Archives for books

My Porridge & Cream read @marlaskidmore44 #books #JaneAusten

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Marla Skidmore. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Emma by Jane Austen. “It was difficult to choose just one book for my Porridge and Cream read, as I have so many favourites. Anya Seton’s Katherine and Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army are very near the top of my list but if I have to pin it down to just one book, then it has to be Emma. It was at school, during a double Library period in the Summer of 1965, that my impressionable teenage self, became entranced by the world that Jane Austen created in her novels. Initially it was haughty Mr Darcy and feisty Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, that caught my attention but then I discovered her wonderfully flawed, high spirited and delightfully managing heroine, Emma Woodhouse. ‘Handsome, clever and rich,’ Emma has no responsibilities other than the care of her rather foolish, elderly father.When her close companion, the motherly Anne Taylor gets married and leaves her, Emma sets out on an ill-fated match-making career which focuses on the pretty but dim Harriet Smith. Emma manages to cause misunderstandings with every new tactic she employs. Cherished and spoilt, she is
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘Olive, Again’ by @LizStrout #literary #contemporary

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is a return to the town of Crosby, Maine, and the life of Olive Kitteridge. Strout does it, again. If you loved the first iteration of Olive you will love this one too, it is like slipping into a sloppy pair of comfortable slippers. Olive lives her life, day by day; irascible, impatient with indulgence and self-importance, unsympathetic on the surface; but with a keen eye for those who need help, a kind word, a supporting hand under the elbow. But she cannot stand pseuds and snobs, though she fears she may be the latter. Strout has such a light touch when handling difficult, deep emotions, set amongst the picture frame of predictable daily life. There are thirteen connected stories. Each feature Olive; in some she is the protagonist, in others she appears in the periphery of someone else’s life, always at a time of turmoil, grief, divorce or trauma. Often the people featured are former pupils from her years as a maths teacher, often they are friends or neighbours. In the course of this book, Olive mourns the death of Henry and struggles alone in the house they built together. She sleeps downstairs on the large
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Second Midnight’ by @AndrewJRTaylor #WW2

In The Second Midnight, Andrew Taylor unpicks the connections between a group of people – a dysfunctional family, spies, ordinary people – before, during and after World War Two in England and Czechoslovakia. Essentially it is a novel of relationships wrapped up in the parcel of wartime spying, lies and romance. In its scope it reminds me of Robert Goddard’s Wide World trilogy, except Taylor covers the subject in one book rather than three. It is 1939 and twelve year old Hugh Kendall is bullied by his father, sighed over by his harried mother, ignored by his older brother and manipulated by his older sister. Hugh retreats into imaginative games with his toy soldiers. His father, failing glass importer Alfred Kendall, is recruited by the Secret Services as a courier on a glass-buying trip to Czechoslovakia. In tow is Hugh, recently expelled from school, a nuisance to his father. Alfred is not a natural spy, though he thinks he is. When things get sticky and Alfred must return to England, the Czech Resistance keeps Hugh as collateral to ensure his father’s quick return. But Hugh finds himself alone in Prague after the German invasion, unsure who to trust, unsure if
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach #humorous #familydrama

At first I didn’t know what to make of The Carer by Deborah Moggach. She travels a fine comic line nudging towards simplistic or tasteless stereotypes. But then, as she did in These Foolish Things, the novel finds its stride. In two parts, Moggach takes her original portrayal of this family, shows it through different eyes, and turns it upside down. In Part One we meet widower James Wentworth, OBE, 85, retired particle physicist, living downstairs in his home after breaking a hip; and his live-in carer Mandy, 50, from Solihull. ‘Mandy hummed show tunes as the kettle boiled. Blood Brothers was her favourite, about two boys separated at birth. She said she had seen it three times and blubbed like a baby.’ Mandy is fat, jolly, is a chatterer, and says it as she finds it. Part One is told from the alternating viewpoints of James’ children. Unfulfilled artist Phoebe, 60, lives in a Welsh village in the area where she had many happy childhood holidays. Robert, 62, former City trader, is now writing a novel in his garden shed in Wimbledon, while married to a television newsreader. Our first impressions of their father, and of Mandy, are filtered through their middle class worries and prejudices. Both
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Dunt’ by Alice Oswald #poetry

‘Dunt: A Poem for a Dried-Up River’ by Alice Oswald won the Forward Prize for the best single poem in 2007. A water nymph tries unsuccessfully to conjure a river from limestone. Punctuated by the refrain ‘try again’ it feels like a wail against climate change and our changing rural landscapes. The water nymph is real, rather it is an artefact found by Oswald in a local West Country museum. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Very small and damaged and quite dry, a Roman water nymph made of bone tries to summon a river out of limestone very eroded faded her left arm missing and both legs from the knee down a Roman water nymph made of bone tries to summon a river out of limestone’ BUY THE BOOK Read this interview in The Guardian as Oswald talks about this collection. Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Winter Song’ by Wilfred Owen ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ by William Wordsworth ‘Tulips’ by Wendy Cope And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post,
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Categories: Poetry.

#Bookreview ‘After The End’ by Clare Mackintosh #drama #literary

I read After the End by Clare Mackintosh in one day on holiday, it is compulsive reading. It begins in a courtroom as everyone awaits the verdict of the judge. Leila, and at this point we do not know what role she plays in this story, watches two parents hold hands as they await the verdict on their son’s fate. This is a book of two halves. The first is compelling, telling the story of how Max and Pip Adams find themselves in the courtroom described in the Prologue. Their two and a half year old son Dylan has a terminal brain tumour, surgery has removed only part of the tumour. Max and Pip are a strong couple, committed to each other and to Dylan. So far, they have coped. That is, until the hospital says it recommends no further treatment as Dylan has no quality of life. The reactions of Max and Pip to this advice are different and traumatic. Should Dylan be allowed to die peacefully without further painful, disruptive medical intervention? Or should he be taken to America for cutting edge medical treatment which his NHS consultants warn is not suitable for him? As the court case
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Categories: Book Love.

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

Spring is the third in the Seasons quartet by Ali Smith and the most experimental of the books so far. Set in today’s disorientating, chaotic times, Spring is at times both disorientating and chaotic. The most political of the three, it felt at times like the author was shouting. It left me feeling rather flat, which I didn’t expect as I am an Ali Smith fan. The book is rather difficult to summarize, partly because so soon after reading it the story disappeared from my mind. Two story strands start off independently, inevitably merging and impacting on each other. In between are passages of social media language, phrases listed, nasty, full of bile and hatred; I can imagine Smith trawling Twitter, pencil in hand, making notes. Richard Lease, a film producer, is contracted to make a film about Katharine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke, but is struggling with the script. He holds imaginary conversations with his – professional, and sometime romantic – partner Paddy who died recently. Richard also holds conversations with an imaginary daughter. Both women test him with awkward questions about his behaviour. Brittany is an officer at an SA4A immigrant detention centre, a predictable, challenging job in a
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition ‘Lucky Jim’ by Kingsley Amis #oldbooks #bookcovers

Kingsley Amis’s comic novel Lucky Jim, his debut novel, won the 1955 Somerset Maugham Award for Fiction. First published in the UK in 1953 by Victor Gollancz, followed in the US a year later. Famous for its slapstick set pieces, Lucky Jim regularly appears on ‘greatest novels’ lists. The current edition by Penguin Modern Classics [below] dates from 2000. BUY The story Jim Dixon is a lecturer in medieval history at a red brick English university, he is on probation and afraid of losing his job. To establish his credentials he must publish a learned article but discovers that the editor, to whom he submitted it, has swiped it as his own and translated it into Italian. Jim’s on-off girlfriend Margaret tries emotional blackmail at a house party, a tactic which backfires when Jim takes a liking to another girl, Christine. The action climaxes at a lecture which Jim must give on ‘Merrie England’. Nervous, he has one too many drinks beforehand to calm his nerves, denounces arty pretentiousness, and passes out. Other editions And my copy? Here it is. Films Starring Ian Carmichael as Jim, the 1957 film of Lucky Jim was directed by John Boulting and also starred Terry Thomas and
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Categories: Book design and Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Staying Afloat’ by @SueWilsea #shortstories

Staying Afloat, the first anthology of short stories by Hull-based writer Sue Wilsea, has as its sub-text her experience teaching English in schools, colleges, prisons, libraries and community centres and this breathes life into her stories. She writes about lost children, bereaved children, struggling parents and struggling teachers with sincerity and a touch of humour. I’ve chosen three of the 19 stories in Staying Afloat. You can read more of Wilsea’s stories in her second anthology, Raw Materials. ‘Shapes. Colours’ is the story of Stephen who loves his teacher Miss Anderson dearly but avoids her gaze every morning when she points to the thermometer chart and asks how everyone is feeling today. Stephen has a Worry that started “as just a tiny spider of anxiety, scuttling around in his head at night when he couldn’t sleep.” To avoid attention in class, Stephen usually chooses yellow or orange rather than a dark colour. In ‘Two Ophelias and Me’, first published in QWF magazine, an unnamed narrator thinks of two friends, Lin and Lyndsey, who jumped off the Humber Bridge. “I like to think of their hair and clothes streaming out like twin Ophelias (the three of us went to see Hamlet
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 121… ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.” ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ by Ernest Hemingway BUY Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend 90 ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant 10 ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey 76 And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3JG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ is 5 years old today #giveaway #freebook

On November 21, 2014, I danced around the house, singing to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Why? It was publication day for Ignoring Gravity. Five years on, I’d like to celebrate with you… so I’m giving away free Ignoring Gravity ebooks. In Ignoring Gravity, book one of the Identity Detective series, Rose Haldane says, “I can’t stop searching. I might as well try and ignore gravity. I’ve found half my family. Half, fifty per cent, not a hundred per cent.” The urge to know who we are is contagious, that’s why billions around the world research their family trees. I know I am descended from farmers and fishermen. Who are you descended from? And are there any interesting skeletons in your closet? To follow Rose’s search for her own identity, click here to download your own free copy of Ignoring Gravity and sign-up for my newsletter. I’d love to know what you think of Rose and her adoption mystery. You’ll receive occasional emails from me sharing news about the ‘Identity Detective’ series, the release date of the next book ‘Sweet Joy’, special book offers I think you might like, and I’ll share some secrets about my writing. You can unsubscribe at any time. Already read Ignoring
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

How Holly Bourne writes #writerslife #amwriting

Holly Bourne “People think that world-building is something you only need to do in fantasy novels. But [with the character of Tori] I had to think: what’s the name of her book? What’s her brand? How does she write to her readers? How do they respond? I had to work on this imaginary career trajectory that she has.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 9, 2018]  I reacted to this remark by young adult author Holly Bourne, who is now writing adult novels too, with familiarity and and a degree of puzzlement. Familiarity because I understand what she means, how she places her character into a world and sees what happens, how she makes decisions about the framework of that world in order for the story to progress. Puzzlement about the reference to world-building as being limited to fantasy novels; really? Isn’t that what all novelists do, whatever the genre? Imagine a world, create characters, let the two combine and see what happens. Isn’t that part of writing? Or am I missing something? How Do You Like Me Now? is Bourne’s first adult novel. She is a successful YA writer, her YA novels include It Only Happens in
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Categories: On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘The Art of the Imperfect’ by @KateEvansAuthor #Yorkshire #crime

The Art of the Imperfect by Kate Evans starts with a murder but this mystery set in a Yorkshire seaside town is not a thriller, it is not a police procedural, it is not cosy crime; it a story about the psychology of the people concerned and the after-effects of the event. Evans is a counsellor, like her protagonist Hannah Poole, and this allows her to bring an emotional depth and understanding to her characters. This is the first in the Scarborough Mysteries series and was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award in 2015. Like Emma Woodhouse, Hannah is a serial not-finisher. She has failed to finish training to be an accountant, a plumber and, twice, to be a counsellor. This is the third time she’s tried the counselling thing, and now she discovers a dead body. Her boss. A large number of characters are introduced in the first few pages, and names are littered around which I found dislocating. But I love the drawing of the Yorkshire setting, the town of Scarborough– my home town, so I am biased – the train journey to York, all done with a light hand. For example, ‘The sea is below
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Half of the Human Race’ by Anthony Quinn #WW1 #suffragette

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn is a gem of a novel, one to keep and re-read. The front cover illustration suggests it is another Great War love story, but it is so much more than that. In fact the warfare occupies only a hundred or so pages. Rather, it is a character study of England before the war, of suffragettes and cricketers, of a different time, when the demands put on love were extreme. A new king is being crowned and the protestations of votes for women are taking a violent turn. Set against this background in 1911, we meet the key characters at a cricket match. Connie Calloway is a former medical student who now works in a bookshop after her father’s suicide left her family poorer than they expected to be. Will Maitland is a young county cricketer rubbing shoulders with the great ‘Tam’, AE Tamburlain, as popular as WG Grace. A flicker of attraction carries the pair throughout this story as both consider questions of loyalty and belief and where love fits into the mix. When the ageing Tam’s place in the M−Shire team is threatened, Will must consider whether to support his friend
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Snakes’ by Sadie Jones #thriller #suspense

Bea and Dan come from completely different places. He is a mixed race boy from Peckham, South London, trying to make it as an artist but working as an estate agent. She is the daughter of parents with multiple homes, multiple cars, who travel in private jets and stay in luxurious hotels. Dan knows Bea dislikes her parents and their wealth, and applauds Bea’s decision to live an ordinary life with him in a scruffy flat. But Bea hasn’t been honest with him, she is an heiress to billions. Welcome to the Adamson family in The Snakes by Sadie Jones. Billed as a psychological thriller, to me The Snakes is more a story of 360° snobbishness where characters make assumptions about the lives of others based on prejudice; it is about greed and excessive consumption; moral superiority in all quarters, a conviction of being right; racism; and unfamiliar police procedures, all wrapped up in the story of a seriously messed up family. The setting in rural France is beautifully written. One of the best, creepiest scenes is early on when Bea walks alone across the fields in the summer heat and takes a dip in a nearby stream. This early action
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch @Angela_Petch #WW2 #romance

The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch is one of those books that is difficult to define. Is it a romance; partly. Is it historical; yes if World War Two counts as historical. Is it a page turner; for me, not quite. The heart of this novel lies in its Italian setting. The author lives part of the year in Tuscany and it really shows. From the descriptions of the countryside to the food and customs, The Tuscan Secret is totally believable. The deserted village of Montebotelino is real, I recommend watching the author’s short video on her Amazon page. Two women – Ines, her daughter Anna – share tangled family histories. Ines has recently died and leaves to Anna some money and a box of diaries. Written in Italian, Anna cannot decipher the diaries so decides to leave behind her own unsatisfactory love life and use her mother’s money to travel to Rofelle in Tuscany. Why did Ines leave idyllic Roffele, what secrets did she write in the diaries, and how did she come to marry an Englishman. This is a dual timeline story which switches back and forth between mother and daughter. Anna arrives in Rofelle where she moves into
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Butterfly Room’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance #suspense

The latest family saga from Lucinda Riley sweeps from Southwold in Suffolk to Bodmin Moor, London to Cambridge, carrying with it the tangled secrets of three generations. The Butterfly Room is a big book, 640 pages, but I didn’t notice. This is so much more than a romance, though there is love – and betrayal – in its pages; at the centre of it all is Admiral House in Southwold, the home of the Montague family. The book opens in 1944 as Posy Montague catches butterflies with her Spitfire pilot father, just before he returns to the airforce for the last few months of the war. I actually found this a stuttering start, the first person voice of a seven-year old is difficult to pull off convincingly, even if she is bookish and described as ‘precocious’… a sharp, intelligent child, but one who doesn’t understand the behaviour of adults around her. In fact this first chapter is something of a prologue, setting up behaviour which rattles through the following generations. The story really took off for me when the 2006 strands start – Posy, now seventy; son Nick and girlfriend Tammy; daughter-in-law Amy; old friend Freddie and novelist lodger Sebastian.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #literary #WW2

Noah Selvaggio, a widower and retired chemistry professor, is about to leave New York for Nice, France, on an 80th birthday trip to discover his childhood roots. He expects to travel alone. Except in Akin by Emma Donoghue, Noah finds himself in temporary charge of his 11-year old great nephew Michael. The trip to Nice goes ahead, the old man and the boy learn new things about themselves, each other, and about the world. This is effectively a road trip in a book, more of a ‘holiday trip’. The unlikely travelling companions are quite sparky, irritating each other, each reacting wildly to the other’s strange cultural habits. Donoghue does an excellent job with the Nice setting, effortlessly bringing it alive; the gardens, the architecture, the food, the carnival, the French themselves. I loved the grumpiness that both characters demonstrate. Michael’s weary ‘dude’ when Noah tries to educate him about something – ‘it’s a selfie, dude’, ‘eyebleach, dude’; Noah’s repeated requests that Michael eat a proper meal that includes vegetables. Any adult who is not natural with children and who has spent uncomfortable time with an awkward teenager, will identify with Noah’s dilemma. Michael can be gentle, inquisitive, cocky, snide, exhausting and infuriating.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young @rileypurefoy #WW1

This is a Great War story of love/war, of duty/self-sacrifice, of denial of the truth and fear of change, of physical/mental scars. At the centre of the story is a lie told to protect. In My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, children from different classes, meet in a London park. When war is declared, knowing the gulf in their backgrounds prevents them from marrying, Riley volunteers and goes off to war. In the trenches he meets commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife Julia and cousin Rose remain at home in Kent throughout the war. This is the story of these five people. The first half of the book is a long set-up for the second half, when the interesting stuff begins. I made myself continue reading through the first half, and raced through the second. We see Riley and Nadine meeting, Riley’s transition from boy to teenager, his introduction to a new world. Nadine’s father is a famous conductor; their friends include musicians, writers and artists. He is taken under the wing of artist Sir Alfred who introduces him to art and music; good-looking Riley becomes a model for Sir Alfred
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Single Thread’ by @Tracy_Chevalier #historical #literary

Winchester in 1932 is the setting for Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel, A Single Thread. Chevalier is the most reliable novelist I know, time and again she writes books I grow to love and to re-read. She is the true example of an iceberg novelist. The depth and detail of her research is invisible, hidden below the surface of the written word, but it is there nonetheless informing every sentence so the reader is confident that the description of various embroidery stitches is accurate. Chevalier has written about fossil hunters, weavers, runaway slaves, orchardists and a famous Dutch painter. In A Single Thread the story involves Winchester Cathedral, bell ringing and embroidery. Violet Speedwell escapes her mother’s house in Southampton by getting a transfer to work in the Winchester office. Her mother is an emotional bully and Violet is desperate to get away, but not expecting it to be quite so difficult to survive alone on a typist’s salary. Lonely, desperate to make a success of her move, Violet looks for something to occupy her time so she does not have to sit with the other spinsters in the drawing room of her boarding house. One day she steps into the cathedral
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Categories: Book Love.