Tag Archives: Yorkshire writers

#BookReview ‘An Unfamiliar Landscape’ by Amanda Huggins

An Unfamiliar Landscape, the new short story collection by Amanda Huggins, is made for dipping in and out of, comprising longer reads with satisfying snappy flash fiction. There is something in every story that made me think, ‘that’s so right,’ or ‘that happened to me,’ or ‘I know how that feels.’ That’s why everyone should read her work. Amanda HugginsThe landscape changes from story to story, from Huggins’ native Yorkshire via Paris and London to Spain and Japan. Each story offers a glimpse of a relationship, an insight into the emotions of love, hope, longing, loss, betrayal, regret and grief. She writes about everyone’s emotions, her stories seem familiar, so well-worn and lived-in they must be true.
‘Ten of Hearts’ is a short, hard-hitting story about magic, about vulnerability, gullibility and sleight of hand. Once bitten, it is difficult to move to a new relationship but often too easy. A previous version of this story was broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds in 2021.
In ‘Eating Unobserved,’ Marnie rents an apartment in Paris where she will work on her next book. Seduced by the beauty of the apartment and the simple delight of the food, she spends her time alone. Until one dark night she sees a light on in an apartment opposite, a man unpacks groceries and pours a glass of wine. For a few nights she watches him, and then grows bolder.
Sam and Isla are in the kitchen in ‘In the Time it Takes to Make a Risotto.’ He is chopping vegetables and she is reading headlines off her phone, reciting his horoscope, sharing crossword clues. As he cooks, her mind returns to the affair she had with his best friend, the lies she has told and secrets kept. As the risotto cooks, the atmosphere tightens with words unspoken.
In other stories, a teenage daughter challenges her father; a tourist visits a war grave on behalf of a friend; a young waiter delivers a room service tray to an older female guest.
Themes recur. Food, the eating and drinking of; the freeing sensation of being somewhere foreign, somewhere that is not home; the assumptions made on first meetings and the subsequent challenging of those perceptions; the making of repeat mistakes; and the time it takes to grieve, both for loved ones, and for chances lost or misused.

Click the title to read my reviews of other short stories, novellas and poetry by Amanda Huggins:-

If you like this, try:-
The Story’ by Victoria Hislop
Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’ by Mick Jackson
Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
AN UNFAMILIAR LANDSCAPE by @troutiemcfish #shortstories https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Qr via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson #crime #Yorkshire

I hesitate to express some disappointment with Big Sky, the fifth Jackson Brodie instalment by Kate Atkinson, but the feeling grew as I read deeper into the book. I realize this disappointment is based on my incredibly, probably infeasibly high expectations of this author. Kate Atkinson

I have loved Jackson since his first outing in Case Histories. The darkly comic tone is the same in Big Sky but I struggle to pin down what is different this time. The crime is sex trafficking. The action is told through a wide variety of viewpoints. The cast list is very long and the tying up of ends involves characters I had long ceased to remember. Some of the ends were tied up quickly in the last thirty or so pages.

There are still many things to love. The Yorkshire Coast setting – Atkinson was born in York and clearly knows the area well – is at times both realistically beautiful and sordid. And there are so many rough diamond characters to spend time with: Crystal Holroyd; her stepson Harry; the wonderfully named drag queen Bunny Hops, Harry’s co-worker at the Palace Theatre; and the inept Vince Ives. Jackson has moved to the coast and is working as a private detective on a number of small seemingly irrelevant cases; staying with him are his ex-partner’s dog Dido, and their teenage son Nathan. The story is anchored in the historic sex crimes case of Bassani and Carmody. Bassani is dead but Carmody is rumoured to be about to spill some names. Various people are being threatened. Two police detectives are investigating the cold case and how it links to the ‘magic circle’ but they have little luck in finding answers. Two Polish girls arrive in England. Four friends play golf, and one of them feels like an outsider.

Halfway through, the two sides of the story come together as Brodie is employed by Crystal Holroyd to find out who is following her in a silver BMW. After their first meeting, a warning is left for Crystal: a photo of her young daughter. ‘Keep your mouth shut, Christina’. The first hint of a former life for the expensively polished wife of Tommy Holroyd. This is a book in which the present catches up with the past, where past horrors are finally acknowledged.

I finished this book with mixed feelings. Jackson is still a character I want to spend time with, but the plot this time didn’t work for me. Also I put my hand up to say that, as an East Yorkshire girl, I was bamboozled by Atkinson’s mangling of East Coast geography [which she admits in ‘Acknowledgements’ at the end] which took me away from the page but won’t matter a jot if you’ve never been to Brid. That said, Atkinson is one of our best living writers and Jackson Brodie is not a typical fictional detective.

Read my reviews of these other novels by Kate Atkinson:-
Life after Life
A God in Ruins

If you like this, try:-
‘Eeny Meeny’ by MJ Arlidge
The Art of the Imperfect’ by Kate Evans
The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis

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BIG SKY by Kate Atkinson #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Hq via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Crossing the Lines’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish

I read Crossing the Lines, the new novella by Amanda Huggins – whose previous book won the 2021 Saboteur Award for Best Novella – in one sitting. Based on Red, Huggins’ runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, this is the fuller story of runaway Mollie and her dog, Hal. Amanda HugginsFifteen-year old Mollie grows up on the New Jersey shoreline at Atlantic City but when her mother moves to boyfriend Sherman Rook’s home five states away in the west, Mollie goes too. She hasn’t even arrived at Oakridge Farm when she knows she’s made a mistake, and that her mother has too. At her new home she makes one friend, a stray dog. Then after weeks on edge waiting every night for the sinister Rook to stumble in from the bar and rattle the locked door of her bedroom, Mollie hears a gunshot in the henhouse and sees the body of a dead dog. She grabs $20, a road map and a sweater and sneaks out of the house. When she sees Rook’s pick-up with the keys in the ignition, she takes that too.
This is a road trip back east as Mollie faces situations and people unknown, strange, threatening and well-meaning. The driver whose daughter ran away. The store owner whose dog died. The biker who offers her a bed for the night.
Huggins is always a delightful author to read. This story is tightly controlled but her language roams free with some poetic turns of phrase and descriptions that make the emotions, and the dusty Seventies mid-America landscape, seem real. In 139 pages she gives us not only Mollie’s dilemma and the solution she pursues, but the viewpoints of characters she meets along the way and their impression of the girl with the dog. And underlaid beneath it all is Mollie’s past, her friends back east, her regrets, guilt and longing for father Phil and brother Angel. Life, she learns, should be lived forwards. Mollie greets every day as a surprise.

Read my reviews of other work by Amanda Huggins:-
All Our Squandered Beauty, winner of the 2021 Saboteur Award for Best Novella

Short stories:-
Brightly Coloured Horses
Scratched Enamel Heart including Red, runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award
Separated from the Sea

The Collective Noun for Birds

If you like this, try:-
Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper
The End of the Day’ by Bill Clegg
If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
CROSSING THE LINES by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #novella https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5nA via @SandraDanby

My Porridge & Cream read… @MaggieCobbett #books #Yorkshire

Today I’m delighted to welcome Yorkshire novelist Maggie Cobbett. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke.

The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke has been a favourite of mine since childhood. The now tatty illustrated edition, published in 1922, belonged to my father and we used to read it together. It is that memory that often draws me back to it, together with the fact that Paragot, the main character, (as depicted in the wonderful illustrations by Jean Dulac, see below), bears more than a passing resemblance to Dad as he would have liked to be. An artist, writer and rover at heart, he was trapped for most of his life in mundane occupations that kept him in Yorkshire.” Maggie Cobbett

Maggie Cobbett

Paragot in Paris

Maggie’s Bio
Born in Leeds, Maggie studied modern languages at the University of Manchester and then spent many years teaching in the UK and abroad, taking every opportunity to travel more extensively in the holidays. Since taking early retirement and now based back in Yorkshire with her family, she writes short stories, articles, reviews, ‘fillers’ and even the occasional poem. Until the pandemic struck, she also appeared regularly as a ‘village regular’ on Emmerdale.

Maggie’s links
Workhouse Orphan at Facebook

Maggie’s latest book
Maggie CobbettMaggie explains, “Workhouse Orphan, inspired by a brave young man way back in my family history and dedicated to him, tells the story of a boy forced at a very tender age to leave his siblings behind in their grim London workhouse and work down a Yorkshire coal mine. Despite the hardships he encounters, he never loses sight of his wish to reunite the family. While not originally intended to be a book for children – it’s actually suitable for anyone with an interest in social history – I’ve been told by parents that it’s made a good bedtime read and given their own offspring cause to realise how lucky they are!”

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. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message.

Discover the ‘Porridge & Cream’ books of these authors:-
Julia Thum’s choice is ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge
Lexi Rees chooses ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams
The Shell Seekers’ by Rosamund Pilcher is chosen by Carol Warham

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why does Yorkshire author @MaggieCobbett re-read THE BELOVED VAGABOND by William J Locke? #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Yt via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Scratched Enamel Heart’ by @troutiemcfish #shortstories

Scratched Enamel Heart, the latest collection by award-winning short story writer Amanda Huggins, does not disappoint. Featuring ‘Red’, the story shortlisted for the 2019 Costa Short Story Award, the other stories include some gems. Amanda Huggins

There are three stories that stayed with me, returning to me at unexpected moments when I had moved on to another book.

‘Light Box’ is about Alice, a daughter grieving for the loss of her father but glad to be free of the stepmother she never liked, who had tried to wipe the house and their memories clear of Alice’s mother. Huggins has a wonderful simplicity of description that feels just right, such as the beach, ‘a slip of a thing, a nail clipping of pale sand beneath a wide sky.’

With a darker tone than any other story by Huggins that I recall reading before, ‘Uncanny’ is unsettling. When I remember it, it leaves a sense of discomfort. Like looking over your shoulder when walking in the dark, clutching your bag to your side. Perhaps she should try writing suspense fiction. Alan eats every night in the same café where Carol is a waitress. It starts when she comments that a blue shirt would suit him, would go with the colour of his eyes. He buys five.

The last story in this collection, ‘This Final Perfect Thing’ is unbearably poignant. A perfect, short, short story. This is what Huggins excels at, distilling human emotion into two pages that anyone can read and feel deeply too.

Huggins is a consummate story writer, as comfortable with the long form as with the briefest of flash fictions and poetry. Her settings vary from India to Japan, Istanbul to the English seaside and she makes each location real, real for her characters and real for me as I read. Coming in the New Year is her first novella, All Our Squandered Beauty. Watch out for my review.

Read my reviews of other short story collections by Amanda Huggins:-
Brightly Coloured Horses
Separated from the Sea

‘Out Chasing Boys’ is from The Collective Noun for Birds, Huggins’ first poetry collection. Read ‘Out Chasing Boys’ here.

Why is Amanda’s favourite comfort read is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?

If you like this, try:-
Staying Afloat’ by Sue Wilsea
The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth’ by William Boyd
All the Rage’ by AL Kennedy

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
SCRATCHED ENAMEL HEART by @troutiemcfish #shortstories https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ZY via @SandraDanby

Book review: Anderby Wold

Winifred HoltbyWinifred Holtby was born seven miles from where I was born and I have always felt a connection with her, forged primarily by reading South Riding as a teenager and reinforced by re-reading and two television series. And she also did what I wanted to do; she left the Yorkshire Wolds and became a writer. But until now, I am ashamed to say, I had not read her earlier novels. Anderby Wold is her first; published in 1923 it is a portrayal of a Yorkshire Wolds village in the first years of the twentieth century. I was struck by the similarity to Jane Austen: both focus on the personalities, tensions, the pettiness, resentments and emotions of small communities, and both combine acute social observations with sharp humour.

The novel opens with a family party at the farm, Anderby Wold, as Mary Robson and John, her husband of ten years and also her cousin, are celebrating a decade of hard work and penny pinching to clear the mortgage on the farm they had inherited. We are introduced to Mary and the family from the viewpoint of John’s sister, the spiteful Sarah. If ever there was a negative first chapter that makes you think the story is going to be full of unlikeable characters, this is it. It is, perhaps, a sign of its times; I am not sure a novel would be published today with such an ill-feeling introduction. But do persist, this novel is worth reading. We are slowly introduced to each key character with their own viewpoint and take on their agricultural world, where hard toil, tough weather and difficult land unites – and separates – the community. Mary thinks of herself as a considerate benevolent mistress, she sits with sick people, visits the old, supports the school, and distributes gifts at Christmas. But she is unaware that some of the farm labourers resent what they see as her Mrs Bountiful role, a vision of her behaviour to which she is blind. She feels dissatisfaction with the minutiae of her life, dissatisfaction she pragmatically ignores. At a gathering of the village ladies, she listens to the gossip, ‘Mary shivered. They were as lifeless as the uprooted trees, carried from the wold side and laid in the back garden of the farm, awaiting destruction for firewood. Their talk was as meaningless as the rustle of dry leaves on brittle twigs.’

Into this fragile world where people speak bluntly and behaviour can be brusque, comes a writer from Manchester. He is researching the lot of the agricultural labourer with an eye on social change. When he comes into conflict with Mary, the beliefs and assumptions of both are challenged in an Austen-esque manner. As an outsider, David Rossitur is treated first with silence, then with suspicion. The innkeeper’s wife worries about his motivations, ‘Mrs Todd, being a personal of small imagination, had divided mankind into two classes, those who had designs on Victoria [her daughter], those who had designs on her Beer. Last night she had come to the regrettable conclusion that David had no true appreciation of Beer.’ A trade union for agricultural workers is formed, followed inevitably for a strike. At harvest time. Anderby Wold will be changed forever.

Read more about Sarah Burton, who features in South Riding.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Ballroom’ by Anna Hope
‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell
‘Under a Pole Star’ by Stef Penney

‘Anderby Wold’ by Winifred Holtby [UK: Virago]

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ANDERBY WOLD by Winifred Holtby #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-353 via @SandraDanby