Archives for fiction

My Porridge & Cream read: Tracey Sinclair

Today I’m delighted to welcome vampire novelist Tracey Sinclair. “First, a disclaimer: my usual comfort read is generally Terry Pratchett, whose novels I regularly turn to if I’m feeling low or just want a bit of a ‘palette cleanse’ between reads – I’m a big fan of the humanity, humour and decency in his books and they invariably boost my mood. But Rhoda Baxter beat me to that! So I’m going with another choice: Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos – a book I love so much I named one of my characters after the author. I studied it at university in the 90s (it’s one of the few books I’ve read in French and English, back when I was capable of reading more than a menu in French!). The edition I prefer is the Penguin Classic, translated by PWK Stone. I probably go back to it every couple of years, more if I’m prompted by seeing the film on TV. I usually give myself long enough to forget the intricacies of the plot (which is far more complicated and satisfying than the movie) so I can enjoy its richness again. It’s a book to read when I want to be amused and
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: At the Edge of the Orchard

Tracy Chevalier is a ‘must buy’ author for me and At the Edge of the Orchard does not disappoint. It is a story about roots – of family and trees – about the pioneers who populated built America’s mid-west and west coast, battling swamp and mountains. Most importantly it is about apples. The scent of the fruit imbues every page. But this is not a romantic story. The Goodenough family live an at-times brutal life as they try to establish an apple orchard in Ohio’s Black Swamp in 1838. Love them or hate them, the apples affect the direction of their lives. The story started slowly for me as we hear the family’s daily life told by mother Sadie and father James. The two are so antagonistic that you wonder how they ever married. They battle the elements, each other and Sadie’s need for applejack, to put food in the mouths of their surviving children. In winter they wade through mud, in summer they battle swamp fever. Sadie is an almost completely unsympathetic character, hiding in a bottle while her husband hides with his apples. The children, if they survive, are adults before their time. The story really took off for me
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Categories: Book Love.

How Rose Tremain writes

Rose Tremain “The people who dismiss the idea of plot and character, who think you can dispense with them, I’d really suggest they find out how difficult it is. It just doesn’t happen. One of the seductive things of the novel is that you are borne along by it. What bears you along is the ‘what happens?’ Is the character going to be lost or saved? Happy or unhappy? All those human things we think about in our lives. If you’re not setting up jeopardy, if you’re not setting up conflict, love, humour you [will not] be borne along.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’, May 23, 2016] I agree wholeheartedly with Rose Tremain about the necessity of plot and character and have no love of experimental novels. A novel without plot and character is like a skeleton without a spine. A novel is, presumably, written to be read, to be enjoyed, to be re-read and recommended eagerly to friends. For this to happen the readers must care about your protagonist. If the reader doesn’t care, isn’t interested in the person – why he or she is as they are, what happens to them, why they take the decisions they
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: Serious Sweet

I wasn’t sure if I just didn’t click with this angry experimental novel, if I missed its subtlety, or whether it just needed a serious edit. Serious Sweet by AL Kennedy is about one day in the lives of two troubled Londoners, Jon and Meg. The set-up is intriguing. First we are shown a family on a Tube train, the baby daughter is scarred, the family Arabic in appearance. Next we meet Jon, a civil servant. Pages are dedicated to his rescuing of a baby blackbird tangled in twine. At first, I was touched by the delicacy of his situation and the anxiety of the hovering mother blackbird. Then I became bored with Jon’s internal monologue. Thirdly, we go with Meg to an undefined gynaecological appointment. More internal monologue. The timeline is confusing. Everything supposedly takes place in the course of one day but there is so much remembering of past events by Jon and Meg, separated by short scenes of seeming unrelated people, at times I lost the will to read on. Why did I? Because it is AL Kennedy and I loved her edition of short stories, All the Rage, so I was prepared to stick with it.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Fair Exchange

This story by English/French author Michèle Roberts starts with a woman dying, she has a secret to confess. We must wait until almost the end of the book to find out the truth. In a village near Paris, Louise is dying, it is the early 1800s, after the French Revolution and during the subsequent English/French war. Fair Exchange is the story of that secret, of Louise’s part in it and how she impacts on the lives of two other women, one English one French. In an Author’s Note, Roberts explains the inspiration for the story: William Wordsworth’s love affair, at the beginning of the French Revolution, with Annette Vallon. This is not a true account, it is historical fiction about the romances of two couples – English poet William Saygood and Annette Villon [note the mis-spelling], and Jemima Boote [sketchily based on Mary Wollstonecraft] and Frenchman Paul Gilbert. Roberts’ telling of the story combines the detail of poverty at that time – the grinding daily life of Louise and her mother Amalie in the village of Saintange-sur-Seine near Paris – with sumptuous description. Louise is picking plums: ‘The plums were so ripe that they fell into her hands. They smelled
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Under A Pole Star

In 1883, twelve-year-old Flora Mackie is taken by her father, captain of the Vega, a whaling ship, to the Arctic. She returns to the Arctic as a young woman, a meteorologist, heading her own expedition. ‘Under a Pole Star’ by Stef Penney is Flora’s story and that of the troubled 1891 Armitage-de Beyn expedition to Greenland. The story starts in 1948 as an American group leaves New Jersey, the purpose unclear. Onboard the plane are scientists, air force men, a television crew, a journalist, and Flora Mackie. The Snow Queen. What unfolds is the story of the two rival expeditions: the British, told by Flora, and the American, told by Jakob de Beyn, geologist with the Armitage party. It is quite a while before there is even a hint of what the controversy may be. Until then, we follow the lives of Flora in Dundee and London, and Jakob in New York, as they grow from children to adults. Finally the separate Greenland expeditions set off, unaware of each other. When Flora and Jake meet in Greenland in 1892 there is a spark between them. At this point I was unsure what the book was about – Arctic exploration, romance,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Museum of You

This novel by Carys Bray starts with a wonderful description of twelve-year-old Clover watering her father’s allotment on a hot summer’s day. It is the beginning of the summer holidays and it is the first time she has her own front door key and is allowed out on her own. I smelt the dust, could see the shimmering heat and feel the cool of the water splashing from the tap. It is not a book in which a lot happens; rather it is a sensitive portrait of a single father and his daughter and how the past refuses to be ignored. After a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Clover decides her holiday project will be to curate an exhibit of her mother. She has no memories of her mum, who died soon after Clover was born, and her father never talks about the past. Clover never used to mind about this, not wanting to press him and cause distress. But now, poised on the edge of womanhood, her curiosity mounts. And so she ventures into the spare bedroom, a repository of the unwanted and unused. Amongst the piles of old clothes and broken things, she discovers
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Vinegar Girl [The Taming of the Shrew Retold]

I love Anne Tyler’s writing. It is so simple and under-stated. She lets you slip so easily into the head and the world of her characters. This is her re-working of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Generally I dislike these artificial re-writes, but I made an exception for Tyler. After this, I may try some of the others. Kate is a pre-school teaching assistant and housekeeper for her distracted scientist father and teenage sister. She is dissatisfied with her life, can never seem to get things right, but doesn’t know how to change things. Admonished by her headmistress for being too frank with her young charges, she is not in the best of moods when her father introduces her to his lab assistant, Pytor. He seems a lumbering foreigner and Kate does not understand her father’s eagerness that they meet. Pytor has a problem, his work visa is about to expire and he must leave the country. Kate’s father is frantic, he simply cannot lose his irreplaceable assistant or his research project into autoimmune disorders will fail when it is so near success. What happens next is predictable except Tyler turns Shakespeare’s tale of Katherina and Petruchio into a
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Mother’s Secret

What a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffalos in the fields as if I was there. This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more. From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Don’t You Cry

This novel explores how easy it is to make assumptions and how this guesswork is so often wrong. This is the third novel by Mary Kubica, all thoughtful mysteries, carefully written and detailed. It took me longer to get into this one, but Kubica spends time drawing the characters and I was prepared to go along with her. There are two narrators. In Chicago, Quinn’s roommate disappears. After a couple of days waiting for Esther to return and wondering if she has done anything to upset her, Quinn starts to poke around looking for answers. The first things she finds are confusing, they contradict the Esther she knows, or thinks she knows. And then she starts to wonder what Esther is hiding. Quinn’s voice is alternated with Alex, a young man who lives in the small town where he grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. He is a nice guy, who passed up on college for a boring low-paid in a rundown lakeside café so he can care for his drunken father. He takes lunch to Ingrid, a housebound elderly lady and stays to eat with her, and to play cards. One day, he goes to work and
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Margaret Drabble Margaret Drabble’s latest novel, The Dark Flood, described as ‘dark and glittering’, will be published in the UK in November by Canongate. The Dark Flood is a novel about death and what constitutes a ‘good death’. We follow Francesca Stubbs through drinks with dear friends, taking meals to her infirm ex-husband Claude, and visits to her daughter Poppet in the West Country. Read this fascinating interview with Drabble, published in The Paris Review. Michelle Frances The Girlfriend, the debut psychological thriller by BBC drama development executive Michelle Frances, will be published in the UK by Pan Macmillan next spring. Described as the perfect book club read, The Girlfriend a relentless thriller about subtle sabotage, retaliation, jealousy and fear. The chilling focus is on the mother/son/daughter-in-law relationship. The mother is Laura who has a successful career and a long marriage to a rich husband. The son is 23-year-old Daniel, kind, handsome. The girlfriend is Cherry. Laura suspects Cherry is bad news. The catalyst for the drama is one lie. Sarah Schmidt Tinder Press is to publish See What I Have Done by debut author Sarah Schmidt, a re-telling of the Lizzie Borden story. Borden [below] was an American woman who
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Homeland

No, not the American TV series about Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, the thriller by British author Clare Francis. Francis is a proficient thriller writer, but it is some years since I last read one of her books: until I picked one at random off my shelf one day. Homeland is set after World War Two in the quiet rural corner of England that is the Somerset Levels. A land of rising and ebbing water levels, and unworldly place of withies and willows. Into this walks Billy Greer on his return from the war, going back to the house of his uncle and aunt where he spent the difficult teenage years before the war. There, he finds the house and farm in disarray, his uncle dramatically aged, and his aunt upstairs confined to bed after a stroke. And he meets again the woman who made his spine tingle when they were both teenagers. Will he stay to rebuild the farm, or will he go to the promised job in London. And what of Annie, the local girl he could not forget while he fought his way around Europe? Underlying the telling of Billy’s story is that of the Polish soldiers,
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Categories: Book Love.

Rose Haldane: not just one book but the first of a series

Ignoring Gravity is the first novel in a series about Rose Haldane ‘Identity Detective’. Rose, a journalist, discovers she was adopted as a tiny baby, and Ignoring Gravity tells the story of her search for her birth family. The story is told from her point of view, so we see the diaries and documents she discovers, we experience her anger, pain and sense of betrayal. But the adoption triangle includes so many more people than just the adoption baby. So in the Rose Haldane series, I will be exploring the story of others involved in adoption. The second book, Connectedness, focuses on the experience of a birth mother, who gives her baby away. The story rejoins Rose and her sister Lily two years later, but the main focus of the tale is on Justine Tree. Her mother has died and she is bereft, but Justine’s grief is double-edged. When she was an art student in Spain in the 1980s, she became pregnant.  The Yorkshire-born artist, now famous around the world, is desperate to find the secret daughter she gave up for adoption. Justine and Rose meet at an interview about Justine’s latest art collection. The two women connect, so much so that
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Author interview at Jera’s Jamboree

In her interview about Ignoring Gravity at Jera’s Jamboree book blogger Shaz Goodwin asks Sandra Danby: “Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you?” “Rose’s picture of the world is torn up and initially she deals with it in a pragmatic way,” explains Sandra. “She uses her journalism skills to find out the truth of her adoption. But she has moments when it all seems completely hopeless. I didn’t expect her to consider giving up, which she does”. Read the full interview at Shaz’s book blog, Jera’s Jamboree, here.   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now To read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity, click here.
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Book review: Housekeeping

This book by Marilynne Robinson had been on my shelf for a while, bought because of reputation, and anticipated. Perhaps I expected too much of a first novel because, though it has amazing reviews, I struggled to connect with the story. The writing, however, is beautiful, poetic, elegiac. It is the story of Ruth and Lucille, orphans, who grow up beside a haunting lake in the vast open countryside of mid-America. The lake dominates the life of everyone who lives around it, it floods every year, and floods the house where the two girls live, first with their grandmother and then with their Aunt Sylvie. We see Sylvie’s attempts at housekeeping dwindle as the house floods each winter, as her care for the house fails, so the two girls are uncared for. Not abused, but not clean, not sent to school, not disciplined. It is a novel about the failure of housekeeping in this house, and in the family, and it is the two who girls who suffer. The sad story moves at a slow pace, and until halfway through I had no clear picture of how the two girls were different. It is Ruth who narrates, much of which
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Girl in Hyacinth Blue

The front cover of this book by Susan Vreeland features a painting by Dutch master Jan Vermeer called ‘The Painter in his Studio’. In it we see the back of a painter, brush in hand, studying a young girl in blue, holding a book, who stands by a window.  This real painting was the inspiration for the story. Scene-by-scene  the story takes you back in time, following through the centuries the owners of the painting which author Susan Vreeland imagines Vermeer was painting . First, we meet a maths master who has a secret. A painting, inherited from his father, which came to him in the Second World War. The painting is passed from owner to owner, sometimes as an inheritance or gift, sometimes as payment of a debt, sometimes stolen. Vreeland tells us the story of each owner, what the painting meant to them and how it affected their lives: for some it means quick money, or guilt, or beauty, or a hidden secret. Effectively this is a series of short stories, linked by the painting. It is a charming tale, set mostly in the Holland of dykes, poverty and farms. The painting illuminates the lives of everyone who
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Forever Fredless

This is a sunny ‘what if…’ story by Suzy Turner about a girl who longs for a dream not recognising that her life is offering her something better than that unattainable dream. It is a reminder to appreciate what you have, rather than covet something you can’t have. Kate Robinson falls instantly in love when she is 12. She doesn’t know the boy’s name, they exchange a glance but not a single word, before being whisked away by their parents, destined never to meet again. As Kate grows older, no man matches up to ‘Fred’, as she thinks of him, until a surprise inheritance changes her life and shows her that there are other possible loves in her life than the unknown ‘Fred’. Forever Fredless is a fast-moving chicklit novel which I read quickly on a flight going on holiday. Exactly the book to pack in your suitcase. It’ll teach you about the perils of celebrity, that money isn’t always a blessing, and that teenage dreams are made of clouds… but are still worth believing in. For more information about other books by Suzy Turner, click here for her website. If you like ‘Forever Fredless’, read these other romances:- ‘Stormy
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Categories: Book Love.

Cosmochicklitan interviews author Sandra Danby

Book blogger Heidi Bartlett at Cosmochicklitan asks Sandra Danby if the character of Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity is based on herself. “Ignoring Gravity is a novel about thinking you know yourself, then finding out that what you know is wrong,” explains the author. “Yes, Ignoring Gravity is my first novel. It is about a journalist, Rose Haldane. Yes, I was a journalist. Therefore I must be Rose? Wrong! Yes, Rose finds out she is adopted. Therefore I must be adopted? Wrong!” Read the Cosmochicklitan interview in full by clicking here.   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Is the heroine based on you? #authorinterview by @Cosmochicklitan via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1rd
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Book review: The Humans

I irritated and intrigued by husband by my constant chuckling while reading this book by Matt Haig. It is now on his to-read shelf. I wish I had read it sooner, it was a breath of fresh air. I read it in two sittings over a weekend. If you feel a little jaded with your reading, this is my prescription for you. Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling himself. He has been walking naked through the street and finds humans really odd-looking. That is because the real Andrew Martin is dead, and the human who looks like him is really an alien. The alien has come to earth to delete the mathematical breakthrough achieved by Professor Martin before it does damage to humankind. The alien Andrew just does not get humans, in fact his first source of information on human behaviour is from Cosmopolitan magazine. This is a funny book with a serious message about mental health, about our acceptance of others for what they are, the expectations and selfishness of modern society. Bit by bit, the alien Andrew discovers humans are not as he has been warned; they can in fact be generous, charitable, empathetic and brave. Here’s a
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler on her sense of accomplishment at writing 20 novels: “I would say it’s like if you’ve ever painted a room and you have to sleep in that room at night and you can see you made a mistake here, and here, and here.” [Anne Tyler, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, November 21, 2014] Anne Tyler’s debut novel, If Morning Ever Comes, was published in 1967. Her ninth, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant [1982], was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won it in 1989 with Breathing Lessons. She wishes she could ‘retire’ her first four novels, believing she really got going with her fifth. This is so reassuring to debut authors such as myself. Such is the pressure today to write a best seller from the beginning, that it is easy to forget that a craft must be learned and it can take many years. Hopefully readers discovered her with the first and stuck with her, that’s exactly what happened to me when I read Kate Atkinson’s first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum in 1995. I have bought and read every single novel she has written since that first one. The pages of my
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Categories: On Writing.