Positive book reviews and staying real

There are lots of conversations on blogs, social media and Book Tube channels at the moment about positive book reviews – whether, because some bloggers – some, remember, not all – are given books by publishers/writers so feel obliged to write up a glowing review.  Here’s where I stand.  If I don’t like a book after one chapter I usually give up on the book but I might decide to go back to it later. By later that could mean months or even years! Sometimes I’m not in the right frame of mind for that particular book. Also, I’m not going to take a free book off a publisher – I feel strongly about this.  I’m not their PR person – I do enough of that in my day job.


As I said on my About page, I’ll give a fair and balanced review. That’s exactly what I do.  There are bound to be some elements in a book that are not good and I will say what they are for me.  Life’s too short to read a book I don’t enjoy – I can’t imagine anything worse.  There were a few rotters in my English Lit undergrad. course – I’m not going to put myself through reading boring stuff when I should now be reading for pleasure.  I’m certainly not in the business of slagging an author off after all writing is their business/living.

So, you won’t see a negative review here. You will see a fair and balanced review, independent of any pressures from publishers, authors – anyone in the book business really.

I love books so that’s what I hope I convey in my reviews.

Happy Reading Everyone!

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

A complicated story of immature love written by Ian McEwan.

I read this novel when it was first published and decided to revisit it again.  Published in 2007, On Chesil Beach is a novella written by the British author, Ian McEwan.  The book was chosen for the 2007 Man Booker Prize shortlist.


This is the love story of two young people, Edward and Florence, which is set in the context of their time, 1962.  Pre 60’s liberation. They were on the cusp of the sexual revolution – it had not yet taken place.  The Swinging Sixties were just around the corner.  If this young couple had been born a few years later their tragedy probably would not have occurred.  They were trapped in a time when young people were still expected to do as their parents’ generation had done before them eg a good job, courtship, get married, have a family etc.  Edward Mayhew is a graduate student of history, and Florence Ponting, a violinist in a string quartet.  The history of their relationship is interweaved into the story of their honeymoon which is spent at a hotel in Dorset, Chesil Beach being next to the hotel.

‘They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.’

The sadness at the centre of the story is that Edward loves Florence and finds her extremely attractive – he can’t stop thinking about her in a sexual way.  His feelings have to remain repressed because Florence, although deeply in love with Edward, is not able to express her feelings for him.  Culturally, as the English often did (and still do) they skirt around the subject, avoiding talking about it   There is also a subtle hint in the book  that Florence might have been sexually assaulted by her father and has been turned off sex,  however it’s never explicitly alluded to.   On the night of their wedding, both virgins, there arises a terrible misunderstanding.  There then takes place, on Chesil Beach, a confrontation that will effect the rest of their lives.   I won’t spoil the book for those who haven’t read it.  It’s a very short novel and to described what happened would entirely spoil the read for you. Suffice it to say that, tragically,  I imagine that what occurred during their honeymoon must have been the case for couples in that era when the culture stipulated sex before marriage was frowned upon.  Couples had no way of finding out whether they were actually suited to each other.

The tragedy of the story is that if Edward and Florence had been able to communicate to each other their true feelings then the outcome would have been far happier.

I admire Ian McEwan’s writing. For such a short book there is a lot of emotion packed into its short length.  It’s thought provoking, and like many good books asks the reader to consider how one decision can affect the rest of our lives and how regret is hard to live with.  I’d recommend giving this very short novel a read.  As well as a moving love story, McEwan’s writing is brilliant and to the point.

The film of On Chesil Beach is to be released in May 2018 and stars Saoirse Ronan as Florence and Billy Howle as Edward.



Book blogging – Second Hand Books On Line


That’s a picture of Shakespeare and Co in Paris – well known purveyor of secondhand and new books.

Book blogging, it’s an expensive business but I chose to do it and so I can’t complain. My aim, like every book blogger, I imagine, is to share my love of books with you.   I’m reading some great books that I probably would never have read and I’ve enjoyed them all.   Bearing in mind that some of the more successful bloggers with a huge following appear to get their books sent to them by publishers (well, they do thank them in their posts and they do acknowledge in their blogs that they have received a copy) I feel it’s not a level playing field.  It’s not surprising that publishers ask bloggers with a large following to publicise their books.  More power to them and their authors, I say.  I also feel that (self righteously, some might think) if I don’t receive a book to ‘shout’ about from a publisher then I’m an absolutely free and independent agent who is able to give a fair and balanced review.  So  I’ve decided to save myself some hard earned pennies and buy my books second hand.  Nothing wrong with that – same content as a new book and I believe in recycling.  After I’ve read my books I will give them to a charity shop or even send them to my local hospital (if they will take them).  This will give other book lovers a chance to read some fabulous books and authors.  Not only will I be spreading the word about great authors but also helping the charities to raise money.  Some will say, nothing new in that and of course, they are right but this is how I intend to be able to continue to blog.

So with that in mind, I went ahead and had a fantastic time on line buying some great second hand books which I’ll be reviewing in the very near future.  I felt like a child in a toy shop – it was fantastic.  What I like about the on-line second hand book sellers is that they provide the opportunity to return the book if you think it doesn’t live up to their ‘condition of book’ description. You can’t go wrong really.

I can give my credit card a rest for a while.  It was taking quite a hammering. Of course, if my favourite authors release their latest book, I will still be purchasing those.  But for this blog I think it’s better to buy second hand.   I love browsing around second hand book shops and did a blog about them a few weeks ago.   To find the equivalent on line is wonderful.

I went on line at AbeBooks – what a great collection of second hand and rare books – a book heaven for all us book lovers!  There were some books there that I have wanted to read for a while but found the price of a new edition prohibitive (also, some of the books are now out of print and difficult to find).

I’m off now to read.  Speak to you next time with a new book review. x

The Lie of the Land – Amanda Craig

I’m so pleased I found this book which I loved and enjoyed reading so much. What Dickens did for the 19th century, Amanda Craig has done for the 21st.  I love comparing contemporary authors with classical and immediately felt the connection between Amanda’s writing and Charles Dickens.  I’d never read anything by Amanda before and, I’m hanging my head in shame, had never heard of her (sorry, I blame this for having had to study classical literature for so long) so I didn’t have a clue that she’s been compared to Dickens  by many people.

This book can be described as a social commentary on contemporary British life which nowadays, for so many people of all classes, consists of redundancies, zero hour contracts, racism, sexism, the effects of immigration on rural communities. The list goes on.  This novel had me hooked from the beginning until the end.  Author Amanda Craig has created a satisfying read,  characters we can relate to plus a superb plot. It’s a clever book and I enjoyed reading each and every page.


This is a book that has so many attractions that it’s difficult to know where to begin.  Well, let’s start with the main characters.  In the middle of the credit crunch, Lottie Bredin and her husband Quentin who both have successful careers, lose their jobs.  Lottie is an architect and is proud of her vocation.  She’s armed to the hilt with academic qualifications which are still not enough to save her from losing her job.  Quentin is made redundant from his successful career as a journalist – he’s known for his sharp wit. He seemed to me to be an amalgam of all those opinionated journalists that we know and love (or hate).  Lottie and Quentin have  followed all the rules that society lays down in order to be considered a ‘success’.  Their professional London careers have provided them with all the cultural delights that the capital provides for the well heeled.  In particular they are proud of their beautiful home that has increased in value during the good years.  They are, in effect, paper millionaires.  The thing is, they now can’t afford the upkeep of the house. Furthermore, having decided to divorce, they now realise they can’t even afford to do that.

Quentin is a philanderer – I know, an old fashioned word but one that suits him well.  You wonder as you learn about him how Lottie put up with his infidelity for so long.  Quentin’s excuse is that their sex life went downhill during and after Lottie’s pregnancies (they have two daughters).  After his latest infidelity, Lottie finally decides she’s had enough and they decide to divorce.  The problem is:  they can’t afford to divorce.  They decide the only way they can raise money is to rent out their London house and move to Devon. We learn that this is where Quentin was brought up and where his parents, Hugh and Naomi, still live.   As a young man he couldn’t wait to escape from Devon and looks down on the impoverished locals. It’s agonising for him to have to relocate back there.  As well as their two daughters, Lottie has a son, Zan, from another relationship.They decide to stay in the village for a year and then return to London.  Quentin finds it difficult – he complains of the lack of ‘lifestyle’ in the village ie fashionable restaurants etc and what he perceives to be the miserable life of the locals.  He says that if it were a village in rural France the villagers would be wearing fashionable clothes and there’d be restaurants etc.

I’m not going to give away too many spoilers but the novel interweaves the lives of the Bredins with those of some of the people they come into contact with in the village.  A 70 year old rock star and his family, a local nurse, the cleaner and her daughter, the Polish workers in the local factory.  The novel discusses the effects or the pros and cons of immigrants working within a rural community.

Intriguingly, there’s a mystery at the center of the novel which holds the readers attention throughout.  Unknown to Lottie and Quentin, a murder has been committed at the house they’ve rented – the body of a local man who lived at the house was found but no head.   I enjoyed how cleverly the murder plot (a kind of Agatha Christie who done it) was placed as the background to the lives of Lottie and Quentin.  Most importantly, I enjoyed the changes that took place within the Bredin family.

‘What redemption can there be? Yet to believe that no change is possible, is impossible too, for life is change; and change, life. 

The novel examines how people can, do and must change. It’s inevitable – we never remain the same.  Life, experience changes us all.

If you enjoy mystery and suspense then this novel is definitely one for you.

The Lie of the Land is published by Little, Brown


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  (from Amanda Craig’s website https://www.amandacraig.com/about-amanda-craig/

Amanda Craig is a British novelist, short-story writer and critic. Born in South Africa in 1959, she grew up in Italy, where her parents worked for the UN, and was educated at Bedales School and Clare College Cambridge.

After a brief time in advertising and PR, she became a journalist for newspapers such as The Sunday Times, the Observer, The Daily Telegraph and the Independent, winning both the Young Journalist of the Year and the Catherine Pakenham Award. She was the children’s critic for The Independent on Sunday and The Times, and one of the first to spot the Harry Potter books, Phlip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Twilight, How to Train Your Dragon and The Hunger Games.

She still reviews children’s books for The New Statesman, and literary fiction for The Observer, but is mostly a full-time novelist. Her last novel, Hearts And Minds, was long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction.
In 2017 she published two works with Little,Brown: The Other Side of You (a novella for Galaxy Quick Reads) and The Lie Of the Land. She is currently working on her eighth novel, which is inspired by the fairy-tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Each novel can be read separately but is part of an interconnected contemporary cast of characters, in which minor protagonists become major. Though her novels often contain a detective or genre plot, they are literary fiction, most often compared to Dickens and Balzac. She is regarded as a state of the nation novelist, commenting on the gulf between rich and poor.



The Modern Library by Colm Tóibín, Carmen Callil


Do you like books lists? Do you tick off what you’ve read?  I’ve done that in the past. It makes you either feel proud of yourself that you’ve actually got through some of them or depressed realising how not very well read you are.

I saw this book in Waterstones yesterday.  I’m not a lover of lists – you know the kind that says, Top Books of blah de blah and so on.  They can be boring as most lists look the same.  Anyway, this book looked attractive and I thought I would keep it as a note of what I’ve read and what I haven’t read but would like to read.

These kind of books are good only in so far as you might admire the author.  You might respect him/her and judge their opinion of which are the World’s Greatest Books with a certain amount of respect.  Anyway, I like Colm Toibin’s work so I suppose he can be classed as someone to be trusted to advise which books can be categorized as some of the greatest.

This book contains a list and description of the best 200 books since 1950.  Each book has a short description.  There are some books I’ve read but also some authors I struggle with, Anthony Burgess, for instance.  I should really try one of his books again.  There are so many authors who you feel you ought to read in order to feel like a ‘serious’ reader but, frankly, I don’t want to torture myself with boredom.  Reading is for enjoyment. Yes, I like to be ‘stretched’ as they say but I draw the line at making myself miserable.  Who want to set time aside to read and then find themselves sinking into a depression because they feel they have to finish the book?  Life’s too short, my friend.

I think I’d like to include some of these books in my blog – but only if I enjoy them.  I don’t wants to feel that I have to read something that is ‘worthy’.  I’ve got nothing to prove in the way of reading.  Books are there for everybody to take what they want from them.

Isn’t it great and enough that we love books and enjoy reading our favourite authors?  Anyway, I’m rambling now.  I could go on all night talking about books.



Second hand book shops

One of the joys of life is entering a second hand bookshop.  I never fail to be impressed by the rows upon rows of splendidly used books.  That musty smell of an old book never fails to floor me.  I really don’t care that the book has been handled hundreds of times.  The fact that someone has read the lines and enjoyed them is enough for me.

It’s great when you find books that are now out of print or books you once owned that you’ve mislaid ie lost!   Joy of joys to come across them again years later.  I once found some old hard backed books about Marilyn Monroe that I’d lost years ago. Also some books about the actress Vivian Leigh, and Elizabeth Taylor.  Most of my books were lost when moving house.  It’s like a death in the family when I lose a book.  I get depressed thinking I’m never going to be able to read them again.

And what about old copies of our favourite classics, Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte.  It seems special to me to be able to read them as they were originally printed or at least a few years later.  I’ve got some great little editions of Dickens’ novels that I have in my library.  I like to use books as decoration so I think they look great dotted around the house.  Makes me look intelligent too!

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Some of my favourite second hand book shops are in Haworth, Yorkshire.  If you ever visit the Bronte parsonage don’t forget to walk down the main street of the village.  This is where you’ll find some great little bookshops, Venables and Bainbridge Books and Hatchard and Daughters.  The fragrance of old, musty books hits you right away.


venables and bainbridge haworth main st december 18 2010 sm

After you’ve strolled around a bookshop what’s better than having a cup of tea and a cream cake, or if you’re in Yorkshire, a pot of tea and a Fat Rascal.


Go on, this half term treat yourself to a second hand book and tea and cake.





Nothing Holds Back the Night – Delphine de Vigan



As I read this book I repeatedly asked myself the question: Is this a true story or is it a work of fiction?  I was still asking the question at the end of the book.  Whatever the answer is, this novel held me in thrall until the end.  Delphine de Vigan’s novels have been described as “autobiographical fiction”,  in which she,  ‘deconstructs…examining where fact meets fabrication, and questioning the very nature of the fictional process.’ (Guardian.com) 

How well do we know those closest to us?

There comes a time in our life when we read a book and it’s as if, by some kind of miracle, it’s been sent it to us as a gift.  Something that strikes at our heart and we make it our ‘own’.  We think that no-one could possibly feel like we do about ‘our’ book.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had that feeling but that’s what’s happened to me with this beautiful novel which talks about loss – the loss of a parent, family, friends.  Most importantly the novel addresses how we often don’t really know those closest to us.  The novel discusses family history and how we try to make sense of its effects on the past, present and future. Delphine thinks about how her family history might affect her own children. Which family faults are they are going to inherit and is it inevitable that they will?   I’m still going through the grieving process myself (my mother died in May last year) and I’m still asking questions about my family history.   For me there are questions that will probably never be answered. This book has helped me to understand how, for some, we never truly know those closest to us.  The themes of the books have been described as ‘universally recognizable’.  I have to agree with that description.  We think that our situation is unique to us – that no-one can possibly have gone through what we have experienced but I think we all share the same experiences just in different ways.  Shakespeare has probably said all there is to be said about the human experience.

The novel begins at the point where Delphine finds her mother dead in bed in her flat.  Lucile, 61,  who has suffered from bi-polar disorder most of her life has committed suicide.  Delphine admonishes herself with ‘what ifs?’ and arrives at the belief that she had ‘taken my eye off the ball’.  She goes through a list of signs that she perceives she might have missed and Delphine believes she could have prevented her mother from taking her own life.  However, she comes to the conclusion that if someone is going to commit suicide no-one can stop them.   At the beginning of the novel, at the point of Lucile’s suicide, Delphine decides to write the story of her mother and her family’s history.  She’s assisted by her sisters who record their history either by tape recording or letters and there are old texts, and letters that Delphine finds – all these make up the family history.   Of course, everyone has a different perspective and their own version of events.  Rather shockingly, there are dark family secrets that arise.  Secrets which shock the reader because up until that point Delphine describes an idyllic family life.  The reader is suddenly awakened to the fact that this beautiful way of life being described is not all that it seems. Delphine’s writing style has been described as luminous – I completely agree.  I compared her writing to that of the French writer Colette (please read her if you haven’t, especially her book of essays, Earthly Paradise).


I loved the first two parts of this book.  Delphine describes her mother, Lucile and Lucile’s siblings.   She is blond and beautiful, as are the rest of the family.  As well as being beautiful they are athletic. They spend their summers in the South of France and Spain and there are endless days of blue skies, swimming and water skiing. As they enter into adulthood there are large family gatherings at Christmas and other holidays.  Lucile does some child modelling and the family becomes famous.  In fact, there are documentaries made about the family.  Lucile, even as a child, is described as mysterious and enigmatic.  People are automatically drawn to her, however, she is shy and withdrawn.   There are some tragic incidents starting with the death of her brother who drowns in a well.  Delphine believes that this is the start of her mother’s illness.  Other family members/friends die which leads Lucile into a downward spiral of mental illness and Lucile loses her sense of self.  Her personality disintegrates.  However, she has a period where she leads a normal life.  She studies and becomes a successful social worker – helping others to understand their problems.  It quickly becomes apparent that Lucile’s bi-polar disorder has an effect on her two daughters – Delphine has a sister, Manon.   Delphine has been able to switch off from her mother and becomes emotionally distant.  Believing that her mother does not love her, she becomes intolerant to having to deal with her mother’s  highs and lows.   As a youngster she yearns for a comfortable middle class life instead of the chaotic, bohemian lifestyle she leads with her mother. Manon, on the other hand, as Delphine begins to understand, has more empathy towards Lucile. Manon suffers along with her mother.

Ultimately, Delphine is trying to prevent the mistakes/history of her family being passed on to her own children.  Bipolar disorder, she comes to understand, is mostly genetic and she discovers that her grandmother’s sister suffered from the same disorder.  Therefore, there was nothing that could have prevented Lucile from not suffering from the same illness.

Delphine states,  “I probably set out to pay homage to Lucile, to give her a coffin made of paper – for these seem the most beautiful of all to me – and a destiny as a character. But I know too that I am using my writing as a way of looking for the origin of her suffering, as though there were a precise moment when the core of her self was breached in a definitive, irreparable way …”  I think the novel that unfolds does explain that Lucile’s core, her sense of self, was breached at some point.  But the question is:  How believable can a person be when they say such and such happened.  It’s a very relevant question in society at the moment and the public discourse that has arisen is important and should be addressed.   Secrets, dark secrets that are brushed under the carpet, are unhealthy.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.  It’s become one of my favourites.  I intend to read more by Delphine de Vigan.

Published by Bloomsbury.

Translated from the French by George Miller.

About the author

Delphine de Vigan (born 1 March 1966) is an award-winning French novelist.

Her breakthrough work was No et moi (2007), which won the Rotary International Prize in 2009 as well as France’s prestigious Prix des libraires. The novel was translated into twenty languages and a film adaptation was released in 2010 (No et moi directed by Zabou Breitman). Following the book’s success, she became a full-time professional writer.

In 2011, her novel Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (“Nothing holds back the night”), which deals with a family coping with a woman’s bipolar disorder, won another clutch of French literary prizes, including the prix du roman Fnac, the prix Roman France Télévisions, the Grand prix des lectrices de Elle, and the Prix Renaudot des lycéens.