Archives for books

#BookReview ‘Staying Afloat’ by @SueWilsea #shortstories

Staying Afloat, the first anthology of short stories by Hull-based writer Sue Wilsea, has as its sub-text her experience teaching English in schools, colleges, prisons, libraries and community centres and this breathes life into her stories. She writes about lost children, bereaved children, struggling parents and struggling teachers with sincerity and a touch of humour. I’ve chosen three of the 19 stories in Staying Afloat. You can read more of Wilsea’s stories in her second anthology, Raw Materials. ‘Shapes. Colours’ is the story of Stephen who loves his teacher Miss Anderson dearly but avoids her gaze every morning when she points to the thermometer chart and asks how everyone is feeling today. Stephen has a Worry that started “as just a tiny spider of anxiety, scuttling around in his head at night when he couldn’t sleep.” To avoid attention in class, Stephen usually chooses yellow or orange rather than a dark colour. In ‘Two Ophelias and Me’, first published in QWF magazine, an unnamed narrator thinks of two friends, Lin and Lyndsey, who jumped off the Humber Bridge. “I like to think of their hair and clothes streaming out like twin Ophelias (the three of us went to see Hamlet
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 121… ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.” ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ by Ernest Hemingway BUY Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend 90 ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant 10 ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey 76 And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3JG via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ is 5 years old today #giveaway #freebook

On November 21, 2014, I danced around the house, singing to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Why? It was publication day for Ignoring Gravity. Five years on, I’d like to celebrate with you… so I’m giving away free Ignoring Gravity ebooks. In Ignoring Gravity, book one of the Identity Detective series, Rose Haldane says, “I can’t stop searching. I might as well try and ignore gravity. I’ve found half my family. Half, fifty per cent, not a hundred per cent.” The urge to know who we are is contagious, that’s why billions around the world research their family trees. I know I am descended from farmers and fishermen. Who are you descended from? And are there any interesting skeletons in your closet? To follow Rose’s search for her own identity, click here to download your own free copy of Ignoring Gravity and sign-up for my newsletter. I’d love to know what you think of Rose and her adoption mystery. You’ll receive occasional emails from me sharing news about the ‘Identity Detective’ series, the release date of the next book ‘Sweet Joy’, special book offers I think you might like, and I’ll share some secrets about my writing. You can unsubscribe at any time. Already read Ignoring
Read More

Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

How Holly Bourne writes #writerslife #amwriting

Holly Bourne “People think that world-building is something you only need to do in fantasy novels. But [with the character of Tori] I had to think: what’s the name of her book? What’s her brand? How does she write to her readers? How do they respond? I had to work on this imaginary career trajectory that she has.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 9, 2018]  I reacted to this remark by young adult author Holly Bourne, who is now writing adult novels too, with familiarity and and a degree of puzzlement. Familiarity because I understand what she means, how she places her character into a world and sees what happens, how she makes decisions about the framework of that world in order for the story to progress. Puzzlement about the reference to world-building as being limited to fantasy novels; really? Isn’t that what all novelists do, whatever the genre? Imagine a world, create characters, let the two combine and see what happens. Isn’t that part of writing? Or am I missing something? How Do You Like Me Now? is Bourne’s first adult novel. She is a successful YA writer, her YA novels include It Only Happens in
Read More

Categories: On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘The Art of the Imperfect’ by @KateEvansAuthor #Yorkshire #crime

The Art of the Imperfect by Kate Evans starts with a murder but this mystery set in a Yorkshire seaside town is not a thriller, it is not a police procedural, it is not cosy crime; it a story about the psychology of the people concerned and the after-effects of the event. Evans is a counsellor, like her protagonist Hannah Poole, and this allows her to bring an emotional depth and understanding to her characters. This is the first in the Scarborough Mysteries series and was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award in 2015. Like Emma Woodhouse, Hannah is a serial not-finisher. She has failed to finish training to be an accountant, a plumber and, twice, to be a counsellor. This is the third time she’s tried the counselling thing, and now she discovers a dead body. Her boss. A large number of characters are introduced in the first few pages, and names are littered around which I found dislocating. But I love the drawing of the Yorkshire setting, the town of Scarborough– my home town, so I am biased – the train journey to York, all done with a light hand. For example, ‘The sea is below
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Half of the Human Race’ by Anthony Quinn #WW1 #suffragette

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn is a gem of a novel, one to keep and re-read. The front cover illustration suggests it is another Great War love story, but it is so much more than that. In fact the warfare occupies only a hundred or so pages. Rather, it is a character study of England before the war, of suffragettes and cricketers, of a different time, when the demands put on love were extreme. A new king is being crowned and the protestations of votes for women are taking a violent turn. Set against this background in 1911, we meet the key characters at a cricket match. Connie Calloway is a former medical student who now works in a bookshop after her father’s suicide left her family poorer than they expected to be. Will Maitland is a young county cricketer rubbing shoulders with the great ‘Tam’, AE Tamburlain, as popular as WG Grace. A flicker of attraction carries the pair throughout this story as both consider questions of loyalty and belief and where love fits into the mix. When the ageing Tam’s place in the M−Shire team is threatened, Will must consider whether to support his friend
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Snakes’ by Sadie Jones #thriller #suspense

Bea and Dan come from completely different places. He is a mixed race boy from Peckham, South London, trying to make it as an artist but working as an estate agent. She is the daughter of parents with multiple homes, multiple cars, who travel in private jets and stay in luxurious hotels. Dan knows Bea dislikes her parents and their wealth, and applauds Bea’s decision to live an ordinary life with him in a scruffy flat. But Bea hasn’t been honest with him, she is an heiress to billions. Welcome to the Adamson family in The Snakes by Sadie Jones. Billed as a psychological thriller, to me The Snakes is more a story of 360° snobbishness where characters make assumptions about the lives of others based on prejudice; it is about greed and excessive consumption; moral superiority in all quarters, a conviction of being right; racism; and unfamiliar police procedures, all wrapped up in the story of a seriously messed up family. The setting in rural France is beautifully written. One of the best, creepiest scenes is early on when Bea walks alone across the fields in the summer heat and takes a dip in a nearby stream. This early action
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch @Angela_Petch #WW2 #romance

The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch is one of those books that is difficult to define. Is it a romance; partly. Is it historical; yes if World War Two counts as historical. Is it a page turner; for me, not quite. The heart of this novel lies in its Italian setting. The author lives part of the year in Tuscany and it really shows. From the descriptions of the countryside to the food and customs, The Tuscan Secret is totally believable. The deserted village of Montebotelino is real, I recommend watching the author’s short video on her Amazon page. Two women – Ines, her daughter Anna – share tangled family histories. Ines has recently died and leaves to Anna some money and a box of diaries. Written in Italian, Anna cannot decipher the diaries so decides to leave behind her own unsatisfactory love life and use her mother’s money to travel to Rofelle in Tuscany. Why did Ines leave idyllic Roffele, what secrets did she write in the diaries, and how did she come to marry an Englishman. This is a dual timeline story which switches back and forth between mother and daughter. Anna arrives in Rofelle where she moves into
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#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.
Read More

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.
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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.
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love.