Archives for books

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.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Out Chasing Boys’ by Amanda Huggins #poetry

Recently published is this small poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds by Amanda Huggins, with 24 poems. Huggins is an award-winning writer of flash fiction and short stories, so knowing her skill with the short form I looked forward to this first poetry chapbook with anticipation. And I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve chosen the first poem in the book as it struck a chord from my own childhood. I can smell the salt in the breeze, hear the lapping of the summer waves on the shore and taste the tang of vinegar as I lick my fingers after eating haddock and chips. This poem is subject to copyright restrictions. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. A ‘poetry chapbook’ is a slim pamphlet of poems, usually no more than 40 pages. ‘Out Chasing Boys’ We spent summer on the seafront, two stranded mermaids killing time. We rolled up our jeans, carried our shoes, blew kisses at the camera in the photo booth. Always out, chasing boys, as if we had forever. BUY THE BOOK Read my reviews of Brightly Coloured Horses, and Separated from the Sea, both by Amanda Huggins. Read these other
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

#BookReview ‘Home’ by Marilynne Robinson #classic #literary

Home by Marilynne Robinson is the story of two adult children who return home, coincidentally at the same time, who feel the shame of not living up to the standards set by their minister father, Reverend Robert Boughton. It is a profoundly sad book; the slow winding tale towards the inevitable ending is curiously addictive. It is a three-hander, concentrating on father, son and daughter. Glory and Jack Boughton grew up in a clerical family home in Gilead, Iowa. We learn of their country childhoods, quite different as siblings go, from their conversations and the memories prompted by visits from neighbours Reverend John Ames, his wife Lila and son. The story is told from Glory’s viewpoint. Jack takes lots of ‘dark nights of the soul’, long solitary walks in the dark to which we are not privy, and his true thoughts remain a mystery to the end. Just when you think you have worked him out, he confounds you. Robinson draws a picture of rural America at a time of great change. There are demonstrations in Montgomery, but Gilead seems insulated from the outside apart from occasional telephone calls to their father by Glory and Jack’s siblings, and news reports of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘59 Memory Lane’ by @CeliaAnderson1 #romance #contemporary

59 Memory Lane by Celia Anderson has a cozy tone reminding me immediately of MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, but without the crime. Anderson has created the sort of feelgood destination you long to live in, to get away from it all. Pengelly is an isolated seaside village in Cornwall with an infrequent bus service. When a local do-gooder starts an Adopt-a-Granny scheme pairing people together, 110-year old May Rosevere is paired with her eighty year old neighbour Julia. Except unbeknown to everyone else, these two women harbour a long held grudge against each other. The central premise of the novel is that May’s long life – and she is free of the medical complaints experienced by other older characters in the book – is thanks to her magical ability to collect other people’s memories and extract energy from them; this is described as a kind of frission, naughtiness, a buzz. May, determined to reach her 111th birthday, steps up her ‘thought harvesting’ and so is delighted to learn that Julia has discovered a large collection of family letters going back decades. This book has two major storylines spliced together – the feelgood seaside life in Pengelly and the adventures of the community,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Moon Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

Fifth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, The Moon Sister is the story of Tiggy, wildlife conservationist and warm-hearted introvert. Each of the D’Apliese sisters is different with diverse skills, interests and hugely varying birth stories. Tiggy’s story alternates between a Highland estate where she is managing the rewilding of Scottish wildcats, and the flamenco world in Spain during the 1930s. The Kinnaird Estate is a beautiful, isolated, wild place. The four wild cats move into their custom-built enclosure and Tiggy moves into a shared estate cottage with fellow worker Cal. Riley builds the Kinnaird community quickly and skilfully from new Laird Charlie to housekeeper Beryl and old retainer Chilly. It is Chilly – speaking in a muddled mixture of English, Spanish and Romani – who introduces the first hints of premonition, seeing and herbal remedies. He tells Tiggy she has healing hands. Caught up in the twists and turns of the Kinnaird family, the frictions in Charlie and Ulrika’s marriage and their tempestuous daughter Zara, Tiggy grieves for Pa Salt and is curious about her own birth family. In his farewell letter, Pa Salt tells her she comes from a gifted line of seers. She must go to Granada in Spain,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Museum of Broken Promises’ by @elizabethbuchan #books

The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan is a disjointed story of Cold War romance and its lingering after-effects decades later. Promises are made and broken, by everyone. The title is misleading, as the sections at the museum in present day in Paris act as bookends to the crucial story in Eighties story in Czechoslovakia. It is 1985, Prague. After the death of her father, student Laure takes a job as an au pair in Paris moving to Prague with her employers. It is the Cold War and the once beautiful city is shabby and grey, an unsettling place to live where the threat of imprisonment or violence always lingers. Laure cares for two small children while their father Petr works, he is an official at a pharmaceuticals company and in a privileged position enabling him to bring a foreigner to work in the country, and their mother Eva is ill. Gradually Laure explores the streets and finds a marionette theatre. There she is enchanted by the folklore tales of the puppets; and she meets Tomas, lead singer in a rock band. Resistance against the repressive regime in Czechoslovakia is low key, expressed through the arts. In this way, the book reminded me of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Mudlarking’ by Lara Maiklem @LondonMudlark #Thames #archaeology

Lara Maiklem is a mudlark. She can be found at low tide walking the beaches and mud of the River Thames, foraging, searching, collecting bits and pieces. And in the course of her memoir Mudlarking, she tells the history of the river. This is a personal history, not a novel. Starting at the tidal head near Teddington and heading east to the Thames Estuary, Maiklem has written an anecdotal guide to London’s river, the treasures which can be found buried in the mud, and tells the stories of the people [real and imagined] who once lived there. From the discarded Doves Type to broken clay pipes and glass bottle stoppers, she describes the objects she has found, their place in her collection, her methods of cleaning and preserving them. Along the way she consults experts and historians and forages with fellow mudlarks who each have their favourite places, their specialist objects to collect. ‘Modern mudlarks fall into two distinct categories,’ she explains. ‘Hunters and gatherers. I am one of the latter. I find objects using just my eyes to spot what is lying on the surface. Eyes-only foragers like me generally enjoy the searching as much as the finding, and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Confession’ by Jessie Burton #romance #contemporary

The Confession by Jessie Burton is her third novel after The Miniaturist, her successful debut. The Confession is a contemporary romance about relationships; mother/daughter, romantic, between friends. Are daughters destined to repeat the mistakes of their mothers, even if they have never met? This is a dual timeline novel. In 2017, Rose Simmons never knew her mother, who left when she was a baby. Rose’s father has always been tight-lipped until now when he tells Rose that the famous but reclusive novelist Constance Holden may have the answers. Frightened of scaring off Constance with awkward questions, Rose instead gets a job as maid/companion for the reclusive novelist, now in her seventies and crippled by arthritis. Unexpectedly Rose comes to like and admire Connie so the longer she works for her the more impossible it is to admit to her deception [she is known to Connie as Laura Brown]. And all the time she wonders if Connie can see her mother’s face in her own. In 1982, we see the story of her mother and Connie. Part-time waitress and artist’s model Elise Morceau meets the enigmatic Connie on Hampstead Heath. When Connie’s first novel is made into a film, the two women
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The House at Silvermoor’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

Expectations and generalisations are an odd thing. When I first read the the blurb for The House at Silvermoor and saw it is set in a South Yorkshire mining community, I hesitated. But I decided to place my trust in the author, Tracy Rees, because I read and loved her Amy Snow. What a good decision it was. Inspired by her grandfather Len, Rees researched coal mining at the turn of the century. This research informs every page but never interferes with her story of Tommy Green from the mining village of Grindley and Josie Westgate of nearby Arden. When they are twelve they meet in a country lane, talking over a dropped bunch of bluebells. Rees is excellent at world creation: the hard grind of the mining families, the lack of options, the durability and sense of inevitability of the families, the autocratic families that rule the mines, the temptation of the unknown. Tommy is destined to work in the pits of the Sedgewick family of Silvermoor where his father and brothers work, where his brother Dan died in an accident. Josie’s father and brothers work in the nearby pits owned by Winthrop Barridge, where standards are lower, the work
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Miss Austen’ by @GillHornby #JaneAusten #historical

What a delicious first chapter there is to MISS AUSTEN by Gill Hornby. Elderly Cassandra Austen arrives unannounced to visit a family friend in Kintbury, endures a parsimonious supper and a difficult evening without much conversation. Why, I wondered, is Cassandra there. And then at bedtime, comes a hint at her reason. Cassandra visits Isabella, a family friend who is grieving the death of her father. Cassandra’s objective, is to retrieve any incriminating letters between her sister Jane and Isabella’s mother, Eliza, before Isabella leaves the family vicarage. With both letter writers dead, and knowledge of the novelist Jane Austen more widely sought than ever before, Cassandra is anxious to protect Jane’s legacy. What follows is a gentle telling of the sisters’ relationship as Hornby pieces together the real letters of the Austen sisters and the known biography of the family, combined with events and dialogue of her own imagination. This is a meandering read without a real focus, there is the imagined threat to Jane’s reputation as Cassandra searches for the missing letters under threat of exposure by her sister-in-law Mary. But this threat is not wholly formed and the story goes back and forth between Cassandra reading the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill #amreading

I selected this book off my to-read shelf where it has sat for at least two years and, on reading the first paragraph, knew I must read on. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill is a gem of a memoir, a year in the life of a crime novelist who decides to read only the books on her bookshelves. But this is more than a review of books – it can be dipped in and out of, the chapters are conveniently short which makes you want to read ‘just another’ – because Hill attaches a personal story to each book, each author. I have always felt an affinity with Susan Hill; she was born eight miles from my own Yorkshire birthplace, and I was intrigued to learn about why she writes. I learned so much more; how her first novel was published when she was only eighteen, how she lives an ordinary life but mixes with some breath-stopping names. She met and/or knew TS Eliot, EM Forster, Cecil Day Lewis, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Bowen; it is a mirror image of my reading list at university, except for the Bond. Above everything though, the book
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford #romance

A slower, more meditative pace inhabits The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, less frenetic than her earlier novels. More fond, less satirical. Fanny Logan narrates this story of the Radlett family and, in particular, her cousin Linda’s pursuit of love. The teenage Linda and sisters, and cousin Fanny who visits the Radletts at the fading freezing family pile, Alconleigh in the Cotswolds, want to grow up now. They are obsessed by sex and romance whilst being woefully ignorant of the practicalities. The reality, however, is more difficult and less romantic than they imagined. They form a secret society The Hons. When not out hunting, The Hons spend hours in a large warm cupboard gossiping about love and Fanny’s disreputable mother, ‘The Bolter’, who abandoned her daughter to pursue love. Fanny, raised by her Aunt Emily and stepfather Davey, spends all her holidays at Alconleigh with Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie and their family. As with all Mitford novels there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Alconleigh is an eccentric world where Uncle Matthew rules his staff and family; he despises foreigners, Catholics, the nouveaux riche and people who say ‘perfume’ instead of ‘scent’. Desperate to find true love and not follow the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Girl at the Window’ by @RowanColeman #paranormal #mystery

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman is a glorious mixture of ghosts, grief and the Yorkshire moors of the Brontës. With three timelines to juggle, the novel’s structure is held together by a real house, Ponden Hall, and its true links to Emily Brontë. Mixing historical fact with flights of imagination – the letters of a 17th century servant Agnes – there is a lot going on. Central are the themes of grief, the different types of love and mother/child relationships. Trudy Heaton’s husband Abe is missing presumed dead after a plane crash in South America, so she takes their son Will to her childhood home, Ponden Hall in Yorkshire. Tru’s return is wondrous and difficult, a return to the old house and moors she loved near Haworth, home to the Brontës; but also an awkward reunion with Ma, with whom she has not spoken for 16 years. When Tru finds a loose page from a diary written by Emily Brontë, who visited the house and used its library, and some 17th century documents by an Agnes Heaton, she starts a hunt for the truth. At the same time she must renovate the almost derelict house, and help Will negotiate his new life
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Categories: Book Love.

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.