticed this in my book reviews – and am re-discovering different periods of history. This new series on my blog will consider historical settings for novelists and will feature ideas, places to start researching, useful archives, inspirational photographs, and novels to read. First, Circus. Circus is an ancient tradition crossing boundaries, continents, cultures and disciplines from dance to comedy to trick riding, animals and narrative. The primary origin is Rome where the ancient Roman amphitheatres were called ‘circuses’ after the Latin word for ‘circle’. These performances included gladiatorial combats, chariot races, the slaughter of animals, mock battles and other blood sports. For a novelist, the circus setting is infinitely switchable between genres. There are novels about circuses and vampires, circuses and spies, and of course horror. Pennywise in It by Stephen King has to be one of the most horrifying fictional clowns. The research resources are endless, too numerous to list here. Traditions vary by country – Russian, American, French, British, Chinese and African.
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage #poetry

The Unaccompanied is Simon Armitage’s first poetry collection in more than a decade during which he wrote drama, translation, travel articles and prose poetry. This collection doesn’t disappoint. It’s a mixture of familiar Yorkshire moors and sea, urban depression, Nature and human nature, globalisation and social media. His poems are accessible; at times witty and sad, they set the big questions of life against the small familiar details of every day. My favourite poem from this collection is ‘The Unaccompanied’. A walker at night stops to listen to the sound of singing, songs about mills and mines, myth and the mundane. It is a poem about heritage, about traditions spanning generations, from father to son, of the fathers that went before. It reminded me of traditional fishermen’s choirs, still popular on the East Yorkshire coast. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Wandering slowly back after dark one night above a river, towards a suspension bridge, a sound concerns him that might be a tune or might not; noise drifting in, trailing off.’ Amazon   Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find
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Categories: Poetry.

#Bookreview ‘On Writers and Writing’ by @MargaretAtwood #amwriting

At times a glimpse into the writing life of the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, On Writers and Writing by Margaret Atwood is a curious mixture of literary study of what it means to be a writer, and funny personal recollections. If you want a glimpse into how Atwood writes, this is not the book. If you want to understand more about the role of being a writer, the responsibility, the tricks, the two faces, the ego, then read on. This book evolved from a series of six Empson Lectures given at the University of Cambridge in 2000, aimed at scholars, students and the general reading public. That explains, I think, the eclectic subject mix which fluctuates between laugh-out-loud anecdotes and literary analysis. She is good on the state of the writer. “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person. Or so goes the alibi. On the other hand, this is a convenient way for a writer to wriggle out of responsibility, and
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Categories: On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read Lexi Rees @lexi_rees #books #children

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s author Lexi Rees. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. “Thanks so much for inviting me to share my Porridge and Cream book. I actually have a special bookcase for my ‘permanent collection’ – the books I go back to over and over again – and it’s hard to narrow it down to just one but, for a pure comfort read, I’m going to go with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’m sure you know it: “So long, and thanks for all the fish” etc; but in a nutshell, Arthur Dent, in his dressing gown, gets whisked onto a spaceship when Earth is demolished for a hyperspace bypass.” “I vividly recall stumbling across the radio series on my way home from school one day in the 1980s. My dad and I sat in the car outside the house laughing our heads off so it has happy family memories, and it still makes me laugh. I listened to the rest of the series on the radio, then got a copy from the library. My own copy is from 1992. By the way, I also love the
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

Friends in Low Places by Simon Raven, second in the ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, starts in April 1959 with an old character and a new. Widow Angela Tuck has taken up with a sleazy con man. Mark Lewson, who steals from Angela and then loses her money at the casino, is a loathsome character and she can’t wait to be rid of him. Rippling throughout the novel is the seemingly impossible plan hatched by Angela’s gambler friend to help her. He charges Lewson with buying or stealing a letter that incriminates the British Government in a scandal concerning Suez. This is an enjoyable read about a bunch of charlatans and is a window on the behavior of a group of the English upper class in the Sixties, when the reverberations of the Suez Crisis continued to ripple throughout society. At the heart is the manipulation by everyone concerned during the selection process by the local Tory party to choose its parliamentary candidate for Bishop’s Cross. When the mysterious letter about the Suez scandal becomes available, a chase is on to first, possess the letter; and second, to use it as a bargaining chip for the candidature. The Suez errors are never
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ by Enid Blyton #oldbooks #bookcovers

In the midst of World War Two, Enid Blyton [below] continued writing. The first of her Famous Five series, Five on a Treasure Island, was published on September 11, 1942, in London by Hodder & Stoughton [below]. Next in the series was Five Go Adventuring Again, published in 1943. Illustrator of the first edition was Eileen A Soper, who illustrated her own books and those for Elisabeth Gould as well as Blyton. Her series of designs of children and animals were used for a china series by Paragon China in the 1930s. The current Hodder Children’s edition [above] dates from 2017. BUY The story Three children – Julian, Dick and Anne – spend their summer holidays with their Aunt and Uncle at Kirrin Cottage, in the village of Kirrin. There they meet their tomboy cousin Georgina, who prefers to be called George, and George’s dog Timmy. And so they become five. Exploring the nearby Kirrin Island, a storm descends and stirs up an old shipwreck from beneath the waves. Exploring the wreck, the five find a treasure map in a box and decide to find the gold. But when Uncle Quentin sells the box to an antique dealer, he wants the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Bright Center of Heaven’ by William Maxwell #literary

This is the first novel by William Maxwell, author of Pulitzer finalist So Long, See You Tomorrow and fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine. He was there from 1936-1975 and worked with Cheever, Updike, Salinger and Nabokov, among others. Not a novel published singly, I found Bright Center of Heaven in an American anthology of Maxwell’s early work. This is a quiet read though ambitious in its subject matter, and well worth spending time with before reading Maxwell’s later works. He follows the time-honoured structure of placing a group of people in one place over a limited time period and observing what happens. It is a contemplative novel and, although it does work to a climax, it is more an insight into the mind of each character as events unfold. Widow Mrs West and her two teenage sons Thorn and Whitey live at Meadowland, a dilapidated farm that they can no longer afford to run, with her husband’s sister Amelia and her son Bascomb, German cook Johanna and farmer Gust. Thorn feels close to the land to the ten-acre field gifted to him by his father on his sixth birthday. Now Thorn helps Gust to work the fields. Gust is all
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘File under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall #genealogy #mystery

Second in the series about probate researcher turned genealogy detective Anna Ames, File Under Fear by Geraldine Wall takes off running from where the previous book left off. This is a well-written, page-turning series that combines family history, crime, family and secrets. But for me, the touchstone that makes it special is the sub-plot of Anna’s home life and her husband Harry’s dementia. If you haven’t read book one in the series, I suggest you start there to see the full emotional depth. Anna’s new contract sounds boring: to write a business report on Draycotts, the company which makes Drakes lurid orange and green drink, analysing how the family members coordinate together to run a successful business. But there is a secret element to her contract, to locate a missing person for CEO Gerald Draycott. This case sees Anna physically and emotionally intimidated and encompasses bullying, illegal smuggling and rape. An intense story with red herrings and wrong assumptions made about family members, the actual crimes being committed and in which Anna questions who to trust. Backing her up are her very likeable family and the multi-talented more-than-workmate Steve. Some of the resolutions fall into place a little conveniently at the
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Warlow Experiment’ by @alixnathan #literary #historical

This is a story of two men. One plays at being a god. The other grabs a chance to escape poverty. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan is about power, ambition, control, the disintegration of respect and vanishing of common sense. What a breath of fresh air this book is; it is so unusual. The country gentleman who conducts the experiment, Powyss, is an isolated character. He has no family and, when he has the idea of experimenting with the life of another man, thinks he is doing good by supporting the man’s family. In truth he seeks the approbation of the Royal Society. Warlow is a farm labourer who scrapes a living at the edge of starvation, struggling to feed this family. When he sees an advertisement asking for a man to take part in Powyss’s experiment, he sees it as an escape. So what is the experiment? Powyss is a man who experiments with exotic seedlings and plants. He sources them from abroad and studies them, experimenting with conditions – soil, temperature, water – to see which flourish in the climate of the Marches climate. It is a short step for him to wonder how a man would fare
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Stanley and Elsie’ by @nicolaupsonbook #literary #art #historical

My knowledge of English artist Stanley Spencer was sketchy to say the least when I started reading Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson. This is a biographical novel that walks a difficult line between true fact and imagined conversation and walks it with skill, delicacy and drama. Definitely a novel for anyone who loves art. Upson takes us into the Spencer household at Chapel View, Burghclere after the Great War when Elsie Munday starts work as a housemaid. Stanley Spencer has been commissioned to paint the inside of a chapel; his wife Hilda, also a painter, minds their young daughter Shirin. Through Elsie’s eyes we see the lives of this family, their ups and downs, the artistic differences, the selfishnesses of Stanley and Hilda, smoothed by the tact, diplomacy and efficiency of Elsie. The title could make some people assume Stanley and Elsie were romantically attached but theirs is a master/servant relationship that deepened into mutual respect and friendship. Stanley, selfish, focussed, is a difficult master, a difficult husband, and Elsie finds herself caught in the middle of disputes between husband and wife. Often she is exasperated with both of them. Instead she becomes indispensable to the household. Upson gives us
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #Irish #faith

What a compulsive read this is, starting slowly until its questions had me sneaking a few pages when I should have been working. The premise of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue sounds straightforward: a nurse and a nun are employed to observe and accompany an eleven-year old girl in rural Ireland who is surviving on ‘manna from heaven’. Is she a miracle or a fraud? This story is very far from straightforward. The task of Nurse Elizabeth Wright, who trained under Miss Nightingale at Scutari during the Crimean War, is to watch and and ensure no food is secretly passing the child’s lips. Strangely, for a nurse, Lib is not responsible for the health of the girl. A local committee, set-up to establish if Anna O’Donnell is secretly eating or if there is a religious wonder living in their village, pays the wages of two nurses, Lib and Sister Michael, for two weeks. Accepting nothing until she can prove it herself, Lib approaches her task with professional thoroughness, observing, measuring, weighing. Feeling isolated in a cramped home, surrounded by a religion she does not practise or understand, Lib gets little help from local doctor Mr McBrearty or priest Mr Thaddeus.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ @LesleyPearse #historical #romance

When a character in a film says ‘never’ it’s a sign that the impossible thing will definitely happen before the end. Such is the title of the new novel from Lesley Pearse,You’ll Never See Me Again. It is 1917 and a storm is thrashing the Devon coast at Hallsands. Betty Wellows is with her shell-shocked husband Martin at his mother’s home, safely up the cliffs. Martin no longer recognises Betty, he is a different man from the fisherman who went to war. Betty is working all hours to support her husband and his mother, putting up with insults, petty grievances, grief for the loss of her husband. As the storm becomes wild and dangerous, Agnes instructs her daughter-in-law to go to her own house beside the beach to rescue her belongings from the flood. Afraid, Betty escapes the older woman’s abuse and runs into the storm. As the waves crash into her home, Betty realises this is her chance to escape Hallsands, Agnes and Martin. The dramatic opening grabbed my attention and my emotions. Betty is trapped in a life of poverty with a husband who no longer recognises her and a mother-in-law who takes her money and treats her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Wakenhyrst’ by Michelle Paver @MichellePaver #gothic #mystery

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a creepy atmospheric novel that has been described as a ghost story, but the only ghosts in it are in the minds of the people. Which of course makes them enormously powerful and frightening. I found myself eager to return to this book, resenting time away from it. Paver is a skilled storyteller and I am coming to anticipate her new books with relish. If you haven’t read her adult novels, you are in for a treat. The story starts with a newspaper article written in 1966 entitled ’The Mystery of Edmund Stearne’. The journalist, who has spoken to Stearne’s daughter Maud about the conviction of her father for murder in 1913, casts doubt on Maud’s version of events. Could Maud be the guilty one? The story is set at Wake’s End, a country house at Wakenhyrst, a village beside the Guthlaf’s Fen in Suffolk. Paver creates this setting with all the intensity and atmosphere with which she created the Arctic in Dark Matter and the Himalayas in Thin Air. The fens haunt every aspect of life at the house and on bad days, when the weather closes in and the mind is in turmoil, the fens
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Categories: Book Love.