Archives for books

#BookReview ‘The Lamplighters’ by @StonexEmma #suspense

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a difficult story both to describe and to compartmentalise in genre. I, mistaken by the Author’s Note at the beginning which refers to a true incident in 1900, thought I would be reading a historical story. The action is set in 1972 and 1992. The genre is variously described as horror, ghost, thriller, suspense and mystery. I saw no evidence of ghosts and it doesn’t feel to me like a thriller. It is a story of human emotions and the consequences of actions, set against the atmospheric backdrop of the sea. Cornwall, 1972. The Maiden Rock, a lighthouse on a rock tower out at sea, is the scene of a mysterious disappearance. When the relief boat arrives, all three men who should have been on the rock have gone. Are they dead, kidnapped, drowned, or disappeared to start a new life? The story of principal keeper Arthur Black, assistant keeper Bill Walker, and supernumerary assistant keeper Vince Bourne is told in two timelines – the men’s stories in 1972 and that of their wives 20 years later when they answer the questions of a journalist researching a book about the disappearances. But why now?
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… @VMeadowsAuthor #books #romance

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Viki Meadows. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long. “As I write this it’s our second spring in lockdown. Never has my keeper-shelf been so needed and such a good friend as during this last year. Of all my favourite books which have found a home on that shelf, the one I go back to the most is the historical romance What I Did For A Duke by Julie Anne Long. “When I first picked this book up, in March 2011, I did so dubiously, thinking it was going to be a revenge seduction story. In fact, it isn’t that at all. It’s much more. It’s twisty, taking the reader down unexpected paths. But it’s more than the cleverness of plot and dialogue that kept me revisiting this during these interminable months of lockdown. “Since life has become overshadowed by a pandemic-sized cloud of anxiety and fear I have taken it off the shelf to read at least three times. It’s hilarious in places and I found myself laughing out loud as the dry, sharp humour lifted my mood. Yet it did so without
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘Magpie Murders’ by @AnthonyHorowitz #crime

In the tradition of the theatrical play-within-a-play, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a detective-mystery-within-a-detective-mystery. First in the Susan Ryeland series, more of her later, Horowitz has written a page-turner laced intricately with clues, delivered by a fictional detective in the Poirot tradition. Susan Ryeland is head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books whose star writer is Alan Conway, author of the hugely successful Atticus Pünd crime series. Reading the manuscript of his latest submission, Magpie Murders, Susan is surprised to find the last chapters are missing. The murderer remains unnamed. Worse, Alan Conway has committed suicide. If Ryeland and her boss Charles Clover don’t find the missing chapters they can’t publish the book. And with no future books to come from Conway, the company may go bust. The first half of the book is dedicated to Conway’s story of his fictional private detective, Pünd, who investigates one accidental death and one murder which take place in the same West Country village within days of each other. The victims knew each other. There must be a connection. In classic Agatha Christie style, the possibilities, lies and secrets are discovered by Pünd but he keeps his conclusions to himself. The second half
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Cottingley Secret’ by @HazelGaynor #history #fairies

I won a signed paperback of The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor in a Twitter promotion on #NationalNorthernWritersDay on July 1st last year and it’s been sitting on my to-read shelf since then. I picked it up one weekend when searching for a comforting, absorbing read, and that’s what it is. Told in dual timeline, it is partly based on the true story of the two young girls who photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden, combined with a fictional imagining of a 21st century bookbinder who inherits a bookshop in Ireland. The story is slow to start and it’s a while before the fairy connection between the two strands is established. But hang in there. In 1917, Frances Griffiths and her mother travel from South Africa to Cottingley, Yorkshire. They will stay with Frances’ aunt, uncle and cousin while her father goes off to fight the Great War. Frances soon settles into life with her older cousin Elsie and together the two play imaginary games. Until one day Frances sees fairies beside the beck at the back of the house, ‘…the first flash of emerald, then another of blue, then yellow, glimpsed out of the corner of my
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Fine Art of Invisible Detection’ by Robert Goddard

I always look forward to a new Robert Goddard book but wasn’t sure what to expect from his latest, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. Partly, I think, because the blurb seemed more a detective novel than a thriller. Actually, this is both. Goddard has creative a heart-warming, realistic new hero, Umiko Wada, known simply as Wada. I raced through this book, full of Goddard’s clever twisty plotting, emotional dilemmas, should-I-shouldn’t-I moments. Wada is a 47-year-old secretary at a detective agency in Tokyo, making tea, writing reports for her technology-incompetent boss Kodaka. Widowed after her husband was killed in the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Wada is quiet, efficient and invisible. But burning deep is a sense of righteousness. So when her boss asks for her help with a new case, she agrees to go to London to pose as the client who wants to find out if her father really committed suicide almost three decades earlier, or if he was murdered. From this point on, Wada’s life becomes unpredictable and her talent for being invisible becomes a lifesaver. Her boss dies in a car accident. The man she is due to meet in London has
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Evening and the Morning’ by @KMFollett #historical

I absolutely loved The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. It is thirty years since Follett published his monster hit The Pillars of the Earth and this novel is his prequel to what became the Kingsbridge series. Set in Southern England in the year 997 at the end of the Dark Ages – so called because the lack of historical documents and archaeological remains from the time means our knowledge of the era is thin – it was a period of unrest and war. Viking raids, skirmishes with the Welsh, the law allows violence against slaves while power-hungry local rulers disobey the rules of King Ethelred. The story is told by three principal characters – a French noblewoman, a young English boatbuilder and an English monk. Each is smart, ambitious and honest but they are confronted by violence, cruelty, law-breaking, jealousy and betrayal. In the west country village of Combe, eighteen-year old boatbuilder Edgar waits on the beach for his true love. She is married and the pair are going to run away together. But as Edgar waits, he sees the arrival of a Viking ship and his life changes. The town is destroyed. Three powerful brothers arrive to
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 132 ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.” ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford ‘A Good Man in Africa‘ by William Boyd ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eK via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.