Archives for books

#BookReview ‘Heartstone’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom continues to get better. Heartstone, the penultimate book of the six, involves a puzzle which kept me guessing until the reveal. Despite Shardlake vowing to take a back seat from Royal intrigues, the Tudor lawyer/detective is pulled into a case at the behest of Queen Catherine Parr. This is a great series to lose yourself in. A tutor, son of one of the Queen’s staff, has alleged an injustice done against a former pupil, Hugh Curteys, by the Hobbey family who adopted Hugh and his sister Emma after the death of their parents. This complaint takes Shardlake before the Court of Wards, not Shardlake’s natural territory, where the lives and rights of orphaned minors are protected. In truth, it is rife with fraud and abuse and the case brings Shardlake face-to-face with old and new enemies. A journey into Hampshire at the time King Henry VIII is mobilising his army and navy south to oppose the expected invasion by the French, is ill-advised. Normal life is suspended as Henry distributes new coinage, devalued to pay for his war, and men are conscripted in the fields and the streets. But Shardlake, as ever driven
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Sun Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #mystery

Electra, the youngest d’Aplièse sister in the Seven Sisters series of adoption mysteries by Lucinda Riley, has always seemed the most explosive personality of the siblings. And so The Sun Sister, sixth in the series and the one dedicated to telling the story of Electra’s family history, is explosive too. It’s a 5* read and a long one, 850 pages, as Riley digs deep into Electra’s African origins and the drug epidemic of today’s world. Supermodel Electra seems to have it all, fame, beauty, money, rock star boyfriend, a glamorous lifestyle in Manhattan. But she also has a drink and drug habit. Her behaviour is erratic, obsessive, selfish and angry, made worse by the sudden death of her adoptive father Pa Salt and being ditched by her boyfriend Mitch. Cutting herself off from friends and family, Electra is spiralling downwards when she receives a letter from a strange woman claiming to be her grandmother. The Sun Sister tells the story of Electra’s life now in New York 2008, interleaved with that of Cecily Huntley-Morgan, daughter of a fine New York family who, in 1938, has just been jilted by her fiance. Taking up the invitation of her glamorous and eccentric
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ by Anne Tyler #literary

Anne Tyler is one of my favourite writers, so elegantly understated, so spot-on with her characters. Her latest Redhead by the Side of the Road is slim, at 180 pages, but a delight. Why? Because she writes about what it is like to be human, the everyday things, the ticks, the habits, the way we are and the subtle ways we change. Hers are not plot-driven page-turning books, they are thoughtful portraits of people who seem to be like us – they chop vegetables and mop the kitchen floor, like Micah Mortimer, an unmarried 44 year old self-employed IT specialist and janitor of his apartment block. His family teases him about his finicky household habits and he accepts the teasing with good grace. He is infinitely patient with his elderly clients, going round to reboot computers and routers. No scene is wasted in this novella. I particularly loved Micah’s visit to new client Rosalie Hayes who has inherited a house, and computer, from her grandmother. Rosalie cannot find her grandmother’s passwords and is tearing her hair out. This is how we see Micah’s world, through his interactions with neighbours, family, clients, girlfriend Cass and a stranger who turns up on
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Letter’ by @KHughesAuthor #mystery #adoption

The idea for The Letter by Kathryn Hughes is enticing; the lives of two women, forty years apart, linked by a letter found in the pocket of an overcoat at a charity shop. What follows is a dual storyline – about an abused wife and her road to freedom, and a young woman in love for the first time as war breaks out. This is a story about two couples. In 1974, Tina Craig works in an office during the week and on Saturdays she volunteers at a charity shop to get out of the house, away from her abusive husband Rick. Staying, though she knows she must leave, Tina listens to the advice of friends but continues to excuse and forgive Rick’s behaviour. Until a mysterious letter found in the pocket of coat sets her off on the trail of the people involved. The letter is sealed and stamped but never posted. Why. When she opens and reads the letter she starts to think about Billy, who wrote the letter in 1939 as war broke out, and about Chrissie, the woman who never received his letter. In the summer of 1939, Chrissie and Billy fall in love in the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Lost Lights of St Kilda’ by Elisabeth Gifford #historical

Told in two timelines, 1927 and 1940, this a story of love – between two people, and for an island and an endangered way of life. In The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford, the beautiful yet harsh landscape of the island is made vividly alive. This is a delight to read, a novel about love, trust, betrayal and forgiveness. In 1940 Fred Lawson, a Scottish soldier from the 51st Highland Division, is imprisoned at Tournai, captured at St Valery in retreat as other soldiers were being evacuated at Dunkirk. Through the darkest moments of fighting, his memories of St Kilda sustain him. ‘It was your face that had stayed with me as we fought in France. It was you who’d sustained me when we were hungry and without sleep for nights as we fought the retreating action back towards the Normandy coast.’ Fred escapes and heads for Spain, forced to trust strangers, not knowing who is a friend and who is an informer, but drawn on by his memories of St Kilda. At the same moment in Scotland, a teenage daughter longs to know more of her birth. Says Rachel Anne, ‘My mother says I am her
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories

Today I’m delighted to welcome short story writer Amanda Huggins. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “There was strong competition for my Porridge and Cream choice, and I’d just like to mention two of the worthy runners-up, both of which I return to time and time again. The wonderful Jane Eyre needs no introduction or explanation, and has been in my top ten since I was a teenager. Another contender was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I’ve loved since first reading it in the 1980s. A beautifully written story of a life lost to duty; unsentimental and utterly heartbreaking. But my final choice has to be The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, one of the all-time bestselling – and most translated – books ever published. “I own a signed copy of The Remains of the Day as well as a Folio hardback, and I also have two copies of Jane Eyre – though sadly neither of them are signed! But I have to confess to owning a rather extravagant seven copies of The Little Prince. In my defence, they’re all in different languages – however, as I’m only
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘A Thousand Moons’ by Sebastian Barry #historical #literary

1870s Paris, Tennessee, a young Lakota girl Ojinjintka, lately known as Winona Cole, travels a delicate path in post-Civil War America. Another 5* book from Sebastian Barry, A Thousand Moons is sequel to Days Without End, though both books can be read independently. This is a dangerous time when the rule of law is often non-existent and hatred is on every street. Winona says, ‘It was a town of many eyes watching you anyhow, an uneasy place.’ Barry tells this heart-rending story in eloquent prose that makes the pages turn. Winona is the adopted daughter of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, whose wartime story is told in Days Without End. Now, peace has come and Thomas and John raise their daughter to be educated and respectful. This in itself causes problems. ‘It is bad enough being an Indian without talking like a raven,’ says Winona. ‘The white folks in Paris were not all good speakers themselves.’ A story of one young woman’s journey through life’s racism, prejudice and latent violence, this is also a story of love. The love, for its time, of an unusual family; an Indian cared for when her family is killed when she is six years
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Choice’ by @clairerwade #books #dystopian

The Choice by Claire Wade is set in an alternative world, one where sugar is banned, exercise is compulsory and every supermarket visit is preceded by a weigh-in. It is a Big Brother world where a new government, initially intent on preventing sickness and encouraging healthy living, has gone OTT and taken control of the smallest details of people’s lives. Olivia used to be a baker before the changes. When she lost her shop, she lost her reason for living. And so she subsists, making the best of the meal plans approved by Mother Mason, chivvying her friend Alice to keep to the rules and stay out of trouble, and worrying about the effect all of this is having on husband Danny and their two children. And then she gets a glimpse of a fightback. Is Olivia brave enough to join the protest, or will she play safe to protect her family? Of course she fights, in the only way she knows how. It starts in a small way, baking cakes for the local protest group to raise money for the cause. But then her rebellion gets way out of hand and she is faced with shame and condemnation. The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #crime

Yorkshire, 1845. A woman disappears overnight from her home. Her husband is distraught. All that remains of her is copious amounts of blood on the bed. The local police are inept. This is the first mystery in a series of new amateur sleuths, the three Bronte sisters, in The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis. I loved this book from the beginning. Bronte fans will love it but anyone new to Bronte will find it an engaging introduction to the three clever and inspirational sisters. What a fresh idea to involve Charlotte, Emily and Anne in an occupation that suits their imaginations, attention to detail and energy. Anne says, ‘It is truly terrible that I am a little thrilled to think of us as three invisible lady detectors seeking out the truth? I believe we could be quite the only such creatures in all existence.’ Their characters are clearly drawn and their engagements with other characters – brother Branwell, father Patrick, cook Tabby and maid Martha – are all convincing. The case of the vanished bride comes to their attention because the governess to the two small children of the missing woman is none other than Matilda French, a former schoolfriend
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Snapshot of Murder’ by @FrancesBrody #crime

In 1928, a Photography Society outing to Haworth to see the opening of the new Bronte Parsonage Museum has an unexpected outcome. One of the group does not go home alive. A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody is tenth in the Kate Shackleton 1920s detective series, a satisfying story about jealousy, long lost love and betrayal. Kate’s friend Carine Murchison runs a photographic studio with her boorish husband Tobias. Derek, friend of Kate’s niece Harriet, has a theory that Tobias wants his wife dead so he can inherit the studio. But the story is so much more complicated. Throw in a long lost lover returned, the wonderfully scratchy mother and daughter landladies of Ponden Hall near Haworth where the Photography Society stays, the flamboyant Rita who dresses in Indian silks and works in a pharmacy, and a London policeman and former love of Kate who arrives to investigate the murder, and there are plenty of options for arguments, jealousy, upsets and both rejected and reciprocated love. The echoes of the Brontes are welcome too, but Brody never allows this to dominate her story. This is a character-led crime drama. Kate’s world is created with skill by Brody, I particularly enjoyed Mrs Sugden, Mr Sykes
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Lady of the Ravens’ by @joannahickson #Historical

It is England, just after the War of the Roses. The Lady of The Ravens by Joanna Hickson starts with the new Tudor King Henry VII on the throne and the country awaiting his marriage rumoured to be to Elizabeth of York, older sister of the Princes in the Tower. The marriage is intended to heal divisions between the two warring factions after Henry’s defeat of King Richard III at Bosworth Field, so allowing peace to settle on the land. But of course it is not that simple. Twenty-four year old Joan Vaux is a servant to the princess and follows her to court on her marriage to the king. Watching the childbirth experiences of Queen Elizabeth, her own sister and other women of the court marry and bear children – some dying in the process – Joan develops a phobia of childbirth. But the king requires his courtiers to be married and a husband for Joan is proposed, but the situation is complicated as while she dithers a proposal is received from an unexpected source. Joan must make her choice, a decision which echoes throughout her life. Joan has an affinity with the ravens, starting from when as a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ by @PhilipPullman

Oddly The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman feels like the first of a trilogy rather than the second in The Book of Dust. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book but the first half is taken up with world-building and the introduction of new characters, relationships and enmities. But this is the first time we see Lyra as a young woman ten or eleven years after we left her at the end of The Amber Spyglass, so much has changed. Oxford seems more modern, Lyra is surrounded by old friends and potential new enemies and, crucially, she is not getting on with her daemon Pan. This latter fact, at first unthinkable, is the power driving the narrative. When Pan despairs of Lyra, who he thinks has changed unrecognisably, he sets out to recover the thing he fears she has lost. Her imagination. And Lyra, being Lyra, charges off in pursuit. Except she doesn’t know where Pan is going. Both are driven by love. Add to this a changing political landscape with a new generation of scholars, scientists, politicians, priests and criminals and it soon becomes clear that Lyra and Pan are separated from each other in an increasingly toxic and dangerous world. Meanwhile the farmers of roses and makers of rose oil are being
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Last Protector’ by Andrew Taylor @AndrewJRTaylor #Historical

Fourth in the 17th century crime series by Andrew Taylor, The Last Protector sees the return to London of Richard, Oliver Cromwell’s son, and last Protector of England before the restoration of the king in 1660. And it also heralds the central plot return of Cat Lovett. Ever since the first book in the series, I have waited for Cat to have a key role in the plot again. The story begins as James Marwood, clerk to the Under secretary of State to Lord Arlington, is sent to secretly observe a duel between two lords. Meanwhile Cat, now Mistress Hakesby and married to a frail elderly architect, meets a childhood acquaintance in the street. This is Elizabeth Cromwell, daughter of Richard. Remembering their friendship as a fleeting thing, Cat is confused by Elizabeth’s eagerness to rekindle their relationship. Until, visiting Elizabeth at her godmother’s house, she is introduced to a fellow guest John Cranmore. But a peculiar habit of tapping a finger on the table brings back memories for Cat, to the time when she and her father moved in elevated political circles, and she realizes Cranmore is a false name. Elizabeth, it becomes clear, is seeking a precious object hidden by her grandmother. The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Benefit of Hindsight’ by @susanhillwriter #crime

The Benefit of Hindsight is the tenth book in the Simon Serrailler series by Susan Hill and she covers a lot of ground. At the book’s heart, as with its predecessors, is the town of Lafferton and the Serrailler family. Crime, when it happens, affects so many people and Hill shows this effectively as more and more people are drawn into the aftermath. The themes of this book are post-traumatic-stress-disorder, pre-natal premonition and post-natal depression, art robbery and private v public healthcare. Written in a list it can seem clinical, but Hill is expert at winding together the personal lives of ordinary people so that you care about them. The continuity of the Serrailler family throughout the series adds the familiarity of real family issues that are not crime-related, just ordinary family stuff. Simon is struggling with the aftermath of his injury, not physically, but with panic attacks. His sister Cat has settled into her job with private GP service Concierge and it is Cat who meets two people central to the story; pregnant mum Carrie who unshakingly believes her baby will be born damaged; and Cindy, wife of businessman and charity supporter, Declan McDermid. When a lonely house is burgled in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Secrets We Kept’ by @laraprescott #Cold War #Pasternak

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is a mixture of Cold War thriller, romance and the true story of the publication of Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Set in the 1950s, this novel is about the power of the written word. So powerful that two nations try to outwit the other as a big new novel is set to be published; neither has any regard for the effects of their plans on the author. The two worlds are radically different, Prescott builds both convincingly. I can see Pasternak’s vegetable garden at his dacha, I can hear the typewriters in the Typing Pool at The Agency on National Mall in Washington DC. It is important to note that this is a blend of real events, real people and total fiction. Irina is American, a first generation Russian-American, her father left behind in the Soviet Union as his pregnant wife departed for a new life in America. Irina’s Mama is a dressmaker, speaking Russian to Irina at home while making elaborate dresses for Russian immigrants. Irina never meets her father. Always an outsider, when she goes for a job interview in a typing pool Marla wears a skirt made for her by Mama. She gets the job in
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Hitler’s Secret’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Fourth in the Tom Wilde World War Two spy mysteries, Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements hits the ground running and keeps the pages turning. The secret in question is a ten-year old girl who may or may not be the love child of Hitler. Klara has a false identity and is hidden but is now in imminent danger of exposure and murder. Wilde travels to Berlin disguised as a German-American motorcycle manufacturer in search of a business deal. His cover enables him to meet allies and search for Klara. Unsure of his mission from the beginning, Wilde imagines that everyone can see through his false identity, everyone is planning to kill him. Clements tells the story at breakneck speed, flicking from viewpoint to viewpoint. Martin Bormann, Hitler’s gatekeeper wants Klara dead and despatches a henchman, Otto Kalt. But it seems everyone touched by Klara’s story is at risk of death. As Wilde closes in on Klara’s hiding place, so do her killers. What ensues is a tense chase north across Germany towards the promised sanctuary of Sweden. And at all times it is assumed Hitler is unaware of the girl’s existence. But who else knows the secret? At the heart of this story is
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Clergyman’s Wife’ by @MollyJGreeley #books #JaneAusten

If like me you are fascinated and disturbed by the decision of Charlotte Lucas to marry Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, then you will enjoy The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley. I felt immediately immersed in Charlotte’s world at Hunsford. I won’t summarise the background to this novel on the assumption that all readers will be fans of Pride and Prejudice. Suffice to say, this could so easily have slipped into negative territory, negativity about William Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but Greeley handles Austen’s characters with respect, taking the heritage of Charlotte’s situation and adding a fresh perspective on her future. We see Mr Collins from a new, sympathetic angle, and are given an insight into Charlotte’s decision to marry him, her family’s position and the limited options available to her. I liked Charlotte extremely, a considered, thoughtful woman, given an impossible choice to make and often put into uncomfortable situations by the crassness of people around her. Charlotte however is not negative, she works out the positive thing to do rather than assign blame. This is a Regency family drama structured around the meaning of love; all kinds of love, for your spouse, your parents and siblings, as a mother, for the people who are
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘A Shropshire Lad II’ by AE Housman #poetry

Alfred Edward Housman published two books in his lifetime, A Shropshire Lad in 1896 and Last Poems in 1922, followed after his death by More Poems. His part-patriotic, part-nostalgic poetry appealed to a population at war, his words of nature, sorrow and the brevity of life striking a chord during the Great War. This is the second poem in A Shropshire Lad. Please search out the poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘A Shropshire Lad II’ Loveliest of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough, And stands about the woodland ride Wearing white for Eastertide Listen to Alan Brownjohn read ‘A Shropshire Lad II’ at The Poetry Archive. BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost ‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘A Shropshire Lad II’ by AE Housman https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4bG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

#BookReview ‘The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing’ by @mspaulsonellis #WW1

A group of Great War soldiers is waiting for orders. During the last skirmishes of the war, men are still dying. Will the men receive orders to retreat or advance? Who will live or who will die? There are two strands to The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing by Mary Paulson-Ellis and the title refers to the second. A contemporary man in Edinburgh, an heir hunter, finds a pawn ticket amongst the possessions of Thomas Methven, an old soldier who died alone. This is a detailed story with many layers and many characters introduced as the two strands are told and hesitantly connected. At times the detail became confusing with so many descriptive repetitions I found myself skipping forwards. Paulson-Ellis writes scenes so well – the soldier’s gambling scene with the chicken is totally believable, and her portrayal of the foundling school in NE England is heart breaking. As Solomon tracks the life story of the deceased soldier, we see flashes of his own story, orphaned at seven and sent to live with his grandfather. Though interesting I found this distracting, it took me away from the story of the soldiers and added even more characters and family trees to remember.
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… Jessie Cahalin @BooksInHandbag #books

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Jessie Cahalin. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. “Wuthering Heights appeared in my life when I was eleven years old in 1983.  Following my English teacher’s recommendation, I saved pocket money to buy the novel. ‘The air made me shiver through every limb’ as I entered Heathcliff’s kitchen and lost myself in the language. This was my first taste of one of ‘the important authors’ and she was a Yorkshire lass to boot. I still remember the picture of the withering tree on the front cover and the delicious new smell of the fine pages. “The tiny writing meant I had to concentrate and there were delicious new words to savour. Even then, the rhythms of the language and the powerful setting captured me, and I read them aloud. I stood on t’top of t’world with my new book. Bronte inspired me to enjoy the power of words, and I would spend hours painting my own scenes with language. I marked pages in Wuthering Heights and would re-read them constantly. My parents took me to Howarth to visit the parsonage, and I knew Jessie had gone home. Wuthering Heights was my
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Categories: Book Love.