Saturday, 30 April 2011

Diane Chamberlain's books

Many of my book-loving friends adore Diane Chamberlain's novels.

She's been writing for years, but it was when The Lost Daughter was published here in the UK that she really became popular.  Her writing is constantly compared to Jodi Picoult, in a way I can see why, they both write about families, relationships and moral issues, but I do feel that Jodi Picoult has the edge.  To be honest, I'd rather not compare them or group them together - I feel that they have quite different and separate writing styles.

So today I finished Diane Chamberlain's latest UK release; The Midwife's Confession.

I have an uncorrected proof copy and it has a plain front cover, the inside of the covers are plastered with quotes from reviewers and I was really surprised to see one of my own reviews quoted, just inside the front cover.

It's taken from my Amazon review of Breaking The Silence, I felt very honoured that my review was chosen to be quoted.  Mine is the second quote in the picture.

I really enjoyed The Midwife's Confession, although I did struggle with what felt like a huge cast of characters at the beginning.  Each chapter is narrated by one of the characters and it took me a while to remember just who was who, the two main narrators; Emerson and Tara are really quite similar people.

The story deals with many difficult and quite sensitive issues, not least the suicide of Emerson and Tara's good friend Noelle.   The three of them were like sisters and Noelle's decision was a massive shock to them.  It is only as they start to clear Noelle's belongings that they uncover her secrets and discover her secret life - they realise then that they didn't know her as well as they had thought.   The story goes back and forth; the past outlines Noelle's story and the present deals with the fallout from her suicide.

This is a very cleverly written story and although I found it slow going at the beginning, it soon increases in pace with twists and turns in almost every chapter.
All in all, this is a good read, dealing very well with many issues, although there were a couple of parts of Noelle's story that for me, seemed unnecessary, they didn't fit well into the story and were left unexplored.

Some excellent characters, not least the two daughters; Grace and Jenny.

Diane Chamberlain fans are going to love this book.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Mistress's Revenge by Tamar Cohen

This week I received a copy of a debut novel by Tamar Cohen called The Mistress's Revenge.  This was sent to me by Waterstone's, I've been reviewing books for Waterstone's for some time and I'm one of their 'Top Ten Contributor' reviewers now.  I review for them under my own name, and don't receive any payment for my reviews.

So, back to The Mistress's Revenge.  Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 20 years and has had her work published in The Times, The Telegraph and Marie Claire, amongst others.  I've noticed lately that more and more journalists are publishing fiction these days.

With a title like The Mistress's Revenge, I really wasn't sure what to expect - the title reminds me of the pile of Mills and Boons that my Mum would have stacked by her bed when I was growing up.  Please, don't be put off by the title!!  This is as far away from mushy romance as you can get.

The story is narrated by Sally - it's a rambling narrative and she is speaking directly to Clive, her ex-lover.  Sally and Clive have been having an affair for five years, he's married and a TV presenter, she lives with her long-term partner Daniel and their two children.  

At first I found the style and the content very difficult to get into, I just couldn't connect with Sally at all and just got annoyed by her incessant pestering of Clive, her obsession with him and her neglect of her family.  Gradually though I felt myself being pulled into her life and by the middle of the book I was hooked and just couldn't stop reading.

Sally's whole life begins to fall apart around her, she watches Clive and his family via the Internet, friending his wife and daughter on Facebook and 'accidentally' bumping into his son.  There is an air of desperation around Sally - she can't see a life without Clive and can't understand why he no longer wants anything to do with her - didn't he tell her he loved her?  Didn't they spend many many hours in nondescript hotel rooms? 

As Sally becomes more obsessed with Clive, she spends less and less time caring for her family, her children are abandoned, her partner has no idea what is happening to her, her work dries up and she becomes more and more dependent on tablets just to get her through each day.

Sally watches Clive and his wife Susan renew their wedding vows, she manages to get an invitation to his daughter's baby shower, she just can't stay away from them.

This is an extraordinary novel, unique in style and a compelling read - Sally and Clive are both pretty obnoxious characters at times, but even so I needed to know how this sad and sordid relationship was going to end.  And it's the end of the novel that bring that 'jaw-dropping' moment - just when you think you've worked it all out, it all turns upside down - shocking and unexpected and a fabulous finale.

Tamar Cohen has produced a quirky, original novel and I'm hoping that this is just the start of a successful career as a fiction author for her.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Charity Clothing Collectors - bogus??

I'm a bit of a charity shop addict and have been for years now.  I've had some tremendous bargains over the years, and can't resist popping in to see what treasures may be there to tempt me.

Over the past few years charity shops seem to have become quite trendy, with some of them having makeovers - wooden floors, good lighting and designer sections.  I also donate to charity shops.  Anything that can be re-used and donated is popped into the black bin bag that sits on my landing and when it's full I take it into town and usually donate to the Age UK shop in Gainsborough.

I work for a charity too and it's my job to help new community groups to develop; I offer funding advice, write constitutions and train volunteers - so all in all, it's sort of a way of life for me.
I've noticed over the last year or so an increase in charity clothing collection bags being pushed through my letter box and have received 6 over the last fortnight alone.  I'm very suspicious of these bags, none of the names are familiar to me and I know that there has been parliamentary debate regarding bogus charity collections.

It seems that some bogus collections are imitating well-known charities with their logo and their bags yet have no actual links with the charity that they seem to represent.

It's estimated that these bogus collectors are costing the sector around £2.5m per year, although this is a very conservative estimate, it's probably much more.

So my advice to anyone is, if you want to donate your unwanted items to charity, then take them along, in person to your local shop.  Some shops will collect from your home if you have large items or alot - give your local shop a ring - they are always grateful for any donations.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sing You Home ~ Jodi Picoult

I've been to sunny Skegness today with my friend Caroline.

We got tickets to hear author Jodi Picoult talk about her new book Sing You Home.    

Today was the third time that we've been to see Jodi, the first was in Harrogate when her novel Nineteen Minutes was published and we saw her again last year during the Lincoln Book Festival.  
Today's event was made more special as Jodi was joined onstage by her friend Ellen Wilber who is a beautifully talented singer.   Ellen has recorded the songs for the CD that goes alongside Sing You Home.

As always, Jodi was a joy to listen to.  She is open and honest and a very compassionate woman.  Her novels deal with up to the minute issues, and always have a twist - something that I particularly enjoy as I sometimes like to make my own mind up about the ending of a story.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Sing You Home a couple of months ago, here are my thoughts:

Oh my!  Another absolutely compelling read and most definitely one of her very best.   There has been some online criticism that Jodi Picoult writes to a formula, I'm not sure that is completely true, but agree that her novels are always about social issues, family drama and relationships.  Yes, once again, the story is narrated individually by the main characters, but as always, it really does work.  What better way to see all sides of the same story?  If this is formula - then it works for me as a fan, and certainly works for Ms Picoult as an author - why change something that certainly isn't broken.
It's also a shame that her books are labelled as 'courtroom dramas' when they are so much more than that.   Her books deal with real, social, topical issues, with real families and people dealing with real life and not just the legalities and court procedures.  Although there is no doubt that she does write the court-room episodes very well indeed.
So, back to Sing You Home; there are so many different issues dealt with in this novel, at first I wondered if it was too many, but as the story is told and the plot unfolds each issue knits together perfectly and only adds to the drama and to the plot.
Zoe, the music therapist, and desperate to be a Mother married to Max the reformed drinker and bit of a beach bum - both ordinary, everyday people whose lives have been changed by the fact that they can't naturally conceive.  The impact of their loss on their marriage and where they turn for help influences the rest of the story.  It's difficult to say too much without giving away the plotline, but homosexuality and religion play a large part in the story.
There were times I had to close the book and take a deep breath to control my anger.  The outrage I felt towards some of the characters was enormous - that a fictional story and made-up characters can provoke such emotion says a lot for the quality of the writing.  
Picoult fans will not be disappointed with this.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Bad Signs by R J Ellory

Crime fiction has never been my first-choice genre, although I do really enjoy it - I always seem to have some other book that I pick up first.

However,  ever since I first read A Quiet Belief in Angels by Roger Ellory, I have been hooked on his work and since then I've read all of his books.   I eagerly await each new novel that he releases, then devour it as soon as I get my hands on it.  
So far, I've never been disappointed.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an uncorrected proof copy of his latest novel Bad Signs which is due to be published on 23 June 2011 and have had my nose firmly stuck in it for the past few days.

I've also been lucky enough to meet Roger on quite a few occasions and to hear him speak about his work is a joy.  He is a fabulous speaker, with some fantastic tales to tell, not just about his books and his writing career, but also lots of stuff about his travels in America, his life and what has influenced him.  If you ever get to chance to go along to one of his talks, I'd really advise you get a ticket.

One of the most exciting things I ever took part in was Antony Gormley's project - One And Other.  This was Gormley's commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.  It took place for 100 days from July to October 2009 - 2400 people stood on the Plinth for one hour each.  I was delighted to be chosen and Roger was good enough to let me take a copy of his novel The Anniversary Man to read whilst I was on the plinth.  My spot was 7am on 22 August 2009, it was a beautiful sunny day and I loved every minute of it.

So back to my thoughts on Roger's latest book - Bad Signs:

Bad Signs is set in the 1960s, in Texas in the USA and takes place during one week - only seven days, but an exhausting seven days, for the characters and for the reader.   Elliot and Clarence are two half-brothers, better known as Digger and Clay, they were orphaned at an early age and have spent their time in 'juvy'.

Life has not been good for them - were they born under a 'bad sign', will the dark star that has followed them through life always make life this bad?    It certainly seems that way when they are taken hostage by a convicted murderer, Earl Sheridan - a mad, bad man with nothing to lose and who lets nothing get in his way.

And so follows a fast-paced story, as the fugitives set off across Texas, in the hope of finding their own Eldorado.
Earl Sheridan is possibly one of the meanest, psychopathic individuals that I have ever read about and it is these traits that are welcomed by one of the brothers.  Not for him, the horror of murder and torture and totally meaningless death, instead it sparks something inside him that reveals the darkness within and soon he too starts to cause his own kind of havoc - leaving a shocking trail of misery and in his wake.

The other brother finds himself caught up in a chase that he doesn't understand and is not really aware of whilst finding his first real friend of his life.

There were times when I just had to stop reading.  As much as I was desperate to know which way the story was going to turn next, the full-on details of some horrific murders, the sense of horror and the shock of some of the decisions made by the characters almost took away my breath, and stopping for breath was all I could do.

There are some scenes in Bad Signs that shock, yet none of them are unnecessary to the story, and despite the horror they just add more depth to the story.   This is no ordinary crime novel, this is a story of the evil that is hidden away inside some human beings and the depths that some people will go.  The characters are flawed inside but brilliantly portrayed.  The small-town image, the sleepy countryside, awoken by the terror that comes amongst them, and the unrelenting sense of not really knowing if justice will be done makes this another thrilling read from Ellory.

Who knows just where he will go to next?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Newbooks Magazine

The latest copy of Newbooks Magazine popped through the letter box today.   I've been a subscriber of Newbooks now for around three or four years and I get quite ridiculously excited by it's appearance on the door mat.   It's a great magazine, always full of bookish titbits, great reviews, author interviews and just general book wonderment.   An added bonus is the free books.  Each month there is a selection of recommended books - with extracts in the magazine, all of these books are available through the magazine free of charge (you do pay a small postage charge though).  

I often review books for the magazine and this month they have published my review of Anna Stothard's The Pink Hotel, which I reviewed for them a few months ago.

Anyone who loves books and reading, and loves reading about books, especially if you are a member of a book group should subscribe to Newbooks Magazine - just visit their website for a taster.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Graze Box - try one for free.

I used to get nibble boxes from Graze, but haven't had any for over a year - this week I decided to start again.
My first Graze box arrived today, I've had them delivered to the office so that I can now choose some nice healthy snacking, instead of the usual crisps and chocolate biscuits that have been my choice of late.

It was quite exciting to unwrap the box, not knowing what was inside, and I was really pleased with the selection that they sent to me - natural vanilla seeds, orange and ginger flapjacks, the firecracker and fruit and nut case - all wrapped really well and all delicious.
Graze nibble boxes are really good value - £3.49 per box and that includes first class delivery.  You are given the opportunity to rate each product, so if you are not keen on a certain item, you can make sure that they don't send it again.  You can rate the whole range of items and let them know which things you 'love' or 'like' or which things you don't want them to send.

It really is very simple to arrange, let them know when you'd like them to deliver and the boxes will arrrive, weekly, fortnightly or just the occasional treat.

If you'd like to try a Graze box for yourself - free of charge, please use my code NLHZD6W.

You can order your free box, using my code here


Sunday, 10 April 2011

We All Ran into the Sunlight ~ Natalie Young

Recently I was asked by Clemmie from Short Books if I would take part in their Book Club and I was happy to agree.

The first book was We All Ran into the Sunlight, a debut novel from Natalie Young.  The book is beautifully presented with a glossy cover in an antique style and although I did struggle with the initial chapters, I soon found myself entranced by the story.  I'd certainly recommend this story.  My thoughts are below.

This is a beautifully presented book, the cover is antique in style, representing the story inside.

A story of love and family breakdowns that centres on a Chateau in a small town in the French Cevanne region, this is told in three time-scales.

Opening with the prologue in 1985 and celebrating the 60th birthday of Lucie Borja with a party in the grounds of the Chateau.  What starts out as a joyous family occasion ends with a tragedy that deeply affects future generations of the family.

The story moves on 20 years to find English couple Kate and Stephen who have taken a sabbatical from their busy city lives to spend time with each other in the rural French countryside.  Stephen is bored and Kate becomes obsessed with the crumbling remains of the Chateau and the story that she knows must be behind it’s locked gates.

And then, to 1946 and newly-wed Lucie and Arnaud arrive at the Chateau to start married life.  Lucie is a Paris girl and finds it difficult to make friends with the women in the small town, she welcomes an Algerian couple into her home, and finds her first real friend in Fatima.  

I must admit that I found Kate and Stephen’ s part of the story quite difficult at times and  still wonder quite why it was such a large part of the story.  However, I was entranced by the 1940s Lucie, the story of her unhappiness and what would be classed as depression nowadays.  Her reaction to people and her behaviours and actions that had massive consequences for future generations of the family and for the townspeople.

This is a strange story, but a compelling and intriguing one.  The characters of small town France are captured beautifully, the scenery and the weather captured in great detail.

I enjoyed this novel very much and think that Natalie Young is an author to watch closely.

Jack Daniels

The funniest little keyring popped through the letterbox yesterday - from good ole Jack Daniels himself, well, maybe not from him exactly, but from the marketing people at Jack Daniels.  .  We often get little things from them, they do seem to excel at marketing and we always get Christmas Cards and Birthday Cards from them too.   I'm not a big drinker of spirits really but have been known to neck a couple of JDs in my time.  Martin likes it more than I do.  I remember one summer in Ayia Napa, Cyprus - leaving a bar at around 4am after downing more than my fair share of JD shots, not a great idea when the flight home is at 10am the same day!  Ah, those were the days, when we were young and daft and able to actually open our eyes the morning after!!

Postsecret ~ Frank Warren

My friend Hazel moved out to America in May 2009 when her husband was offered work out there. This was a huge change for Hazel, she had a very successful career as a Finance Director here in the UK and moving so far away and becoming a housewife was something quite alien for her.  Their move has been a huge success with the best part of all being the arrival of little Hannah last year.  Hannah is adorable, I never imagined Hazel as a Mum, but she is having the time of her life and making a very good job of it.  Hazel's blog; The Amazing American Adventures of Hazel and Bobby  is a great read.
This week I received a parcel from Hazel, all the way from the US of A.  Inside was a fabulous book: Postsecret by Frank Warren.   Postsecret is a community arts project that started in 2005 - Frank Warren produced some postcards and left them in public places.  He asked people to write a secret on the card, something that they had never told anyone before, and then mail the card to him.  The result of this project is amazing, reading through the postcards in the book can be very emotional, it is so obvious that there are so many people in the world who are suffering in silence.   I will treasure this book and a huge thanks to Hazel for sending it to me.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton and Q & A session with Rosy

I was so pleased to receive a copy of The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton from the lady herself, a couple of my friends had raved about this novel and I was intending to read it, so Rosy's kind offer of a copy to review was much appreciated.

It's a wonderful read and I've included my full review below, I have a passion for stories about people moving abroad, especially when food is such a big feature of the story.

It brought back some happy memories of a wonderful long weekend that we spent in Normandy last December.

We rented a gorgeous cottage with an enormous log fire, the cottage really was out in the sticks and we spent the whole three days sampling the wonderful food which we cooked on the Aga and exploring the countryside.
We stayed at Clos Christina in Les Mesnils near Dieppe.
We enjoyed it so much that we've booked a four night break for December 2011.

Rosy has also been kind enough to answer a few questions about herself and her reading and writing habits.  I am hoping to have a series of 'Author Questions and Answers' over the coming months and Rosy was kind enough to be my first victim!

My thoughts on The Tapestry of Love:

"Starting from the beautiful front cover picture and continuing through to the end of the 400 pages, The Tapestry of Love is a joy to read. This is a story of discovery and hope and new beginnings.  The story begins with Catherine, the forty-something main character who has sold her English house, uprooted herself from her children, her ex-husband and her elderly Mother and bought a house in the French mountains.  She intends to start a small business, selling her needlework to the locals and hopes to be as self-sustaining as she can.

Catherine is a character that I warmed to immediately, she is sensible yet daring, friendly yet quite insular and like most of us, has her faults and knows them.  As Catherine introduces herself to the small farming community around her, the reader becomes entranced by rural French life.  The characters are so well-drawn, the descriptions of the countryside, the mountains, the weather are wonderful - you really are transported right into the heart of the community.   

The enigmatic Patrick Castagnol adds an air of mystery to the story - there is a definitely a connection between him and Catherine which is very soon upset by the appearance of her sister Bryony - a London lawyer who descends upon them, stirs up their relationship and then flees back to England.

I've always loved novels that include food and recipes and in a truly French manner, mealtimes are something of an event in this story, with each dish described in full - enough to start my tummy rumbling and my mouth watering.

This is a really satisfying read, it's a love story but not just between the characters, it's also the story of how Catherine fell in love with the French way of life, the food, the countryside and the people in the village."

Questions and Answers with Rosy Thornton

What are you reading at the moment?   I'm in the middle of Hans Fellada's 'Alone In Berlin' (a recent translation of a German novel from the 1940s, about a couple resisting Nazism).  It's an unusual choice for me - rather bleaker than my typical reading - but it's a great testament to the resilience of humanity when the world all around is turning inhuman.

Do you read reviews of your novels?  Do you take them seriously?  Yes, I do like to read reviews, good and bad, and I always take them seriously.  Writing is, after all, an exercise in communication, yet authors send their books out into what often feels like deafening silence.  Finding out what readers think - whether through reviews, or the occasional letter or e-mail - and reading real responses to my stories and characters is a privilege and a pleasure.

How long does it take to write a novel?   It usually takes me around nine or ten months to write a book.  I am fitting in my novel-writing around a full-time job (I lecture in Law at the University of Cambridge) and a family (two daughters, aged 14 and 12), so time is limited.  I mostly write for an hour or so every day, in the early morning while the house is still asleep.

Do you have any writing rituals?  Not really - though my preference is to have a mug of coffee at my elbow and a spaniel asleep at my feet.  But because my time for writing is tight, I find I can and do write anywhere; in bed, in the dentist's waiting room, on the back of a shopping list while waiting at red traffic lights ....  I've even jumped dripping from the bath to jot down snatches of dialogue before I forget them.

What was your favourite childhood book?  There were so many - but perhaps the one which stands out is 'Sajo and the Beaver People' by Grey Owl.  I remember crying buckets over it, and being told off for getting it damp because it was a library book!  I was a sucker for animal books, and the sadder the better; 'Black Beauty', 'Tarka the Otter', 'The Call of the Wild'.....

Name one book that made you laugh?   Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in the Ukrainian' - though it's also a very sad book.

Name one book that made you cry?  Apart from those animal books, as a kid?  One novel I particularly remember crying over is Marge Piercey's 'Gone to Soldiers' - a sweeping story of bravery and love and loss among a group of Jewish families during the Second World War.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?   My soft spot has always been for feisty females, from Elizabeth Bennet onwards.  Perhaps the one I'd single out would be Harriet Vane from Dorothy L Sayer's  Lord Peter Wimsey novels.  She is determined, courageous, self-aware  ..... and falls in love with Peter only on her own terms.
I'd also love to meet Hermione Granger - preferably in an admissions interview.  Wouldn't it be great to have her as a student?

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?   I recently read 'A Gate at the Stairs' by Lorrie Moore, an author whose work I have previously somehow missed but will certainly now be seeking out.  I've been buying this one for all my friends.  Every sentence is a joy.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?   I began writing fiction as a direct result of Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North and South'.  It was a favourite book of mine as a teenager, and my love of it was rekindled by watching Sandy Welch's wonderful BBC adaptation in 2004.  (Who could forget the lovely Richard Armitage smouldering in the lead role as mill-owner, John Thornton?).  I went online to read more about the series, and discovered the world of internet 'fanfic'.  This inspired me to have a go myself - and a few months later I found I had written a full-length pastiche sequel to 'North and South'.
It was utter tosh, of course, but by then I had been bitten by the writing bug, and went straight on to begin my first independent novel - published in 2006 as 'More Than Love Letters'.  It is no coincidence that the heroine of that book is called Margaret after Margaret Hale in 'North and South' - and that the hero's name is Richard.  No prizes for guessing who was firing up my imagination as I wrote the book .....

What is your guilty pleasure read?  Sometimes, a dose of funny, sassy, sexy chick-lit just hits the spot.  I'd recommend anything by Phillipa Ashley.

Who are your favourite authors?  There is a long and fairly eclectic list, but they tend to be female authors, from the classics (Austen, Eliot and Gaskell), through period fiction (Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald) to contemporary writers such as Barbara Trapido, Kate Atkinson, Sarah Waters, HIlary Mantel, Anne Tyler, E Annie Proulx, Jane Smiley, Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt, Rose Tremain, Margaret Forster ....... Plus, I do enjoy a bit of crime fiction (my current favourite being Donna Leon).

What book have you re-read?   The book I have probably re-read the most (apart from 'Pride and Prejudice', which I know almost by heart!) is Dorothy L Sayer's 'Gaudy Night'.  The pleasure of it never seems to diminish.
As a teenager, I also read and re-read Anya Seton's 'Katherine' until it fell to pieces.

What book have you given up on?  Quite a few, I must admit, but the one I feel most guilty about is Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'.  I've tried to read it three times but never made it past the half-way mark.

Thank you so much, Anne, for letting me come to your blog and answer your questions.  It's been great fun!

And, thank you from me, to you Rosy, for sending the copy of your novel and for giving such interesting answers to my questions.
Good luck with your next book!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Treats for Costa and Nero

My boy cat, Nero has this strange 'thing' about the post that comes through the letterbox.

Without fail, he rushes to the door as soon as he hears the letterbox go.  I came home on Friday to find post strewn across the living room floor - he drags the letters and parcels and they have little teeth marks all over the packages.

He even managed to drag a small parcel upstairs one day.  I thought I was going slightly mad when Martin asked me why there was a book parcel in the bottom of his wardrobe - did I put it there?, am I losing my marbles?  It wasn't until it was examined closely and the teeth marks were noticed that we worked out that Nero must have actually dragged it up the stairs and into our room.

The cat is bonkers!

I do worry that he will steal something really important one day and hide it.

Anyway I got to the post before Nero today, lucky really as one of the packages contained some cat biccies from Purina - a small bag of 'only the best will do for your cats' biscuits.

 If Nero had got a sniff of those that parcel would have been shredded.  So, nothing exciting for me but tasty treats for the puddy cats.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

In my lifetime there have been many human disasters here in the UK, often with the full horror of the events happening live on our TV screens and replayed for days in the newspapers. I remember well the horror of Hillsborough in 1989 and the Bradford City fire in 1985 - terrible events with images that were haunting.

It was not until I was sent a copy of The Report by Jessica Francis Kane via the Amazon Vine programme that I became aware of the terrible disaster that happened at Bethnal Green Tube Station in March 1943.  The station was being used as an air-raid shelter and that night 173 people were crushed to death as they were making their way down to the shelter.

Jessica Francis Kane's The Report is her fictional version of the events of that night, and of the following inquiry carried out by local magistrate Laurence Dunne.

The book begins in 1973, around the 30th anniversary of the disaster and Paul Barber is keen to make a commemorative TV documentary about the events of that night.  He approaches the now retired Dunne to seek an interview with him, to ask if he can shed any light on how he completed the inquiry report so quickly and why it was not published immediately.

The novel goes back and forth - the build up of the actual event itself, and the terrible impact that the disaster had on the local people - the loss and the guilt and the feelings of a need for some sort of redemption.

The novel tells the facts but it's not a re-telling of the incident in the traditional way, it's a story that relays the feelings of that night, the panic, the fear, the terror and the tears.  Characters are built up and become so realistic that I struggle now to imagine just who in the story was real and who has been created to enhance the story.   I cared for the characters, I could almost feel their pain and their confusion and their anger and despair - wondering why this had happened, and how they would cope.
A book that makes you think about the blame culture that has grown in this world, about how people see events and how they perceive their own part in it.

An excellent debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Thomas The Tank Engine and Uncle Henry's

A really random small parcel dropped onto my doormat today.  A little blue package all the way from that ole London town - sent by my friend Liz.
A Ladybird book!!  I love them, and have a nice little collection, they remind me of my childhood, I used to read and re-read the stories, my favourites were The Elves and the Shoemaker and The Magic Porridge Pot.  Liz sent me Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.  Not one, but two whole Thomas stories to read and love.  My little nephew Dylan is a big fan of Thomas too, so this one will be much loved by both of us.
Thanks Liz xx

I've taken a few days Annual Leave this week, I was off yesterday and today and have Monday too.  I spent most of yesterday 'de-cluttering' - I have a lot of clutter to shift!  How can two people, living in a small house amass such a lot of junk, paperwork and general tat??  I've filled bags for the charity shop, boxes of papers for my Dad to burn on his bonfire and I've still not finished!   So today, as a treat I went to Uncle Henry's for lunch with my friend Caroline.   Uncle Henry's is a fabulous, award-winning farm shop and cafe.  It's always busy and the food is always delicious.  Hot roast pork and stuffing baguette, potato wedges and salad followed by a milky latte all went down a treat.  They have some really gorgeous gifts in their shop too - I could have spent a fortune, but didn't, because of course I am de-cluttering not adding!!