Archives for books

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.

#BookReview ‘The Pull of the Stars’ by @EDonoghueWriter #historical

In Dublin, 1918, it is a time of immense global and social change. Emma Donoghue’s latest novel The Pull of the Stars takes place almost exclusively in a cramped three-bed fever ward in an understaffed hospital. All patients are pregnant and quarantined while the world is racked by war and influenza. Both of these are unpredictable, killing at random, lasting longer than predicted and classless. This is an at times breath-taking, touching and emotional novel that sucks you into a feverish dream so you want to read on and on. Taking place over three days, Nurse Power arrives for work to find herself temporarily in charge. Donoghue excels at the ordinary detail of Julia’s life, her journey to work, the arbitrary rules of the matron, the needs at home of her war-damaged soldier brother Tim who is now mute. On the day the story stars, Julia’s only help comes from an untrained young volunteer, Bridie McSweeney, who acts as a runner to find doctor or orderly as required. The figure of three recurs – three beds, three days, three key characters. The third, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, is a real person, her history documented. She was arrested during the 1916 Easter
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… Linda Jones @LJonesauthor #books #LordoftheRings

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s writer Linda Jones. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. “In 1979 I lived in Bristol, in a house full of university graduates. For my birthday, they clubbed together and bought me a paperback copy of the full, unabridged edition of The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien. Ecstatic didn’t get close! “I’ve always loved fantasy in all its forms; from science fiction to fairy tales. I remember ‘devouring’ that huge tome in a matter of days, carrying it with me everywhere. Finally published in full in 1954, Tolkien’s rich descriptions of the world he created are peerless. Helped of course by his love of the British countryside and his longing for the peace of pre-war days.  So much of what he writes about is recognisable. All you have to do is transplant Hobbiton or Bywater to a quiet English village and you’re there… minus the hobbit holes of course. “My original copy from 1979 has sadly bitten the dust. It was read frequently. During long, autumnal evenings, crisp spring mornings or just because I could. I clung on to the thumb-worn, taped-together pages for thirty-three
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#Bookreview ‘A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom’ by @john_boyne

Where to start? A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne is like no other book I’ve read. It’s a historical, classical, contemporary mash-up which takes a group of characters on a journey through the centuries, starting with Palestine in AD1 and ending in AD2080 living in a colony in space. The same group of characters feature in each chapter, advancing in time and moving location, each time with different names though always starting with the same letter. In Palestine we first hear the voice of our, in the beginning, unnamed sole protagonist. This is his story told in soundbite chapters. He starts with his own origins, the meeting of his father Marinus and mother Floriana and progresses across two thousand years to the near future. At times there is violence, much against women but also brutal murder, torture and random killing. There is betrayal, cruelty, prejudice, foolhardiness and bravery, love and loyalty. Essentially it is the story of one family – mother, father, two brothers and a sister. One brother has the strength and brutality of his father, the other has the creativity of his mother. As the decades pass and the story progresses, the brothers progress
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett @KMFollett #historical

Why have I never discovered this book before? When I mentioned to friends I was reading it I was told ‘oh yes, it’s fantastic’. And fantastic it is. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett holds up a mirror to modern times. It is a historical thriller about the building of a twelfth century cathedral. The politics, governmental and religious, civil war, families torn asunder, romance, loss, courage and hope. It left me with a yearning to walk around a cathedral and study its architecture, better to understand the feat accomplished at Kingsbridge. The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of stonemason Tom Builder and his family, who in 1135 are on the verge of starvation. When they meet Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, so begins a relationship which lasts all their lives. Philip is a pragmatic monk. He knows his poor town must find a way to survive and decides to build a cathedral. Tom becomes his master builder. But there are enemies who want to thwart this ambition, greedy, ruthless men who change political sides with will, who pillage and rape, who store riches while their peasants starve. The differences are not just political and royal, they are
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Orphan Twins’ by @LesleyEames #saga #historical

Lily and Artie are ten-year old twins in Bermondsey. It is 1910. After the death of their parents, brother and sister are brought up by their laundress grandmother. Out of the blue, a benefactor gives Artie the chance of a proper education. Then Gran gets ill. The Orphan Twins by Lesley Eames is a story of how chances were different from girls and boys in the 1900s. Lily is at the core of this story both in terms of narrative and emotional heart. When Gran dies, the twins are tugged further apart. Lily encourages Artie to take his chance, seeing him educated in a way she can only dream of, watching as his accent and dress change and he looks more middle-class. Eames gives us a positive story about the changing role of women at the turn of the twentieth century. Deemed not worth educating, pragmatic Lily instead decides to work hard and gain as much experience as she can so at some point in the future she can fulfil her dream. Not yet sure what that dream is, she gains comfort from seeing Artie do well. It’s impossible not to love Lily, through all her wobbles and setbacks, she
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ’Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss #literary #contemporary

Twenty-four hours in the Scottish countryside, twelve people are staying in holiday cabins beside an isolated loch. Summerwater by Sarah Moss starts off with strangers concerned with the minutiae of their own lives and ends with a tragedy. This is beautifully written with sly humour coupled with sensory description of the place which puts you right there. The pace is slow and contemplative, taking time to plait together the observations by characters and the actual names, so carefully building together a picture of a temporary community. At first, they make assumptions and generalisations about each other. A retired couple sit and look out at the rain, reminiscing about the previous years they spent in this cabin. A young mother runs in all weathers and at all times of day, leaving her husband to look after the children. A teenager escapes the boredom of his bedroom by kayaking around the loch. The Romanian family, who party all night and don’t know how to behave, are the only ones seeming to have fun on holiday. They are also the only ones whose viewpoint we don’t hear, setting them apart from the rest. While at night a shadow stands in the woods, watching.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Endless Skies’ by @JaneCable #contemporary #romance

Jane Cable writes with a great sense of place and her latest novel, Endless Skies, is set in North Lincolnshire, a place of wide horizons, mists and endless views. Her books always have an element of the supernatural and Endless Skies doesn’t disappoint, from shadowy figures in a field to the lingering scent of lily-of-the-valley. Rachel Ward, an archaeology lecturer, leaves her old job after a disastrous workplace affair and moves to Lincoln University. Living in a soulless box of a flat, she makes friends with Jem who lives on a barge moored on the nearby canal. Jem is a solid steady character and becomes a mentor, almost father-like figure for Rachel who has made bad choices in the past and seems set to repeat the pattern. Jem’s new lodger, student Ben, tempts Rachel’s newly sworn promise to foreswear men. Meanwhile she takes on a freelance contract for property developer Jonathan Daubney. As she researches her report on a prospective development site at an old wartime airbase, Rachel and Jonathan fall into an instant ‘hate’ relationship. The past is ever-present in this story which explores how what has gone before is never absent from our everyday lives, whether by actions
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

A companion novel to The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford is a tale of a group of aristocratic families, told by narrator Fanny Wincham. Both novels are stories about other people, rather than about Fanny herself. Love in a Cold Climate is about Lady Leopoldina ‘Polly’ Hampton and, like all Mitford’s novels, there is a satire in her portrayal of the whims and foibles of the English upper class. It is like reading of a lost world though the satire in this novel is less biting than her earlier novels. Mitford does create unforgettable characters. Not Fanny who, like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, is something of a transparent uncomplicated observer, but Lady Montdore and Cedric are both memorable, especially when seen together. The novel finally takes off with the appearance of Cedric but there is quite a lot of background to set up before this point is reached. In a modern novel, the background would be slipped in carefully so allowing the story’s conflict to be quickly addressed. Eighteen-year old Fanny lives with relatives due to the absence of her separated parents. Among her neighbours are the Montdores of Hampton near Oxford,
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… @AlexMarchant84 #books #childrensfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s author Alex Marchant. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, first in the ‘Dark is Rising’ sequence of five books. “Although I’m generally not one for re-reading books often, when Sandra kindly invited me to contribute my Porridge and Cream book, it took only a moment’s reflection to realize what it was: Susan Cooper’s ‘Over Sea, Under Stone’. Read first when I was ten or eleven – the ideal age for it and the ‘Dark is Rising’ sequence of which it is the first book – and read every few years since, it was the novel that called strongly to me during the early days of this spring’s lockdown in response to the upsurge of Coronavirus in the UK. “Set during an idyllic summer in the mystical land of Logres (aka Cornwall), it follows the holiday adventures of the Drew children – Simon, Jane and Barney – along with borrowed red setter Rufus, as they battle the malevolent forces of ‘The Dark’ in a search for an ancient grail, aided only by a treasure map and their mysterious great-uncle Merry. As in many of her books, Cooper masterfully
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘V2’ by @Robert_Harris #WW2 #thriller

Mostly written during the 2020 virus lockdown, Robert Harris’s V2 is a World War Two thriller like no other I have read – and I’ve read a few. I’ve been a Harris fan since the beginning with Fatherland. V2 is different because it tells two stories – the technical development of the V2 rockets, and five days in November 1944 when the lives of a German rocket engineer and British spy are changed by this weapon. Harris skilfully handles truth, fiction, engineering details and mathematical calculations, adding two fictional characters to create a page turning story. The V2 rocket is placed firmly at the centre of this book. Without it, there would be no story. Originally conceived by scientists as a space project, the V2 was a hateful weapon that inspired fear. Unlike its predecessor the V1 which could be seen and heard before it descended giving time to take cover, the V2 hit without warning. It was also highly unreliable, going off-target, exploding at launch, crashing at sea, killing the people who built it – slave labourers – and launch crews. The story opens as rocket engineer Dr Graf is trying to concentrate on pre-launch missile checks on the
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 128 ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton ‘The Rainmaker’ by John Grisham  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara THE CATCHER IN THE RYE  by JD Salinger #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ev via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Summer’ by Ali Smith #SeasonalQuartet #literary

And so Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet comes full circle with Summer. What a journey these four books have been – experimental fiction at its best written in the moment at a time of political and social upheaval. Challenging, sometimes grating, often uplifting, so many of the loose threads left dangling in the first three books are reconnected in this finale. Ali Smith is a challenging author to read. You get comfortable with one story and a couple of characters who she then abandons to tell you about someone else who seems completely disconnected. At times there are passages which seem to belong to no character, where the authorial voice shows through. It can feel as if the manuscripts for two or three novels have been thrown in the air and landed randomly on your Kindle. But then, as you come close to the end of this fourth book, all the disparate stories start to connect. Read Summer, the last in Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, when your brain is in full gear otherwise you will miss so much. The story starts in Brighton with Sacha and Robert Greenlaw, teenage siblings, precocious, curious, competitive, committed and awkward. Following a trick Robert plays on his sister,
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti #poetry #funeral

Christina Rossetti was 31 when her most famous collection Goblin Market and Other Poems was published in 1862 but perhaps better known are two other poems. Her 1872 poem A Christmas Carol was set to music by Gustav Holst and renamed In the Bleak Midwinter, and her short poem Remember appears regularly in poems of funeral verse. Her lines of sweet and lyrical verse go straight to the emotional heart of her subject and explain which she remains popular today. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Remember’ Remember me when I am gone away, Gone far away into the silent land; When you can no more hold me by the hand, Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay. BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’ by Helen Dunmore ‘The Unthinkable’ by Simon Armitage And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4c6 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.