An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

It’s trite to say that Beryl Bainbridge’s An Awfully Big Adventure is ‘awfully good’ – but it is!

First published in 1989 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this is set in 1950, as a Liverpool repertory theatre company are rehearsing its Christmas production of Peter Pan. The story centres around Stella, a teenager and an aspiring actress who has been taken on as the assistant stage manager.

It’s semi-autobiographical based on Beryl Bainbridge’s own experience as an assistant stage manager in a Liverpool theatre. On the face of it this is a straight forward story of the theatre company but underneath it’s packed with emotion, pathos and drama. And it’s firmly grounded in a grim post-war 1950s England, food rationing still in operation and bombed buildings still in ruins overgrown with weeds.

Stella lives with her Uncle Vernon and Aunt Lily, who run a boarding house. To a large extent Stella escapes real life, living in the world of her own imagination. Her mother is not on the scene, but Stella secretly phones her from a public phone box to talk about her life – her mother just says ‘the usual things’ to her. She’s an innocent, naive and impressionable, she’s troubled and confused, wanting to grow up quickly. She’s ready to fall in love and becomes obsessed by Meredith Potter, the company director, not realising he is simply not interested in her.

After playing a cameo role in Caesar and Cleopatra in the next production, Peter Pan, she ‘manages’ Tinkerbell, shining a torch and ringing a little handbell. The title is taken from Peter Pan, the play about the boy who never grew up, whose attitude to death was ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure.’ Bainbridge’s use of Peter Pan emphasises the themes of reality versus imagination, the loss of childhood innocence, and the quest for love. Stella, whose mother had abandoned her, is most upset by the scene in the play where Peter tells Wendy how his mother had forgotten him when he tried to go back home – the windows were barred and another little boy was in his bed. It’s her mother’s apparent lack of love for Stella that is perhaps the initial cause of what eventually happens.

Love in its various guises is a prominent theme running through the book. When Meredith asks her what she thinks J.B. Priestley’s play Dangerous Corner is about, she says: ‘Love. People loving people who love somebody else.’ And, indeed, An Awfully Big Adventure is about people who are in love with somebody else and they all have secrets to hide.

I was a bit confused by the opening chapter and it was only when I reached the end that I understood it, when the truth that had been hinted at became obvious. It really is an awfully good book.

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Color Coded Challenge 2014 – Completed

Color Coded ChallengeFor a while this year I thought I would not complete this Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block – but I have!

It’s a simple challenge – to read nine books in the following categories – the links are to my posts on the books:

1. A book with “Blue” or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title – Blue Heaven by C J Box.

2. A book with “Red” or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy, etc) in the title – A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.

3. A book with “Yellow” or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.)in the title – The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

4. A book with “Green” or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title – Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read.

5. A book with “Brown” or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title –Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende.

6. A book with “Black” or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title – Black Dogs by Ian McEwan.

7. A book with “White” or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title – Seven White Gates by Malcolm Saville.

8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.) –Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi  Adichie

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.) –Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody

Posted in Books, Challenges, Color Coded Challenge | 5 Comments

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London are books that I’ve known about as long as I can remember – they were books my parents owned – but I’ve never read them, until now.  So, I was pleased when The Call of the Wild, Jack London’s first book came out as my Classics Club Spin book.  I would have read it one day anyway but the Spin gave me the nudge to read it now. I wasn’t expecting to find it such a beautiful, moving and poignant book, but it is. And it has so much packed into its 106 pages in my little hardback copy.

It begins in 1897 when Buck, a cross between a St Bernard and a Scotch Shepherd (Collie) was stolen from his home in the Santa Clara Valley in California and taken to the Yukon where strong sled dogs were needed during the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a shock to Buck (what an understatement) as he moves from his pampered life on a California ranch where he had free rein, swimming, hunting and playing to the harsh realities and cruelty of the life of a working dog in the wastes of Alaska, where the ‘law of club and fang‘ predominated. The book is told from Buck’s point of view, but this is no cutesy, sentimental animal story. Buck has to fight for existence and as he learnt by experience, instincts that were long dead came alive in him:

The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meet as they tracked it down. It was no task for him to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap.

…  And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. … the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again (page 24)

After changing owners several times, each worse than the one before he is eventually saved from death by John Thornton who nurses him back to health and for a while it is the love between man and dog that keeps Buck with him. Eventually however, the call of the wild is too strong!

Apart from the story which kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next it’s the quality of London’s writing, the vivid descriptions and the haunting mystical sense of the wild that captivated me – this passage for example:

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. (pages 37-38)

I’ll be reading White Fang soon.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Challenges, Classics, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, The Classics Club | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read

I was in the library a few days ago and Christmas at Thrush Green caught my eye with its sparkly, snowy front cover. Years ago I read as many of Miss Read’s books that I could find in the library, but I didn’t think I’d read this one. ‘Miss Read’ is a pseudonym for Dora Saint (1913 – 2012) who wrote over 40 books for adults and children.

Christmas at Thrush Green was first published in 2009 and the title page reveals that it was written by Miss Read with Jenny Dereham. In the Acknowledgements at the front of the book Miss Read explained that she and Jenny Dereham, her long-time editor had:

… discussed the initial idea, developed the unfolding story-line and then I left her to put that into words, based on the Thrush Green characters. I am more than happy with the result and hope those people who enjoyed all the other Thrush Green books will enjoy this as much.

So, not exactly by Miss Read, but still an enjoyable book and as it was so many years ago that I read some of the Thrush Green books I can’t compare this with the other books. And I’d read more of her Fairacre books than the Thrush Green ones. It’s comfort reading, nearly 350 pages that kept me entertained, with a few memorable characters amongst its many characters. There are so many characters that I began to get confused, as some of them just melded together in my mind. Each character is introduced with a brief biography and history, which helped me sort out some of them.

Preparations for the Christmas Nativity play are under way when some of the children come down with chicken pox. Ella Bembridge is losing her sight and behaving strangely, Nelly Piggott, the owner of The Fucshia Bush Tea Shop is thrilled at winning an award, there are newcomers to Thrush Green who haven’t settled in and have upset some of the locals. I particularly liked the episodes feating the vicar, Charles Henstock and his wife Dimity, affectionately called ‘Dim’. It’s a nostalgic read about village life at Christmas time – snow, parties, and church services.

As a result of reading this I’ve decided I want to re-read/read more of Miss Read’s books, and have started Village Diary.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Challenges, Color Coded Challenge, Fiction | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Seven White Gates by Malcolm Saville

Once more I’m behind with writing reviews – I blame it on the season! So to catch up I’m going to write some shortish posts with just a few thoughts on the books I’ve been reading.

Seven White Gates by Malcolm Saville is the second in his Lone Pine series. I first read some of his books when I was a child, but none of this series. But even so this was a nostalgic read for me and I would have really loved it if I’d read it years ago. It was first published in 1944. The Lone Pine books are about a group of children who formed a secret society in wartime Shropshire.

I particularly like the setting of Seven White Gates, in Shropshire not far from the border with Wales, an area rich in folklore and legend. It begins at the beginning of the Easter holidays, when Peter (Petronella) Stirling, who is fifteen, discovers that she cannot spend them at home with her father at Hatchholt, as he has to go away. Instead she is to stay with her unknown aunt and uncle, near Barton Beach, whose farm is under the Stiperstones mountain crested by the Devil’s Chair. The Stiperstones range lies within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is now on my wishlist of places to visit and the Devil’s Chair is really there:

The Devil’s Chair – Photo from Wikimedia Commons

She invites the other members of the Lone Pine club, David Morton, aged sixteen and his younger brother and sister, the annoying twins, Dickie and Mary, who are nine to stay at the farm with her. She meets a family of gypsies and makes a new friend, Jenny at Barton Beach, who all tell her the terrifying legends about the Stiperstones and the Devil’s Chair. Reuben warns her:

Remember, Petronella, our friend, never to be seen near the Stiperstones on the longest night of the year, for then all the ghosts in Shropshire and all the counties beyond meet on the summit – right on and around the Chair they meet – to choose their king … And any who venture out on that night and see the ghosts of all the years dead from hereabouts are stricken with fear and often do not live the year … (page 31)

What follows is an exciting adventure story. Peter’s Uncle Micah is a strange character, a forbidding. gloomy, unhappy man missing his son Charles who had left home some years earlier. It’s fast paced and full of danger for Peter and her friends as they explore the Stiperstones and its secrets.

The book is illustrated with full page black and white drawings and a plan of Seven Gates, which I found very useful in following the action!

Seven Gates plan

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Challenges, Children's Fiction, Color Coded Challenge, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014 | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party begins with the party given by Mrs Drake for teenagers. One of the guests, Joyce Reynolds, a boastful thirteen-year old, who likes to draw attention to herself, announces that once she’d witnessed a murder. It seems nobody believed her and yet later on she is found dead, drowned in the tub used for the bobbing for apples game – someone had believed her and had killed her. Mrs Ariadne Oliver was at the party and she asks Poirot to help in finding the murderer.

This is one of Agatha Christie’s later books, first published in 1969, when she was approaching 80, and although I did like it for the most part, it is certainly not one of her best. It’s not terribly coherent and it lacks focus in parts as several characters, not sharply defined, are introduced along with a lot of detail and repetition. The plot, as usual in Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries is convoluted with lots of red herrings and loose ends. I thought the revelation of one of the character’s parenthood at the end was just too contrived to be believable. There are meandering and critical conversations about the ‘young people today’ and the state of the mental health service, with overcrowded mental homes, which so many of the characters thought must be the cause of the murder.

… so doctors say “Let him of her lead a normal life. Go back and live with his relatives, etc. And then the nasty bit of goods, or the poor afflicted fellow, whichever way you like to look at it, gets the urge again and another young woman goes out walking and is found in a gravel pit, or is silly enough to take lifts in a car. (page 37)

So it is down to Poirot to discover the real motive, but not before there is another murder. He investigates the possibility that Joyce was telling the truth and asks retired Superintendent Spence, living in the area with his sister, for details of any local deaths and disappearances over the past few years.

Even though I found this book less satisfying than many of Christie’s other books there are things in it that I liked. The relationship between Ariadne Oliver and Poirot for one – Poirot has to have a sip of brandy to fortify himself for the ‘ordeal’ of talking to her:

‘It’s a pity,’ he murmured to himself, ‘that she is so scatty. And yet she has originality of mind. It could be that I am going to enjoy what she is coming to tell me. It could be -‘ he reflected a minute ‘- that it may take a great deal of the evening and that it will all be excessively foolish. Eh bien, one must take one’s risks in life.’ (page 20)

And for another there is the description of a beautiful garden in a sunken quarry,  a well designed garden with the appearance of being perfectly natural. There are several pages lyrically describing this garden, which seemed to me to reflect Agatha Christie’s own interest in gardens, particularly the gardens at her house in Devon, Greenway. Seeing this garden sends Poirot into an almost mystical state of mind as he absorbed the atmosphere:

It had qualities  of magic, of enchantment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden there is fear. (page 93)

Overall, there are some vivid descriptions in this book – the Hallowe’en party and some of the descriptions of the teenagers ’60s style clothing for example as well as the beauty of the sunken garden, which for me compensated for its flaws. But if you haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s books I wouldn’t recommend that you start with this one.

Posted in Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Books, Challenges, Crime Fiction, Fiction, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Show Me Your Book Stash!

Carolyn of Riedel Fascination has asked people who’re doing one of her challenges to ‘show me your book stash‘, because she wonders what they look like, where they are, and  how tipsy  the piles are? In other words she wants to see photos of your books wherever they are, on shelves, in piles, propping up the piano, whatever, and put them into a blog post.

It should be no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that I am a bookaholic and there are book shelves/cases/piles of books in nearly every room. They keep changing as I move books around from the shelves into piles deciding what to read next. They start off in some sort of order separating fiction from non fiction and in a-z author or subject order – but they get out of control as I take books off the shelves/piles and somehow they don’t get put back in the same place.

Anyway here are some photos of some of my ‘stash’ (click the photos to see them full size):

First some shelves in the hall. The books here are a mixture of books to read and books I have read and include both fiction and non-fiction. The fiction is mostly double shelved.

Bks Hall Dec 2014Next a few of the books on the shelves behind me as I sit at the computer. These are books I have read and am keeping (for now at any rate – they do get ‘weeded’ every now and then). The back wall of this room is lined with books.

Bks Dec 2014 P1010329

An orderly shelf in the kitchen of just a few of my cookery books – the rest are on other bookshelves elsewhere in the house.

Bks Kit Dec 2014 P1010336

But now for the book shelves that are not so tidy! The bookcase in the living room – again a mix of unread and read books with a shelf of old LPs at the bottom. This is a bit of a jumble really, double shelved with books plied on top of other books in heaps!

Bks LR Dec 2014 P1010339Here are a few of my book piles – the pile next to my computer. For ease of taking the photo I’ve put these in one pile – they are actually in two piles, so not quite such a towering pile. This pile shows just how disorganised I am – books I’ve read and not put away, books I’m going to read, library books and a notebook at the bottom of the pile – not the best place for it!

Bk pile Dec 2014  computer

Two little piles on the floor below the desk. Some of these are books I’ve recently acquired, either bought or borrowed from the library. Others are books, like Dominion that I’ve read recently!

Bks floor Dw

And finally books on the floor in our bedroom, another mixed pile. I’ve just finished reading the Bainbridge book this morning and there are two or three other books I’ve read before and have been tempted to re-read. The other books are all books that have been on the floor too long – I have to dust them! They are books I’ve wondered about reading next but have been left for later. I will read them one day …

Bks bedrm Dec 2014These are just some of my bookshelves/piles – yes there are more!!

Posted in Books, Personal | 13 Comments

The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth

We visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth a few weeks ago.

BRM sign P1010267

Bronte Parsonage Museum P1010266

BPM front P1010269

You can’t take photos inside the museum, so I bought the guide book and a booklet, The Brontës and Haworth to remind me of our visit and you can see some photos on the Brontë  Society website. It’s a fascinating house – a recreation of the Brontës home, as well as a museum displaying memorabilia, manuscripts, books and artworks. There is so much to see and all in a smaller house (with small rooms) than I had imagined.

I knew that the Brontës’ wrote their stories and poems in tiny notebooks (about the size of a credit card) in small handwriting but seeing the original manuscripts I was amazed at just how very small it is! And standing next to the display cabinet containing Charlotte Brontë’s dress she wore to set out for her honeymoon tour in Ireland I could see she wasn’t very tall – certainly less than 5ft.

The museum contains some of the Brontes’ paintings and drawings and Emily’s mahogany artist’s box – they really were talented in more than one field. I was intrigued by a large cupboard with 12 panels on the door, each panel containing a painting of one of the 12 apostles. I was even more fascinated by it and wished I’d been able to take a photograph of the cupboard, when later on whilst re-reading  Jane Eyre I came across this description of a cabinet in a room on the third storey of Thornfield Hall:

the doors of a great cabinet opposite – whose front, divided into twelve panels, bore in grim design, the heads of the twelve apostles, each enclosed in its separate panel as in a frame …

According as the shifting obscurity and flickering gleam hovered here or glanced there, it was no the bearded physician, Luke, that bent his brow; now St John’s long hair that waved; and anon the devilish face of Judas, that grew out of the panel, and seemed gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor – of Satan himself – in his subordinates form.

I realised that this was the cupboard I had seen in the Museum! I’d stood in front of it for some while wondering what it was as there is nothing in the guide book about it.  Seeing it at night by candlelight must have been very different from standing in a museum looking at it in daylight! Since then I’ve been unable to find out much about this cupboard, apart from a post on the Stubbs Family History blog, which explains how the Museum acquired the cupboard. And you can see a photograph of it here.

I now intend to read more of Charlotte Brontë’s novels and Mrs Gaskell’s biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1857 – Charlotte had died in 1855, aged 38.

I’d also like to read a more modern biography, maybe Charlotte Brontë: a Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon or The Brontës by Juliet Barker about the family.

What would you recommend?

Posted in Books, Classics, England, Fiction, Haworth, Yorkshire | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

I picked up Portrait in Sepia up in a bookshop four years ago. As I knew nothing about it or the author it joined the other to-be-read books until just recently.

The opening pages of this historical novel grabbed my attention, about Aurora del Valle’s birth in 1880 in San Francisco in the Chinese quarter and referring to family secrets:

I have come to know the details of my birth rather late in life, but it would have been worse not to discover them at all, they could have been lost forever in the cracks and crannies of oblivion. There are so many secrets in my family that I may never have time to unveil them all: truth is short-lived, watered down by torrents of rain. (page 3)

Portrait in Sepia is part of a trilogy, with The House of the Spirits and Daughter of Fortune, and maybe it would have helped if I’d read the other two books, but I thought there was plenty of background history to the characters and I had no problem in following the story and distinguishing the characters.

Summary from the back cover:

After her mother dies in childbirth, Aurora del Valle is raised by her grandmother in San Francisco, but despite growing up in this rich and privileged environment, Aurora is unhappy. Haunted by terrible nightmares and the inexplicable absence of many of her childhood memories, and finding herself alone at the end of a love affair, she decides to travel to Chile to discover what it was, exactly, all those years ago, that had such a devastating effect on her young life. 

Aurora is the narrator and this the story of her family and after giving details of her birth, Aurora goes back to 1862 beginning her story with details about her grandparents. This is not a book you read quickly as there is a lot of detail, a lot of 19th century history of Chile, its mix of nationalities, politics and wars – at first I felt I was drowning in detail, but once I settled into the rhythm of the writing I began to appreciate Allende’s style. It takes you right into the characters, seeing them through Aurora’s eyes – her Chinese grandfather, Tao Chi’en, her uncle Severo and her two grandmothers, Paulina and Eliza, who both play a large role in her life. And there are many other colourful characters and momentous events in this book.

It’s a book about love, loss, identity, betrayal and about family relationships. It’s a portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the characters and their struggle to survive. Aurora tells her family’s story through looking at photographs, snapshots in time, through her own disjointed, incomplete and vague memories of her childhood and through conversations with her family members. Whilst she was still very young her two grandmothers decided her future, thinking that time would erase the memory of the traumatic events she had seen, never realising that the scenes would live forever in her nightmares.

Portrait in Sepia explores the nature of memory, how each moment of our lives is so transitory and how the past becomes confused as we try to recapture the moments we’ve lived through. Through photographs we can keep memories alive. As Aurora discovered:

Every instant disappears in a breath and immediately becomes the past; reality is ephemeral and changing, pure longing. With these photographs and pages I keep memories alive; they are my grasp on a truth that is fleeting , but truth none the less; they prove that these events happened and that these people passed through my destiny. Thanks to them I can revive my mother who died at my birth, my stalwart grandmothers, and my wise Chinese grandfather, my poor father, and other links in the long chain of my family, all of mixed and ardent blood. (pages 303-4)

Reading a book like this inevitably leads me on to yet more books, because now I want to read the other two books in the trilogy.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Challenges, Color Coded Challenge, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge 2014 | Tagged , | 5 Comments

November’s Books

I read 9 books in November, all of them fiction. Two are books from my TBR shelves, one is a re-read, two are library books, three are books I’ve bought recently and one is a review copy. The links are to my posts on the books.

Nov bks

  1. Blue Heaven by C J Box – TBR. I loved it – it’s written in a style that appeals to me – straightforward storytelling, with good descriptions of locality and characters, secondly characters that are both likeable and downright nasty, but not caricatures, and finally the ending was what I hoped, and also dreaded it would be.
  2. Lamentation by C J Sansom – the sixth Matthew Shardlake book an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension, set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life
  3. The Woods by Harlan Coben – see below.
  4. The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland – Library Book – set in Lincoln during the reign of Richard II. I liked the elements of the supernatural and suspicions of witchcraft in this book and the historical setting, but it just didn’t have the magic spark that I’d enjoyed in her other books that I’ve read.
  5. Wycliffe in Paul’s Court by W J Burley – Library Book – Wycliffe investigates two violent deaths at Paul’s Court. W J Burley was very good at creating believable people caught up in extraordinary situations. An enjoyable read.
  6. Dominion by C J Sansom – see below.
  7. Sausage Hall by Christina James – Review Book – set in the South Lincolnshire Fens, a crime mystery with a sinister undercurrent exploring the murky world of illegal immigrants, and a well researched historical element. I enjoyed it.
  8. Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter – TBR –  a superbly constructed puzzle as Morse uncovers an intricate web of lies and deceit whilst he investigates the death of a churchwarden at St Frideswide church. Compelling reading! 
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – a re-read, see below.

I’m always behind these days with reviews – so here are some brief notes about those books I haven’t reviewed:

The Woods by Harlan Coben – this was a free book on Kindle and as I hadn’t read anything by Coben I decided to see if I liked it. It”s a stand-alone mystery and I did like it. It’s fast paced, about the murder of two teenagers at a Summer Camp twenty years earlier – two other teenagers disappeared and were presumed dead. Paul Copeland, now a County Prosecutor, is asked to identify a dead body, who turns out to be one of the missing teenagers. His sister was the other missing person – is she still alive – and who was the murderer? Good characterisation and a good plot kept me guessing to the end.  A good choice.

I wasn’t too sure that I would like Sansom’s  Dominion, because I’m not very keen on alternative history, but I was pleased to find that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s set in 1952 in a Britain that had surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 after Dunkirk. And I finished it with relief that this nightmare scenario had never actually taken place.

Germany and Russia are still at war, whilst in Britain an underground resistance organization headed by Winston Churchill, who is now in hiding, is alone in opposing Nazi authoritarian rule. The streets are patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews are dragged from their homes and sent to camps awaiting transportation to the Isle of Wight on their way to gas chambers in the East. Sansom has painted a scary alternate Britain, showing how people are ground down, almost inevitably, into accepting the prospect of racial genocide and eugenic sterilisation. It sent shivers down my spine.

It is by no means a perfect book, it’s too long for example and I thought the ending was rather unconvincing, but I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.  Maybe 5 stars is a bit generous but each time I had to stop reading I couldn’t get it out of my mind and was keen to get back to it. It’s the ‘what if’ aspect and Sansom’s account of the dangers of nationalism that made it compelling reading for me.

And finally Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  I first read this many years ago and have since seen TV versions of it. This time round I was struck by Jane’s independence of mind, her powers of reasoning and strength of character. It’s not just the romantic love story I read as a young teenager. The romance is still there of course, but the feminism of Charlotte Brontë expressed through Jane’s character is very evident to me now. I picked up the book as a result of visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth, which I intend to write about some time.

My favourite, the one that I enjoyed the most, is Blue Heaven by C J Box.

Posted in Books, Fiction | 7 Comments