Archives for books

A poem to read in the bath… ‘My Father’ by Yehuda Amichai #poetry

I came across this very short poem – only six lines – in an anthology. The book has been on my shelf for quite a while and every now and then I pick it up and flick through at random. One day, the page fell open at this exquisite poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, translated from the Hebrew by Azila Talit Reisenberger. Written as an adult, in this scant lines Amichai captures the ongoing love of child for parent, caught in a tiny everyday familiar detail. Said Ted Hughes of Amichai, “I’ve become more than ever convinced that Amichai is one of the biggest, most essential, most durable poetic voices of this past century–one of the most intimate, alive and human, wise, humorous, true, loving, inwardly free and resourceful, at home in every human situation. One of the real treasures.” Amichai died in 2000. His poems, written in Hebrrew, have been translated into 40 languages. All poetry is political, Amichai told the Paris Review: “This is because real poems deal with a human response to reality, and politics is part of reality, history in the making. Even if a poet writes about sitting in a glass house drinking tea, it
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Categories: Poetry.

#BookReview ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

Always on the lookout for a new thriller series to sink into, I am a late discoverer of the Jackson Lamb books by Mick Herron. Soon to be filmed as ‘Slough House’ and starring Gary Oldman as Lamb, it seemed a good time to start with book one, Slow Horses. Lamb is the quixotic leader of Slough House, the place where British spies go when they have messed up. They work in a scruffy non-descript building doing boring, repetitive, desk-based jobs and dream of going on ‘ops.’ The reason for each person’s banishment is not spoken by some pact of olvidado but they are all intensely curious about each other. Very much on the outside, they are derided at the Park, the Regent’s Park MI5 headquarters run by ‘dogs’ and ‘achievers.’ The book is littered with spy language, at first confusing, but soon accepted without a second thought. As always, the first book in a series can be slow to progress, given the need to establish characters, setting and world. And there are a lot of characters, some of whom were cardboard cut-outs with names. The action really gets moving with Hassan, a student who has been kidnapped by three
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Prince and a Spy’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Rory Clements is fast becoming an author I turn to when I need a page-turning read to relax into. A Prince and a Spy is fifth in his Tom Wilde Second World War series and it doesn’t disappoint. Woven into true history of the conflict – the fatal crash in Scotland of the Duke of Kent’s plane, the holocaust – Clements adds real and fictional characters, intrigue and competing spies, to make this an enjoyable read. When history professor Wilde returns by train home to Cambridge he bumps into a former student. Cazerove seems distracted, distressed, munching on a bag of sweets. Before the train reaches its destination, Cazerove dies of poisoning. So begins a typical Clements thriller – strong characters, true history and a string of unrelated incidents. When the Duke of Kent’s plane crashes on a remote hill in Scotland, the public is told his plane came down in heavy fog when taking off for Iceland on operational duties. In the world of A Prince and a Spy, the flying boat was returning from a secret diplomatic mission in Sweden where the Duke met his German cousin, a former member of the Nazi party. Wilde, working for the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘All Our Squandered Beauty’ by @troutiemcfish #novella #grief

At 122 pages, All Our Squandered Beauty by Yorkshire writer Amanda Huggins packs a powerful punch. It is a sensitively managed novella of a teenager navigating young love, relationships and sex while pulled underwater by grief for the father who died when she was young. His disappearance at sea has never been explained, his body never found; but gossip is becoming history. Kara Bradshaw, believing he would never leave her, hangs on to memories of time they spent together, sure of his love. It is 1978 at Elmwick Bay in Yorkshire. Kara’s youth was punctuated by life beside the sea, gathering sea glass from the sand, identifying the birds flying overhead, watching stars in the night sky, tales of local legends and folklore. All occupations she enjoyed with her father. Now as a seventeen-year-old, Kara hangs out with bikers at Charelli’s café and the amusement arcade but fancies her art teacher, Leo. A thread running throughout the book is that all is not always as it seems, something Kara must understand if she is to accept the past and move on into adulthood. But first she must acknowledge her grief and let her father go. A promising artist, Kara cannot
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson #classic #literary

Jack by Marilynne Robinson is fourth in her Gilead series, following Gilead, Home and Lila and is a love story. Jack Boughton is the troubled son of Presbyterian minister, and Della, the attractive, black, high school teacher, daughter of a Methodist minister. This is a novel about the quality of love, its consequences, and whether sometimes loving someone means saying goodbye. The story starts with such a brave scene for any author to write – a two-hander between Jack and Della as they meet accidentally at night. They are locked in a graveyard in St Louis and spend the night walking in conversation about life, their families, themselves, the world. A disreputable white man and a successful attractive black woman, in 1950s America. The conversation ebbs and flows, jumping from subject to subject as a real discussion does. They do not talk about love, but throughout the course of a number of chaste meetings, they fall in love. It is sublime prose to sink into and absorb. Such small, familiar detail brings Jack and Della instantly to life. They are real and you care for them. The graveyard scene is long, so long I wondered if it took up the
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 131 ‘The Go-Between’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ‘The Go-Between’ by LP Hartley BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara THE GO-BETWEEN  by LP Hartley #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Islands of Mercy’ by Rose Tremain #historical

In Bath, England in 1865, such are Jane Adeane’s nursing skills that she is known as the Angel of the Baths. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain is about Jane’s destiny to make something of herself, a journey which involves choosing between a tempestuous love affair with another woman and marriage to a respectable doctor. Being the Angel of the Baths is not enough for her and this impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Islands of Mercy is in fact three stories in one, lightly linked together by the merest connection and fleeting physical meeting. The story starts with Clorinda Morrissey who arrives in Bath from Ireland. ‘She was not beautiful, but she had a smile of great sweetness and a soft voice that could soothe and calm the soul’. By selling a ruby necklace, a family heirloom, Clorinda sets up what becomes a highly popular tea room. It is in this tea room that she first sees Jane Adeane who is taking tea with a man. Jane leaves abruptly and Clorinda is curious why. The man concerned is Doctor Valentine Ross, medical partner of Jane’s father Sir William Adeane and brother of naturalist Edmund Ross, currently pursing
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Categories: 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 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.

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.

#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.

#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.

#BookReview ‘Machines Like Me’ by Ian McEwan #literary #AI #scifi

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan is an awkward book to review. Some elements jarred and dragged me off the page but curiosity drove me on to the end. When I finished it I realised I felt let down because I’d been waiting for a twist that didn’t come. Ultimately this book is out of the same drawer as Nutshell, a single clever premise which promises more. Charlie works from home, living in a rented flat, making money by dealing money online. From a distance, he loves his upstairs neighbour Miranda. They are brought together by Charlie’s purchase of a robot; synthetically human, the male robot is one of the very first batch commercially available. Miranda agrees to ‘share’ him. Once Adam is plugged in and charging, his personality can be selected online. Charlie and Miranda share this equally, neither knowing what features the other selected. Adam is part child, part flatmate, soon co-worker and asker of awkward questions. He also becomes an inconvenient love rival. As Charlie and Miranda share the ownership of Adam, in parallel they also become involved in the life of a neglected human child, Mark, first encountered in a local playground. The setting is an
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ by Rachel Joyce #adventure

What an uplifting read is Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, an author who never fails to deliver a read that is both thoughtful and chuckle-out-loud. It is a tale of failure, friendship, the spirit of adventure and never-say-die. Above all it is a story of not giving up, never allowing yourself to be defeated. Margery Benson has never fit in, never married. It is 1950 and she is a teacher at a girls’ school, mocked and ridiculed by pupils, never liked by colleagues. Alone now after the death of her aunts who raised her after the death of her parents, she knows she lacks self-worth but doesn’t know how to change things. The one thing that gives her pleasure is remembering time spent as a child with her father who encouraged her to read. Her favourite book was Incredible Creatures, an illustrated guide to extinct and ‘never found’ animals. Margery fell in love with a gold beetle suspected to be living on the Pacific island of New Caledonia. A sequence of events sets the middle-aged Margery on an ocean liner bound for Australia in search of both the beetle and a purpose for her life. After interviewing and rejecting
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Sounds of the Day’ by Norman MacCaig #poetry #Scotland

The poems of Scottish poet and teacher Norman MacCaig are noted for their simplicity and directness. Irish poet Seamus Heaney described MacCaig’s verse, ‘His poems are discovered in flight, migratory, wheeling and calling. Everything is in a state of restless becoming: once his attention lights on a subject, it immediately grows lambent.’  Describing his native Scotland, MacCaig shows us the familiar world with a freshness and a keen eye for humble subjects. This poem is subject to copyright restrictions. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Sounds of the Day’ When a clatter came, It was horses crossing the ford. When the air creaked, it was A lapwing seeing us off the premises Of its private marsh. A snuffling puff Ten yards from the boat was the tide blocking and Unblocking a hole in a rock. When the black drums rolled, it was water Falling sixty feet into itself. BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Along The Field As We Came By’ by AE Housman ‘The Boy Tiresias’ by Kate Tempest ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Towers And if you’d like to tweet a link to
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Categories: Poetry.

Great Opening Paragraph 129 ‘The Paying Guests’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling so sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.” ‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte ’Personal’ by Lee Child ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eA via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.