Monthly Archives: February 2015

Book review: The Humans

Matt HaigI 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 small excerpt. Alien Andrew is recovering from his period of temporary insanity by watching television:

“The term ‘news’ on Earth generally meant ‘news that directly affects humans’. There was, quite literally, nothing about the antelope or the sea-horse or the red-eared slider turtle or the other nine million species on the planet.”

Click here for Matt Haig’s website.
To follow Matt Haig on Twitter [he is very funny], click here.
‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig [UK: Canongate] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE HUMANS by @matthaig1 #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Great opening paragraph 68… ‘A Change of Climate’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Hilary Mantel“One day when Kit was ten years old, a visitor cut her wrists in the kitchen. She was just beginning on this cold, difficult form of death when Kit came in to get a glass of milk.”
‘A Change of Climate’ by Hilary Mantel

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami
‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy
‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote 12

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A great 1st para: A CHANGE OF CLIMATE by Hilary Mantel #books via @SandraDanby

Book review: Inflicted

Ria FrancesTheo is sixteen, and unhappy. He stumbles into the life of an elderly neighbour, Anna. Together they share their secrets and Anna, by telling the story of her own life as a teenager, helps Theo face up to his difficult emotions. This is the debut novel of English author Ria Frances [below] and, despite the unflinching approach to a difficult subject, is I think aimed at teenagers. It tells the story of Anna, a teenager in the Second World War, on the run with her parents from the German army. Her mother dies and Anna is separated from her father as they are taken to Theresienstadt, the city-turned-ghetto run by the Nazis.

Anna’s story of hardship is a difficult emotional read, the author does not sweeten the hardships, but the central message is one of hope, courage and love amidst suffering.

I wanted to know how Anna’s story ended, even though the adult Anna was telling her own story, because I was curious about her journey from the Czech village of Lidice, to Theresienstadt, Berlin and finally to Sussex in 2010. Curiously, it was Anna’s story which drew me on not Theo’s.

I found the ending rather rushed and difficult to follow, perhaps in the author’s effort to tie-up all the loose ends. But I don’t mind some loose ends at the end of a novel, it leaves the story fresh in my mind and gives me something to consider.

Ria Frances


Click here for Ria Frances’ website.

If you like ‘Inflicted’, try these other war novels:-
‘The Little Red Chairs’ by Edna O’Brien
‘The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty
‘Dominion’ by CJ Sansom

‘Inflicted’ by Ria Frances [UK: BNBS] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
INFLICTED by @riafranceswrites #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Book review: Kings and Queens

Terry TylerThis is the first novel by Terry Tyler that I have read. It is the rollicking story of property developer Harry Lanchester. A property developer you may think, hardly your usual hero type? But he is not just any Harry, he is King Henry VIII updated to modern times. I started reading this after a heavyweight novel and being in need of light refreshment, and had already started then discarded one book on my Kindle after two pages.  This provided the page-turner my weary brain required, the story race along and is an ideal read for holidays, a long train or plane journey, or just when you want to cosset yourself.

If you like Tudor-set novels, you will have fun with this. It is easy to work out that that Cathy is Catherine of Aragon and Annette Hever is Anne Boleyn, but I enjoyed recalling my Tudor history – and reading of Philippa Gregory novels – to work out the Tudor equivalent of the modern characters. Of course, as we know the story of Henry and his wives, we can work out what happens to Harry and his, though Tyler puts a modern twist on each story that draws you in. I found myself comparing her writing style to the ultimate page-turner Jilly Cooper. I wonder if Ms Tyler has written about polo?

Just one small criticism: I found the beginning a bit underwhelming and almost stopped reading, I am glad I didn’t.

For Terry Tyler’s blog, click here… or to follow her on Twitter click here.

If you like ‘Kings and Queens’, try:-
‘Dark Aemilia’ by Sally O’Reilly
‘The Other Eden’ by Sarah Bryant
‘The Fair Fight’ by Anna Freeman

‘Kings and Queens’ by Terry Tyler [UK: Terry Tyler] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn, today: KINGS AND QUEENS by @TerryTyler4 #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Seeking John Campbell’ by @JohnDaffurn

John Daffurn This book by John Daffurn is not fiction or a memoir. It is the true story of one man’s hunt for the family of a woman he doesn’t know, which encompasses genealogical research, foot slogging, dead ends and a lot of history.

This story starts with the death of this unknown woman, Isabel Grieg, in 1995. She dies intestate. The author found her name on the Bona Vacantia list of estates without heirs. His initial research, prompted by genealogical curiosity, turned into an obsession. This book is the story of that obsession, his fascination with the Campbells and a historical account which ranges from the founding of Argentina, the establishment of a Scots colony in Argentina, through the Great War and World War Two to the present day.

At times it is a very fact hungry book and I found myself re-reading some passages. This was not the book I expected, instead of an ‘Heir Hunter’ style detective story, albeit true, it is instead a well-written historical account of three men – each coincidentally called John Campbell – who may be the unknown father of Isabel Greig. In discovering the stories of these three men, the author tells the history of the twentieth century through the prism of three families.

The three potential fathers are John Argentine Campbell, John Burnet Campbell, and John Otto Campbell. Confused? I admit to getting a trifle bamboozled between the three at times but this did not distract me from what is a fascinating account of the Scottish/Argentina connection.

The story doesn’t end once Isabel’s father is identified. The search then switches to real time, as the author attempts to find the rightful heirs to Isabel’s legacy. It is at this point that the author switches from genealogist to heir hunter.

If you like this, try:-
‘In the Blood’ by Steve Robinson
‘The Blood Detective’ by Dan Waddell
‘Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by Jane Eales

‘Seeking John Campbell’ by John Daffurn [UK: Eptex] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
SEEKING JOHN CAMPBELL by @JohnDaffurn #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Great opening paragraph 67… ‘American Psycho’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Bret Easton Ellis“Abandon all hope ye who enter here is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Misérables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.”
‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell
‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway
‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
I want to read more: AMERICAN PSYCHO by Brett Easton Ellis #books via @SandraDanby


Book review: Girl Runner

Carrie SnyderI was unsure what to expect with this book by Carrie Snyder. I chose it because in my youth I was a runner and the story premise intrigued me, unusual for a novel.  It is fiction based on a real event. The key fictional character, the ‘girl runner’, is Aganetha Smart. She wins the gold medal at the 1928 Olympics for the ground-breaking Canadian team of female athletes. The historical setting is real and is a fascinating glimpse into the barriers which women faced in 1920s and 1930s Canada and society’s attitudes to the strength, ability and success of women.

But this novel is not just about athletics, it is the story of Aganetha’s life, of the child who liked to run and how a random chance allowed her to train with a running coach. Eventually she won her gold medal at the Amsterdam games. This is a book about the growth of a girl into a young woman, and from a young woman into an old one, lugging with her the memories, guilt and secrets of her childhood. Running colours Aganetha’s life, her character, and her approach to problems.

For Aganetha, running is everything. When feeling troubled as a child, she runs. When feeling trapped as an elderly woman, she pulls on her running shoes and goes out into the fresh air. Running is at the core of her character, but is she running to win, to be a champion, or to run away? When, in her forties, she is asked where she wants to be, she replies without hesitation, “running”.

We cannot understand Aganetha without the story of her family, she is the child of her father’s second marriage and so the home is full of step-siblings. Perhaps the novel would have benefitted from less siblings, sometimes too many characters can clutter the narrative and at times the story jumps around a bit in time. The detail in which the rural life of this family is told – with the mother who cares for distressed girls, and the father who builds a lighthouse in the field – reminded me of Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler.

At the end of the book we find the answer to a secret from Aganetha’s youth: this mystery is so subtly handled that I missed the first clues, so the solving of the mystery fell a little flat. There is also a second line of narrative involving two young people who arrived unannounced at Aganetha’s care home and take her back, in her wheelchair, to the country home where she grew up. For a long way through the book the relevance of this storyline was unclear, but it becomes clear at the end.

For Carrie Snyder’s website, click here.

If you like ‘Girl Runner’, try:-
‘Life after Life’ by Kate Atkinson
‘Orphans of the Carnival’ by Carol Birch
‘Life Class’ by Pat Barker

‘Girl Runner’ by Carrie Snyder [UK: Two Roads] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
GIRL RUNNER by @carrieasnyder #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Ship

Antonia HoneywellLondon: an alternative world in which resources have almost run out. This is the world of The Ship by Antonia Honeywell. Sixteen-year old Lalla lives in a sheltered world managed by her parents. Her time is spent in safety, in their flat, or wandering the corridors of the British Museum, anything to avoid the danger, the shortages, the violence of this alternative London. People without homes camp in public buildings and parks, but they are a drain on the scant resources and are bombed, murdered in the name of preserving resources for the few who are ‘registered’. If you don’t have a card, you don’t exist, cannot get food or shelter.

Lalla has never eaten a fresh apple, and she begins to dream about what a real apple feels like, tastes like. On ‘The Ship’ she finally is given an apple. But like most things on The Ship, the apple is not what it seems. Lalla’s childhood has been governed by her parents’ political arguments, how best to make a life for Lalla, punctuated by her father’s mysterious disappearances. He is building something, gathering things, people, but Lalla does not know what.

Until the day arrives when her father takes a decision for the family and takes them to The Ship. An actual ship which he has bought and over ten years has fitted out with stores and everything needed to support the hundreds of people he has selected: for their skills, creative talents or bravery. He has chosen everything, anticipated everything.

The book really takes off when Lalla boards The Ship and tries to unravel the truth of what The Ship is, where it is going, and what is on the fourth floor. They eat tinned apple and powdered egg, read books on their ‘screens’ and discard their memories and grief in order to live in the now. It is a tale of growing up, of unpalatable truths, of shaking off the illusions of adolescence and being brave enough to stand up for yourself, to make your own decisions not governed by your parents. It is green-eyed Tom who gives the apple to Lalla, but why? And what does Lalla choose to do?

The ending will make you gasp.

For more about Antonia Honeywell, click here for her website.

If you like this, try:-
‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd
‘The Queen of the Tearling’ by Erika Johansen
‘In Ark’ by Lisa Devaney

‘The Ship’ by Antonia Honeywell [UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SHIP by @antonia_writes #books via @SandraDanby

Book review: A Spool of Blue Thread

Anne TylerWhat do you think of when you think of novelist Anne Tyler? For me, it is The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. It is quite a list. So I enjoyed the anticipation of reading her latest, A Spool of Blue Thread. What do I expect? Family, no-one writes about family like she does.

I became wrapped in the story of Abby and Red Whitshank and their four children Denny, Stem, Jeanie and Amanda. Abby was the character that fascinated me, we see her first as a mother in 1994 when Red takes a strange phone call from Denny who is living who knows where. They don’t know whether to believe Denny, whether to worry about him, Abby tries to empathize, Red says there is such a thing as being ‘too understanding’. And so the Whitshank story slowly unfolds like a dropped spool of blue thread running across the floor. We hear the story of Red’s father, Junior, a carpenter, who built the house Abby and Red now live in, we hear about Linnie Mae, Red’s mother and her love affair with Junie. The history of this family is in their bones, and in the bones of the house where they live. But Abby and Red are getting old now, and managing in this large house is becoming fraught with incident.

Anne Tyler dissects the structure of the family, how they become who they are, how the memories and misunderstandings from childhood and adolescence filter through to adulthood and shape mature viewpoints. And how all of this affects the Whitshanks’ relationships with each other, and the outside world.

If you like ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’, try these other American family novels:-
‘A Thousand Acres’ by Jane Smiley
‘Some Luck’ by Jane Smiley
‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson

‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler [UK: Chatto & Windus] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Lightning Tree

Emily Woof Ursula grows up in a house of mirrors and though she tries to avoid looking at her reflection, she cannot. So it is apt that she is the chameleon of this story, changing her appearance, her style, her clothing, so that as the years pass she seems a different person. The Lightning Tree by Emily Woof is the twin story of Ursula and Jerry. She lives in Jesmond, a nicer area of Newcastle, and through her childhood she passes close to Jerry, who grows up in a flat at the rougher Byker Wall. When they do meet, there is a connection. Their lives run in parallel, twisting and turning, sometimes together, other times far apart.

It is a love story, and an un-love story. How it is to fall in love as an adolescent and then see that love challenged into maturity, changing priorities, changing values, changing circumstances. Jerry, his nose always in a book, goes to Oxford and seems destined for politics. Ursula, less academic, goes to India where she undergoes something of a ‘Marabar Caves’ experience which is not really explained and which I still didn’t understand at the end of the book.

Interwoven with Ursula and Jerry’s stories is that of Ursula’s Ganny Mary, her rural Lancashire upbringing, and how her life was affected by the death of her father and the change in her mother Annie who had her own ‘Marabar Caves’ experience, up Pendle Hill in Lancashire.

There’s no doubting the energy in this book, but I did find the storyline confusing, there are so many surplus characters who we never really engage with, and Ganny Mary never ages. It is an enigmatic book, but one which I struggled to really grasp. A small aside – I love the cover, but then I do love trees!

If you like this, try:-
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd
‘Foxlowe’ by Eleanor Wasserberg
‘The Lost Girl’ by Sandu Manganna

‘The Lightning Tree’ by Emily Woof [UK: Faber] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LIGHTNING TREE by @emilywoof #bookreview via @SandraDanby