segnali binari it opinioni Debbie Young’s debut novel (she is the author already of various anthologies of short stories and non-fiction) is billed as a cosy-mystery – I would suggest the term comic-mystery – there are so many slight, humerous moments to this story that get you smiling.
Perhaps unsurprising for a novel that comes from the pen of an author who is also active in the Alliance of Independent Authors (I half-expected there to be a direct mention at one of the many village meetings!) and who is the founding director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, this is a murder mystery that exudes literary and other bookish references. Take the Sophie Sayer’s name for instance. I’m really hoping that Hector Munro might become her Lord Peter Whimsy.
The story begins at the village show, a highpoint in any yearly calendar, and in the shocking discovery of murder in a manner reminiscent of those pre-opening titles moments that anyone who has watched Death in Paridise will be be familiar with. The story winds back two months to Sophie’s arrival in the village to live in the house she has inherited from her aunt (has another murder taken place here too?). If I can leverage any criticism of this mystery is that much as I love reading the excentricities of the Cotswold village life I did at times want to move on to the murder and solving thereof the mystery a little bit quicker.
Sophie though, is a character with her own backstory that is not as simple as you might think (don’t all detectives have a troubled backstory?) and she must grapple with her own insecurities and life as she she stumbles through her own over-active imagination about what the villagers might be like and be capable of before she can solve the mystery at hand. Surely Carol, the gossiping proprieter of the village shop who is every bit a Susan Carter out The Archers, is capable of killing people, or if not has the motivations to do so.
I shall look forward to seeing where Sophie’s next adventure takes us.
Who didn’t have a fascination for a fossils and dinosaurs as a child? This is a delightfully traditional tale of childhood adventure. Andy and Darren are two boys who dream of making a big archeological discovery in the woods near where they live.
As it says on the backcover, this is a book that “is set in the days before the internet when children looked for adventure out of doors rather than online”. Anyone remembers the 1980s TV summer holidays programme, Why Don’t You? will know exactly what the author means by this. The downside to this admission, and to little observances throughout the book, is that what could be a beautifully timeless tale is somewhat dated. For the most part this could be a story that happens now, with mobile phones and the internet just shelved as something not needed in the adventure much like Deborah Shepherd does in her book, The Underhill Buttons, but instead Betty Salthouse has decided to set it in I would guess the 1980s. The reference to fax machines jarred for me but then again, for those growing up as children now, maybe the description would be entirely appropriate as it is a technology that has all but vannished as quickly as it arrived.
These are small quibbles though to an otherwise excellently told adventure of children discovering something big. There was a brief glimpse of something fantastical but it was a dream sequence, and there was an all too current reference to something that might have been a climatic threat. A refreshingly traditional children’s tale.
This is quite simply an outstanding anthology of poetry however you look at it. Every poem had me gripping the page and brought to tears. This is a book formed out of the friendship of two amazing people who met at a literary festival and found that they had a message to get across. What they have achieved in just one year is collecting together a set of poems that speak directly to the reader about what it’s like to care for, and be cared for, people of ‘difference’.
This is a book that should be pressed into the hands of every elected individual as to why we need more NHS and more social care. It is as the title says, the voices of the silent – those who are not always heard. Jess Hiles probably puts it the simplest, “We are the same / but I am different.”
Some of the authors included in this slim volume may only have one poem to tell; and some may never have considered that they could tell their tale in this way. This collection proves that everyone has a voice and should be heard and listened to. It is a book that I will be recommending to everyone I know.
The calendar year may start in January in the depths of winter but for most, the year begins with Spring. This is the first in Melissa Harrison’s stand-out series of anthologies based around the four seasons. I started reading it with the seasons, having started with Autumn which was outstanding. This one doesn’t quite reach that level of perfection.
Like the other volumes in the series, Spring is a miscellany of poetry, prose, and nature writing by both contemporary and past authors. The format remains the same, of keeping you to the end before revealing the author and the date that it is from – often with surprises in store when you realise that something you thought was of the now, is actually from the nineteenth century.
The biggest joy of this book, is the last item in the anthology, featuring as it does a place which exudes the very essence of Spring from somewhere that I know and love very, very well.
I confess that when I first found out about this book – struck by the cover in a bookshop window – thought it was a beautiful tale of nature writing. That, it definitely is. I should have known really, after all, crows are the harbingers of death.
This is a book about grief, and loss, and adjusting to the death of your wife and mother to your two boys, and it is powerful reading. Half poetry, half prose, the witing is spartan and every word is carefully chosen. The honesty of it and lyrical, simplistic style reminds me of David Almonds books, but this is anything but a simplistic story.
This is definitely not a story for the faint-hearted. It is a story to make you think though.
This book is not quite what I expected. Not that I really knew much of what I did expect. I imagined that it might be travel writing by a man walking the old ways (the tracks, roads, and laylines of the past) and discovering are flora, fauna, culture, and history along the way. I wouldn’t say that its not that, but its not that imediately.
In fact it’s fair to say that Robert Macfarlane’s writing style took a little getting used to but by the time I got the chapters on walking across the Broomway or sailing in Scottish waters I was in love with the rhythm and movement and stories of the chapters; each one and essay of not just the old ways that we have trod, but the old ways that we have lived.
This is a book to inspire you to get out in the country and get away from the towns and cities and the rush of life and reconnect with the land and learn more about it and our history in the process.
Wow! Just wow! This is fast-paced, powerful story that grabs you at the first page and carries you to the very last page. Half pages of a journal (The Book) written by Bonnie’s mother and father, and half Bonnie’s own story in her own words it leads you through her conception, birth, and life. It is also interspliced with transcriptions from her meetings with her psychiatrist
We never discover exactly what Bonnie’s condition is, but I suspect that she has Aspergers or otherwise on the autism spectrum. She is ferociously intelligent and quick-witted but absolutely literal.
Jessica Bell’s writing is similarly, and absolutely, honest. It is reminiscent of Mark Haddon at his very best as she draws the nature and behavour of a cast of disfunctional but all too real and believable characters. Just make sure you’re sitting down for the ending when it hits you.
It’s been a perrennial ambition of mine to read more poetry. Unlike last year when I fulfilled an aim to read Tolstoy’s War & Peace, poetry is much more of a struggle for me, and that pains me. I wonder whether that my aspergers and the way I ‘read’ things literally causes me an added problem with poetry where it is is, ‘all’ metaphor?
So why this volume of John Clare? And why now? I’ve been reading some nature writing recently, principally Melissa Harrison’s Autumn and found myself exposed to his work. I also work with Simon Kövesi – one of the leading experts on John Clare – an instigator in the biopic, By Ourselves and I have found myself drawn to find out more about the man and his poetry.
This volume, edited by Jonathan Bate, is an excellent primer to one of our finest working class, romantic poets. Obstensivly it’s just a collection of his poetry, but I found it to be so much more than that. In the way that it’s collected together it reads like an autobiography – an autobiography of verse and song. Starting with the innocence of the countryside and the village traditions, it moves through a period of ‘fame’ and into a more political phase, and then, a wayward abandom of directly critiquing society and the ruling classes, to a quiet reflection and introspection.
This is a volume of poetry that makes you realise how much we have lost of our heritage and our ways of doing things. Farming back then, was hard, backbreaking work but we were so more connected with nature and the natural rhythms of the seasons that we have lost by now. This makes me sad. At the same time, some of the most poignant of John Clare’s poetry succeeds in giving optomism for the future.
Author, illustrator, singer, and songwriter, Jessica Bell is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. There is seemingly nothing she can’t do, and nothing she can’t handle. None of us are entirely as we seem though. We all have our demons that we face, and Jessica is no different. With a life that has ranged from metroplitan Australia (her birth home) to retreats on the Greek islands, and to Athens (where she now lives), Jessica tells it as it is.
I used music to fuel my writing. As time went by, I discovered I was more easily able to express my feelings that way. The problem was, those feelings were no longer mine. They were those of the characters in my books.
Jessica is probably best known as one of the new breed of Indie Author’s, and a successful and creative cover designer. This though is not primarily that story, but one of her childhood and beyond into adulthood, and her journey to becoming a pop/rock star. It is a story that is told frankly but with periods of reflection. The Dear Reflection of the title is Bell looking at herself and talking to herself about how her life has been, and where she has succeeded, and where she has made mistakes.
From a memory of playing shop with her grandparents as a childhood to observations on life, this is a book that is so full of quotable passages I found myself highlighting something on virtually every other page. It is a joy to read, marred only by the breakneck speed of the telling. Sometimes I just wanted the author to slow down a bit, stay longer, tell us more. Even at the speed that it does take though, here is so much more to tell. Part Five, takes from 2005 right up to the present day, and yet her Indie Author career is barely touched on. I shall look forward to reading about that side of her life in the follow-up to this debut memoir.
This is a gut-wrenchingly open and honest account of a life that, by the author’s own admission, has had it’s ups and downs – or to put it another way has had ecstatic highs and crushing lows – the like of which we haven’t seen that often since Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
Sometimes hardship leads to goodness. Every day of my life, I have to remind myself of this. I have to remind myself to stop listening to my reflection declare her insecurities and scepticism.
It has been a longheld resolution to read more poetry, but it is an ambition for whatever reason I find really hard. In all honesty, whilst I consume novels and stories with a passion, I do find it hard to “get” poetry. Last April, on Shakespeare’s birth/death-day we watched the Shakespeare 400 Live celebrations, and enjoyed listening to some sonnets. Some of the staff and students at work also gave a lunchtime reading of their favourite sonnets. I determined to read more of them – well, let’s be honest – some of them… For my birthday I received the Arden Shakespeare’s Sonnets but I have yet to break into them.
I have however read some poetry over the last year. Melissa Harrison’s seasonal quartet of books – so far I have read Autumn and Winter – includes poetry in amongst it’s prose and nature writing, and some of it has been John Clare. It’s true to say that Clare avoided me during my school and college life, but circumstances have conspired to draw him into my life. On Thursday I listened to BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time in celebration of Clare’s life and work, with my colleague Simon Kövesi, and on Saturday whilst visiting my Mum and Dad we watched the biopic, By Ourselves. I borrowed from the work library, a book of John Clare poetry and I have decided to read at least, and hopefully more, one poem a day.
And I shall read those sonnets, and I shall make a habit of consuming poetry. What is it they say about doing something everyday for 21 days and then it becomes second nature. Can reading poetry become second nature?
This was a rollercoaster of read involving school teachers and aliens, a road trip and wise-cracking dialogue. It was fast and funny but it also lackd none of Mark Haddon’s trademark portrayal of family relationships, some disfunctional and some not.
Where at one point, you thought characters were going to take you (and the story) in one direction there is constant surprise around the next corner as it lurches you on in much the same way as Craterface’s motorbike. I think I might quite like to see a spin-off story about Craterface actually and/or Becky.
Amongst the crazy-fun story, you do get to learn more how not to judge people too quickly and that we all make mistakes, and we can all be a friend to another at different times, but not necessarily all the time.
Like it’s sister book, Autumn, this is not just a collection of poetry, prose, and non-fiction but a narrative of the darkest season. It takes us through the cold winter months through, frosts and fog, and flurries of snow. We feel through the words the hard, frozen ground under foot, and the wildest of storms.
Diary entries keep us locked to natures calendar with its stories of winter survival and migratory escape. There are possibly more contemporary accounts in this volume than in Autumn but the writers still range across the centuries, and with the citations and dates not given until the end of each piece it is sometimes reassuringly hard to tell, and often a surprise!
The last few collected passages gently tease us of winter’s passing, and the promise of the season to come, echoing the hope that we all feel at the end of darkest of seasons.
Tolkein’s The Hobbit aside, I do not often read the sword and sorcery fantasy that involves dragons, but Sophie Tallis’ White Mountain is too beautiful a book not to read. Even in the Kindle version, the illustrations by the author shine through and help you draw you into a world – epic in scale – and under control a dark and powerful wizzard.
The story has the feel of of Elizabeth Kerner’s Song in the Silence in the way that humans, wizards, and dragons co-exist in the world. Whenever I think of dragons I thing big, Tolkien Smaug-sized beasts that dwarf the other characters, and so I did stuggle a bit with placing the size of some of the dragons we meet in this story.
Where this story succeeds marvellous is the relationship between the old, wizened Mr Agyk and his apprentice witch, Wendya, and through them their relationship with Gralen. No spoiler’s here, but the closing chapters are heartrending until the end…
By their very nature, collections of short stories will be a mixed bag of winners and losers. This collection stands above that. Most collections are ‘edited by’ someone, but this book is different; this book is ‘curated by’ Abi Elphinson, and you really get the feeling that she has brought together these stories though a love of them much like objects are curated in a museum. She hasn’t touched, or changed these stories, just brought them together in one, beautiful volume.
There are some standout stories in here; A Night at the Frost Fair by Emma Carroll and Michelle Harrison’s The Voice in the Snow – proof if proof be needed that though short it maybe, a story can be big and powerful and perfect. I enjoyed The Magic of MidwinterThe Wishing Book by Piers Torday.
If it were possible to have Winter Magic: Volume II next Christmas, then it would be a treat beyond treats.
Sunday. With no work to get up for (myself), or as yesterday (for Emma), I actually got to sleep through to whenever nature decided was my time to wake. Thinking about it, despite the three weeks off I had, this might have been one of the first days in ages that I have been able to wake up in this way what with family commitments at Christmas and workmen to get up for. It was bliss; waking up to the morning light drifting in through the curtains. I came to, propped myself up and read some fore we finally got up and breakfasted.
Emma’s head/ear is still not right, but she set to cleaning out the fish and seeing to Alice who is currently living freerange in the garage (and I think making some improvement) whilst I cleaned out the bunnies and the other chickens. Around lunchtime, just as we we were thinking about lunch Emma got a callout so I made myself some bread and cheese and settled down to lunch with Gardener’s Question Time on the radio.
This morning, after early rain cleared up to be actually quite nice whilst I worked in the garden, but during the afternoon it came over all grey and murky again, and I retreated to the armchair to read 2017 Book 2 – a book that I have been looking forward to relish reading ever since I found out about it. Winter Magic is a collection of short stories by a number of great authors, and curated by Abi Elphinstone.
I’ve read the first two stories so far. Emma Carroll’s A Night at the Frost Fair was delicious, and Amy Alward’s The Magic of Midwinter was inventive in an Eoin Colfer kind of way. Next up is Michelle Harrison’s The Voice in the Snow…
Next up, all I need to do is find a time to get back to my own writing. I love reading, and I love to make time for reading but I also want and need to make time for writing. Those thirty days of NaNoWriMo seem so long ago. I need to get back to that, and finish my story of The Imaginary Wife.
Christmas is a time for the confort and traditions. Some of these traditions are whole family traditions, and some are more personal and come and go. I was thinking about this today, because I’m making huge progress through Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories. It’s been on my shelf for probably the best part of the decade after I got it for Christmas upon it’s publication – I only read about 70 pages. Clearly something didn’t grab me, or circumstances were not the same as they had been a few year’s previously when I remembered fondly devouring his Writing Home along with two novels, and a nature book whilst also installed on the end of the sofa scanning old slides into the computer. I remember wanting this book and organising my time between Christmas and New Year to try and relive that joy and happiness.
Christmas traditions is something that are brought to life in a short extract from Mr Tumnal which I recorded recently for That’s Oxfordshire television for broadcast over Christmas 2016. For readers not in Oxfordshire, this reading is now online to watch.
This is my first bit of television I’ve done! What do you think?
Only 42 books read this year, but one of those was the clasic of all clasics that is War & Peace, so I reckon that has got to equal about 6 regular books! I’ve also been fitting in more writing, not counting the training that I undertook for the 26 mile Stonehenge Trek back in September which pushed alot of things into the sidelines.
The Shark and the Albatross by John Aitchison
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Song in the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child
My Pen by Christopher Myers
An English Country House and Garden by Arthur J. Penn
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
My Second Life by Faye Bird
Shepard’s War by James Campbell
When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
Jess the Goth Fairy by Jess Hiles
Shtum by Jem Lester
Hidcote by Helene Gammack
The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen
Day of the Vikings by J.F. Penn
Family, Friendships, Landscapes by Hugh Cecil
Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
The Killing Files by Nikki Owen
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
The Pier Falls & Other Stories by Mark Haddon
Rain by Melissa Harrison
The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison
Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
Broughton Castle by Paul Barker
In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll
The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig
Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
Autumn by Melissa Harrison
Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
The Trees by Ali Shaw
Under the Paw by Tom Cox
The Plumdog Path to Perfection by Emma Chichester Clark
This is essentially an autobiography of a meadow. In some ways I would have liked this story (for it is the story of a year in life of…) to start in May or June, as being in the depths of winter the January start makes for a bit of a slow start to the story. It’s also the beginning of a relationship with the meadow for John Lewis-Stempel and this all adds to it taking a while to get going.
By the time you reach November and December you realise why the the end of the year also has to be end of the book. It is sobering tale about where farming has got us over the years – the technical developments may not be for the best.
His picture in July and August of the toils of making hay was a brilliantly painted one, and from a personal point of view, I’ve been exposed to yet more of John Clare’s poetry (after reading Melissa Harrison’s Autumn immediately before it) to the point where I think I’m going to have to properly discover his work.
Autumn has always been my favourite season – even over and above that of Spring – the quality of the light, the temperature, and the smells of autumn make it the best ever. Melissa Harrison’s anthology, Autumn, is a beautiful and inspiring miscellany of poetry, prose, and non-fiction both collected from past writings, and specially commissioned for this collection.
We are taken on a series of personal journies that are about, inspired by, or are rememberances of how Autumn is. This is a book about Autumn to be read at Autumn.
There are sister books to this for all four seasons which I intend to read, in sequence as the year progresses.
When I originally read the Swallows and Amazons series it was not in chronological order so I am uncertain as to when I read this book. Being a Lowestoft boy (bred not born), I think this book already existed in the family library.
It stands alone from the rest of the cannon because it is truly neither a S&A book and nor a Coots one. It is Peter Duck’s tale, invented by the Swallows and the Amazons during a winter holiday. It is obviously a fictious story, whilst the other invented tale, Missie Lee reads like it is a true story.
I don’t remember much about my first reading of this book except that I was decidedly non-plussed by it. This time round though, I enjoyed it much more, particularly revelling in the descriptions of Lowestoft and the Suffolk coast I know so well. I did still find a jarring disconnect with it, in the speed at which they travelled. The adventurers seemed to reach Crab Island in the Carribean a bit too quickly and easily for a sailing vessel.