Archives for books

#BookReview ‘The Heiress’ by @MollyJGreeley #historical #romance

An intriguing premise for this second novel by Molly Greeley which re-imagines the story of a minor character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In The Clergyman’s Wife it was Charlotte Collins, in The Heiress it’s the turn of Anne de Bourgh. Well-written in a slightly modernised style of Austen, it is easy to slip into the head of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s sickly daughter who at first sight seems an unpromising protagonist. But keep reading. Greeley starts with the birth of a daughter to a young married couple. In order for this book to work you have to both forget Austen’s portrayal of Anne, to sink yourself into the life of this delicate child, but also to remember the original. That is the path to enjoying the asides, thoughts and occasionally darting but puzzling urges that Anne experiences growing up. Scenes I looked forward to, critical in Pride and Prejudice, were skirted over here in favour of new material. Familiar characters occur, some more importantly than others – Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Collins – but this is 100% Anne’s story. Sickly from birth, Anne is dosed twice daily with laudanum drops. She is protected from exertion, emotions and unspecified dangers of
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Amy & Isabelle’ by @LizStrout #contemporary #literary

The mother and daughter portrayed in Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout are at odds with each other. The events of one long sweltering summer in Shirley Falls are simple, familiar across the ages, but are told with a hefty emotional punch. So strong is this book it’s difficult to see that it was Strout’s first novel, published in 2000 to be followed only eight years later by her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge. Strout is adept at peeling away the layers of character and events to show the raw emotion, shame, guilt and pain beneath. When Isabelle Goodrow arrived in Shirley Falls with her baby daughter, she took a job at the local mill. Now, in a time that feels like 1970s America, Amy is sixteen and has a summer job in the same office as her mother. They sit and fume at each other, barely talking, brushing past each other without a word. Amy, who has fallen in love with her maths teacher, believes her upright, unemotional mother, has no idea of what she is feeling right now. Isabelle despairs of her daughter’s behaviour. Told in absorbing detail, switching between the two viewpoints, the trauma of the two women
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #historical

When she is 21, a moment’s dalliance in a bush forces orphan Elizabeth to marry soldier John Macarthur. The story of their marriage in 1788, journey to the colony of Australia on board a convict ship and life in the new settlement called Sydney Town, is told in A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville. Elizabeth was a real woman but little is known of her, though her husband features in Australia’s history books as the British army officer who became a politician, legislator and pioneer of the Australian wool industry. Grenville is free to imagine what life must have been like as a white settler, and a woman, in a rough, uncultured town where the native people are viewed as animals. Very quickly Elizabeth finds her new husband is a bully and her new home is a brutal, unforgiving, judgmental place. She spends much time alone with her sickly son and survives by disguising how clever she is, particularly from her husband. More children quickly follow and she bonds more with the convicts who work for her as servants, than she does with the wives of her husband’s friends. An outlier, she decides to improve her learning and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams @adelegeras #Rajah

Like Adèle Geras, who as Hope Adams wrote Dangerous Women, I saw the Rajah quilt at an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2009. What a fascinating piece of history, and what a twisty fictional story Geras has written using the quilt as inspiration. Dangerous Women is set in 1841 aboard the transport ship Rajah as it sails from Woolwich, England bearing 180 female convicts to Van Dieman’s Land [today’s Tasmania]. What a fascinating piece of history this is. Geras takes the true story of the ship – some of her characters are real, including matron Kezia Hayter – and tells a tale of troubled, sometimes wronged and abused women, confined together on a ship for three months. Miss Hayter is the only free woman on board and, at the behest of the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, organises a team of 18 women who can sew. Every day they stitch patchwork, creating the now famous quilt, but also stitching together the truth of their own lives, their crimes and hopes for a new beginning in a strange country. Miss Hayter is a young well-meaning woman, perhaps naïve, but with a strong belief in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd #WW1 #spy

Determined to deal with my overflowing to-read shelf, I picked up Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd. Thoughtful with a twisty plot, we follow actor Lysander Rief from Vienna to the trenches as he tries to identify a traitor passing war secrets to the enemy. It is Vienna 1913. Actor Lysander Rief has gone to Vienna seeking help for an intimate problem. In the waiting room he encounters two people who will determine the course of Rief’s life in the forthcoming Great War. Rief falls head over heels in lust with Hettie Bull but when Rief is thrown into prison charged with rape, he feels abandoned. He is extricated from Austria thanks to the help of a shadowy British government officer and Rief’s own ingenuity. But he owes a debt and is drawn into the shadowy world of wartime spies. Someone is sending coded messages about essential infrastructure, supply and troop movements to the enemy, and Rief is charged with hunting down the traitor. Boyd is one of my favourite writers, his writing flows and there are multiple layers to consider long after finishing the book. All concocted with a skilful touch of humour in the right place. It all
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lean Fall Stand’ by @jon_mcgregor #contemporary

Jon McGregor is one of the most original novelists I have read and Lean Fall Stand doesn’t disappoint. It is a novel of three parts, beginning thrillingly at an Antarctic research station when a storm suddenly separates the three expedition members. We know tragedy happens, but not what or how. Surviving expedition guide Robert ‘Doc’ Wright suffers a stroke and is unable to tell what happened on the ice. Lean Fall Stand is Doc’s story as he struggles to recover his ability to do the smallest daily personal tasks, to choose the right word and pronounce it correctly, to make himself understood. The change of pace between part 1 ‘Lean’ when the accident happens in Antarctica, and part 2 ‘Fall’ is abrupt and shocking. Through the viewpoint of Doc’s wife, Anna, we realise with a jolt just how bad his communication issues are and what this means for their marriage and family, his career, his work colleagues and the enquiry into the accident. Just as the three men are alone and lost in the Antarctic storm, Doc and Anna are alone and lost when he returns home from hospital. He cannot fasten his trousers; she is his carer. Each feels
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Prophet’ by @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

When a dead body is found at the foot of an ancient oak, a tense plot begins. The Prophet is the second Martine Bailey novel to feature the characters of Tabitha and Nat De Vallory, first seen in The Almanack. The oak tree in question is not just any tree; it is the Mondren Oak, and nearby an evangelist preacher and his community have made an encampment in ancient woodland belonging to Nat’s father. Eighteenth-century England was a place of superstition and myth, of religious fervour and persecution. It was also a time of scientific study and enlightenment. The body of a young woman is found on May Day, 1753. The date is significant and the novel’s action winds up slowly in pace and tension towards Midsummer’s Day, coincidentally the due date for the arrival of Tabitha and Nat’s first baby. Baptist Gunn and his growing number of followers believe a new saviour will be born close to the oak tree on Midsummer’s Day. Gunn, a ‘sleeping prophet’, is gathering his congregation, and money, in preparation to sail for a new life in America. Tabitha is a likeable protagonist, happy to be married and living in the place where she
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tainted Tree’ by @jackieluben #saga #romance

American Addie Russell was adopted at birth after her single mother died. Always happy with her adoptive parents in Boston, USA, advertising copywriter Addie starts to ask questions when she inherits a house from a stranger in England. Tainted Tree by Jacquelynn Luben is an adoption mystery combined with romance,  threading together genealogical search and US/English differences with the joy and abandonment of teenage love. Addie arrives in England at the house she has inherited. Glad to cross the Atlantic and escape her job and the boss which whom she had an affair, she is determined to find out more about her birth mother Adrienne and perhaps identify her birth father. But the local lawyer handling the estate is cold and stand-offish, sending mixed signals that Addie doesn’t understand. Undeterred, she does her own research and traces her maternal grandparents but is shocked that they rejected her when she was born. Why did they hate her so? The action moves back and forth between Addie’s new house in Surrey and the West Country, where her mother grew up. Although this story has a fair amount of romance, both in the modern story and that of Adrienne, it also has a
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#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.