Archives for historical fiction

My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: JG Harlond

Welcome to the first in a new series in which one author chooses his/her ‘Porridge & Cream’ book. What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Today I am pleased to welcome historical novelist, JG Harlond. “My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novels are the House of Níccolò series by the late Scots author Dorothy Dunnett. In the 1970s I became hooked on her 16th century Game of Kings series featuring the exquisite Francis Crawford of Lymond. Then in the 1980s, Dunnett began the 15th century House of Níccolò series about a flawed Flemish apprentice Claes, who becomes a Venetian banker
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Knife with the Ivory Handle

A black man takes shelter in a train carriage amongst the animals. He has been shot and has no tongue. Two children are travelling from a Brooklyn orphanage to Illinois to start a new life on a farm. All three are on the same train. And so begins The Knife with the Ivory Handle, a lyrical tale by Cynthia Bruchman of Illinois in 1900 which knits together the stories of Annette and Jonathan, Casper and priest Father Kelly. It is clear from the first chapter that the author has intimate knowledge of this period in history. The Brooklyn orphanage is a real place on the page – the nuns, daily routine and quiet corridors – as is St Bede’s Abbey later in the book. The Spring Valley Race Riot of 1903 did happen, and the locations from Bureau, LaSalle and Kane Counties are real places. Cynthia Bruchman [below] writes with confidence, placing her story and characters in a setting she researched for her Masters degree. But do not think I mean that the book is full of unnecessary historical detail, the research is not a heavy presence but colours the story of Annette, Jonathan, Casper and Father Kelly. It is the
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore “For writers, wasting time is as vital as working, so it is essential to sit all day without doing anything.” [excerpt from Simon Sebag Montefiore’s column in British Airways ‘High Life’ magazine, March 2014] I totally get this, although I think non-writers will consider it a complete waste of time. Most writers I know are walkers in some form or another, all are dreamers. Where else do we get our ideas from? Read about my writerly wanderings around Wimbledon Common, my haunt while writing Ignoring Gravity, here. Read more about Simon Sebag Montefiore’s fiction and non-fiction here.   ‘Sashenka’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore [Corgi] Buy now If you agree with Simon Sebag Montefiore, perhaps you will agree with:- Deborah McKinlay – the lean years focussed me on what I really wanted Matthew Thomas – don’t deny the autobiographical Jeanette Winterson – writing never stops And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I agree with Simon Sebag Montefiore: #writers need time & space to think http://wp.me/p5gEM4-RQ via @SandraDanby
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Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

Book review: The Quick

Predicted to be a smash hit, this gothic thriller by Lauren Owen is a mystery tale about a brother and sister from Yorkshire. The story moves between Aiskew Hall – where we first meet Charlotte and James as children – and London; both settings atmospheric, both drawn so clearly you can smell the air. This book will reward re-reading: only after I had finished the last page did I go back to the beginning and appreciate the menace of the first sentence, “There were owls in the nursery when James was a boy.” Aiskew is ever-present. When they are older and far from home, Charlotte reminds James “… how the air smelled green in spring, and smoke-grey in autumn, how on April mornings the mists would lift slowly, leaving a blue haze behind.” This book has a really slow build. It starts with a prologue, an excerpt from 1890, which I read and then immediately forgot. I enjoyed Part One about the childhood of James and Charlotte at Aiskew, their mother dead, their father absent, Charlotte teaching James his alphabet by chalking the letters onto flagstones, playing games in the secrets of the big house. When the siblings are parted
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Categories: Book Love.

Book Review: The Other Eden

This novel by Sarah Bryant is best described as a Gothic romance/horror story, interleaved with the American South setting in Louisiana and piano music it is an unusual mixture which produces quite a page-turner. I admit to finding the two sisters Eve and Elizabeth confusing at times but that did not interfere with my enjoyment of the story. By the end of the book I was still unsure which sister was which. The description of the two houses, Eden and the house on the hill, are luscious. My one quibble is that I found the characters oddly difficult to place in time. The prologue about the two sisters is dated 1905 which means the following story about Eleanor is set in the 1920s, but it seems more 19th century to me. Maybe that’s down to the old-fashioned Louisiana setting. I don’t think the cover of my edition helped that confusion, the style is oddly similar to Philippa Gregory. But don’t let my doubts put you off reading what is a rollicking Gothic mystery complete with faintings, dreams, symbolism, mysterious foreign men and beautiful piano music. If you like this, try:- ‘Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye ‘Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx ‘Housekeeping’ by
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Lady of the Rivers

Yet again, Philippa Gregory brings history alive. Her story of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, from her first encounter with Joan of Arc, kept me riveted. She is so attuned to the period and the language that her writing is seamless. At no point does the research show itself. And there is a lot of research, Gregory herself admits she does four months of solid research before starting to write. She also says that she often finds the idea for a different novel when she is researching another. It may seem to the outsider that Gregory re-invents the same story – ‘what another Tudor woman?’ But this could not be further from the truth. Witchcraft is an intriguing story thread throughout this book, something introduced in The White Queen about Jacquetta’s daughter Elizabeth Woodville. Women are obliged to hide their knowledge and skills in order to survive, knowledge that today we would think of as alternative medicine and gardening by the phases of the moon. My knowledge of the period, the Wars of the Roses, the various kings and factions, is definitely improving though I was concerned that the reverse-telling of the Cousins’ War series would eliminate some of the tension. After
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 10… ‘Sacred Hearts’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Before the screaming starts, the night silence of the convent is alive with its own particular sounds.” ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell ‘Nineteen Minutes’ by Jodi Picoult And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: SACRED HEARTS by Sarah Dunant #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-f0 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.