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The Muse

Great review. I like reviews that aren’t afraid to be critical! I’m reading The Muse at the moment and so far I am really enjoying it but will wait to see if I am left ‘underwhelmed’ by the end like Rebecca.

What Rebecca's Read

The Muse
by Jessie Burton

Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 447


A picture hides a thousand words . . .

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer…

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The Bull and the Thunderstorm: An Artistic Partnership

Great preview of some of the issues that will be raised in the talk at Willesden on 22 May. Book now! –

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“She was anything you wanted. A dog, a mouse, a bird, an idea, a thunderstorm.”

A vital influence on Pablo Picasso’s life and art in the late 1930s was the Croatian/French artist Dora Maar (above, far right). Thanks to her we have the best visual records of Picasso at work, but her fiery socialism may also have awakened a hitherto dormant political passion within the artist that helped make “Guernica” the angry masterpiece we see today.

In 1936 Picasso was still married to the Russia ballerina Olga Koklova, with whom he’d had a son, Paulo. The two were now estranged because in 1927 the artist had met the 17 year old Marie-Therese Walter. Their secret affair didn’t remain secret for long as she became his model for a series of erotic, colourful portraits. A daughter, Maria was born in 1935 and Picasso ensconced both mother and child at the palatial…

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The Noisy Silent Cinema

Can’t wait for this talk on Wednesday!

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Silent cinema was never actually silent. You’ll probably know from your parents or grandparents that a large organ might rise up in front of the screen of the local cinema, not in a rude way, and entertain the audience between shows. This is a throwback to when movie houses used to employ thousands of musicians across the world, playing along to the flickers with stock tunes, jazzy improvisations and sound effects to accentuate the mood or action. These musicians would find themselves suddenly unemployed with the establishment of films with synchronised sound between 1927 and 1930. The comedian Harold Lloyd recalls in his youth around 1910 going to watch a movie that had live actors literally improvising the dialogue from behind the screen, but efforts to bring sound to the moving picture go back even further than that. To the very birth of cinema.

As part of my research into…

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Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book is set in Iceland and is a fictional account of real events about the last execution that happened in Iceland in June 1829. The story is about Agnes Magnusdottir and her maid Sigridur Sigga Gudmundsdottir, and Fridrik Sigurdsson, the son of a local farmer, who have been convicted of the brutal murders of Natan Ketilsson and a visiting neighbour. The two men had multiple stab wounds and Natans remote farmhouse was torched to cover the crime.

The book draws you in with the main character and in particular for me Agnes. She has been sentenced to death.  She has to stay with a Christian family District Officer Jon Jonsson, his cold and iron stoned wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina while she awaits her execution date. It deals with the horrifying aspect of housing a convicted murderer, and how they isolate Agnes at first. Then Toti, a priest has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian  and tries to understand who she is.

Burial Rites has a very raw description of how remote and cold the winter scene are, and the setting of the farm in its rural and arctic conditions. The book is very atmospheric and one can imagine the work on the farm which was harsh and bleak with the shearing, lambing, milking and the slaughter of the animals.

I would recommend this book to anyone as it is different and the setting of the scenes in this book will leave a sense of history and questions and would be a good topic to  discuss.


Burial Rites

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Guest blog in advance of our talk next week!

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 […]

via Uncovering the Library — will / write and talk

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Digitalback Books Present: Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher & Desiree Reynolds — Repeating Islands

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: […]

via Digitalback Books Present: Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher & Desiree Reynolds — Repeating Islands

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5 Great True Crime Books

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


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Researching John Dee

Really looking forward to the talk at the Library at Willesden Green on 6 April!

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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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Guest Blog: Author Tom Palmer

The Rugby League World Cup visiting  Central Library, Hull, April 9, 2013.  Hull Libraries, Launch of the national six book challenge

Hello. I’m Tom Palmer. I’d like to invite you to join me at Wembley Library on 12th August.

There are lots of Tom Palmers. There’s  a superhero comic book illustrator, a murderer, a professional cyclist and a country and western singer. There’s also a rugby player who used to play for England. He’s the one I get mistaken for most. Not because I look remotely like him, but because I write books about rugby. (As well as football.)

combat zonePeople often arrive at my events and look disappointed because I am not another Tom Palmer. But they usually stay and have a decent time. Not because of who I am, but because of what we do.

What we do is the Rugby Reading Game. Timely, as it is the Rugby World Cup not far from the library in a few weeks.

The Rugby Reading Game is a game of two halves. The first half is a quiz about things you can read in the library (or anywhere). Not a hard quiz. The second half is a rugby penalty kicking competition. In the library. The winner gets a trophy. To keep. scrum

That’s what I’d like to invite you to.

I didn’t like reading when I was young. But I loved sport. My mum got me visiting the library to find me things to read about sport. I came to love the library. And all the books in it, not just the sport books. I was changed from a book disliker in to a book lover. And a library lover. That’s why I host my games in libraries.

Everyone is very welcome to come along and take part in the Rugby Reading Game. Including people not interested in rugby. Or reading. Groups of friends can come as a team. Family teams too. Individuals. Even England internationals who might be kicking their heels around Wembley. Even any Tom Palmers other than me.

dead lockedSo please join us.

You can join us for the Rugby Reading Game on Wednesday 12th August at 2.30 p.m. Tickets are free!

I’ll be hanging around after the event to talk to anyone who wants to about writing and reading. There may also be a coach from the RFU there to talk to you about playing rugby. There will definitely be rugby balls and other things to give away. Possibly tee-shirts. Certainly rugby player cards. And you can borrow – or buy – books on the day too. But you don’t have to.

Thanks to Brent Libraries for hosting the Rugby Reading Game. Thanks to England Rugby for funding it. And thanks to you for reading this blog.

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Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I read this book a couple of months ago for Wembley Library’s reading group, and I have to say that whilst in many respects I was very impressed, the title itself left me, for the most part, with gaping black holes of unanswered questions. The most pressing of which were: who/what exactly was the miniaturist? And; why do I still know next to nothing about those miniatures? I was left internally screaming when my hopes to get answers fell short, but maybe this, this sense of immersion with the book (albeit laced with frustration), might be what made The Miniaturist well worth the read.cover miniturist

Set in seventeenth century Netherlands, The Miniaturist reads like a thriller with elements of other genres popping up that can throw you off guard, but works well until the end. The book begins with no fanfare and with a very unassuming, modest protagonist, Petronella. Nella, a young girl of 18 years, has just had an arranged marriage to a man several years her senior, and she has arrived in Amsterdam to live in her husband’s house with his sister and their servants. The tentative beginnings of married life are difficult for Nella as her sister-in-law, Marin, receives her coldly, and even her husband pointedly keeps his distance. As a peace offering for his behaviour, her husband Johannes, a merchant, buys her a miniature version of their house – a doll’s house basically – and Nella, though underwhelmed by the gesture, seeks the services of a miniaturist to furnish her new little house. Herein the fun starts.

Although Nella does receive every item she requests of the miniaturist, extra ones mysteriously start to be delivered to her. Ones she didn’t ask for, and ones which are incredibly accurate for things the miniaturist should know nothing about, and which also have startling resemblances to the people in her life. She starts to ask questions, write letters, none of which are responded to. During her sleuthing into this little mystery, her new family life starts to unravel around her as Johannes’ trading business falls apart and the secrets which have kept this family functioning on autopilot for so long are exposed.

The Miniturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniturist by Jessie Burton

Compared to the sister-in-law, Marin, whom the reader gets to know extremely well despite her best efforts to keep family secrets within the family, at no point could I truly say I knew, empathised with or even liked Nella. She felt to me more or less like a vessel for the story to be told rather than a young woman in seventeenth century Amsterdam with severe marital problems. There is also the big question mark that still hangs over the miniaturist. What I found frustrating was that although Jessie Burton gave us a name and a character which we could identify as the miniaturist, the hints at fantastical elements with regards to their work were never really addressed. How exactly was the miniaturist able to make such accurate miniatures of Nella’s private life? Did the miniature of the dog suddenly get a red patch after the incident with the real dog, or was it a stain that Nella missed when she first got it? And is there a magical element to this after all?

Maybe I just wanted more, and maybe that speaks volumes for how good this book is. Admittedly, the book’s sudden turn for the dramatic really made me sit up and pay attention. When I’m not fishing for answers or reading too much into the book, I can honestly say that The Miniaturist really was a very good read with a fresh approach to the thriller/historical genres – even if I stared at the last sentence of the novel in disbelief, wondering if my particular book was missing an epilogue.

By Lauris

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