Archives for women’s fiction

#BookReview ‘Amy Snow’ by Tracy Rees @AuthorTracyRees #historical

When eight-year old Aurelia Vennaway runs outside to play in the snow on a January day in 1831, she finds a baby, blue, abandoned and barely alive. She takes the baby home and, despite opposition from her parents, demands they keep the baby. Aurelia really is that precocious. She names the baby Amy. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees is about two lost girls, each lost in different ways who through their friendship find strength to face the lot given to them by life at a time when women had few individual rights. This is the story of a secret, well-hidden and unveiled by a series of letters. The two girls grow up together. Aurelia lives a privileged life and Amy stays on in the large house, first as a servant and then companion to her friend. She is treated harshly by Aurelia’s parents, but is looked after by Cook and under-gardener Robin. The two girls support each other as they grow up. Amy gains an education and learns how to be a lady, but when Aurelia faints, a weak heart is diagnosed. When Aurelia dies in her early twenties, Amy is thrown out of the house where she was discovered
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Union Street’ by Pat Barker #motherhood #women

Uncompromising, unbelievably sad and harsh, Union Street by Pat Barker does not hide the uncomfortable truths of poverty in North-East industrial England. This is the story of eight women who live on Union Street from teenager Kelly Brown to Alice Bell in her eighties and though each story is told individually, like the lives of the women, the stories interweave. An honest book about women struggling to hold life, family and home together, while retaining pride and some of their own individuality. Some succeed in this, others don’t. This is not a book about idealised motherhood. It is about putting bread on the table for your children no matter how you do it; including beating your husband to get his pay packet before he spends it on booze. These women are tough because they have to be; the choices are the cake factory, charring, and prostitution. Many marry young to feckless husbands because they are pregnant. This is not a light read; it features scenes of rape and backstreet abortion that somehow make the prostitution a lighter route. The language is often strong and some of the descriptions are difficult to read; but it is an honest book, bleak and realistic.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Girl in the Painting’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

When Renita D’Silva writes about India, it comes alive on the page. Her books are dual timeline family mysteries combining a modern day narrator with historical events set in India. With her latest, The Girl in the Painting, D’Silva tackles guilt, forgiveness and sati – when a husband dies, his widow burns with his body on the funeral pyre. It is her emotionally toughest novel yet and handled with sensitivity and balance. This is the story of three women – Margaret, Archana and Emma – pre-Great War in England, India in 1918 and England 2000. At the beginning, each woman is introduced in short chapters which made me long to dwell a while with each in turn, rather than jumping around. I was puzzled at how these three women, so different from each other, could be connected. Each has a deep sense of duty that, despite a longing to make her own decisions, is an anchor to a sometimes unwelcome, difficult, reality. Yet being impulsive and taking decisions without consideration for others often has far-reaching consequences. The early 20thcentury was a pivotal time in world history and a period of rapid change in the lives of women. Margaret’s family is separated tragically
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Clock Dance’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Every novel by Anne Tyler is a treat, I save them up, anticipate them. For me as a reader, she tells stories that seem ordinary but have exceptional depth, gentle stories which make me want to continue reading on into the night. For me as a writer, it is her I aim to emulate; her economy of word and scene, achieving depth without unnecessary diversion. So, to Clock Dance. Told in three parts – 1967, 1977 and 2017 – this is the story of an ordinary woman, Willa Drake, to whom things outside normal life don’t happen. The three key events in her life – the disappearance of her mother, a marriage proposal, being widowed at 41 – are passive acts. Willa is not a proactive person. We meet her first as an eleven year-old, at home with her family; her emotionally-erratic mother, her passive, lovely father, her awkward younger sister Elaine. Willa takes on the motherly role, making a chocolate pudding, observing the ups and downs of her parents’ relationship with acute asides. At college, her boyfriend proposes to her and expects her to give up college and move across the country. In 2017, a confused phone call from
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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.

#Bookreview ‘The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

In its scope, The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley reminds me of Eighties family mega-stories, paperbacks as thick as doorstops. This is the first in a series; the first five are already published. I recommend suspending your ‘instinct for the literal’ and throwing yourself into the world of the book. Some of the story set-up seems unrealistic – unbelievable wealth, mysterious father, beautiful adopted sisters – this is not a normal world. But I quickly became caught up in the historical story. Pa Salt has died suddenly; he is the fabulously wealthy, secretive, reclusive adoptive father to six sisters whose origins are a mystery. Only when he has gone do they realise they should have asked him for information. Each of the sisters is given a clue and a letter. Also in the envelope is a triangular-shaped tile. The Seven Sisters is the story of the eldest D’Aplièse sister. Maia’s clue is a map reference that takes her to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where she meets an enigmatic elderly woman. The book came alive for me with the story, eighty years earlier, of Izabela Rosa Bonifacio. Izabela, daughter of a nouveau riche coffee merchant in Rio, is facing an
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: @janedavisauthor #books #literaryfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Jane Davis. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. “My list of favourite novels may change, but it is always topped by Pat Conroy’s, The Prince of Tides. Ignore the terrible film version – the book has everything. Family secrets, flawed characters, a doomed love affair. “I read it for the first time many years before I contemplated writing, but it was books like this (and here I include the novels of John Irving and Michael Chabon) that must have sowed the seed. “The first thing to say is that my choice is not your typical comfort read. The quote ‘We read to know that we are not alone’ is attributed to at least three different people. Perhaps that’s because it’s a universal truth. I find myself drawn to books about misfits and underdogs. (My latest ‘new favourite book’, Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession, considers how gentle people survive in a world that is fast-paced and competitive.) “The Prince of Tides has the power to transport the reader from the very first line. My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my point of call. “We know immediately that
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

I agree with… Allison Pearson

With ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ the follow-up to bestseller ‘I Don’t Know How She Does it’ about to be published in 2017, novelist Allison Pearson said: “I gave the first book the wrong ending. She goes and lives in the country and raises pigs. I gave her a get-out-of-jail-free card. I had thousands of letters and e-mails from readers. Quite a lot of them said, oh I can’t give up. Now I think she should have stayed where she was.”  [in an interview with ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine, October 2017] How many authors look back at their books and wish they could change something? It is good to hear Allison Pearson admit this about her bestseller I Don’t Know How She Does It. It is difficult to resist the tidiness of a neat ending, and to read the subsequent reader reviews saying ‘I didn’t get it’, but life doesn’t always have answers. ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ by Allison Pearson [UK: Vintage] This ‘leaving things a bit loose’ is a trend which has come to fiction via television series, I think. Not everything is explained, ends are not neatly tied. I am thinking particularly of the Fargo series by Noah
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Book review ‘Elmet’ by @FJMoz #contemporary #womens

A powerful book about the nature of family in today’s society, Elmet by Fiona Mozley is also about our relationship with the earth, nature, and existence without the trappings of modern life. Except it is impossible to escape completely. The narrator, fourteen-year-old Daniel Oliver, is walking north in pursuit of an unnamed someone. As Daniel walks on, we see flashbacks to what happened before he set off on his journey. Danny’s life with his sister Cathy is split into two parts: living with Granny Morley beside the seaside where their father and mother are, separately, occasional visitors to the house; then later, living in a wood with Daddy, in a house hand-built, foraging off the land. At the beginning the descriptions of the rural landscape made me think this was a historical setting but Elmet is set today, making the circumstances of the family more disturbing. They live off the land and the money earned bare knuckle fighting by Daddy, John Smythe. They live on the margins; the children are home-schooled, and receive payment in kind [a carton of orange juice from the milkman, chops from the butcher] for favours done. Daniel and Cathy visit a neighbour’s house each morning
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Because I could not stop for Death’

This lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson sees the poet meet Death who, as a gentleman caller, takes a leisurely carriage drive with her. It was first published posthumously under the title ‘The Chariot’ in Poems: Series 1 in 1890, the edition assembled and edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Here are the first two verses. ‘Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility.’ The poem has since been set to music by Aaron Copland as the twelfth song of his cycle The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.    ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Tempest And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: Whistle in the Dark

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey begins with an ending; a sixteen-year old girl, lost in the Peak District, has been found and is in hospital with her parents. Healey tells the story of the aftermath as Jen, Lana’s mother, tries desperately to unravel the truth of what happened to her daughter. In the face of Lana’s reluctance to speak, Jen’s desperation evolves into obsession and the story circles into myth, obfuscation and misunderstanding. For the reader, there is a lot to unravel. Told entirely from Jen’s POV, by halfway through I was beginning to question Jen’s state of mind and whether she was an unreliable narrator. There is a lot of smoke and shadows in the telling of this story, interwoven with the crystals of Jen’s friend Grace, the fibs of Lana’s schoolfriend Bethany, the pragmatic questioning and Instagram comments by Jen’s mother Lily, and Jen’s fertile imagination. There were times when it felt a little like being whizzed around in a washing machine. But through it all shines Healey’s ability to draw pictures with words, “The heavy summer foliage that lined the motorway seemed to have taken on its own light, as if the sun had splintered
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Rebecca

Never out of print, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is loved for its opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It is a timeless combination of romance, jealousy, intimidation, mystery & death. First published in 1938 it was an immediate hit and sold nearly 3 million copies between 1938 and 1965. Ultimately, there are a lot of secondhand editions out there. It has been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, German, Portugese, Spanish, Persian, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Greek, Latvian, Dutch and Czech. That’s quite a list.  This first UK edition [above right] comes with a Menabilly headed letter from du Maurier which briefly discusses her Christmas and New Year, and is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Daphne du Maurier’. Rare, it is for sale [at time of going to press] by John Atkinson Books for £2,750. The story A naïve young woman marries wealthy older widower Maxim. When he takes her to his home, Manderley, the unnamed narrator, the young wife, learns about the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. Housekeeper Mrs Danvers continually tries to undermine the second Mrs de Winter, showing her contempt for the young woman, her inefficiency, her mousiness, her naivety. Believing Maxim still
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Vanishing Acts

This is the first book by Jodi Picoult which I have read, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would describe Vanishing Acts as long, intriguing, multi-layered. Is it the greatest? No, but it makes me want to read more of her books. Her multiple-perspectives mean you get a 360° view of a situation and see how different people view the same thing, something we are not always privy to in real life. Delia Hopkins lives in New Hampshire with her widowed father Andrew and her daughter Sophie. She works with her own search-and-rescue bloodhound to find missing people. She is about to marry Eric, a friend since childhood. Everything seems happy, except for strange dreams which she cannot explain. ‘I am little, and he has just finished planting a lemon tree in our backyard. I am dancing around it. I want to make lemonade, but there isn’t any fruit because the tree is just a baby. How long will it take to grow one? I ask. A while, he tells me. I sit myself down in front of it to watch. He comes over and takes my hand. Come on, grilla, he says. If we’re going to sit
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Last of the Greenwoods

Clare Morrall is so good at writing about people on the margins. In The Last of the Greenwoods, Johnny and Nick Greenwood are estranged brothers who live separately in two abandoned, adjacent railway carriages; with shared kitchen and bathroom. They are adept at avoiding each other. Nick lives in Aphrodite on the right, Johnny in Demeter on the left. Aphrodite has horizontal blinds at the windows, open at a slant so someone inside can look out but no-one outside can see in. Demeter’s windows are unknowable with permanently drawn curtains. The carriages sit amidst trees and shrubs, hidden from the main road in Bromsgrove, West Midlands. They have been the brother’s world since they were boys. Until one day, into the lives of these emotionally separated but geographically close brothers comes a letter which reignites haunted memories. “The floor is vibrating under his feet, there’s a sensation of motion, as if the train has started to move. What’s happening? Is he slipping backwards, losing his place in the present and tumbling back to the past? How can this be?” The letter is from their older sister, Debs; the sister who was murdered when the boys were children. As the brothers
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: White Chrysanthemum

It’s not often that I find myself using the words ‘delightful’ and ‘harrowing’ in the same book review, but here they are. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht is the harrowing story of two Korean sisters separated during World War Two; one snatched to become a ‘comfort woman’ for Japanese soldiers, the other saved by her older sister’s actions. It is difficult to read of the violence, the arrogance, the misuse of power and the humiliation of this piece of war history – still being publicised and discussed – but this is leavened by the magical water sequences. Sixteen-year old Hana is a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she is taught by her mother, in the family tradition, to dive deep, hold her breath and withstand the cold. When she is abused, she retreats to her memories. She is a tough cookie. One day, she and her mother are diving, their father is away fishing, and her younger sister Emiko sits on the beach, guarding the buckets that contain their day’s catch from interested seagulls; then Japanese soldiers arrive. Desperate to stop them taking her sister to a life of captivity, Hana races out of the water and
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Categories: Book Love.

Some Points of View about Points of View… by author Claire Dyer

Welcome to novelist Claire Dyer whose third novel The Last Day juggles the viewpoints of three characters. Here she reveals how a change of viewpoint, between drafts, liberated the characters and energised the story.  “Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It is a huge treat to be able to talk about points of view. One very kind reviewer recently said about The Last Day that ‘creating one authentic character is hard enough but to create three is remarkable …’ And I must admit that I loved every minute I spent in the company of all three people in the book, but I have to confess I didn’t plan the novel the way it turned out. “As I wrote, each person’s story evolved and, when I finished the second draft, my agent and I agreed that I should switch viewpoints so that Honey, who was in the first person, should be in the third, and Vita, who was in the third, should switch to the first person. This was a real labour of love! It almost sent me boggle-eyed as I changed every pronoun and every verb of their narratives. But it was worth it because, by
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: The Night Child

The Night Child by Anna Quinn caught me by surprise and took off racing from the first page so that I read half the book at my first sitting. But it is not a thriller, it was simply that I didn’t want to stop reading. I confess to selecting the book on my Kindle having forgotten the book blurb; perhaps I should do that more often. Nora Brown teaches teenagers about Shakespeare and poetry; so she knows about the imagination, imagery and dreams. Then one day at work, floating in front of her she sees the face of a blue-eyed girl, a face without a body. Quinn writes about Nora’s fear, panic, guilt, shame, with an insight into the private mind and this made me believe Nora from page one. Seeking answers, she talks to a psychiatrist and so starts an unravelling of Nora’s past, a past buried so deep she had no idea of its existence. As the revelations pick up pace, she must deal with a damaged teenager at school, decide whether to confront her unfaithful husband Paul, and reassure her six-year-old daughter Fiona. Stress layered on top of stress, which makes the child’s face appear more often.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Highland Fling

First published in 1931, Highland Fling is the first novel by Nancy Mitford and the first I have read, determined to read them in order. What a breath of fresh air it was after reading two detailed historical novels, this light frothy concoction made me chuckle. An amusing observer of manners, Mitford excels at that peculiar type of incomplete conversation between two people gossiping about mutual acquaintances in which each completes the other’s sentences. This is a novel of its time, upperclass wealth, upperclass lack of wealth, centuries of families and traditions the roots of which have been forgotten, and the juxtaposition of bluff country old-timers with Bright Young Things from London. Highland Fling is set in a Scottish castle, a closed-room setting, loved by crime writers, which Mitford uses mercilessly to compare and contrast. It is a world with which the author knows well and at which she gently pokes fun. Young artist Alfred Gates returns from Paris to London and visits his newly-married friends Walter and Sally. Sally’s parents are called away and the three friends go to Scotland to host the parent’s shooting party. As well as the shooting guests, including stodgy old-fashioned military and aristocratic types,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: ‘The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer #BlogTour

‘The Last Day’ book description Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back into the house they still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. Of course Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy, or so it seems. However, all three are keeping secrets. The book is about love in all its shades and how we can never predict when the last day of one kind of love, or the first day of another, will change everything.  Love is complicated, modern families are complicated, and a line cannot be drawn before and after. Whenever there is a last day, there is a first day too. That’s the theme of The Last Day by Claire Dyer, a deftly managed part-study of grief and mourning, part-teaser about how past events always affect the present. Boyd and Vita were married, now separated; Boyd owns an estate agency, Vita paints portraits of pets. Both have new
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

A tale of sisters, secrets and the teenage years of confusion and temptations on the brink of adulthood. The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase is about two groups of sisters, unrelated, who live decades apart in the Cotswold house of Applecote Manor. Overhanging everything is the mysterious disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl, Audrey Wilde, from the same house in the Fifties. Jessie and Will move to Applecote Manor, a rundown doer-upper, with their toddler Romy and Will’s teenage daughter Bella. Jessie is seeking a country life, Will hopes to step back from his logistics business. Almost as soon as they arrive, things change. Will’s business partner leaves and causes the sale of the company so, while he negotiates this, Jessie is left in the run-down house with the two girls. Romy fearlessly explores the potentially dangerous land, including river, pool, woods and well. Bella sullenly resents Jessie for not being her own mother, who was killed in a road accident. And then they learn about the disappearance of Audrey Wilde. Is there something intrinsically wrong with the house and the land surrounding it? Why are the neighbours shunning Jessie and her two daughters? Who is the woman with
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Categories: Book Love.