Archives for books

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.

#BookReview ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop @VicHislop #Spain #historical

I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. The re-telling of the Spanish Civil War by Victoria Hislop in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we lived in Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks built on derelict land. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It was impossible to visit Ronda for the weekly supermarket shop without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. The atrocity is said to be the inspiration
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Wreath of Roses’ by Elizabeth Taylor #historical

There are some novels that you want to start read again as soon as you’ve finished it. To appreciate the finer details, unravel sub-text, and simply to admire. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor had that effect on me. It is described in reviews as ‘her darkest novel’. What fascinated me was the inter-play between the three key female characters, how they see each other, and themselves, how they behave individually and together. Multiple contradictions complicated by self-delusions and self-awareness. I don’t mean to seem cryptic. The story is simple, as is often the way with Taylor. In that period after the Second World war when life begins to look normal, the undercurrents of the war experience are everywhere. Camilla and Liz are staying with Frances, Liz’s former governess, for their annual summer holiday. It is a habit forged by years with happy memories of podding peas and sharing stories. Except this year is different. Liz is now married and has brought her baby, Harry. Frances, an artist, is now painting dark tortured pictures rather than feminine florals and portraits. And Camilla has a shocking experience on her journey to stay with Frances; she witnesses a suicide at a train
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’

John Betjeman is an English poet so identified with his times and interests. Born in 1906, his family ran a firm in the East End of London making furniture and household items distinctive to Victorians. Betjeman remained fascinated by Victoriana, its architecture, English nature and society, and this is evident in his poetry. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society, and became Poet Laureate in 1972. In his introduction to his collection Slick But Not Streamlined, published in 1947, he wrote of himself ‘so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.’ I read ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ on a freezing cold February morning, in a public library in West London. It was the sort of day on which you doubt you will ever be warm again. In a few words, I forgot my surroundings and was with Betjeman on a spring day. 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. ‘Belbroughton Road is bonny, and pinkly bursts the spray Of prunus and forsythia across the public way, For a full spring-tide of blossom
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Categories: Poetry.

#Bookreview ‘The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by @sophiehannahCB1 #crime #mystery

I am not a great lover of continuation series, books written by a new author after the death of the much-loved originator. It seems a cynical moneymaking move and I fear it will ruin my love of the original author’s books. I grew up loving Agatha Christie and have not, until now, been tempted to read the new Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah. But about to go on holiday, feeling tired and longing for something familiar but new, I picked up The Mystery of Three Quarters. And what a delight it is. The story starts as Poirot is challenged in turn by four strangers, each accusing him of naming them as a murderer. Affronted that fraudulent letters have been sent in his name, Poirot sets out to investigate. He suspects however that the supposed victim Barnabas Pandy does not exist. But Pandy does exist, or did, for 94-year old Barnabas Pandy is dead, drowned in his bath. Told by Poirot’s police sidekick, Inspector Edward Catchpool, this is a clever and mystifying story of Pandy, his two grand-daughters, and long-buried guilt and shame. Hannah writes with ease and I slipped seamlessly into loving and believing in her Poirot. As with all
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous #writers, reading… @StephenKing

Tripwire, Lee Child’s third book in the Jack Reacher series, is keeping Stephen King’s attention from whatever game he’s watching. Perhaps basketball? As any true reader knows, it is torture to put down a book to go out when really you just want to read to the end. And Stephen is very near the end. There are 23 books to date in the Jack Reacher series, I wonder how many Stephen has read now? Stephen is reading an American Penguin edition [above] with a distinctive cover.   ‘Tripwire’ by Lee Child Amazon UK See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Grace Kelly  Charles Dickens Gregory Peck And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, reading… @StephenKing picks up a @LeeChildReacher novel #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3AI via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘Down to the Woods’ by @mjarlidge #crimefiction

One thing you know to expect from a DI Helen Grace book; the first theory and suspect she comes up with will not be the killer, usually the second one isn’t either. And you believe her each time. So just when you are wondering who the killer can possibly be, the book races to its conclusion and you never guessed it though the clues are there. Down to the Woods is the eighth in the Grace series by MJ Arlidge. He is expert at twisting, turning, somersaulting the plot and part of the fun as a reader is figuring out the puzzle he has set. In the New Forest, campers are disappearing from their tents and being chased through the isolated woods before being killed. I didn’t dwell on the gruesome bits; I prefer the puzzle part of crime novels, the answers are always with the people. Apart from PD James and Susan Hill, this is the series of crime novels I keep on reading. Why? Because Helen Grace is an unusual heroine; she is strong but vulnerable, confident yet quaking inside, spiky but desperate for companionship. For the moment that support comes from her team. The secondary story of her
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ by Thomas Pynchon #oldbooks

I admit here that I read Thomas Pynchon’s post-modern novella The Crying of Lot 49 at university and enjoyed it without really understanding it. First published in 1966, it tells the story of Oedipa Maas and what happens after her ex-partner dies. Pynchon had fun creating wonderful character names, so unusual and clever they reminded me of Charles Dickens – Oedipa’s partner is Pierce Inverarity, her husband is Wendell “Mucho” Maas, Oedipa’s lawyer Metzger works for Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, and in a bar she meets Mike Fallopian. The plot is labyrinthine, it is a Marmite book, love it or hate it, and I suspects features on many people’s lists of unfinished books. It does, however, have some interesting cover design. The first edition in the USA was published by JB Lippincott & Co [above]. The current Vintage Classics edition [below] was published in 1996. Buy here The story In brief, Oedipa’s ex partner Pierce has died and she is named as co-executor of his will. The catalyst to the story is her discovery of a set of stamps which may, or may not, have been used by a secret underground postal delivery system called the Trystero. As she travels
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Categories: Book design and Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: LM Milford @lmmilford #books #crimefiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer LM Milford. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. “My Porridge and Cream novel is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. I think it may even be the first Agatha Christie book I read and began my love affair with her writing. It’s the book I pick when I’m feeling tired and want something easy to read. I almost wrote ‘simple to read’ but of course Christie’s plots are never simple. The copy I have is old and battered and I think bought from a second-hand bookshop while browsing. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I read it, but it’s probably back in my early teens and it helped me to find the writing genre where I belong. “Miss Marple is one of my favourite characters. She looks like a fluffy old lady but underneath that outward appearance is a core of steel and a very quick brain. I love the way she solves the crime by using just her wits and her experiences of living in a quiet country village. Her knowledge of the psychology of human behaviour is what makes her so formidable. I also love Lucy Eyelesbarrow, quietly competent and
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Horseman’ by Tim Pears #historical #Devon

The Horseman by Tim Pears is an account of the slow, meandering life on an estate farm in rural Devon. It is 1911 when, for modern readers, the sinking of the Titanic is not far away and the Great War looms. Two children, born into very different worlds, grow up not far apart; both have a strong love of horses. This novel is billed as a coming-of-age tale but it is also a description of rural farming methods. Told in a month-by-month format, the seasons unfold in a remote Devon valley where the passing of time is marked by the weather and the tasks undertaken on the farm. There is a long list of characters and at the beginning I confused who was who, but gradually they settled into their roles. Leopold Sercombe is the youngest son of the master carter working on the tenant farm of a large estate. He longs to escape school every day to run home and help his father with the horses; these are working animals, cart horses and cobs, they are almost characters. We are there as Noble gives birth; as Leo’s father shares one of the secrets of his trade, the use of dried
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘When All Is Said’ by Anne Griffin @AnneGriffin_ #Irish

This book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry. Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

In 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, The Almanack. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come. Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s Vox Stellarum, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Oh my goodness why have I taken so long to read the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom? I was absolutely gripped by Dissolution, first in this Tudor series of mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, commissioner for Thomas Cromwell. And now I want to read all the others. It is 1537. Henry VIII is king and supreme head of the Church of England. A year has passed since Anne Boleyn was beheaded and her successor as queen, Jane Seymour, has just died following childbirth. Cromwell’s team of investigators, or commissioners, are reviewing every monastery across the land. The dissolution of these institutions is expected as Catholic worship is reformed and anglicised. Lawyer Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast where the investigating commissioner Robin Singleton has been murdered. Cromwell wants a quick solution to the murder so he can tell the king the problem and solution at the same time, and so puts pressure on Shardlake to find the murderer within days. Shardlake is a great central character; a hunchback, as a boy he turned to his studies when sports and girls seemed impossible. ‘My disability had come upon me when I was three, I began
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Kathryn Haydon @HaydonKathryn #romance #books

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance author Kathryn Haydon. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. “I have chosen The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran because this is a book that speaks to me, soul to soul. The words reach out over the years and touch me as though they were written yesterday. It is the East speaking to the West in the manner of Rabindranath Tagore’s famous Gitanjali. Magical and mystical, with a wonderful cadence! Every human condition known to mankind is illustrated by beautiful verse. “I first came upon this little book in the mid 1990’s. Quite by chance, really – although what is chance and what is really synchronicity? While doing a counselling course with the Exeter branch of the W.E.A., I attended a residential weekend on the edge of Dartmoor. We (students) were invited to bring along a special poem to read out, or a few lines from a book to share with the group. It didn’t matter what, so long as the words had significance and meaning. Someone read from The Prophet – I forget who – and I was spellbound. This is a flavour of what I heard: “You are the bows from which your children
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

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

Anna Ames is a trainee probate genealogist working for Triple H, Harts Heir Hunters, and File under Family is the first in a series of genealogy mysteries about Anna by Geraldine Wall. When Margaret Clark dies Anna is charged with finding her missing heir, daughter Briony. The trail leads abroad and unleashes an international social media campaign, reveals sexual abuse in prison and considers how enthusiasm can conflict with client confidentiality. Wall introduces the character of Anna and her family life which I am sure will continue to feature throughout the series. While she faces problems balancing work with studying for her Diploma in Genealogy qualification, these are nothing when compared to Anna’s stress at home. Her husband Harry has early-onset dementia so Anna’s father George has moved in to help with caring for Harry and their two teenagers, Ellis and Faye. Faye has a new Russian boyfriend who wants to take her to Russia with him. Ellis is auditioning for a role in the school panto while George is investigating his spiritual side and writing poetry. Worst of all, as Harry’s condition gradually deteriorates he becomes increasing aggressive towards Anna. Into this walks an unattractive stranger. I found the
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Pleasures’ by @SFDPBeginnings #thriller #romance #suspense

Part three of a London-based thriller series, Pleasures by Helen J Christmas takes up immediately where books one and two left off. The ‘Same Place Different Place’ series ticks all the thriller boxes. Chases, disguises, London gangsters, phone tapping, dodgy politicians and policemen, threats, kidnapping, lovable victims and baddies to hate. Book two ends in 1987, Pleasures picks up the story in the same year. Do not read Pleasures without having read books two and three first as you will miss so many references. In a nutshell, in Beginnings Eleanor Chapman is on the run with her son Eli after Eli’s father was murdered after witnessing the killing of a politician. In Visions, Eleanor and Eli have settled in the quiet village of Aldwyk, hopeful of remaining under the radar from the gang who see her as a dangerous witness. But a bitter property deal brings an old enemy to the village. The handling of the backstory in Pleasures is at times repetitive, exacerbated perhaps by the fact that this book starts immediately after the previous story finished. The old enemy is back in another controversial property deal in the town where Eleanor now lives. The heavies are brought in to
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Winter of the Heart’ by @EG_Parsons #historical #romance

Winter of the Heart by EG Parsons is a good old-fashioned romance about bad choices and second chances involving a heroine who is afraid to love again, a widower grieving for what he has lost and a violent husband, set in post-Civil War South Carolina. In 1876,Megan Connors starts a new life as a schoolteacher on a ranch at Willow Creek. Finding the children eager to learn, she hopes her dreams of a good life are coming true. Except for her boss, the rude ranch owner Charles Donavan, glamorous neighbour Alicia who expects to marry Charles, and a ghostly presence. When romance starts to blossom, Megan must admit she is not free to marry. When her former husband William arrives to claim her, Megan must leave with him and return to their home in Clearwater, Virginia. The second half of the novel is a tale of survival. Megan plans her escape from William’s house but with winter approaching she gets lost and wanders into the mountains. Encounters with a bear, bandits and snow leave her almost dead. Meanwhile Charles realises his behaviour to Megan was harsh. He leaves his ranch and with the help of confidential investigator James Marshall, investigates Megan’s
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding #oldbooks

A moral for all times about self-governance, Lord of the Flies was the first novel of schoolteacher William Golding. It tells the story of a group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves. It was not an instant hit, going out of print in the USA a year after publication, but it went onto be a bestseller. In the middle of an unspecified war, a plane crashes on a remote island in the Pacific. Fair-haired Ralph believes that grown-ups will come to rescue them, but Piggy says they should get organised. “Put first things first and act proper.” The novel explores the conflicting human impulses towards civilisation, social order, living according to the rules, with the pursuit of power. It is abrilliantly observed study of teenagers free of the usual rules and conventions imposed by adults. Artwork for the first UK Faber edition [above], published on September 17, 1954 is by Anthony Gross. The current Faber edition [below] was first published in 1997. Buy here. The story During a wartime evacuation, a British aeroplane crashes on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are adolescent boys. Two boys – fair-haired Ralph,
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Categories: Book design and Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford #humour #satire

When office worker Noel Foster inherits three thousand three hundred and fourteen pounds from an aunt and sets his heart on finding a girl to marry, his friend tells him, ‘It’s such a fearful gamble. Much better put the money on a horse and be out of your misery at once.’ And so starts Wigs on the Green, the third novel by Nancy Mitford. But as well as a social satire of the upper class circles in which she moved, as in her previous novels, in Wigs on the Green Mitford had a more personal target in mind: the fascist pretensions of her sisters Unity and Diana. The sisters disliked the novel; it caused a family rift and was not republished within Mitford’s lifetime [she died in 1973]. Money and sex are at the heart of the story; the spending and gaining of money, the marrying into money, and the pursuit of sex seemingly regardless of the eligibility and marital status of the intended. Noel and his friend Jasper Aspect go to Chalford in search of the young heiress, Eugenia Malmains. Their first glimpse of the over-enthusiastic fascism-obsessed Eugenia is as she gives a public speech on behalf of the
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous writers, writing… Rose Tremain

When I first saw this photo I spent a little while trying to read the spines of the books on the shelves behind Rose Tremain. Pictured here at home in Norwich, her shelves look reassuringly normal: A4 ring binders, stacks of magazines, family photos fitted into gaps. But I couldn’t read one book title. Disappointing. And I also envy her floor-to-ceiling shelves. Tremain is one of those novelists I seek to emulate. Now 72, she firmly believes that writers get better as they age. “So long as I can keep setting up these journeys it is likely that I can keep going — provided I keep my marbles. I feel I have greater intellectual strength now than 20 years ago.” Variety is the key for her, it seems, and the subject matter of her novels has varied widely. A Restoration rake in the time of Charles II in Restoration; the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand in The Colour; a lute player in the court of Christian IV of Denmark in Music & Silence; and an eastern European migrant in Britain in The Road Home. Read the article at The Times. Here’s my review of her latest novel, The Gustav
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Categories: On Writing.