In advance of my next round of illustrated talks in London I’ve been delving into the history of libraries. There are a few good modern books on the subject, but mainly from American authors. Lionel Casson’s “Libraries in the Ancient World” (Yale, 2001) is highly recommended. It’s enjoyable and remarkably concise. Casson covers the history […]
Behind Closed Doors is about the perfect couple Grace and Jack whom everyone envies, but when you delve deeper you begin to uncover the cracks beneath. Why does Grace never answer the phone when her friends call? How can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim? And why are there bars on the bedroom windows?
Behind Closed Doors is an emotionally gripping and thought-provoking thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Recommended for the not-faint hearted readers who want a fast paced and captivating read. An excellent chilling debut from B.A. Paris who I am intrigued to read more from.
This addictive read leaves you with a pervasive sense of uneasiness long after the last page is turned and with the lesson…. you never know what’s going on behind any closed door!
Digitalback Books and Brent Libraries present “deliciously diverse stories from Africa and beyond” with Short Stories Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher, Desiree Reynolds. The event will take place on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, from 6:00 to 7:45pm (18:00-19:45 GMT) at The Library at Willesden Green, located at 95 High Road, London (United Kingdom). Description: […]
I recently read The Silence Between Breaths By Cath Staincliffe. This book starts with Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester to London with ordinary people going about their ways. Amongst these people is Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack….
This book was clever and harrowing and it tells us about Saheel’s family and what they too have to face with the knowledge of knowing the unthinkable.
It was an easy read but emotionally heartbreaking and has been proven to be an excellent topic in any reading group.
Overall I enjoyed this book but a felt it needed more work and didn’t reach its full potential.
The book is about some fictional London riots, it is inspired by the real riots in 2011. We follow a cast of characters involved in various ways: a family who live on the estate at the heart of the riots, the chief of police, the ambitious Home Secretary and his scheming entourage.
Some of the characters are more engaging and convincing than others. My favourite was Peter, the Home Secretary, had the whole book been about him and his plotting for power I think I would have enjoyed it much more. The least convincing I found was Cathy, who lived on the Lovelace estate with her teenage daughter. Her character felt very two dimensional and also not very entertaining, I mean you could say that a scheming politician is a two dimensional cliché – but at least they are fun to read! Cathy is a sort of dull too-good-to-be-true do-gooder, she cares deeply about her community but seems like an outsider too, no real explanation is given as to why she is living in relative squalor on a estate that is about to be demolished. The book doesn’t tell us her background but she doesn’t seem to originate from that estate which makes you ask “how did she end up there?” It was interesting that I had a chance to go to an event where Gillian Slovo was talking about her work, one of the audience asked her what Cathy does for a living (the book mentions her coming and going from work) and Gillian said that she didn’t know, she hadn’t given her fictional character a job. Now I think some novels go into too much detail about each character, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination, so I don’t think we have to know every detail – but I think the author should know! Perhaps because Gillian’s past work has often involved adapting other people’s words for the stage she hasn’t gotten into the habit of creating her own characters in detail, she says she doesn’t work that way – but I think she should try it, the novel was weaker because some of the characters felt half formed.
Apart from following Peter’s sordid tale my other favourite part of the novel was the build up to the riot. It occurred during a boiling hot early summer and you can almost feel the heat coming off the pages as you read. Slovo skilfully captures a tense overheated atmosphere of something about to erupt. Unfortunately the scenes describing the actual riot didn’t live up to the early promise as they felt flat and unconvincing to me, I tried to picture what she was describing (considering I’ve never been in a riot of any kind!) but nothing realistic came into my mind – was this down to bad writing or my lack of imagination? Not sure.
I felt the novel could have scored an extra point if it had just had another thorough edit or two.
Think True Crime is not for you? It doesn’t have the best reputation for high quality work but please take another look. There are some great reads out there under this genre and we have 5 recommendations to get you started.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – A true crime classic written in the 1960s. Capote recounts the tale of the killing of four members of one family in a US farming community in 1959. Highly regarded for it’s detail and quality of the writing it has also faced criticism for being closer to a novel based on fact that a strictly faithful account of events.
- The Cult of Violence by John Pearson – We move closer to home with John Pearson’s 2001 examination of the Kray twins and their South London crime spree. The author met the twins in prison and interviewed them extensively so has real insight into their lives and crimes. Because of his depth of knowledge gained directly from those involved this is arguably the definitive account of this famous crime duo.
- The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale – Kate Summerscale goes all the way back to the 1860s in this absorbing story. A nice twist putting at the center of her account, Mr Whicher, the Victorian policeman investigating the crime. Mr Whicher is called to a respectable middle class home where a child has been murdered apparently by an unknown assailant entering through an unfastened window, but Mr Whicher becomes convinced a member of the family is the murderer. As well as offering the intriguing case the book is full of the tensions involved with a working class policeman daring to cast suspicion on a middle class family whom society regarded as his betters.
- Trials of Passion by Lisa Appignanesi – Rather than focusing on a single crime or criminal Lisa Appignanesi gives us a smorgasbord of turn of the 20th century crimes committed by women. One thing the crimes have in common is that they have love or passion as the root motive (some though take strange paths away from the initial cause such as the Brighton woman who poisons innocent people indiscriminately with chocolate creams in order to camouflage her one targeted poisoning!) Especially good in this book is the examination of how psychiatry began to play a part in crime detection and trials as doctors were called in to try to explain why the gentle sex would cause such destruction.
- Sexy Beasts by Wensley Carkson – In case all this murder is a bit much for you we’ve thrown in a book with the focus on robbery instead. Sexy Beasts tells the story of the 2015 Hatton Garden diamond robbery. Committed by a group of ageing criminals who intended to commit one last crime to set themselves up for a retirement in luxury…but things don’t quite go to plan!
So if you love history or crime novels or thrillers or whodunits then true crime might be worth a look next time you visit your library.
Do you know someone that has a mental health condition? Would you like to know more about how hard are they struggling with their conditions? Would you like to find stories full of love, hate, sadness, happiness, tears, laughter, lost, pain, joy? Are you able to show empathy and patience towards all the people who need “someone to talk to”? We are not doctors, but we can be a friend, or a shoulder for someone that desperately needs it.
If the answer is YES, than have a look at the list bellow with books that shine a light on experiencing mental health difficulties. Young adult novels are powerful potions that can blow up the bridges between I’m fine and I’m not fine, and this stories remind us that above everything, we are Humans.
I found myself “inventing” a few words in a desperate try to identify some of my book lover moods.
First one is BOOKOVER and I use this one to express my book hangover and by that I mean that feeling of still being inside the book, unable to finish “living” it. I do feel intensively a good book and when it gets me I’m just stuck in it for a few days and even if I try really hard, I can’t start reading another book. It’s just not over yet in my mind.
The second one is BOOKERFLY. And this word came in to my mind when someone called me a bookworm. I know what it means, but I’m just thinking that every good book that I read changes me, works like a chrysalis and, transforms me from a “very hungry caterpillar” into a butterfly. So, I’m not a worm, I’m a Phoenix butterfly that revives with every good book that challenges me.
And the third one is BOOKORDER, and it’s not about being organized or keeping books in an order. That order part from the word comes actually from disorder. I do believe, and my friends confirmed it, that I have some kind of disorder because I can’t restrain myself from buying books, even if I have plenty unread and some friends might call me a bookaholic and it is true but it doesn’t say all. I need a TBR pile next to me to feel safe and comfortable and collecting signed copies is an important goal. And last but not least, I do feel the need to check my books from time to time or to change the way they are shelved. So, because I have this special relation with my books some might call me bibliomaniac, but I prefer not to, and not because it isn’t true, just because disorder sound friendlier and understandable then mania.
The bookover bookorder bookerfly
Really looking forward to the talk at the Library at Willesden Green on 6 April!
In advance of my talks on that Elizabethan man of mystery, Doctor John Dee, I’ve been on a real adventure of discovery. The surprising thing about retracing his distant life is how accessible he is to us today, how easy it is to walk where he walked and to see and even to touch his belongings. For a start we know exactly where he lived. The site of his house is now a modern block of flats called “John Dee House” in Mortlake, West London. But the tower of his parish church still stands, as does a section of his garden wall. At the British Museum, in the “Enlightenment” gallery is a recreation of the very first museum collection from the 1830s. This includes items attributed to John Dee, allegedly used in the summoning of angelic messengers. At the Royal College of Physicians, over 100 of John Dee’s books are available…
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I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books. The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!
It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO). I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).
The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period. Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant. Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship. This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for. Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory. It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.
Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently. He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him. But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist. There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war. He returns to England just as conscription is introduced. He becomes a conscientious objector and is imprisoned because of this.
At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son. That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.
It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish. I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere. There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war. The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotionally linked to their journeys. I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)
I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this. What is it about this that you liked so much? Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!