Archives for books

#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.

My Porridge & Cream read… Ivy Logan #books #YA #supernatural

Today I’m delighted to welcome Young Adult supernatural author Ivy Logan. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Reckless by Cornelia Funke. “The book I enjoy reading is Reckless by Cornelia Funke. It’s a part of the Reckless series but the book is pretty special to me. I first discovered Cornelia Funke because of the Inkworld series but it was Jacob Reckless who went on to become the person with the power to draw me back again and again. “Jacob is a human who has found his way to a magical world called the Mirrorworld. He keeps coming back to it and moves between two worlds. Despite his nomadic life Jacob always puts family first and he is willing to do anything, sacrifice anything to save his brother who is slowly turning into stone. The characters that flow from Cornelia’s imagination are so very real and they draw you and hold your attention.” BUY                   Ivy’s Bio Ivy Logan has a lifetime of stories in her head. She has always loved reading and watching movies. And she sees stories in everything and in everyone. She was already a storyteller before she actually sat down and decided
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal @esmacneal #historical #thriller

What a creepy tale is The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal. It is a strange and compelling mixture of creepy taxidermy, the painting of doll’s faces and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists, combined with stalking and kidnapping. I finished it not sure whether I liked it or not. Some parts are beautiful, some are horrifying. It is London 1850. Queen Victoria is on the throne, the Great Exhibition is being built in Hyde Park and a team of men are searching for wonders to display. Iris and her sister Rose work at The Doll Factory shop, painting personalised faces onto dolls, and sleeping in the attic. They survive but can only dream of having enough money to open their own shop. Iris is desperate to be a real artist. Silas Reed’s Shop of Curiosities Antique and New is popular with Victorian ladies buying dried butterflies and artists wanting stuffed mammals and rodents that can be copied and incorporated into their art. Silas and Iris are linked by Arnie, a young boy who scratches a living by sewing dolls clothes for The Doll Factory, and sourcing recently dead animals for Silas to stuff. When Iris meets Louis Frost, PRB artist, the circle is
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Pigeon Pie’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

Pigeon Pie, the fourth novel of Nancy Mitford, was first published in 1940 by Hamish Hamilton. This was a serious error by its publisher given that Mitford wrote this light-hearted satire about wartime spying just before World War Two broke out in 1939. Not surprisingly, it was a commercial miss. Which is a shame. It is a funny, more tightly-plotted and disciplined novel than her first three and is a transition between her pre-war and post-war novels. At the outbreak of war, Lady Sophia Garfield enrols at her nearest First Aid Post and is put in charge of the office, folding and counting laundry and taking telephone calls. As the book is set during the first few months of war, the Phoney War, not a lot happens for Sophia except endless first aid drills. She teases an acquaintance, Olga – who poses in the press as a mysterious Mata Hari figure – and lunches with inept friends Ned and Fred who work at the Ministry of Information. Then Sophia stumbles on a nest of spies; or counter-spies, or counter-counter spies, she’s not sure which. Although her characters seem of a type with those of her first three novels – Mitford
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Five Days of Fog’ by Anna Freeman @Anna_F_writes #thriller #crime

Five Days of Fog by Anna Freeman about the queen of a female crime syndicate coming out of prison reminds me of Martina Cole’s books. It is 1952 and as Florrie Palmer waits for her mother Ruby to return home, she must make a decision about the direction of her own life. London remains in the grip of ruins from the war and Florrie is firmly embedded in the family gang, donning disguises to steal, feeling secure in the circle of women who support each other. But she also applies for a job as a telephonist, carefully practising her accent. The action is framed by five days of fog, both physical and perceived. So dense is visibility that cars crash, chemicals cause lung infections and people are coughing up dirt. The fog offers opportunities for thieves but it also disguises the truth and lies told to each other by the gang as they face a turning point. Old lies are perpetuated, new lies told with a smile, some members are out for their own benefit; others are tired of the secrets and politicking, and just want to get back to what they do best. Freeman’s fog is based on the real
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The House Across the Street’ by @LesleyPearse #historical #mystery

This is the first book I have read by Lesley Pearse. The House Across the Street is a slow build as Pearse takes time to build the characters and the Sixties setting. This is a difficult book to describe: part-mystery, part-romance, part-thriller. The house of the title is in Bexhill-on-Sea. Twenty-three year old Katy Speed is fascinated by Gloria, her fashionable neighbour, who owns a dress shop in town. Katy is also fascinated by some odd comings and goings; a black car arrives, bringing women and sometimes children to the house. Katy’s mother Hilda disapproves of Gloria, thinking there may be something illegal going on. Then one night Gloria’s house burns down and Katy’s father Albert is arrested for murder. It is at this point that the story really takes off. The 1965 setting is well portrayed. It is a time of social change. Katy and her friend Jilly dream of escaping boring Bexhill to live and work in London. Hilda is something of a mystery; moody, cold, traditional. Mother and daughter mirror the changing times and sexual freedoms of the time. The backbone of the story is domestic violence and the lack of help available for victims in the Sixties.The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Amy Snow’ by Tracy Rees @AuthorTracyRees #historical

When eight-year old Aurelia Vennaway runs outside to play in the snow on a January day in 1831, she finds a baby, blue, abandoned and barely alive. She takes the baby home and, despite opposition from her parents, demands they keep the baby. Aurelia really is that precocious. She names the baby Amy. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees is about two lost girls, each lost in different ways who through their friendship find strength to face the lot given to them by life at a time when women had few individual rights. This is the story of a secret, well-hidden and unveiled by a series of letters. The two girls grow up together. Aurelia lives a privileged life and Amy stays on in the large house, first as a servant and then companion to her friend. She is treated harshly by Aurelia’s parents, but is looked after by Cook and under-gardener Robin. The two girls support each other as they grow up. Amy gains an education and learns how to be a lady, but when Aurelia faints, a weak heart is diagnosed. When Aurelia dies in her early twenties, Amy is thrown out of the house where she was discovered
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dark Fire’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom is a story of political intrigue, whodunit and a Tudor weapon of mass destruction. Second in the series about Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, Dark Fire combines two criminal mysteries; the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the alchemical formula to make an ancient terrifying weapon, and the impending trial and expected sentencing of a young woman to death by pressing. Despite a tenuous connection between the two cases, and a somewhat meandering pace at times, I enjoyed this book for its further development of Shardlake, first seen in Dissolution. It is 1540, King Henry VIII wishes to anul his marriage to Anne of Cleves, recommended to him by Thomas Cromwell, and marry instead the teenager Catherine Howard. At the beginning of the book Cromwell’s relationship with Henry is weakening and this imposes time pressure on both the novel and on Shardlake. As the novel opens, the lawyer is defending Elizabeth Wentworth, a teenage girl accused by her family of killing her cousin by pushing him down a well. She languishes in the Hole in the cellars of Newgate Prison and refuses to speak. Shardlake, though convinced of her innocence, despairs of being able to help her. The alchemical
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Union Street’ by Pat Barker #motherhood #women

Uncompromising, unbelievably sad and harsh, Union Street by Pat Barker does not hide the uncomfortable truths of poverty in North-East industrial England. This is the story of eight women who live on Union Street from teenager Kelly Brown to Alice Bell in her eighties and though each story is told individually, like the lives of the women, the stories interweave. An honest book about women struggling to hold life, family and home together, while retaining pride and some of their own individuality. Some succeed in this, others don’t. This is not a book about idealised motherhood. It is about putting bread on the table for your children no matter how you do it; including beating your husband to get his pay packet before he spends it on booze. These women are tough because they have to be; the choices are the cake factory, charring, and prostitution. Many marry young to feckless husbands because they are pregnant. This is not a light read; it features scenes of rape and backstreet abortion that somehow make the prostitution a lighter route. The language is often strong and some of the descriptions are difficult to read; but it is an honest book, bleak and realistic.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Smash All The Windows’ by Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #literary

Thought-provoking, sometimes difficult, always moving, Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis starts at a run as we are pitched straight into emotional turmoil, grief, anger and betrayal. There is an inquest investigating an accident thirteen years earlier, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice. In turn we meet the survivors, and the relatives of the victims. Davis follows the paths of each person to their own resolution; there is no self-help book to follow, they must each must work it out for themselves. We see flashbacks to the days and hours before the accident as Davis unravels the real truth of what happened. This is a complex story with legal twists and turns, misunderstandings and minute step-by-step detail of what happened on that day, thirteen years ago, when over-crowding at St Botolph and Old Billingsgate tube stations in London ended in death. For thirteen years, blame has been thrown around, scapegoats have been targeted, the media has dug for dirt. This is an imaginary accident but with echoes of so many disasters – Hillsborough, Grenfell, Kings Cross – that it can’t help but be affecting. There are a lot of victims and survivors, a lot of relatives. The high number
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Serious’ by James Fenton #poetry

I picked up Selected Poems by James Fenton [below] in 2015] in my local library, drawn by the cover illustration; the colours, the corn cobs. I flicked through, and this was the poem that caught my eye. It is about love and hope and the fear of future regret.  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. ‘Awake, alert, Suddenly serious in love, You’re a surprise. I’ve known you long enough – Now I can hardly meet your eyes. It’s not that I’m Embarrassed or ashamed. You’ve changed the rules The way I’d hoped they’d change Before I thought: hopes are for fools.’ BUY Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson ‘Name’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ by Stevie Smith And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Serious’ by James Fenton https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3g2 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

#BookReview ‘The Girl in the Painting’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

When Renita D’Silva writes about India, it comes alive on the page. Her books are dual timeline family mysteries combining a modern day narrator with historical events set in India. With her latest, The Girl in the Painting, D’Silva tackles guilt, forgiveness and sati – when a husband dies, his widow burns with his body on the funeral pyre. It is her emotionally toughest novel yet and handled with sensitivity and balance. This is the story of three women – Margaret, Archana and Emma – pre-Great War in England, India in 1918 and England 2000. At the beginning, each woman is introduced in short chapters which made me long to dwell a while with each in turn, rather than jumping around. I was puzzled at how these three women, so different from each other, could be connected. Each has a deep sense of duty that, despite a longing to make her own decisions, is an anchor to a sometimes unwelcome, difficult, reality. Yet being impulsive and taking decisions without consideration for others often has far-reaching consequences. The early 20thcentury was a pivotal time in world history and a period of rapid change in the lives of women. Margaret’s family is separated tragically
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Clock Dance’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Every novel by Anne Tyler is a treat, I save them up, anticipate them. For me as a reader, she tells stories that seem ordinary but have exceptional depth, gentle stories which make me want to continue reading on into the night. For me as a writer, it is her I aim to emulate; her economy of word and scene, achieving depth without unnecessary diversion. So, to Clock Dance. Told in three parts – 1967, 1977 and 2017 – this is the story of an ordinary woman, Willa Drake, to whom things outside normal life don’t happen. The three key events in her life – the disappearance of her mother, a marriage proposal, being widowed at 41 – are passive acts. Willa is not a proactive person. We meet her first as an eleven year-old, at home with her family; her emotionally-erratic mother, her passive, lovely father, her awkward younger sister Elaine. Willa takes on the motherly role, making a chocolate pudding, observing the ups and downs of her parents’ relationship with acute asides. At college, her boyfriend proposes to her and expects her to give up college and move across the country. In 2017, a confused phone call from
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rich Pay Late’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

It is the eve of the Suez crisis in the Fifties. Written in the Sixties with the benefit of hindsight of this political crisis, The Rich Pay Late by Simon Raven has a modern tone applicable for our Brexit times. Greed, disloyalty, snobbishness are common. First of the ten novels in Raven’s ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, in which a Dickensian cast of characters overlap with each other’s lives, each book is a self-contained story from the end of the Second World War to 1973. The Rich Pay Late opens as Donald Salinger and Jude Holbrook, co-owners of an advertising agency, discuss the purchase of a financial magazine, Strix. Jude is ambitious but without money, Donald has the cash but is cautious. And so starts the combined theme of gambling/business/love in which everyone is for himself and taking calculated risks is a way of life. Structurally, it is an ensemble story rather than concentrating on one central character; Raven introduces characters with short glimpses, some of one paragraph, of people who start off separate from Donald and Jude until their entwined lives are revealed. Not one character is superfluous. This is a short novel of 250 pages, but intense. Slow, rich, satirical, it
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ by @lucindariley #mystery #romance

This is a tale of complicated choices, tragedy and mental instability combined with all the bad luck life can throw at you. Told simply at the beginning, the emotional intensity of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley tightens and tightens like a old screw turned so hard it can’t be loosened. Until finally it gives way. Visiting her family in Ireland, Grania Ryan is running from pain. She has just miscarried and is upset with her boyfriend, Matt, for an unexplained reason. At home she sees a young girl walking on the cliffs and is curious about her. Aurora Devonshire is eight years old, she lives in the big house beside the sea, raised by an accumulation of governesses, nannies and household staff during the absence of her father Alexander. Grania is transfixed by the child, but her mother Kathleen is worried by any contact made with ‘that family’. The Girl of the Cliff is the story of three generations of women in the two families, their loves, losses, sacrifices, cruelties and grudges. And throughout it all runs the mystery of why Grania cannot return to New York to her grieving and confused boyfriend. BUY Read my reviews
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Categories: Book Love.

How Philip Pullman writes #amwriting #writerslife #BookofDust

Philip Pullman ‘When you’re writing, you have to please yourself because there’s no one else there initially. But the book doesn’t fully exist until it’s been read. The reader is a very important part of the transaction – and people have to read things they want to read. I’m writing for me – I write for all the ‘me’s’ that have been. From the first me I can remember, the me who first got interested in stories and loved listening to them; to the me who was here at Oxford fifty years ago; to the me who was a school teacher, telling stories to the class. All of these. I’m writing for me. And I am lucky to have found such a wide audience and an audience which contains both adults and children is the best of all.’ [in an interview with the BBC on October 19, 2017]  Pullman was speaking a day prior to publication of La Belle Sauvage, first volume of the long-awaited The Book of Dust. The interview is a fascinating account of how such a successful author – commercially and critically – goes about his day job. Three things stand out for me. He sits and
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Categories: On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… Sue Featherstone @SueF_Writer #books #humour #chicklit

Today I’m delighted to welcome chick lit novelist Sue Featherstone. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie. “It’s hard to pin down a single Porridge & Cream read because there are a number of old favourites that fit into my comfort-read category. Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, for instance, Noel Streatfield’s children’s stories and Josephine Tey’s whodunits. But I’m going to choose Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie, which I first read in my early teens in the late 1960s when I sneaked it off my dad’s bookcase. “Truly, Christie is the queen of crime fiction.” BUY Sue Featherstone’s Bio Sue Featherstone is a Midlander, who has spent most of her life living and working in Yorkshire. Her debut novel A Falling Friend, co-authored with Susan Pape, was published by Lakewater Press in 2016 and a sequel A Forsaken Friend followed in March 2018. The pair, who have also written two journalism text books together, are currently working on the final book in their Friends trilogy. Sue was a journalist and public relations practitioner before moving into academia 20 years ago to teach news and magazine journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. Married with two grown-up daughters, she recently welcomed her first granddaughter Iris who is ‘the
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.