Book Smugglers Day – 16th March

On a round of Google distraction, where I keep following links that interest me, and I while away a couple fo hours, I discovered that in Lithuania they celebrate Book Smugglers Day. At first i thought this was something fun (along the lines of Speak Like a Pirate Day), but it turned out to be much more serious, rebellious, and amazing than anything so trivial. Here is a short explanation of what it is about.

Book SmugglersLithuanian book smugglers transported Lithuanian language books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuanian-speaking areas of the Russian Empire, defying a ban on such materials in force from 1864 to 1904. Opposing imperial Russian authorities’ efforts to replace the traditional Latin orthography with Cyrillic, and transporting printed matter from as far away as the United States to do so, the book smugglers became a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance to Russification.

Book smugglers themselves, at first motivated by religious conviction and later by national pride and adventure, were the great heroes of this endeavor. The smugglers risked their freedom and their lives, carrying the materials across the heavily guarded German-Russian border. The determination to continue the smuggling went on through the years of the prohibition as new generations joined the struggle.

I can think of few nobler causes than risking everything to maintain your language and culture through smuggling books. Find out more here.



Book Bites : St Patrick’s Day

Preparing for  great day.

At home on St Patrick’s Day, we indulge in our particular favourite food and drinks, and this year will be no exception. Before we begin though, I want to make two things very clear, while soda bread and soda farls are Irish, they are two separate and very different things. See the pictures below.

Soda bread on the left – soda farls on the right

Equally, we don’t have potato cakes; they are different to potato farls, which we do have. Again, see pictures.

Potato farls on the left – potato cakes on the right

I have family recipes for soda bread, (plain and fruited), soda farls, and potato farls, all handed down from my Great-Grandmother.

Chef Paul Rankin his own Irish Selection which is very handy for everyone – I buy it myself.

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea or Dinner:

An Ulster Fry (although these days we grill everything) is the ultimate delicious blow-out meal. It consists of:

  • soda farls
  • potato farls
  • sausages
  • bacon
  • vegetable roll
  • black pudding
  • eggs
  • tomatoes
  • beans

These can be mixed and matched depending on how much you want to eat. Optional extras include burgers and Lorne (a Scottish favourite).

And for other meals there is of course Irish Stew or Colcannon

Pot of Tea and Cake

Irish tea is strong. As I tell my friends ‘strong enough to hold the spoon up’, though of course you can make it to suit your taste.  The tea of my childhood was Nambarrie or Punjana, loose leaf, and brewed in a teapot. Eaten with tea is Barmbrack, Paris Buns, Butter Biscuits,  my Grandma Sadie’s Potato Cake (not to be confused with those mentioned previously), or my Granny Grey’s Boiled Cake. (The boiling part isn’t the cake, it’s the fruit before you make the cake.) Here are my family recipes for the latter two:

Sadie’s Teatime Potato Cake

Granny Grey’s Boiled Fruit Cake


Has to be:

Bushmills whiskey – the world’s oldest distillery or Jameson’s whiskey. If you want to mix Black Busha whiskey cocktail here a couple of my favourites:

Blarney Stone – shot of whiskey with freshly squeezed lime and ginger beer

Irish Kiss – equal parts of whiskey and peach schnaps, two parts orange juice and ginger beer

Irish Rose – 2 parts whiskey, 1.5 parts each of lemon juice and grenadine

Irish Martini – 1 part Baileys, 2 parts whiskey, half part warm (not hot) strong back coffee

Irish Wolfhound – equal parts of whiskey and ginger beer and half part of red grapefruit juice


GuinnessGuinness washes the Colcannon down nicely. Relaxing in the evening with a whiskey or two is just perfect. You can always pollute the Guinness to make Guinness Mixes or Cocktails. Here are a few:

Black Velvet – Guinness and Champagne

Brown Velvet – Guinness and Cider This was so-called because it was the poor man’s Black Velvet. I’ve discovered that it is now called a Snakebite. Strangely, in my younger, drinking days a Snakebite was a very different cocktail!

Black and Tan – Guinness and Pale Ale

Irish Boilermaker – Guinness, half shot of Baileys, half shot of Irish whiskey, put the 2 half shot in a shot glass, drop the shot glass into the Guinness . (This has an offensive name referencing the ‘Troubles’ and cars. As it is based on the traditional Boilermaker, I’ve named it the Irish Boilermarker instead.)

Getting yourself sorted the day after…try a British Army favourite, Gunfire. Hot black tea with a shot of dark rum.

If you’d like recipes for anything I haven’t provided one for, please just ask.

Enjoy St Patrick’s Day.

St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick WindowPreparing for a great day.

Before I get to the recommended books, I’d like to think a bit about the actual day.  It’s unfortunate when a Christian feast or holy day becomes disconnected from its meaning. St Valentine, Easter, Christmas, Whitsun, have been broken on the rocks of secularisation. I hold no great desire to make anyone adhere to any religious belief, and while March 17th is still known as St Patrick’s Day, it has been buried under a tsunami of drinking, dressing in silly hats and costumes, leprechauns, and colouring everything from faces to drinks and food in vivid shades of green.

Saint Patrick and Ireland, in terms of celebration, are practically synonymous.  Patrick was born in the 4th century and captured by slavers when he was a young man. He went on to become a great missionary. His conversion of the Irish people was swift, and most importantly, peaceful.

So whether you celebrate the day in the time-honoured manner, or spend it in a more chilled and relaxed way, how better to do the one or recover from the other, than with some great Irish romances, and some food and drink from our Book Bites page to help you read and/or recover.

BinchyFirst book is from the wonderful writer Maeve Binchy, and I’ve chosen a favourite of mine, Circle of Friends.

It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents…Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blue-blood, abandoned by her mother’s wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager’s lace curtains…except their own. It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahlon and Jack Foley, a doctor’s handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of circle of friends.

OBrienNext is an equally brilliant author, Edna O’Brien, and her classic, Country Girls. Published in 1960, it broke through some of the silence on sex and social issues. After the Second World War, Ireland was particularly repressive in these areas, and the Irish Censor banned the book. Indeed, her family were shamed and it is alleged that their parish priest publicly burned copies of the book.

It is the early 1960s in a country village in Ireland. Caithleen Brady and her attractive friend Baba are on the verge of womanhood and dreaming of spreading their wings in a wider world; of discovering love and luxury and liquor and above all, fun. With bawdy innocence, shrewd for all their inexperience, the girls romp their way through convent school to the bright lights of Dublin – where Caithleen finds that suave, idealised lovers rarely survive the real world.

AherneFor a more modern taste I have chosen the fabulous Cecelia Ahern’s, Love, Rosie.

What happens when two people who are meant to be together just can’t seem to get it right? Rosie and Alex are destined for one another, and everyone seems to know it but them. Best friends since childhood, their relationship gets closer by the day, until Alex gets the news that his family is leaving Dublin and moving to Boston. At 17, Rosie and Alex have just started to see each other in a more romantic light. Devastated, the two make plans for Rosie to apply to colleges in the U.S. She gets into Boston University, Alex gets into Harvard, and everything is falling into place, when on the eve of her departure, Rosie gets news that will change their lives forever: She’s pregnant by a boy she’d gone out with while on the rebound from Alex. Her dreams for college, Alex, and a glamorous career dashed, Rosie stays in Dublin to become a single mother, while Alex pursues a medical career and a new love in Boston. But destiny is a funny thing, and in this novel, structured as a series of clever e-mails, letters, notes, and a trail of missed opportunities, Alex and Rosie find out that fate isn’t done with them yet.

Roberts 1Nora Roberts is a prolific and bestselling author who has many novels set in or about people from Ireland. In this case, I have chosen a trilogy about the Concannon sisters. Born In Fire  is the first.

Maggie and Brianna Concannon are two very different sisters. The calm and gentle Bri seems able to weather any storm, even the constant criticism that rains down on them both from their mother, but Maggie is a passionate and fiery artist whose temper is as bold as her art. Their mother’s bitterness is a mystery to Bri and Maggie, until secrets from the past challenge everything they’ve come to believe. It’s Maggie’s skill as a glass blower that brings Rogan Sweeney, the international gallery owner, to her small cottage in County Clare. His interest in her is purely professional, until their personalities clash and sparks begin to fly . . . As her career takes off, how will Maggie cope with the heat of the spotlight and feelings for Rogan that she would rather ignore?

Born in Ice is the second book, and Born in Shame is the third.

LaniganSusan Lanigan’s White Feathers is on my to read pile as it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value, so I have no hesitation in passing on the recommendation.

Two lives in danger – her lover’s and her sister’s. But she must choose only one. In 1913, young Irish emigrant Eva Downey is trapped in London with a remote father and hostile stepmother. When she is awarded a legacy from an old suffragette to attend a finishing school in Kent, she jumps at the chance. At the school, she finds kinship and later falls in love with her teacher Christopher Shandlin, her intellectual equal. But when war does break out, her fanatical and disapproving stepsister Grace forces a choice on Eva. She must present Shandlin, who refuses to fight, with a white feather of cowardice, or no money will be given for her sister Imelda’s life-saving treatment in Switzerland. Caught in a dilemma, she chooses her sister over her lover, a decision which will have irrevocable consequences for both her and Christopher and haunt her for the rest of her life.

GeraghtyThis Is Now by Ciara Geraghty is perhaps a little different from the run of the mill romance. Another one recommended to me which I am passing on to you.

An ordinary day. An ordinary bank. An ordinary street in an ordinary town. Nothing ever happens, until, one day, a shocking robbery turns life upside down for five people:

  • Cillian, a police detective
  • Martha, the woman he thought was the life of his life
  • Tobias, who came to Ireland after WWII and now lies in a coma, shot in the bank robbery
  • Roman, the young Polish teenager who is suspected of pulling the trigger
  • his mother Rosa, the cleaner, who dreamed of a better life for herself and her son

Things will never be ordinary again. Ciara Geraghty’s writing has that rare ability to make you laugh out loud as well as cry. She combines tangled human relationships with humour, romance and warmth to create something truly special.

GaynorA romance with a difference in The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

Inspired by true events, the New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home is the poignant story of a group of Irish emigrants aboard RMS Titanic—a seamless blend of fact and fiction that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants. Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again. Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harboured for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

I’m a great lover of Teen/YA/NA fiction, and it would be remiss of me to leave these great books out of the list. I have to say that some of the best and greatest writing is for this age group and younger. Sadly I’ve seen and heard people mock adults for reading these books. It happens less frequently these days, but I am of the firmly held belief that anyone who denigrates or mocks adults for reading these books is an idiotic book-snob. 🙂

Kevin and Sadie 1 and 2The first is by Joan Lingard, an award-winning writer of both adult and children’s fiction. I read the Kevin and Sadie books many years ago, and as someone from Northern Ireland, with an Anglo-Irish background who was brought up to hate no-one, they resonated with me most deeply. I’m recommending the first two, The Twelfth of July and Across the Barricades. I actually recommend the entire series.

  • The Twelfth of July (1970)
  • Across the Barricades (1972)
  • Into Exile (1973)
  • A Proper Place (1975)
  • Hostages to Fortune (1976)

The Twelfth of July was published in 1970 by Penguin and received mixed reviews. There was certainly disapproval of the subject of the book, dealing as it did with a romance between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant.

  1. Sadie is Protestant, Kevin is Catholic – and on the tense streets of Belfast their lives collide. It starts with a dare – kids fooling around – but soon becomes something dangerous. Getting to know Sadie Jackson will change Kevin’s life forever. But will the world around them change too?
  2. Kevin and Sadie just want to be together, but it’s not that simple. Things are bad in Belfast. Soldiers walk the streets and the city is divided. No Catholic boy and Protestant girl can go out together – not without dangerous consequences. 


FoleyStill with Teen/YA, I recommend  Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley.

It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.

Carrier MarkIrresistible romance collides with dark prophecies in Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon. This is an interesting book in that the author found a website for those who wanted to write teen fiction, and within weeks her story was in the top five. The site was called Inkpop, and her book was seen by an editor at HarperCollins. The rest as they say, is history.

99p Books

When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. She makes close friends with the girls in her class, her relationship with her dad is better than ever, and she finds herself inexplicably drawn to gorgeous, mysterious Adam DeRis.

Adam is cold and aloof at first, but when Megan finally breaks down the icy barrier between them, she is amazed by the intensity of their connection. Then Adam reveals a secret about the magical destiny that will shape both of their lives but also threatens to tear them apart.

Irish Blessing

2018 Man Booker International Longlist

What s the Man Booker International?

Man Booker Int 2018The Man Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English-speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over four decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career. The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by Man Group and the winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales.

The Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005, biannually rewarding an author for a body of work originally written in any language as long as it was widely available in English. From 2016, the prize became a translation prize, awarded annually for a single work of fiction, translated into English and published in the UK. Underlining the importance of translation, the £50,000 prize is divided equally between the author and the translator.

 A number of one-off prizes have been created in the past, from the Lost Man Booker Prize to the Man Booker ‘Best of Beryl’, each aimed at spreading the word about the finest in fiction.

The 2018 Longlist

Title                                                     Author & Nationality                      Translator

 The 7th Function of Language      Laurent Binet (France)                   Sam Taylor

The Impostor                                    Javier Cercas (Spain)                       Frank Wynne

Vernon Subutex 1                            Virginie Despentes (France)           Frank Wynne

Go, Went, Gone                               Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany)           Susan Bernofsky 

The White Book                               Han Kang (South Korea)                 Deborah Smith

Die, My Love                                     Ariana Harwicz (Argentina)          Sarah Moses &                                                                                                                                         Carolina Orloff

The World Goes On                        László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)  J Batki, O Mulzet & G                                                                                                                               Szirtes 

Like a Fading Shadow                    Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain)     Camilo A. Ramirez

The Flying Mountain                        Christoph Ransmayr (Austria)     Simon Pare

Frankenstein in Baghdad               Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq)                    Jonathan Wright 

Flights  Olga                                      Tokarczuk (Poland)                         Jennifer Croft

The Stolen Bicycle                           Wu Ming-Yi (Taiwan)                       Darryl Sterk

The Dinner Guest                            Gabriela Ybarra (Spain)                  Natasha Wimmer


Wellcome Prize Longlist

According to their website, the Wellcome Book Prize

is an annual award, open to new works of fiction or non-fiction. To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. This can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.

At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.

The short list will be announced on March 20th, with the winner announced on April 20th. This is their longlist, which was announced in February:

Wellcome Prize Longlist


The One with All the Bridesmaids

The One with All the Bridesmaids – Erin Lawless

All the BridesmaidsNora Dervan is ready for her Happy Ever After. With her darling Harry waiting at the altar, and all her family and friends around her. She is certain that her special day will not be forgotten/will be one to remember, but with her four bridesmaids hiding more secrets than bottles of champagne, will her big day be remembered for all the right reasons?

Bea has barely gotten past the fact that her two best friends are dating, and now they’re engaged, whilst cupid’s arrow points in a forbidden direction for Cleo. She is so distracted by her off-limits, hot new colleague that she has forgotten Daisy, who has been left dreading the singles table. There’s more romance in the cheesy pick-up lines than Sarah’s own marriage, which hasn’t turned out as she hoped it would be.

With her wicked sense of humour and refreshingly honest voice, Erin Lawless brings to the life the romance (and horrors!) of wedding season.

This in essence is a great book, centre on Nora the bride, her friends and bridesmaids, Cleo, Bea, Daisy, and Sarah. Added to the mix are the respective fiancées, husbands, boyfriends,  men friends, it is a great mix of different perspectives, individual issues, and several romances. So much of the activity around the wedding planning is hilarious, and the ‘bridezilla effect’ is there at least in part. I really liked Cleo, who quite honestly could have done with a book all to herself, and I felt a lot of sympathy for Sarah.

The book is good, and I have no hesitation in recommending it. For me though, there were just too many characters with their own stories, some of whom I just couldn’t become invested in. Occasionally I lost track of who was who, and what was what. It was like a giant buffet where you walk along trying to decide what to eat, but by the time you get to the end you’ve forgotten what was at the beginning. More depth on fewer stories would have suited me better. That said, it was enjoyable, and I particularly loved the real life anecdotes that started some of the chapters. Seriously, you couldn’t make some of that stuff up!


So in the end I do recommend reading it.

Ottercombe Bay – Part One

Ottercombe Bay, Part One – Bella Osborne

OttercombeEscape to the Devon coast, with Part One of a brand-new four-part serial from the author of Willow Cottage.

Daisy Wickens has returned to Ottercombe Bay, the picturesque Devon town where her mother died when she was a girl. She plans to leave as soon as her great uncle’s funeral is over, but Great Uncle Reg had other ideas. He’s left Daisy a significant inheritance – an old building in a state of disrepair, which could offer exciting possibilities, but to get it she must stay in Ottercombe Bay for twelve whole months. 
With the help of a cast of quirky locals, a few gin cocktails and a black pug with plenty of attitude, Daisy might just turn this into something special. But can she ever hope to be happy among the ghosts of her past?

There are only 9 chapters, and as I found myself so irritated by Daisy, the lead character, I nearly gave up. She’s selfish, arrogant, self-important, and ungrateful. So annoyed was I, that I wondered what in the name of romance the author thought she was doing. Then bit by bit it inveigled its way in, until I hit chapters 8 and 9. What a turn!What a twist! So now I’m invested, intrigued, enthralled, and have to keep going.

I like Jason and Tamsyn. I have high hopes for Max; annoying, but not quite at the same level of irritation as Daisy.

Part 2 here I come. Clever ploy, dear author, I hope it lives up to expectations. 🙂


2018 Women’s Prize Long List

According to their website, the Wellcome Book Prize

is an annual award, open to new works of fiction or non-fiction. To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. This can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.

At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.

The short list will be announced on March 20th, with the winner announced on April 20th. This is their longlist, which was announced in February:

Wellcome Prize Longlist


Stories of Obsession


Obsession takes many forms, and is enacted in many ways. Literature is awash with characters whose lives have been struck down, and diminished by their or someone else’s obsession.

Dorian Gray is obsessed with youthful looks, very apropos today. He sees the portrait of himself …

‘How sad it is!’ murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. ‘How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young … If it were only the other way! 

He gets his wish, only for it to be his ultimate downfall.

Mrs Danvers is obsessed by the first Mrs de Winter, the Rebecca of the title. When the second Mrs de Winter appears, she does what she can to drive her to suicide.

She did not hear me, she went on raving like a madwoman, a fanatic, her long fingers twisting and tearing the black stuff of her dress … ‘She’s still mistress here, even if she is dead. She’s the real Mrs de Winter, not you … none of us want you.’ 

Unlike other stories, the reader doesn’t know what happens to Mrs Danvers in the end. Her fate is left hanging as the narrator says:  I wonder what she is doing now

Victor Frankenstein is fascinated by the creation of life, and is consumed by his pursuit to create a human. He realises the toll it hs taken on him.

 For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation.

Of course the real victim in this tale is the creature he has created,  who receives little other than cruelty and abuse.

Here is a link to ten tales of obsession,

from Stephen King’s avid fan in Misery to Nabokov’s disturbing tale of preteen Lolita, fixation is a powerful pull for authors – especially when it overlaps with desire



Book Bites

When I settle down to read, its usually for at least a couple of hours so I always prepare a feast of drinks and nibbles to sustain me. It also means I don’t have to break my concentration to go and make food and drinks.

I have all sorts of favourites depending on what I’m reading, what mood I’m in, or even what time of year it is. My recipes come from all sorts of places, and from all over the world.  If its part of my own collection I post the full recipe and method here, if not it wiil be from a website, so there will be links.

For clarity, I receive absolutely nothing from anyone, any company, or any website for recommending recipes or drinks. These are recipes I and my family use, and drinks we make or purchase. 

So if you too like to nibble while you read, then I hope you enjoy the recipes I’ll post here. If you need help with converting UK and USA measurements, check our conversion page here.

Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars with Marshmallow & Chocolate & Salted Caramel Sauce

20180203_CaramelPopcornBars_square-cuts-3d-loMakes approximately 16

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
 The full recipe from Feast In Thyme.
These are delicious, and you can cut them as big or as small as you wish. The popcorn will probably lose it crunch, but they should a couple of days in a container.

Photograph courtesy of

And if you are in the mood for something other than tea or coffee to wash down those yummy treats, try this delicious tisane from T2:

T2 Fruitalicious Tisane

A tantalising mix of cranberries, blueberries, dragon fruit and goji berries, your taste buds will be deliriously screaming for mercy! It’s sooo Fruitalicious, babe! 

This is one of my favourite drinks.

The Book World is Sexist

The books world is sexist and a one day promotion isn’t enough to fix it

For International Women’s Day, Waterstones has given over its website front page to female authors. This is welcome, but it’s far from enough

I was blown away by the statistics in this article by Danuta Kean, and heartbroken by them as well. While women dominate book buying and book rating in the UK, men dominate both the books being reviewed as well as the reviewers. Kean asks if that matters, and gives the answer.

It’s sad that one genre that is dominated by female authors – Romance – is one that is mocked and sneered at in a way that men’s books aren’t. We have ‘chicklit‘ but not ‘blokelit‘, and ‘women’s fiction‘ but not ‘men’s fiction‘. Why is that?

Any way. Do read the article, it very enlightening and informing.

Book Burning

It’s a sad day here at HSBS after reading this article today. Its about a bookshop in Berkeley California, called Revolution Books targeted by demonstrators. Check out their website – I would certainly shop there (maybe not for romance – though you never know…). This is what they say about themselves:

People come to Revolution Books from all over the world to find the books and the deep engagement with each other about why the world is the way it is and the possibility of a radically different way the world could be. 

The world today, with all its horrors, holds the potential for something far better. To unlock that – at the foundation of RB – is the most advanced scientific theory and leadership for an actual revolution for the emancipation of humanity: the new synthesis of communism brought forward by the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian. 

RB is a bookstore with literature, history, science, art, philosophy, and revolutionary theory….a place of discovery and engagement. Scientific and poetic, wrangling and visionary. A bookstore at the center of a movement for revolution. 

They have been targeted and threatened with burning, and that shocked me. It is utterly abhorrent for any human-being to taunt and threaten bookshop employees with (and I quote) We’re gonna burn down your bookstore, you know that right? 

It is astonishing to me that a nation born out of bloody revolution should think this is acceptable. As an historian, as a book lover, as a human being, the idea of burning books (never mind a bookstore) is absolutely abhorrent to me, but the act has a long and dark history. It is a form of censorship and is seated usually within a political, cultural, or religious context. It is not just the content of books, but also the authors themselves that are opposed.

I have tried to live my life under the philosophy that while I might despise what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it. (I’m talking here about the right to think, not about acting on those thoughts, that is another matter.) The 19th German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote this in his 1820 play Almansor :

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen

Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.

His books were burned by the Nazis.

While we may sit by and think this is about politics, it doesn’t apply to romance novels. Think about it? What if some group decided that all those erotic romance novels should be burned? What if they oppose sex outside marriage? What about LGBTQ romance? In this volatile world of my opinion counts but your’s doesn’t, of gun crime, and knife crime, we are a few steps away from it happening, unless we stand up for our and other people’s right to think as we choose, not as we are told, to read the books that we want. I give the final word to my beloved Dr Who:

Dr Who


The Man Who Didn’t Call

The Man Who Didn’t Call – Rosie Walsh

Man didnt callThe Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh is a heart-wrenching love story with a dark secret at its heart, for anyone who’s waited for a phone call that didn’t come.

Imagine you meet a man, spend six glorious days together, and fall in love. And it’s mutual: you’ve never been so certain of anything. So when he leaves for a long-booked holiday and promises to call from the airport, you have no cause to doubt him.
But he doesn’t call.

Your friends tell you to forget him, but you know they’re wrong: something must have happened; there must be a reason for his silence. What do you do when you finally discover you’re right? That there is a reason — and that reason is the one thing you didn’t share with each other?

The truth.


Where to start?  I’ve been thinking about the adjectives I need to describe Rosie Walsh’s new book.

Powerful. Moving. Heart-breaking. Brilliant. Compassionate. Gripping. Stunning.

The Man Who Didn’t Call is all of these.

Sarah is English, living in LA but separated from the husband with whom she is in business. Back in her home village, she meets Eddie and they connect. Over the week of their affair, they fall deeply in love. When Eddie fails to call Sarah as promised, she is gripped by that awful behaviour we know so well. Consumed with sending more and more messages to him, while checking the phone, checking messages, just looking for any contact at all. Her heart is broken.

What follows is a tale of secrets and grief, love and compassion, with enough twists and turns to build your own nightmare roller-coaster. Rosie Walsh writes in the most compelling way. Her characters are real, regular, flawed human beings, and we get the tale from both perspectives. She covers infertility, mental health, and loss, yet the darker corners are alleviated by the understated humour that is also woven throughout. This is no heavy, sorrowful book, but a really intriguing and wonderful tale of forgiveness and redemption, and of course love.

The deeper I got into the book, the faster I tried to read.  If it becomes one of those books that people talk about and recommend for many years to come, I will not be in the least bit surprised.

Read it. You won’t regret it.

Some Book Suggestions for Mother’s Day

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (Kindle Edition) – Sophie Green

FairvaleIn 1978 in Australia’s Northern Territory, life is hard and people are isolated. Telephones are not yet a common fixture. But five women find a way to connect. Sybil, the matriarch of Fairvale Station, misses her eldest son and is looking for a distraction, while Kate, Sybil’s daughter-in-law, is thousands of miles away from home and finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale.  Sallyanne, mother of three, dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town where she lives with her difficult husband. Rita, Sybil’s oldest friend, is living far away in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land, needs some purpose in her life. 

Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship: they all love to read, and she starts a book club. As these five women bond over their love of books, they form friendships that will last a lifetime.

Two from the Heart –  James Patterson   Paperback  8th Mar 2018

PattersonAnne McWilliams has lost everything. After her marriage falls apart and a hurricane destroys her home she realises that her life has fallen out of focus. So she takes to the road to ask long-lost friends and strangers a simple question: ‘What’s your best story?’ Can the funny, tragic, inspirational tales she hears on her journey help Anne see what she’s been missing? 
Tyler Bron seemingly has it all – a successful company and more money than he knows how to spend. But he has no life. So he hires a struggling novelist to write one for him. There are no limits to the fictional world that Bron’s money can transform into a reality, and he soon becomes the protagonist of a love story beyond his wildest imagination. But will Tyler Bron be able to write the happy ending himself?

Coming Home to Island House  – Erica James

JamesIt’s the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux. When Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together.

With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings. But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week? And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her?

The Duchess  by Danielle Steel

SteelOrphaned. Betrayed. Determined.

Angélique Latham grew up at the magnificent Belgrave Castle with her father, the Duke of Westerfield, after the death of her mother. But when he dies, her half-brothers brutally deny her very existence and send her out into the world alone. 

At eighteen, Angélique has a keen mind, remarkable beauty and an envelope of money her late father pressed upon her. Unable to secure employment, Angélique desperately makes her way to Paris. To survive, she will need all her resources – and one bold stroke of fortune. Angélique takes an unfamiliar and unimaginable path in setting up what becomes a highly successful business. But she lives on the edge of scandal; can she ever make a life for herself?

My Italian Bulldozer – Alexander McCall Smith

BulldozerPaul Stuart, a renowned food writer, finds himself at loose ends after his longtime girlfriend leaves him for her personal trainer. To cheer him up, Paul’s editor, Gloria, encourages him to finish his latest cookbook on-site in Tuscany, hoping that a change of scenery (plus the occasional truffled pasta and glass of red wine) will offer a cure for both heartache and writer’s block. But upon Paul’s arrival, things don’t quite go as planned. A mishap with his rental-car reservation leaves him stranded, until a newfound friend leads him to an intriguing alternative: a bulldozer.  
With little choice in the matter, Paul accepts the offer, and as he journeys (well, slowly trundles) into the idyllic hillside town of Montalcino, he discovers that the bulldozer may be the least of the surprises that await him. What follows is a delightful romp through the lush sights and flavors of the Tuscan countryside, as Paul encounters a rich cast of characters, including a young American woman who awakens in him something unexpected.
A feast for the senses and a poignant meditation on the complexity of human relationships, My Italian Bulldozer is a charming and intensely satisfying love story for anyone who has ever dreamed of a fresh start.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – Jennifer Ryan


ChilburyKent, 1940. In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost. But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing.

With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn. Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony…

Full Circle –  Katie Flynn (writing as Judith Saxton)

Full Circle FlynnHitler’s war is reaching out to affect every member of the Neylor family. 
Val Neylor, driving an ambulance through the blazing heart of London, is in an impossible position, for the man she loves is a fighter pilot with the Luftwaffe. And Jenny, whose husband Simon is flying Spitfires, finds herself working as a landgirl on a Devon farm. 
Cara, by contrast, develops her social life, and Maudie, in the WAAF, falls in love with two men at once … And Tina, matriarch of the family loves them all, scolds them all, and tries to understand the new generation growing up in the troubled times of war.

The fourth and final novel in the Neylor Quartet, by a Sunday Times bestselling author.

The first three books are below. Treat your Mum, or your Gran, or just yourself to the set.

1. The Pride

1901 – Tina Rose is the beloved daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, while Edward grew up with an abusive father in the wilds of New Zealand.
Despite their differences, the two fall madly in love when Edward arrives in England, looking for a better future. 
However, the consequences of their love affair are terrible for Tina as she is shamed by the father she adores, and Edward is sent away. 
Against all the odds, Tina and Edward find each other again, and despite great hardship and tragedy, together they build a dynasty strong enough to withstand some of the worst catastrophes Britain has ever known.

2. The Glory

As WWI begins, no family, including the Neylers, will be left untouched, and by the time the war finally finishes, nothing will ever be the same again
Ted and Tina Neyler’s children are growing up, doomed to be drawn into the Great War: Frank will be scarred forever by one terrible day in the trenches, while Louis, the charming optimist, returns unscathed from the war to find that his wife and mistress have met up and that his misdemeanours are inexorably catching up with him.
But despite the tragedy they face, the Neylers realise that even war can’t break the bonds that keep them together.

3. The Splendour

It is 1931, and once again Europe is heading towards disaster. Life must go on however, and a new generation of the Neyler family are making their way in this turbulent world. 
Louis Rose, the self-confessed black sheep of the family, returns to England for his father’s funeral and is greeted with more bad news: he has lost his mistress to his young nephew. Louis’ son Simon, meanwhile, has matured and is embarking on his first love affair. The family hope he’ll have more luck in love that his father. 
Valentine Neyler, Simon’s cousin, visits Berlin for the Olympics, but finds herself experiencing first-hand the prejudice which is gripping Germany. Before she knows it she is caught up in the tragedy of a Jewish family struggling to escape the Nazi horror.


Who put the spark in Frankenstein’s monster?

FrankensteinCan you believe that it was 200 years ago, in 1818, that Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus was published?

The author Mary Shelley was just 21 years old, and even more remarkable is how prescient her book is today.

If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Read the Guardian article – its very interesting.


Ten Books about Cheating

Contemporary works about romantic infidelity – Jamie Quatro

Cheating love a man weeps his wife with her loverThe assumption that male writers can have sexually transgressive imaginations while female novelists should be more demure is passé. If we’re going to secure gender equality, we must be allowed the same imaginative expression, on the page, as our male counterparts.

Romance novels abound with infidelity of one kind or another. This is an interesting list, though I suspect that, like me,  everyone out there would suggest Jamie Quatro might have missed a couple.

Read the article here.

Please post your book choices, it’ll be interesting to see what others suggest.


Sex, Jealousy, and Gender

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, 80 years on

Du MaurierThis is a very interesting article on Daphne du Maurier, a fascinating and controversial character, as well as a supremely gifted author. While she is a romantic novelist, her books don’t necessarily have happy endings, while some can be brooding, mysterious, with a touch of the supernatural.

She was accused of plagiarism twice. First by Brazilian author Carolina Nabuca who claimed that Rebecca was copied from her book A Successora , and later by Frank Baker who claimed that her short story The Birds (made into a film ny Hitchcock) was plagiarised from his novel also called The Birds.

Rumours regarding her sexuality raise their head periodically, but the biography by Margaret Forster alleged a cache of love letters between Daphne and Gertrude Lawrence (who had an affair with Daphne’s father), but according to her close friend, journalist Michael Thornton, the letters never existed.

As an historian, I’m interested in the fact that she was married to ‘Boy’ Browning, (Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning), as soldier who served in both the First and the Second World War. At the age of 18, he graduated from Sandhurst and went to the front with the Grenadier Guards in August 1915. He served with distinction throughout that war. During World War 2, he was part of both the North Africa and the Burma Campaigns, but most famously Operation Market Garden. Probably most familiar as the film A Bridge Too Far, (allegedly a phrase said by Browning); actor Dirk Bogarde reprised the role of Browning in the film.


Current Addictions 1

The Ghosts of Culloden Moor is an 80 plus book series of paranormal romance. It is necessary to start with the first book, The Gathering in order to understand the premise of the series, but after that you can pretty much read them in any order. Readers can argue that each book is pretty much the same formulae, but that is the strength of the series too. Equally, there are titles that produce an unexpected story that doesn’t necessarily follow the formulae.

Ghosts of Culloden Muir

The notion is that there are 79 ghosts who haunt the battlefield, and the young, modern-day witch Soncerae wants to free them and save their souls. She gives each one of them two days to perform a heroic deed or act of bravery to win their heart’s desire; each Highlander believes his heart’s desire is some time alone with Bonny Prince Charlie to get their revenge for, as they see it, being betrayed .

LL Muir has come up with a clever idea, and just as cleverly some of the titles are written by other authors, so the writing doesn’t get stale. Having read about 38 in the series so far, I’m still enjoying them, and when a new title is published its like meeting an old friend with fresh news. Within the confines of the series’ construction, I have loved most  of the titles, liked others, and there were three that I lost interest in.  If you want HEA, men in kilts, and nice enjoyable romances, then I recommend these heartily.

Jay Crownover’s Marked Men

If your taste runs more to bad boy, New Adult contemporary romances, then the Marked Men series by  Jay Crownover  is for you. I came across Nash first, loved it so much I read my way through the whole series. These are gorgeous, tattooed men with strong personalities, problems, and not given to being calm; the women are equally strong, well written, individual characters. The first in the series is Rule.  He’s a rebellious hot-head, Shaw is a straight A student and they’ve known each other since they were in their early teens. Shaw was the girlfriend of Rule’s late twin brother. The way Jay writes the interaction between them is brilliant:


“You’re twenty-two, Rule. When are you going to stop acting like an indulgent teenager?” …

“You’re nineteen, Shaw…. My eighty-two-year-old grandma has more of a social calendar than you, and I think she’s less uptight.” …

“I like Ethel.” …

“Everybody like Ethel. She’s feisty and won’t take crap from anyone. You could learn a thing or two from her.”

“Oh, maybe I should just dye my hair pink, tattoo every visible surface of my body, shove a bunch of metal in my face, and sleep with everything that moves. Isn’t that your philosophy on how to live a rich and fulfilling life?”

Some of her writing had me crying with laughter. When it comes to overly protective boyfriends who wouldn’t want this line:

“Maybe next time you could just pee in a circle around me so that they know you’ve already been there.”

So I highly recommend this series, in fact so much so, I’m off to start reading it all over again. Then start her Saints of Denver series!