Month: December 2019

My Ten Best Reads of 2019 #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Well, that’s another year completely whizzed past – and a year of huge changes in the Williams’ household. We’ve moved from busy Basingstoke to a rural village in West Wales. I’ve turned 50 (yikes!), my daughter has turned 21 (big yikes), we’ve celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (big, big, yikes), and both children are at university and living in London. My editing and freelance writing business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve worked with some lovely authors.

It’s been such a busy year that I’ve not read nearly as much as I should have – and getting through my TBR list is definitely a resolution for 2020. But when I have managed to read, I’ve read some absolute crackers. These are my ten best of 2019 – click on the title to read my review.

Winter’ by Ali Smith

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Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

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Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.

She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .

Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point and she wants to find her father.
Have her friends left her behind?
And she’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. She barely knows where to start on her own.

Then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.

But her new heart is a bold heart. 

She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton

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Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson

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Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

‘An Empty Vessel’ by J J Marsh writing as Vaughan Mason

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Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield

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‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson

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A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today’s Britain.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor

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1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

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I’ve just finished this completely wonderful, beautiful book – review to follow very soon!

Happy holidays, everyone – and happy reading!

 

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Winter Solstice Celebrations #wintersolstice #winter

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Christmas is almost here – and tomorrow will be the shortest day. I love winter and being with family over the holiday season. The shortest day (and longest night) will be an excuse to light the woodburner, switch on the Christmas lights and settle down with a good book and a couple of glasses of wine. I think I might make that my Winter Solstice tradition!

This post from last year details some of the more traditional ways to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

via Winter Solstice Celebrations #wintersolstice #winter

‘A Speyside Odyssey’ – a lovely Christmas gift #ChristmasBooks #Fridayreads

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I had the pleasure of working with Dr Norman Matheson on his lovely book ‘A Speyside Odyssey’. I don’t usually do book promotions, but this is a very special book and one that will make a truly lovely Christmas present.

The book has been endorsed in a foreword by His Royal Highness, Prince Charles.

Filled with beautiful illustrations, ‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ details the fascinating life story of the Atlantic Salmon as it undertakes one of the most remarkable, and most deadly, journeys in nature.

The story begins with conception in a remote highland burn, and follows the hazardous journey the salmon take through small tributaries to the River Spey, and from the estuary on to distant oceanic feeding grounds.

After gorging for one or more years on the prolific food sources of the North Atlantic, the odyssey draws to its conclusion as, with remarkable accuracy, the salmon complete the long journey home to spawn in the burn of their origin.

The salmon’s life-cycle provides a unique background for a natural history of Speyside. As the year unfolds, the changing topography of the landscape and river, the details of bird and animal life, wild flowers and salmon fishing lore are brought to life in words and beautiful watercolour illustrations.

‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ is an emotive celebration of natural history in a breath-taking and captivatingly beautiful area of north-east Scotland.

The author’s profits will go to the Atlantic Salmon Trust – a charity dedicated to salmon and sea trout survival.

‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ is available from Troubador, Hive, W H Smith and Waterstones, as well as Amazon.

About the Author

Norman Matheson, a retired surgeon, has been captivated by nature since his boyhood in upper Speyside. As a lifelong salmon fisherman, he is known throughout the Spey and Aberdeenshire Dee. He has published extensively. As an artist, he has illustrated children’s picture books and the illustrations in this book are his work. He was awarded an MBE for voluntary work in the visual arts.

 

 

The 2019 Christmas Charity Appeal – Help Me Raise £250 For Battersea Dogs & Cats Home By Leaving Me Links To Your Blogs and Books

A really worthwhile cause – please leave a link on Hugh’s blog 🙂

via The 2019 Christmas Charity Appeal – Help Me Raise £250 For Battersea Dogs & Cats Home By Leaving Me Links To Your Blogs and Books

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

A New Addition in Time for Christmas!

It has been ages since my last blog post – life has become very busy and unfortunately the blog has slipped down the list of priorities, as it often does.

As well as editing and freelance writing (the day jobs) we have been settling into our new home, and getting to know everyone in the village, and now the run up to Christmas is gathering pace.

As if that wasn’t enough, we have also just welcomed a new member of the family – two dogs and a cat aren’t enough apparently, so we’ve adopted Charlie.

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We had always planned to get another dog, but possibly not just before Christmas. But my daughter was home from uni the other week and she showed me a heart-breaking video.

I had to find out more. And what I found out was terrible. I have long been involved in animal welfare, campaigning, donating, protesting, particularly pre-children. I even worked for an animal welfare charity. I’ve seen and heard some terrible things. But I have to say that some of the things that happen to these dogs are the worst things I’ve ever heard or seen. Bred for hunting, they’re cheap to buy, so those that aren’t up to scratch are kicked out, or worse. If they fail, they can be tortured – to repay the debt and alleviate the ‘shame’ of the hunter. These beautiful dogs are tortured, burned alive, buried alive, kicked, beaten, run over, even hung.

So caution went out of the window. I got in touch with Galgos del Sol and Charlie arrived from Spain a week ago. He was rescued by the charity when he was about one. He’d been abandoned, living on the streets and was absolutely covered in fleas. It took a very long time before he’d let anyone show him affection. He’s been at the rescue for two years.

He’s nervous, shy, a little bit skittish. But he’ll let me cuddle him and stoke his very long nose, and adores an ear scratch. He was soon settled enough to have a long sleep – he had had a very long trip from Murcia all the way to West Wales!

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Our other dogs have accepted him without question and, fingers crossed, all is going well. He’s had lots of walks and his first trip to the vets, where he’s been given a clean bill of health.

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Not sure if I should risk going in there!

Galgos del Sol takes in so many dogs. It’s unbelievable how many are abandoned and hurt. They’re found running along busy roads, living by motorways, thrown in skips, in bins, in wells. The founder, Tina Solera, and the staff and volunteers work tirelessly. They’re devoted and they must feel sometimes like they’re fighting a losing battle. They’re trying to educate, to change opinions, to get people to question these horrible ‘traditions’.

I know that a lot of my followers and a lot of my online friends are animal lovers. If you’re looking for a charity to support, please consider Galgos del Sol. And if you are ever thinking of adopting a dog, you can’t do much better than a galgo. Charlie, despite everything he’s been through, is fast asleep at my feet as I write this. The trust he already has in me is humbling; he doesn’t know that I’m not going to hurt him, starve him, abandon him. But his incredibly long tail thumps every time he sees me.

I know it won’t be easy, that we’ll have ups and downs, that it will take time. But he’s turning out to be a really lovely early Christmas present!