Archives for books

My Porridge & Cream read Lexi Rees @lexi_rees #books #children

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s author Lexi Rees. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. “Thanks so much for inviting me to share my Porridge and Cream book. I actually have a special bookcase for my ‘permanent collection’ – the books I go back to over and over again – and it’s hard to narrow it down to just one but, for a pure comfort read, I’m going to go with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’m sure you know it: “So long, and thanks for all the fish” etc; but in a nutshell, Arthur Dent, in his dressing gown, gets whisked onto a spaceship when Earth is demolished for a hyperspace bypass.” “I vividly recall stumbling across the radio series on my way home from school one day in the 1980s. My dad and I sat in the car outside the house laughing our heads off so it has happy family memories, and it still makes me laugh. I listened to the rest of the series on the radio, then got a copy from the library. My own copy is from 1992. By the way, I also love the
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

Friends in Low Places by Simon Raven, second in the ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, starts in April 1959 with an old character and a new. Widow Angela Tuck has taken up with a sleazy con man. Mark Lewson, who steals from Angela and then loses her money at the casino, is a loathsome character and she can’t wait to be rid of him. Rippling throughout the novel is the seemingly impossible plan hatched by Angela’s gambler friend to help her. He charges Lewson with buying or stealing a letter that incriminates the British Government in a scandal concerning Suez. This is an enjoyable read about a bunch of charlatans and is a window on the behavior of a group of the English upper class in the Sixties, when the reverberations of the Suez Crisis continued to ripple throughout society. At the heart is the manipulation by everyone concerned during the selection process by the local Tory party to choose its parliamentary candidate for Bishop’s Cross. When the mysterious letter about the Suez scandal becomes available, a chase is on to first, possess the letter; and second, to use it as a bargaining chip for the candidature. The Suez errors are never
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ by Enid Blyton #oldbooks #bookcovers

In the midst of World War Two, Enid Blyton [below] continued writing. The first of her Famous Five series, Five on a Treasure Island, was published on September 11, 1942, in London by Hodder & Stoughton [below]. Next in the series was Five Go Adventuring Again, published in 1943. Illustrator of the first edition was Eileen A Soper, who illustrated her own books and those for Elisabeth Gould as well as Blyton. Her series of designs of children and animals were used for a china series by Paragon China in the 1930s. The current Hodder Children’s edition [above] dates from 2017. BUY The story Three children – Julian, Dick and Anne – spend their summer holidays with their Aunt and Uncle at Kirrin Cottage, in the village of Kirrin. There they meet their tomboy cousin Georgina, who prefers to be called George, and George’s dog Timmy. And so they become five. Exploring the nearby Kirrin Island, a storm descends and stirs up an old shipwreck from beneath the waves. Exploring the wreck, the five find a treasure map in a box and decide to find the gold. But when Uncle Quentin sells the box to an antique dealer, he wants the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Bright Center of Heaven’ by William Maxwell #literary

This is the first novel by William Maxwell, author of Pulitzer finalist So Long, See You Tomorrow and fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine. He was there from 1936-1975 and worked with Cheever, Updike, Salinger and Nabokov, among others. Not a novel published singly, I found Bright Center of Heaven in an American anthology of Maxwell’s early work. This is a quiet read though ambitious in its subject matter, and well worth spending time with before reading Maxwell’s later works. He follows the time-honoured structure of placing a group of people in one place over a limited time period and observing what happens. It is a contemplative novel and, although it does work to a climax, it is more an insight into the mind of each character as events unfold. Widow Mrs West and her two teenage sons Thorn and Whitey live at Meadowland, a dilapidated farm that they can no longer afford to run, with her husband’s sister Amelia and her son Bascomb, German cook Johanna and farmer Gust. Thorn feels close to the land to the ten-acre field gifted to him by his father on his sixth birthday. Now Thorn helps Gust to work the fields. Gust is all
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘File under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall #genealogy #mystery

Second in the series about probate researcher turned genealogy detective Anna Ames, File Under Fear by Geraldine Wall takes off running from where the previous book left off. This is a well-written, page-turning series that combines family history, crime, family and secrets. But for me, the touchstone that makes it special is the sub-plot of Anna’s home life and her husband Harry’s dementia. If you haven’t read book one in the series, I suggest you start there to see the full emotional depth. Anna’s new contract sounds boring: to write a business report on Draycotts, the company which makes Drakes lurid orange and green drink, analysing how the family members coordinate together to run a successful business. But there is a secret element to her contract, to locate a missing person for CEO Gerald Draycott. This case sees Anna physically and emotionally intimidated and encompasses bullying, illegal smuggling and rape. An intense story with red herrings and wrong assumptions made about family members, the actual crimes being committed and in which Anna questions who to trust. Backing her up are her very likeable family and the multi-talented more-than-workmate Steve. Some of the resolutions fall into place a little conveniently at the
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Warlow Experiment’ by @alixnathan #literary #historical

This is a story of two men. One plays at being a god. The other grabs a chance to escape poverty. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan is about power, ambition, control, the disintegration of respect and vanishing of common sense. What a breath of fresh air this book is; it is so unusual. The country gentleman who conducts the experiment, Powyss, is an isolated character. He has no family and, when he has the idea of experimenting with the life of another man, thinks he is doing good by supporting the man’s family. In truth he seeks the approbation of the Royal Society. Warlow is a farm labourer who scrapes a living at the edge of starvation, struggling to feed this family. When he sees an advertisement asking for a man to take part in Powyss’s experiment, he sees it as an escape. So what is the experiment? Powyss is a man who experiments with exotic seedlings and plants. He sources them from abroad and studies them, experimenting with conditions – soil, temperature, water – to see which flourish in the climate of the Marches climate. It is a short step for him to wonder how a man would fare
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Stanley and Elsie’ by @nicolaupsonbook #literary #art #historical

My knowledge of English artist Stanley Spencer was sketchy to say the least when I started reading Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson. This is a biographical novel that walks a difficult line between true fact and imagined conversation and walks it with skill, delicacy and drama. Definitely a novel for anyone who loves art. Upson takes us into the Spencer household at Chapel View, Burghclere after the Great War when Elsie Munday starts work as a housemaid. Stanley Spencer has been commissioned to paint the inside of a chapel; his wife Hilda, also a painter, minds their young daughter Shirin. Through Elsie’s eyes we see the lives of this family, their ups and downs, the artistic differences, the selfishnesses of Stanley and Hilda, smoothed by the tact, diplomacy and efficiency of Elsie. The title could make some people assume Stanley and Elsie were romantically attached but theirs is a master/servant relationship that deepened into mutual respect and friendship. Stanley, selfish, focussed, is a difficult master, a difficult husband, and Elsie finds herself caught in the middle of disputes between husband and wife. Often she is exasperated with both of them. Instead she becomes indispensable to the household. Upson gives us
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #Irish #faith

What a compulsive read this is, starting slowly until its questions had me sneaking a few pages when I should have been working. The premise of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue sounds straightforward: a nurse and a nun are employed to observe and accompany an eleven-year old girl in rural Ireland who is surviving on ‘manna from heaven’. Is she a miracle or a fraud? This story is very far from straightforward. The task of Nurse Elizabeth Wright, who trained under Miss Nightingale at Scutari during the Crimean War, is to watch and and ensure no food is secretly passing the child’s lips. Strangely, for a nurse, Lib is not responsible for the health of the girl. A local committee, set-up to establish if Anna O’Donnell is secretly eating or if there is a religious wonder living in their village, pays the wages of two nurses, Lib and Sister Michael, for two weeks. Accepting nothing until she can prove it herself, Lib approaches her task with professional thoroughness, observing, measuring, weighing. Feeling isolated in a cramped home, surrounded by a religion she does not practise or understand, Lib gets little help from local doctor Mr McBrearty or priest Mr Thaddeus.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ @LesleyPearse #historical #romance

When a character in a film says ‘never’ it’s a sign that the impossible thing will definitely happen before the end. Such is the title of the new novel from Lesley Pearse,You’ll Never See Me Again. It is 1917 and a storm is thrashing the Devon coast at Hallsands. Betty Wellows is with her shell-shocked husband Martin at his mother’s home, safely up the cliffs. Martin no longer recognises Betty, he is a different man from the fisherman who went to war. Betty is working all hours to support her husband and his mother, putting up with insults, petty grievances, grief for the loss of her husband. As the storm becomes wild and dangerous, Agnes instructs her daughter-in-law to go to her own house beside the beach to rescue her belongings from the flood. Afraid, Betty escapes the older woman’s abuse and runs into the storm. As the waves crash into her home, Betty realises this is her chance to escape Hallsands, Agnes and Martin. The dramatic opening grabbed my attention and my emotions. Betty is trapped in a life of poverty with a husband who no longer recognises her and a mother-in-law who takes her money and treats her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Wakenhyrst’ by Michelle Paver @MichellePaver #gothic #mystery

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a creepy atmospheric novel that has been described as a ghost story, but the only ghosts in it are in the minds of the people. Which of course makes them enormously powerful and frightening. I found myself eager to return to this book, resenting time away from it. Paver is a skilled storyteller and I am coming to anticipate her new books with relish. If you haven’t read her adult novels, you are in for a treat. The story starts with a newspaper article written in 1966 entitled ’The Mystery of Edmund Stearne’. The journalist, who has spoken to Stearne’s daughter Maud about the conviction of her father for murder in 1913, casts doubt on Maud’s version of events. Could Maud be the guilty one? The story is set at Wake’s End, a country house at Wakenhyrst, a village beside the Guthlaf’s Fen in Suffolk. Paver creates this setting with all the intensity and atmosphere with which she created the Arctic in Dark Matter and the Himalayas in Thin Air. The fens haunt every aspect of life at the house and on bad days, when the weather closes in and the mind is in turmoil, the fens
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read @carol_warham #books #romance

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Carol Warham. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. “The paperback cover is creased and bent and its pages are yellowing, almost looking tobacco stained. But, this well-thumbed novel [below] has been on my book shelf for about twenty years. Nothing would induce me to discard my copy of The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, not even the offer of a brand new copy. “This lovely story sustained me through the years of family stress and trauma – all thankfully over and everyone is very happy. When life was proving too much and I needed an escape this was my ‘go to’ book. “The story revolves around Penelope Keeling, daughter of a well-known artist, and mother of three very different children. Olivia is both tough and vulnerable, Noel is careless and ruthless. The eldest daughter, Nancy, is embittered by greed and jealousy. Penelope’s most treasured possession is her father’s painting of ‘The Shell Seekers’ which depicts her as a child. This painting is now worth a small fortune and that knowledge throws her family into disarray. “This gentle story follows the slightly bohemian Penelope and Antonia and Danus, the young people,
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘On a Night Like This’ by @BarbaraFreethy #family #love

On a Night Like This is the first in The Callaways series by Barbara Freethy about the extended American-Irish Callaway clan in San Francisco. Freethy is a new author for me, a best-selling American author of romantic drama. I would class this as a feel-good holiday romance, so not my usual choice. Freethy is an expert at writing series, which lock the reader into the characters. The basis of the story is the relationship between Aiden Callaway, smokejumper, and Sara Davidson, lawyer, who grew up next to each other in San Francisco. Aiden is an alpha-male, adventurous, a risk-taker, who has never taken a woman with him to his secret camping ground in the wilds north of Napa Valley. Sara is a workaholic New York lawyer who rarely lets anyone get emotionally close. This is a story of opposites attract. At times I found their connection unconvincing, as it seemed to be purely chemical and physical. Sara had a teenage crush on Aiden which re-emerges when she revisits her widowed father in her childhood home next door to the Callaways. When a fire damages the house and her father is in hospital, Sara and Aiden are thrown together. This is
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Pattern of Shadows’ by @judithbarrow77 #historical #WW2

The first instalment of Judith Barrow’s Mary Howarth series is Pattern of Shadows, a historical romance set in World War Two Lancashire that explores the  challenges and new opportunities for women in wartime. Set against a male-dominated background where the aspirations of working class women have traditionally been put second, war brings change and some people adapt better than others. Mary is a nursing sister in the hospital attached to a prisoner of war camp, nursing German soldiers captured and injured in action. Some people find that challenging but for Mary it is a satisfying and fulfilling job. Things get complicated when she attracts the attention of two men who could not be more different. One night Mary meets Frank Shuttleworth, a guard at the POW camp and, thanks to a combination of unforeseen circumstances, runs to a shelter with him during a bombing raid. This evening has far-reaching consequences for Mary and her flighty younger sister Ellen. There are tensions at home too with her argumentative irascible father and defeated mother, as Tom her older brother is in prison as a conscientious objector and her younger brother, injured fighting, must now work as a coal miner. Meanwhile a new German
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘Couples’ by John Updike #oldbooks #bookcovers

John Updike became popular for his Rabbit series about Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom and the film of his book, The Witches of Eastwick, starring a devilish Jack Nicholson. But Couples, first published in 1968 in the USA by Knopf [below], is hailed as the novel which brought the Sixties sexual revolution to literary fiction. First editions of the Knopf hardback can be found on eBay for $15, and £15 on Amazon UK. Perhaps one to lay down for the future? Updike won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice, in 1982 and 1991, for two of his Rabbit books. The current UK Penguin Classics edition [below] dates from 2007. Buy The story It is 1962 in Tarbox, Massachusetts. Against a backdrop of real historical events – the loss of the USS Thresher in 1963, the Profumo Affair, the Kennedy assassination – a group of ten promiscuous couples struggle to reconcile modern sexual freedoms with established Protestant sexual behaviour. The lyrical descriptions of sex made the book rather notorious. When asked about the difficulties of writing about sex, Updike said, “They were no harder than landscapes and a little more interesting. It’s wonderful the way people in bed talk, the sense of voices and
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Categories: Book design and Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets #romance #historical

A romance, almost an anti-romance, The Invitation by Lucy Foley is a poignant novel with two parallel stories of dangerous obsession and fantasy. Hal, who has drifted to Rome after serving in the Royal Navy in World War Two, leads a cheap life, surviving on writing assignments, living in a cheap area, Trastevere. One day he accepts from a friend an invitation to a party, an invitation the friend is unable to use. Arriving in his dusty suit, Hal feels apart from the glamour and wealth on show, the jewels, the gowns, the dinner suits. There he sees an enchanting, puzzling young woman who appears icy, untouchable, out of reach. They meet again when Hal is invited by the hostess of the Rome party, the Contessa, to be attached as journalist to the forthcoming promotional tour for her film, The Sea Captain. They are to sail along the coast to Cannes where the film will be premiered at the film festival. Invitations, accepted and refused, feature frequently throughout the novel, forcing decisions to be made, plans changed, opportunities grasped. The close proximity of the group of disparate passengers begins to unveil secrets, cracks in carefully-controlled behaviour, shameful secrets and lies.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Week in Paris’ #mystery #historical

I really enjoyed this book but can’t help feeling the title did it no favours. A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore is a story of hidden secrets, wartime Paris, resistance, collaboration, bravery and music. Because of the title I was expecting something more cosy and romantic; although there is a romantic strand to the story, this book is worth reading for so much more. The week in Paris in question happens in 1956 when teenager Fay goes on a school trip to Paris. Two significant things happen to her there. She meets a fanciable boy, Adam, and has a strange fainting episode triggered by the ringing of the bells at Notre Dame. Back home, she questions her mother Kitty who denies that Fay has ever been to Paris. But Fay cannot shake off the feelings of familiarity. In 1961 Fay, now a professional violinist, has the chance to go to Paris for a series of performances. However her mother, always emotionally vulnerable, has taken an accidental overdose and is in St Edda’s Hospital. Before she leaves for Paris, Fay visits her mother who tells her to look at the bottom of a locked trunk at home. In it, Fay
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Munich’ by Robert Harris @Robert___Harris #spies #WW2

Robert Harris is a classy thriller writer at the top of his game. Munich is his re-telling of the September 1938 meetings between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Both had public, and private, objectives. Chamberlain was a pragmatist; though he sought peace, he was prepared to accept a delay of war to enable our woefully-equipped armed forces to prepare. Hitler wanted all of Europe for Aryans, which meant war. All of this is well-documented. But Harris takes two fictional characters and places them into this real history, splicing their personal stories into the political drama. Hugh Legat and Paul von Hartmann met at Oxford in the early Thirties. In 1938, Legat is a junior private secretary to Chamberlain. Hartmann holds a similar position in the German government; he is also part of the anti-Hitler movement. They two men have not spoken or seen each other since a holiday in Munich with a girlfriend. We do not know why. Everyone in this story faces a personal decision of conscience: whether to be loyal to country, self, and family, or betray them. The costs are different for each person. For some; death. For others; isolation, loss of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly #historical #Thirties

After the Party by Cressida Connolly is set in a difficult period of British history. It starts gently, lulling you into a sense that it is about three sisters, which it is, but it is also an uncomfortable story of pre-World War Two politics. From the first page, we know that Phyllis Forrester was in prison. In 1979, Phyllis looks back cryptically at what happened to her and her sisters, Patricia and Nina, in the Thirties. Why she was imprisoned is the question that made me keep reading. All we know is that someone died. In 1938, Phyllis and her husband Hugh return to live in England after years working abroad. They settle in West Sussex near Nina and Patricia. At a loose end, Phyllis is drawn into the peace camps organised by Nina; it is something to do over the summer, there are educational talks to attend and activities for the children. Nina is an organiser with a clipboard. Phyllis revels in their rented house at Bosham beside the sea, until Hugh buys a patch of land on which to build a house. At a dinner party thrown by Patricia, Phyllis meets a new friend, Sarita Templeton. “She said her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor #books #historical

Set in Newby, a small seaside town, just after the Second World War, A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor is an ensemble novel focussing on a small cast of characters. There is love and betrayal, friendship and duty, loneliness and death. Not a great deal happens, in terms of action, but the shifts in relationships in this place where everything seems to revolve around the harbour are what kept me reading. There are seven key characters whose lives impact on each other in positive and negative ways. A middle-aged doctor, Robert, and his wife Beth seem to get through life without taking too much notice of each other. Their neighbour, divorcee Tory, is Beth’s best friend and Robert’s lover. A fact Beth seems unaware of, though their elder daughter Prudence knows and resents. Invalid and gossip Mrs Bracey makes hell of the lives of her two daughters, Maisie and Iris, but somehow knows everything that is happening. War widow Lily Wilson lives above the creepy, dusty Waxworks Exhibition, she used to run with her husband. Like much of Newby the museum is closed for the off-season, waiting the new life, energy and money expected by the arrival of
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous #people, reading… Viggo Mortensen

I’m not sure what to make of this photograph. Viggo Mortensen, ie Aragorn from Peter Jackson’s film of Lord of the Rings, is reading the third book in JRR Tolkien’s series, The Return of the King. It is a well-thumbed copy. Is it Viggo’s own? If so, did he read it after the film was made given his face is on the cover as Aragorn? Perhaps he bought a secondhand copy from a charity shop? The part of Aragorn was originally offered to Daniel Day-Lewis who turned it down, the role was then passed around a variety of actors including Nicholas Cage and Russell Crowe, until a producer saw Viggo Mortensen in a play. Mortensen was convinced to take the role by his son, a fan of Tolkien, and so Mortensen flew to New Zealand to start filming, reading the book on the plane.   ‘The Return of the King’ by JRR Tolkien BUY See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Johnny Depp Beryl Bainbridge Jonathan Franzen And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Viggo Mortensen is reading ‘The Return of the King’ by JRR Tolkien #amreading https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3AR via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.