The Modern Book Scene Part 7 by Kathleen Kinder

The Modern Book Scene 7.    12.5.23     Kathleen Kinder       

A warm welcome to everyone.  This is the 7th Zoom talk on the Modern Book Scene.  I  thank the Settle library management   committee for their continued support , and especially Hazel Allen, for organising the zoom event, putting the Talk notes and Book list  online with husband Chas at Hazel  also provides a link for the recording  of this Talk.  Thanks to other library friends John, Debi, Peter for  help with  poster, publicity and printing.

As before -I interpret “The Modern Book Scene” as books  published  in the last 10-20 years, most, in the last 3-4 years. which represent a wide range of reader interest in the library. I have more to say on some books than on others. Most  are fiction, a few non fiction. Some are on prize lists. I try to go for those which have high recommendations. To give the Talk shape, I review the books  under headings. In actual fact, some of them could be under different headings but I just make my choice. This time,  there is no “  feel good factor“ group but they pop up  all over the place..

 Murder, Mystery and Thrillers – a huge variety of interpretation

 Snow,  John Banville, 2020.  JB is an accomplished Irish crime writer. An earlier book The Book of Evidence, 1989, was short-listed for the Booker prize. This one too has won a lot of accolades. The title Snow  is not only a description of the coldest and most treacherous part of the year when the murder takes place, it is a metaphor for the chill, forbidding atmosphere which affects the action and the characters all the way through the book.  Its restrained, polished style  is in the classical tradition of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The main character Inspector St John Strafford has similar withdrawn qualities,  a gift for objective thinking and questioning which reminds me of Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. The chilling description of the brutal and sadistic murder of a seemingly well-loved RC priest   eventually reveals sexual abuse of children committed by some RC priests. I did not guess who the murderer was. This is a very impressive book, not a light read. It reveals too much not only horrific sexual abuse, but the attempts to conceal it  in  RC  Ireland, 1957.

The Guest List, Lucy Foley, 2020, S.times & Waterstones best seller. I was not sure I would like this rather unusual thriller at first, but when I went back over its 73 short chapters, I realised there was a lot more subtlety to the plot than I  had at first realised. The setting is an island off the Irish coast, uninhabited except for residents in  a hotel which a pair of celebrities had booked as a venue for their wedding. What emerges is that not only was the island hiding grisly secrets, several guests had secrets to hide as well. The atmosphere of fear and impending catastrophe grew until the horrifying climax, the murder  1 of one of the main participants in the wedding ceremony. The story is told in the first person, by various characters, a chapter for each. It did not strike me until nearly the end that the one person missing from the story-telling was the most significant of all. The thriller  then is a very skilful creation, but a little unsettling all the same.

 The Awakenings,  Sarah Maine, 2022.  I read 2 of her previous books and really enjoyed them. One of them The House Between won  Waterstones prize for Scottish fiction in  2018. The other,  Beyond the River,  also had a Scottish theme, while her latest  The Awakenings,  has a North Yorkshire location. This one is the most gripping of all. I literally could not put it down. The main theme that of one branch of a family resorting to various kinds of criminal and violent action against another in order to acquire his/ her wealth is a common theme of many a murder mystery. This book does not  fit  simply into that scheme.  The plot has interwoven strands. There is a love story and two time slips, Anglo Saxon and today, which  meld seamlessly and then melt simply into the present when they have done their work to resolve the intricacies of the plot. In all, a most interesting and enjoyable “ read” as we say. Plenty of copies in the library, and one for book groups because it will certainly stir up discussion.

Sometimes People Die, Simon Stephenson, 2022, S.Times Book of the Month, NY Times Editor Pick. This is the first time I have reviewed a book which I describe as a medical murder mystery with a hospital location and a doctor author now turned novelist. I first heard it discussed on the TV Book Group programme, Between the Covers. Although this book is listed as a work of crime  fiction, it is written in the first person by a doctor on a hospital staff who writes  of being constantly aware that doctors and their staff can soon become the accused in murder cases brought against them by relatives of patients who have died in their care.  Although there are deeply serious issues, the writing is witty and amusing at times. The book is full of a rich variety of human characters and made a very powerful impression. one of the most memorable and unusual crime thrillers I have read

The Locked Room, Ellie Griffiths, 2022 Ellie Griffiths is a popular writer of family saga crime fiction. I have read and enjoyed several of her books. In each of the books featuring Ruth Galloway, the archaeologist, we read of developing relationships amongst her family and friends. This side of Ellie Griffiths writing writing provides   a pleasant and interesting relief from the  sometimes gruesome murders Ruth helps to solve. This book presents the team led by Ruth’s former lover and father of her daughter, DCI Nelson with a series of deaths occurring in mysterious circumstances and which could be related to the sinister  locked room episode of the preface. The first body was 2         found in a locked room with the key in the door on the outside. The causes of the deaths are eventually discovered. The fact that these occurred during lock down adds to the stress of the situation. Another thriller for Elly Griffiths’  enthusiasts to enjoy.

The Sentence is Death,  Anthony Horowitz, 2018.  One of the most sophisticated and mind-exercising thrillers I have ever read. Many plaudits, including from the Wall St Journal while the STImes reviewer wrote, “AH is easily the greatest of our crime writers” This is the second novel featuring the fictional and maverick investigator Daniel Hawthorne,  with the author himself playing his real self  as Hawthorne’s side-kick. The relationship is not an easy one, but the exchanges make for an interesting read. There are several deaths in the book. The victims all seem to have some link with each other. One incident takes us to a caving accident, or is it murder, at Ribblehead? Horowitz has an ingenious way of  absorbing the reader into the intriguing mix of motive, character and interaction and one is held there until all the complex issues are resolved. I was really gripped by this book as a result of which I had several late meals and one very late night buried in the pages of this very intriguing thriller.

Freedom Curtailed

House Arrest, Alan Bennet 2022, subtitle Pandemic Diary,  a short book of 46 pages, Book group member “underwhelmed” by it. I found it a refreshing  change after  reading some rather long books. It told me a lot about Alan Bennett and his gifts of recollection over a long life  described in his witty, amusing, sometimes biting style. The illustration of his study reveals  old fashioned habits, a typewriter, no computer. He resents his growing infirmity (then 86) as much as the restrictions imposed by covid. He depends a great deal on Rupert his partner, who is also his carer. They have a cottage in Clapham, 5 miles from my home. He recalls visiting Jane Mansergh’s 2ndhand bookshop in Settle. I remember standing next to him in a queue for the toilet during a break in the Talk he gave in Giggleswick Church.

Old Rage, Sheila Hancock, 2022. Now SH really does chafe against both the restrictions imposed by old age and the pandemic. She begins with a much loved Dylan Thomas quote: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave, Against the dying of the light”. Then she adds, “I just don’t have the energy”. I know exactly hows she feels as I recall whether I had the energy to do this Talk, but I don’t have her anger and I am a year older than she is.  This combined with many recollections of a rich and varied life  and written in a vibrant writing style make for an absorbing book which really fizzes with life.  Sheila Hancock is one of Britain’s most highly regarded  popular actors. She was married to John Thaw, who    3 played Inspector Morse in the long TV series. Do put this book on your “To read” list. You will enjoy it, I think.    NOW,  for quite a change.

The Life Inside, Andy West, 2022, a memoir of prison, family and learning to be free (subtitle). Recommended by The Irish Times and was the  i-book of  the year 2022.  The author is a teacher of philosophy to prison inmates and the book is based  on real people and their situations. Members of the author’s family, including his father, have all done time in prison. We read of the demons he copes with as a result of his background. The book brings vividly to life  the prison environment and the wide variety of prisoners  he comes across in his work. Some of the prisoners are well educated and knew stories from ancient classical myths that cropped up in philosophical discussions. He loved his work and had great empathy with many of the men, some of whom were repeat offenders because they preferred the shelter of prison life to the harsh realities of the outside world. His own background obtrudes unhappily from time to time. You could call Andy West “a wounded healer” because he identifies with his students. This book is not an easy read, but it makes a powerful impression and is well worth the effort.

Act of Oblivion, Robert Harris, 2022, plaudits from The Times, S.times, Observer. Robert Harris is a distinguished British novelist, author of many outstanding books . This historical novel is no exception. At the end of the Commonwealth period, the 1660 Act of Oblivion was published offering amnesty to those who had supported Oliver  Cromwell, but those who had  signed the death warrant of Charles I were to be hunted down and killed. This book deals with the 2 remaining regicides Col Edward (Ned) Whalley, cousin of Cromwell and his son in law Col Wm Goffe. The main story concerns a man hunt and a nail-biting pursuit from England to the fledgling states of new world America. Their ruthless pursuer is a fictional character Robert Naylor, part detective, part monster, utterly obsessed by the task. I found I could not be on either side of the conflict. There was nothing  admirable in the loose morality of Ch II’s court . I was repulsed by the narrow  theology of the Puritans but whose caring family lives were often exceptional. We do not know the fate of the two real life fugitives. Harris has used the prerogative of the novelist to create a fictional and positive ending. No spoilers. A long, but truly great book.

Haven,  Emma Donaghue, 2022. one of The Times Books of the Year. I’ve read and reviewed several of ED’s books. She is one of Ireland’s greatest novelists. Several reviewers wrote that they never expected to find the content of this book  on their wavelength but once they  started to read the  story  the beauty, power and skill of the writing had them riveted from the start to finish. This is fiction based on  4 historical fact, very well researched. The story concerns 3 Irish Celtic monks of the  6th c AD who left the great monastery of Clonmanoise on the  Shannon  to answer a divine call  to sail wherever God would take them  to create another community. I’ve been to Clonmonoise, impressive ruins and a fascinating museum charting  early Irish monasticism. It is well recognised that during the Dark Ages when hordes from the east were rampaging across mainland Europe, its civilisation was flourishing  in Irish monasteries.                             The 3 monks in the story are  very different characters. Artt is the leader, who has qualities of a fanatical visionary; Cormac is an old, wise and experienced monk and Trian, a young, enthusiastic monk who hides a secret of his own. They eventually land and settle on the rocky outcrop of Skellig Michael. (Wikipedia, photos of monastic huts still there). The way they build their dwellings, create their monastic rule of the day,  what they eat and so on is well described, but relations eventually break down. Trian’s secret is revealed and Artt banishes him to live in isolation in another part of the island.   Cormac now takes control and the ending  is inevitable but yet there is hope for the future. A great book, a refreshing change for a secular age.

The Feminist Agenda

Tidelands,  Philippa Gregory, 2019…. is a popular historical novelist whose main characters from the past have been taken from royalty or the upper classes. Now she writes in a short essay at the end that she has switched her interest to ordinary people of history. Her main character in Tidelands is  17th c widow Alinor who lives with her 2 teenage children Rob and Alys in a small Sussex community. Alinor ekes out a miserable existence as a healer and a midwife. At the start of the book, she gives shelter to James a young fugitive. RC priest. They are lovers and she becomes pregnant. Eventually she is accused of being a whore and a witch. She survives the ducking stool and daughter Alys then takes control of the situation accusing James of not standing by her mother.“Witchlit  is the term now used of books in which serious feminist issues are highlighted regarding how women with healing gifts were  often charged with witchcraft. The ending is not what you would expect, but there is hope for a new life elsewhere.

Godmersham Park, Gill Hornby, 2022. second book with a Jane Austen family theme I’ve read by GH. The first one Miss Austen about Cassandra, Jane’s sister I  reviewed for the 2nd zoom Talk. I wrote in my notes that GH had the gift of making the ordinary events in the Austen household very interesting and  never boring. That is true of this book. Moreover, the author has developed a style which has all the rhythms of Jane Austen’s prose. but yet is entirely modern. The main character of GP is based on the real character Anne Sharpe,5 governess to Fanny, daughter of Edward Austen, Jane’s nephew. His father George,  Jane’s brother, had been brought up by a wealthy uncle and had inherited Godmersham Park. The book offers a vivid and well researched insight into middle class women’s lives at the time. There was no contraception and many women died in child birth as did Mrs Edward Austen later,  giving birth to her 12th child.    We read of how her friend dealt with a drunken husband. She kept a rolling pin under the bed. Most  of the events we see through Anne Sharpe’s eyes. She regretfully rejects the chance of an illicit relationship. When her governess services are no longer required, she opts for a career  as head of a girls, school. As we see in the book, she and Jane Austen form a warm and close friendship  In 2008, a rare first edition of Emma turned up at a London auction house. It was inscribed, “ To Anne Sharpe from the author”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading GP.

Yours cheerfully, A.J.Pearce, 2021, the second of 2 AJP’s books I review in this Talk.  The other Dear Mrs Bird  is under the 4rth heading. Each is a stand alone but the same characters appear.They  are easy to read, “feel good factor” books. Yours cheerfully fits under The Feminist Agenda label . What we read is based on fact and was a step forward for women with children who had to work, being provided with childcare. Emmeline Lake, a research journalist, is the main character again, centre of a group that provide comfort and support when tragedy strikes, which it  often did in WWII There are some nail-biting incidents which keep you engrossed. The book is well-written with lively, sparkling dialogue and prose full of wit and  humour.  

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Gamus, 2023, S. Times best seller,  discussed on TV’s Between the Covers. This is a most unusual book, love it or hate it. I nearly discarded it but glad I did n’t. You do not have to read very far before you realise that a major purpose of the author is to expose in a funny, sardonic, satirical way the inequalities women suffered in 1960s USA and how her main character Elizabeth with her ultra clever scientific mind, deals with them. The humour that comes out of it reminds me of the black, slightly sick humour of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder. Elizabeth leaves her daughter Madeleine,  to take a job as presenter of a TV cookery show, but spends the time describing the chemical compounds of the ingredients. There are various incidents to illustrate how in her life she has suffered as a woman. Her feminism is a dominant influence. This is a very quirky book but it ends more positively than you might imagine. I am glad I read it because it exposes cleverly a raw feminist nerve still at the heart of our society.




The Marriage  Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell, 2022 – longlisted  for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023. More plaudits for this book than for any other in the Talk, Book Group 26th in the queue! The book is a powerful fictional re-imagining of the real life of a  beautiful, high-born, intelligent and artistic  woman in Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia, duchess of Ferrara was 16 years old and newly married to the duke, Alphonso. She has led a very sheltered  life, but as time goes by and she is not yet pregnant, she becomes  convinced  that her husband,  desperate for a male heir, intends to kill her.  The author, M O’F was part inspired by Browning’s poem  “That’s my Last Duchess hanging on the Wall” allegedly about Lucrezia and the Duke of Ferrara. In the poem, the duke is pointing out the portrait to the servant of another nobleman whose daughter he, the duke, seeks as his next wife. The woman in the portrait smiled too much at the painter, said the duke. “I gave commands and all smiles stopped together”. The author tells us that the real Lucrezia died in mysterious circumstances. The real duke had 3 wives and no children at all.                                                   What is the point of writing a novel if the fate of the heroine is common knowledge before we begin to read? The author has devised an ingenious fictional ending, so much so that the duke is convinced that his plan has been carried out. Lucrezia has had her portrait painted and the painter’s assistant has a significant part to play. No spoilers. The writing is  richly imaginative, a sensuous mix of artistry, beauty and horror. Cruel and vicious intentions are hidden in a web of sophistication and culture. (patrons of arts, Machiavelli’s Prince) . I was truly engaged all the way through. The tension is ratched up a notch every chapter and Lucrezia is the focus of it. M O’F is one of our greatest novelists and this book is certainly one of her finest.

Words, Books and Libraries

Dear Mrs Bird, A.J. Pearce, 2018, the second book by this author, but the first in order.  The inspiration for this book came from   the discovery  of a 1939 copy of a women’s magazine where letters on the problem page were answered by a sympathetic and supportive  Agony Aunt (My mother & The Woman’s Companion). The  location of the story, is  London 1940 and the blitz has just started. The story is told in the first person by Emmeline (Emmy) Lake who had taken a job on the London Chronicle  as an assistant to “Mrs Bird”, an unsympathetic Agony Aunt.  Emmy assumes the role of Mrs Bird, and answers the letters secretly. There is trouble when it is discovered, but it all works out in the end. The description of the bombing is very moving.  Although there is tragedy for some, the final outcome is positive and hopeful. A book to enjoy,  illustrating the power & effect of words. 7

The Last Library,  Freya Simpson 2021. After a slow start,  the characters and plot in this book took off and  my interest was   thoroughly engaged. The story is about how a library assistant, a rather timid lady called June and a small group of  borrowers, fought to save a much loved library from closure. It is a story which resonates with us. June as an employee is forbidden to take part in various ploys to engage public attention, but she finds a clever way to help her library friends. All the main characters have secrets which are revealed as the story proceeds. The ending is a happy one, another “feel good factor” book, all about the determined action of a small group to save an institution valued by their community.

The Reading List,  Sarah Nisha Adams, 2022. This book is written in a simple, easy to read style, which made me wonder when I saw the author’s second name, if English was her second language. Sure enough, the main group of characters are from an Indian heritage background. We know this because their favourite foods are curries and the occasional reference they make to their Hindu beliefs. What is so interesting is that the books that inspire them are a selection of popular past and present British publications, some of them classics like Pride and Prejudice. The  books discussed are on a list  accidentally discovered. The characters discuss the impact each book has on  them. The style is simple,  the book a bit on the long side  but a regular reading of British literature can exert  considerable influence,  playing an  important role in introducing overseas people of non British heritage to British culture. Example: Nigerians & Shakespeare

The Lighthouse Bookshop, Sharon Gosling, 2022. When I first looked at the attractive cover of this book, I thought  it should be in the chick lit category, but I was  not quite right. The fictional location is a remote village on the Aberdeenshire coast featuring a mysterious lighthouse situated nowhere near the sea. The lighthouse is home to a bookshop which is well used by locals who also use it as a place for socialising.  Rachel, the main character runs the bookshop on behalf of the owner.   The characters are all well-drawn, highly individual people. At the heart of the story, there is an intriguing mystery focussed on the lighthouse. I found myself really drawn into the plot and the relationships developing between the characters. I enjoyed this book. The ending, a good one, but not quite what. I expected,

The Personal Librarian, Victoria Christopher Murray, & Marie Benedict 2021. NY Times best seller, Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. Several other US plaudits. It actually caused quite a stir that such a deception could go completely unnoticed. It is biographical fiction of the life of the celebrated Belle da Costa Greene 1879-1950(not her real name), personal librarian of the J.P. Morgan specialist library. 8   Her job was to scour the world and buy rare, historical books and manuscripts for the  collection, and she was very good at it. Her employer J.P. Morgan was a multimillionaire. The story is written in a first person format, addressing the reader personally to draw him/her deeply into the thoughts, feelings and actions of the main character. The style intensifies the dilemma . Belle da Costa Greene was living under a false ethnicity. She  was actually a pale skinned “coloured” woman, masquerading as white. Had she been found out, she would have lost her prestigious job and been cast out of society entirely. This after all was  early 20th c. America. The book is skilfully written and I was engrossed throughout. Belle used ingenious ways to hide her secret.  Her employer’s daughter  had her suspicions, but Belle threatened to expose her as a lesbian. J.P. Morgan left her a lot of money  and her greatest legacy was to persuade his son to put the library into the public domain for the benefit of the whole country. A truly memorable book.(only 2  library copies, Wikipedia entry VG).

Syria’s Secret Library,  Mike Robinson, 2019. Syria’s President Assad has been waging war against dissident groups  for 10 years resulting in 350,000 lives  lost and the huge destruction of  Syrian towns and villages. Mike Robinson is a BBC reporter who has risked his life in many areas of conflict . He writes a riveting, gripping prose, telling the story of a secret library created amidst the bombed rubble of the town of Duraya by young men of great courage and resilience. The library began in the basement of a building which had  the appearance above of just a heap of rubbish. Volunteers collected books from ruined buildings , noting  where they came from. There were many Arabic. translations of English classics. A borrowing service was set up. The secret location was eventually discovered and the library destroyed.. Survivors were sent to displacement camps in Turkey. Then one day, their spirits were raised. A mobile library suddenly appeared in the camp. This is a hard book to read, but I am glad I stayed with it.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams, 2021. In 2020, this book  fictional but based on a real situation, sold more copies in Australia than any other popular book. In 1901, the word “bondmaid” was discovered missing from the first edition of the OED. This is the story of Esme, the girl who stole it. In fact, words associated with women are the ones most missing from the early dictionaries. Esme was motherless and irrepressibly curious. She spent her childhood in the scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers were gathering words for the very first OED. Esme loved to stay beneath the sorting table unseen, unheard and listening intently to the conversation. One day, she sees a slip bearing the word “bondmaid” flutter to the floor, unseen and unclaimed. This word is the first one of a collection she makes and which she calls The  9 Dictionary of Lost Words. It was made much later into a book by her fiancé Gareth, who presents it to her instead of an engagement ring. He could not afford both, he tells her. This is a book full of the milk of human kindness. It ranges over events in  the late 19th c, the suffragette movement, WWI which brings tragedy and loss, and then  to the early decades of the 20th c. The story is beautifully told. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Adequate copies in different formats.

Families and Relationships

French Braid,  Anne Tyler, 2022. Famous American novelist whose work has won many accolades over the years. AT is known for her perceptive, in depth writing. There are complaints that nothing much happens in her novels, but it does, in a very subtle way. Her style is good to read and she has excellent mastery of dialogue which highlights character and the  intentions of family members. Sometimes a sense of foreboding is conveyed by decisions which will lead to trouble for the person concerned, but somehow through the actions of other members, the various branches of the  family hold together. The title is significant.   In the first chapter, Serena Drew and James her boyfriend are waiting for the next train to Baltimore when Serena spots a man she thinks is her cousin Nicholas. They catch up with him later and hear news of family members. Chapter 2 takes us into another branch of the family. It seems as if ch. 1 was an isolated one. Towards the end we learn the meaning of the title as it refers to strands of the family. Only when I got nearly  to the end did I see where the first chapter fitted in.  It was the first lock of hair in the French Braid which created an intriguing and intricate family story.

The Instant, Amy Liptrot, This is a stand alone memoir but it describes the period of her life after the one she wrote about in The Outrun, where as a recovering alcoholic she returns to her native Orkneys  receiving  healing from her work amongst the sea birds. In The Instant, her restless, fractured personality  is made more obvious in the  rich narrative prose. She has a great gift of involving the reader in the sights and sounds she experiences, involving her/him in her mood swings  and the sheer loneliness and emptiness of  her existence. Now in her mid thirties, she is an unfulfilled woman, longing for a permanent sexual relationship and a child. She decides to go to Berlin where through her vivid descriptive prose she brings the city, its people, wild life, especially the birds, alive for us. She describes fully the sexual relationship she had, full of pleasure for her, but when it suddenly  ends, she experiences utter desolation. The reader is not spared the full account of her misery. Towards the end of the book, I got a little weary of her being  unable to snap out of depression . And then suddenly in the last few pages, we learn she has found someone to love and has a baby.  10    I found this a very interesting book, but the ending too brief. My generation is tempted to judge her morality. or rather its absence, but  there must be many unfulfilled young people  who do not have her gift of sharing their predicament with others and the ability to create some understanding of it. This book caused quite a stir in my Book Group.

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles, 2022. Some of us have read and enjoyed AT’s previous book A Gentleman in Moscow. This long book is very different. It is a picaresque novel about people sharing a journey  in this case  along the Lincoln Highway,  from NY to California.    revealing in  their adventures  what their  travelling  experience brings oto  their relationships. This book however, does not quite fit the form.  We begin in 1954 With Emmett released from jail, equipped with money and a car seeking out his young brother Billy to travel with him to California to find their mother and other family members. They meet 2 escaped jailbirds ,Duchess and Woody who have business of their own to settle in NY before joining the pair going to California. Other characters add to the mix and have their own business to sort out before they can join the others. This we learn about in their own allocated chapters. The book is cleverly written, funny in places, but there is no punctuation which adds a kind of breathlessness to the story.  The chapters are numbered in reverse, beginning  with 1, at the very end when Emmett and Billy finally set off on the Lincoln Highway.

Small Things like These,  Claire Keegan,  2021  Long-listed Booker Prize. Location: a small Irish town 198,5 during Christmas preparations. The inclement weather adds a touch of anxiety and stress to a crystal clear style of writing brought alive in its story-telling by vivid and apt imagery. The main character is successful coal merchant, Bill Furlong, happily married with a family of 3 girls. Bill, an adopted child, was brought up in a happy family situation, but longs to know who his biological father is. Does he find out by the end of the book? It is not a long one. In the course of his work, he comes across examples of the notorious Magdalene laundries and the treatment meted out to illegitimate children by Irish nuns. The author at the end points out that her work is fiction, but these institutions did exist and what she describes did actually happen to many children. Bill’s concern for what he found leads him to make an act of considerable kindness. No spoilers. I found this a very moving book and one I warmly recommend.

A Marriage of Fortune, Anne O’Brien, 2023. In my 1st library Talk, 2016, The History and Development of the English Novel, I mentioned the importance of the 15th c Paston Letters, not only the  first hand account in English  of a middle class family during the Wars of the Roses but significant for its promotion of the modern view of marriage based on love. This well-written, good to read book is yet another combination 11  of fact and fiction. Set amidst the social  turbulence, events and power struggles of the 15c, the book is about the main character and formidable matriarch Margaret Paston and the relationships of her various children. Each has a separate chapter to describe their lives. Margaret has the most chapters in the book to tell how her efforts are proceeding to bring about successful marriage partnerships for  her offspring. Her view is the medieval view of a business relationship with someone with money, of the same class or higher. Love does not enter into it. Her daughter Margery  disagrees. She and the bailiff Richard Calle, who runs  the Paston business, have fallen in love and have married against her mother’s will. They express their love movingly in letters (Jane Austen). This book is a real gift to those  who love well written historical fiction, and which is  based on important historical fact.

Three Women and a Boat, Anne Youngson, 2023.  I read and reviewed Anne Youngson’s first book Meet me at the Museum  in  a previous Talk. This book is very different. It has obviously been inspired by Jerome K Jerome’s 1889 novel Three men in a boat.  In this book, 2 women, complete strangers, one who has left a boring husband and the other a stressful job, come across a deserted canal boat, with a barking dog called Noah, locked inside. They smash a window to release him. The owner Anastasia, a real drop out, turns up. She tells them she is not well and is in hospital care, though they don’t know  what is wrong with her. The boat has got to be taken to Chester. The upshot of this utterly crazy tale is that the 2 strangers with the dog, inexperienced as they are, agree to take the boat on the canal to Chester. They have some hair- raising adventures along the way and meet some unusual characters . Anastasia keeps in touch on her mobile. It proved a hilarious read and I’m glad I did not put it on the reject pile.

Wild Fell, Lee Schofield, 2022,  I finish with this highly acclaimed, beautifully written book  about a different kind of relationship, that of human beings with the environment. L S  has charge of an RSPB farm  in the Lake District.  The author has a rich background to call upon, which he does on every possible occasion, bringing to life the Haweswater  landscape, man-made and natural. It is a love tinged with the sadness many environmentalists feel. They observe daily the relentless  decline in animal life, plant and insect species more than most of us do. The author is quick to point out and discuss some of  the natural delights still to be found. He tells us that because of the hard work of his colleagues and himself some of the lost diversity of life in the Haweswater area is being recovered and restored. (report on BBC Online news a few days ago)  I was very impressed by the book. It is for me, a “feel good factor book. I want to mention briefly Hindsight. Jemma Watt, 2022. ebook.    Thank you for watching and listening.  12

The Modern Book Scene Part 5 by Kathleen Kinder

Click here to listen to Kathleen Kinder’s talk on the Modern Book Scene (Part 5).

Taking Action on Climate Change

You can view the talk by Sarah Wiltshire, co-ordinator with ACE Settle, here.

A Glimpse into Tudor Times by Bob Young

A fascinating look at Anne Boleyn’s Dad.  A talk, given by Bob to the U3A in October 2021, gives an insight into the family’s rise and subsequent downfall.

The Modern Book Scene Part 4 by Kathleen Kinder

The Modern Book Scene 4     22/09/21 Kathleen Kinder

I extend a warm welcome to everyone watching and listening, wherever you are. Some of you have been here before, so welcome back. This is the fourth Zoom talk this year on the Modern Book Scene, but each Talk is different as there is a huge variety to choose from. New books seem to come into the library almost as soon as they are published. Others are on order. Older books are to consider too. I thank the Settle library management committee for their continued support , and especially Hazel Allen, for organising the event, putting the Talk notes and Book list online at You will find copies of previous Talks and Booklists there. Hazel also produces a recording of the Talks; the link for this one will be available in due course. Thank you also to friends for encouragement & help with the publicity.

I interpret “The Modern Book Scene” as books published in the last 10-20 years, most, in the last 3-4 years, several as recently as a few weeks ago. Release of money frozen by the lock-down. The emphasis is on books in a prize list, have stirred up discussion and controversy, make good reviews and reflect current interests. I hope also to provide for local library preferences. I have more to say on some books than on others. Most are fiction, a few non fiction. I try to group under headings; I don’t always succeed, especially if books are mixed genre, or general fiction. I end as usual, with books that encourage “ a feel good factor”, fiction and non fiction,

Murder, Mystery and Thrillers – the largest fiction group. As I’ve said on previous occasions, there is great variety under this label. First, 2 books under a new sub heading of Global Outreach. These are followed by 4 thrillers under End of Career Investigators. Novelists have different ways of retiring, killing off, or finding a career change for a crime investigator, who has out lived his or her usefulness in the novelist’s view, and in the readers’ too..

Global Outreach. Outbreak, Frank Gardner, 2021. The author is well known as the BBC’s Security Correspondent. This is the third book in a thriller series featuring Luke Charlton, an operator in the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service, a branch of MI6. The 2 previous books, S.T bestsellers, are Crisis ,2016 & Ultimatum, 2019. Outbreak is a Read Alone, but to judge by the ending, it won’t be the last in the series. It soon occurred to me from his crisp, accomplished, style of writing that Frank Gardner, is a modern successor to Ian Fleming, and Luke Charlton, a modern James Bond. The novel owes part of its inspiration to the Salisbury poisonings of a few years ago. The book begins with 3 UK scientists approaching a seemingly deserted hut near Svalbard, the Norwegian Arctic. The scientist 1 who enters, discovers a decaying, putrid human body. He unknowingly becomes infected with a deadly chemical agent and dies in hospital shortly afterwards. Luke Charlton, who leaves Elise, his girl friend behind, is drafted in to deal with the case. He finds himself involved with a terrifying series of events. What emerges is that Russia has developed a new generation of deadly bio-weapons destined to kill thousands at a glance. Luke discovers that one of the canisters of this substance has fallen into the hands of a right-wing fascist organisation who plan to use it at Kings Cross Station during rush hour to kill a huge crowd of people in one action. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, all very expertly engineered and in which Luke and Elise are involved. This is a brilliantly written book, but a terrifying read, because we realise that what this book is all about, is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The Whole Truth, David Baldacci, 2008. The book was referenced in an article where the writer mentioned that it was a novel prophesying the Trump presidency 8 years before its time. The epigraph at the beginning of the book reads, “Why waste time discovering the truth when you can so easily create it”. The Special Intelligence agent Shaw, who is in the American, hard-boiled cop tradition, is the main character, deeply in love with Anna Fischer, who works for an organisation investigating Russian hostile activity. Soon after Shaw and she got engaged, Anna is killed in a raid on her offices. Enter Katie James, an intelligent reporter. Word had got around that the raid had been the work of Russian agents, but that was “fake news”. The perpetrator proved to be a Trump figure, Nicholas Creel, a powerful American billionaire, posing as a philanthropist, owner of the Ares Corporation, who was prepared to work with Russia and China to create mayhem. Shaw had quite a job on his hands. He and Katie survived to fight another day. I nearly abandoned the book. The violence and blood shed were almost too much, but I’m glad I stayed with it. I realised what a remarkable piece of prophetic writing it was.

End of Career Investigators – A Song for Dark Times, Ian Rankin 2021. John Rebus, Ian Rankin’s fictional detective, has featured in over 20 thrillers. He is at the point of retiring when he has a desperate phone-call from his daughter, Samantha , who lives in a remote part of NE Scotland ,telling him that Keith, her partner and father of her child, is missing. Rebus hastens to the scene to help with the hunt for the missing partner. The hunt turns eventually into a multiple murder investigation . Rebus operates solo for part of the time, but does what he can to assist the local police, who regard him with a mixture of irritation and respect. In Edinburgh, Rebus’ former colleagues have their own murder to investigate which seems to have a connection with the ones in NE Scotland. Rebus and the local police solve 2 the various connected mysteries and arrest the murderers. I find it interesting how Rankin can demonstrate with knowledge and skill how the police work together as a team, sifting through evidence to solve the various crimes on their work load. What else will Rebus find to occupy his retirement, or is that the end of his career? Rankin, is an Agatha Christie writer; he does not write psychological thrillers.

Trust Me, T.M. Logan, 2021. “biggest thriller of the summer” Sunday Times Best Seller.TML- British crime writer, whose psychological thrillers have become very popular in the UK. The book is written in the 1st person by Ellen Devlin ,who is on a train when she is asked by a young woman to look after the woman’s baby while she goes to the loo. She does not return.That is the beginning of a fast-paced, murder mystery which really got me thoroughly involved. There are some frightening, violent and sinister incidents. Ellen is seemingly helped by a DI Stuart Gilbourne, who is near retirement ,after 30 years service. I honestly had no idea until nearly the end who the murderer was, and that came as quite a shock. I did have some queries though, regarding characterisation and plot, but then this kind of fast-paced thriller often provokes questions.

The Darkness, Ragnar Jonasson, 2018. This is an Icelandic, Nordic noir thriller, one of the Times 100 best crime novels since 1945. It is the first book in a trilogy, but it is the last book in the life and career of DI Hulda Hermannsdottir, who is 64 and told by her superior that she has to retire immediately. She pleads for more time and is granted her request to re-open what is called a “cold case”, that of a woman who was presumed to have committed suicide. Hulda sets about the investigation impressively, and eventually uncovers sufficient evidence to show the woman was murdered. Then she makes a serious blunder. The novel moves towards a shocking and horrific end. The way the 3 novels are written, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” is most unusual, The 2 missing books in the trilogy featuring Hulda earlier in her career are The Island, 2020, The Mist , 2019. Booklist.

The Lantern Men, Ellie Griffiths, 2020, Sunday Times Best seller. This is Ellie Griffiths’ 12th novel featuring the forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, who is now 50, has changed her job to that of lecturer, though she still works for the police when required, as so happens in this book. She has also got a new partner Frank. Retirement is not on the cards! Just a mid-life, all-round change. There’s a creepy, supernatural element. A Norfolk legend tells of presences, the Lantern men, whose flickering lights lure the unwary to their deaths in the fens. The first murder on a lonely road, is followed by others. This is a skilfully plotted thriller woven around the lives of very credible characters who generate a warm humanity. The climax is brilliantly 3 done. Ellie Griffiths bring the suspects together as per Agatha C. Not in a room, in a cycle race to reveal the murderer, who stages a horrific attack on Ruth before he is brought down. I really enjoyed this thriller. Ellie G. a favourite author.

The Sea as Environment 3 books – first, still a murder mystery The Lamplighters, Emma Stonex, 2021, S.T. Best seller. The story is inspired by real events. It is 1972; 3 keepers vanish from a remote light-house off the Cornish coast. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The table is set for a meal for 3. The clocks have stopped. The keepers’ log describes a violent storm, but the weather is calm. No sign of the keepers at all. In 1992, 20 years later, the women left behind are still struggling to move on. The novel moves between the dates, having the women, then the men tell their story. It becomes obvious that each person has secrets, not revealed until nearly the end when the whole picture, more or less, emerges. In the final chapter, the reader is privileged to know what the women will never know, what exactly happened on that day in 1972. This is a bleak, gripping story, with the plot cleverly managed. We are left though with the thought that only the sea can give the fullest explanation.

The Mercies Kiran Millwood Hargrave, 2020- many international credits. Based on a true story, the location is Vardo, remote northern Norwegian coast, 1620. There is an ominous quote at the beginning from King Christian of Norway & Denmark, influenced by James I’s Daemonologie. that anyone found guilty of making a pact with the devil, should die. The story begins with a tragedy. Forty men from the community, out fishing, are drowned in a violent storm. The women are left to fend for themselves to survive and feed their families. That meant taking on roles that men would have fulfilled. In this strict Lutheran community that eventually would bring trouble. We learn about individual women and their strong resourceful personalities, how they help and support one another. Then the story switches to Bergen where a woman, Ursa, is about to be married to an austere Scotsman, Absolom Cornet, who is appointed to be commissioner of the Varro region to see that the people are abiding by the rules of state and religion. The marriage is deeply unhappy and Ursa finds friendship amongst the Varro women. Her husband is shocked at the reversal of male-female roles and soon witch trials begin, ending with the execution of some of the women. There is both tragedy at the end and a sign of hope. This is a very powerful book. The writing is exquisitely done, often poetic and lyrical, and at other times, vibrant and muscular with not a word wasted. A remarkable book indeed.

On Wilder Seas, Nikki Marmery, 2020. This is another book based on fact, concerned with the Americas part of Francis Drake’s famous 4 circumnavigation around the world, 1577-80. Amongst the motley English crew is a former black slave girl. Maria, who escaped from a Spanish ship on to Drake’s Golden Hind during an engagement in the port of Acapulco. This is an account of her difficult and dangerous life, the only woman amongst 80 men, a few of whom abuse her but she finds a friend, Diego, a freed black man, former slave, but actually a trusted servant of Francis Drake. From Diego, she learns that on English soil she would be free. This is a gripping, fascinating book, told in the first person by Maria and is very good to read. The violent, vibrant atmosphere is conveyed through a very well-written text. This is a voyage of discovery and there are currents of eager expectation running through the crew as the ship sails through uncharted waters and meets strange, new groups of people when there are visits to the shore line. There is a positive ending, but I question its credibility. This book has a link with the next topic (Wikip’s D’s circumnavigation)

Escape from slavery, death, a natural disaster, a brothel. (4 books) The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitbread, 2017, lots of plaudits world-wide, winner of the Pullitzer prize, 2017, again, based on fact. Location, Georgia, USA, 1820s. The story is told by Cora, a slave on a plantation run by a cruel, ruthless family, but where slaves care for each other. The style, written in the speech rhythms of the American south, is crisp, rhythmic , and moves at quite a pace, taking the reader with it. The story grips you from the word go. Cora, following in the footsteps of her escaped mother, longs for freedom. We are not spared details of the enduring horror of the lives of the black slaves. Any escaped slave who has found refuge in a neighbouring state is ruthlessly hunted down, by a slave catcher, if the state allows it. This happened to Cora the first time she tried. She knows there is an underground tunnel leading from one state to another where she can be free. There is a nail-biting finish. A powerful, memorable book.

American Dirt, Jeanine Cummings, 2020, NY Times, Sun. Times Best Sellers etc. The story begins in a family home in Mexico. The wife Lydia and 8 year old son, Luke, are in the bathroom while husband Sebastian, a fearless reporter who has been exposing a powerful drug cartel, is outside with friends and relatives, when members of the cartel burst in and shoot them all dead. Lydia and Luke escape but know they must leave Mexico to save their own lives. That is the beginning of a nail-biting, epic journey during which it dawns on Lydia that Javier, a regular visitor to her bookshop, was the leader of the cartel and his gang will be out to kill her wherever she and Luke go. Near the end, they discover a traitor in their travelling group. They survive several near death experiences. The book is an edge of the seat, nail-biting “read”, absolutely brilliant. It will stay with me for a very long time. I began to read it the night Taliban entered Kabul.5

Pompeii, Robert Harris, 2010. Robert Harris one of the UK’s greatest novelists, one of the few men who still write fiction, in an area now dominated by women. He is a classicist as several of his novels reveal, but the scope of his interest is considerable. This book is a talking point once more. I wonder why? Location is Pompeii AD79, just before the eruption of Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and created devastation over a wide area. The central fictional character is Marcus Attilius, a young water engineer, an aquarius, sent by Rome to check the water supply brought by the magnificent 62 mile aqueduct, the Via Augusta, built to provide fresh water for the communities living around base of the active volcano. Map in the book shows the route of the aqueduct as it actually was. Attilius was there because his predecessor had mysteriously disappeared. His presence was regarded with great suspicion by a surly overseer and a local millionaire, to whose daughter Corelia, Attilius is attracted. A. soon discovers that all is not well with the water supply, which is becoming erratic, smelling of sulphur, killing fish in a pool. A slave is blamed for that and is put to death. This is powerful writing, made more so by the fact that the reader knows what is going to happen. Attilius however, gets near the truth when he observes a spring turning to steam, & earth tremors becoming frequent and violent. When he climbs up the slopes of the volcano, he finds the body of his predecessor. This is a magnificent book, superbly researched. Corelia comes to warn Attilius that his life is in danger just as the eruption happens. Do they survive? The book ends with an intriguing possibility. To download: The Last Days of Pompeii,

Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1834. (lion & Christian) See Booklist for link.
An eye-witness account- supplied by Pliny the younger, staying out of harm’s way, across the bay, with his uncle, Pliny the Elder, admiral of the fleet. He ventured nearer the source and was killed. He appears in my next book.

The Wolf Den, Elodie Harper, 2021 also based in Pompeii, AD74, 5 years before the eruption. The Latin lupa, means either a she-wolf or a prostitute. The luparum = wolf-den was one of Pompeii’s 9 brothels and this is a fictional story based on its people and activities. The main character is Amara, daughter of a doctor, educated and a musician, sold into slavery by her mother, left impoverished after her husband’s death. Slavery of one kind or another, was the foundation of both Greek and Roman civilisations, but not the early Church. The only way out of slavery was to have someone buy you out. The owner of the Luparum brothel, Felix, was a cruel, ruthless but quite complex man. The characterisation is particularly rich and varied and the girls develop caring relationships with one another, the only family they have. They come alive during the day when they are out in 6 the town attracting customers, but having some free time. Amara has many friends and is permitted to offer some musical entertainment providing there is profit to be had by Felix, the pimp. There is a budding love relationship with Menander, another slave, The men, the girls’ clients are a mixed bunch, some kind, some cruel. There is little detail about their work, because the girls withdraw their feelings into a state of numbness. This is cleverly conveyed by the author, who is an accomplished story teller. The money to buy Amara’s freedom comes from an unexpected source, but the ending is a mixture of sadness and joy (no spoilers). I found the book a very absorbing read. (anachronisms). Before I leave the classical period, 2 brief reviews:

Two Opposing Views of the Ending of the Trojan War -briefly Troy, Stephen Fry,2020. This is the third book in a trilogy, the other two being, Mythos, 2017 and Heroes, 2019. I’ve read Mythos and mentioned it previously. SF is a man of many parts, who loves the classics; his lively prose is a joy to read. You can hear his voice. Troy is written in an epic, heroic, triumphalist style. When I got to the story of how the siege of Troy came to an end, the Greeks taking it by a brilliant deception and then rampaging through the city killing and burning, I realised that Fry was very clearly on the side of the Greeks.

A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes, 2021. I read this immediately after Troy. I started it after listening to the agonising stories on the news of people struggling to get out of Kabul. NH is also a brilliant writer. I talked about her Radio 4 Talks last time. See Booklist 3. She takes the reader into Troy after the Greeks had done their worst. We are with the women, mourning the deaths of their men folk and children, wailing over their burning city, waiting in dread to be taken into slavery by the triumphant Greeks. Contrasting texts? An idea for Bk Grps perhaps? V. good to read. Now for something very different:

Historical Characters in Fiction – 4 painters, I philosopher . The Moon and Sixpence, Somerset Maugham, 1919. S.M. is an early modern novelist, and is one of the first writers to use a real life painter, Paul Gauguin as the main character in this story. Indeed, if Somerst Maugham had used the real names instead of pseudonyms, you could call this short novelette, a biography. Gauguin had died in 1903 and maybe a 16 years gap was not long enough. It soon became known that Charles Strickland was Paul Gauguin. S.M. tells a good story and Charles Strickland’s life follows closely the pattern of Paul Gauguin’s. We follow him as he, obsessed with a desire to paint, leaves his wife and family, cutting off all communication. He ends as P.G. did in Tahiti, in a bigamous marriage, creating new styles in painting which were not recognised until after his death. Only a library e-audiobook. See book list for Gutenberg link download. 7

The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier, 1999-2010. Much acclaimed. Over 5 million copies sold, several reprints. Popular with book groups. Modern authors do not not follow S.M’s example. Their real life celebrities are incorporated into part fictional stories. This book’s location is 17 c. Delft, Holland, in the painter Vermeer’s large family household, where one of the maids Griet, becomes the model for his famous painting. This is a very well-written account seen through Griet’s eyes of how she becomes involved with Vermeer and his work. She even mixes his paints for him. On his suggestion, as his model for the painting, she wears a single earring belonging to his wife. Vermeer remains a slightly withdrawn character. Griet’s feelings for him grow in intensity and we get a strong indication from body language and the glances they exchange, that Vermeer could respond. This is all skilfully and sensitively conveyed by the author, but there is no sexual relationship. One sees very clearly the contrast of the poverty and low expectations of a maid with the situation of a wealthy family in 17thc Holland. We see it even more clearly in the next book, but the maid there makes something of her life and talents.

The Words in my Hands, Guinevere Glasfurd, 2015. A beautifully, written book. Shortlisted Costa Book Award, 2015. Many plaudits. Location – 17th c Amsterdam This is the re-imagined, part-fictional story of Helena Jans, a maid, working for an English bookseller, when a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives, the Monsieur, who turns out to be René Descartes, the French philosopher, and mathematician. At first, the relationship remains formal. Descartes notices that Helena’s hands and limbs are covered in scrawled letters in beetroot juice, and begins to appreciate that she yearns for knowledge and literacy. Gradually the relationship deepens into a surprising story of mutual love . Eventually Helena is able to make a little money with her artistic talents, but when she becomes pregnant she has to leave her post. Descartes, unlike many men who desert servant girls they have made pregnant, helps to support her and the child. He visits from time to time, but he cannot marry her. Her first child, a girl. dies, but she then has another, a boy. . The ending of the book is more positive than you would expect for Helena and her son, A truly lovely book.

The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman, 2015. S.T. Best seller. Set during early-mid 19thc on St Thomas, an island in the then Danish W.Indies. Written in a rich sensuous style, conveying the sights, sounds and smells of this exotic, idyllic place, and focussing on the young woman who would eventually become mother of Camille Pissarro, a leader in the French impressionist school of painting. Rachel a strong-minded, talented girl from one of the wealthy French-Danish Jewish families, was forced into an early marriage with an older widower with 3 children. Rachel bears him 3 children before 8 he dies. The family business is taken over by her husband’s young handsome nephew Frederic Pisarro. He and Rachel fall passionately in love and in spite of opposition from the local Jewish community are able to marry. The last part of the novel cum family biography tells us more about their third son, Camille, who left St Thomas to follow his painting career in Paris. A beautifully told, engrossing story. I loved it.

Mr Mac and Me, Esther Freud, 2015. many plaudits – Times, Guardian etc. Location is Walberswick, on the Suffolk coast, 1914, at the beginning of WWI. The story is told through the eyes of a young boy, Thomas Maggs, only surviving son of the local publican who deliberately lamed the boy as a baby so that he would never go to sea. When famous, Scottish Art Nouveau artists, Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wife Margaret first arrive in the village they are treated with suspicion. Eventually, a warm friendship is formed between Thomas Maggs and the new arrivals. He learns much from their companionship. This is a well-written, atmospheric and gently told story and we are soon engrossed. The sea is never far away . Villagers look across the water nervously, knowing that the battle front in France and Belgium is very close. We learn about the village, its characters, its history, its customs and legends through Thomas’s eyes. We read and discussed this in our Book Group and we enjoyed it. A change from thrillers?

People without Partners – through old age, war, accident, or by choice Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout. 2019, who has written several books in which Olive Kitteridge is a link or the main character as in the Pulitzer prize winning novel Olve Kitteridge, 2013. which I read and enjoyed some time ago. In Olive Again, the author writes a series of vignettes, or short stories concentrating on the lives of individual people and groups in the community. So skilfully is this accomplished that in each one the reader is made to be fully integrated with the people under the microscope. Olive Kitteridge appears in each one, revealing different aspects of her personality as appropriate for the people she is with at the time. She ages throughout the book. Her second husband has died and she has increasing problems with old age which the author gradually unfolds with great sensitivity. Not often do you come across writers who can write so convincingly about old age. I was truly impressed by this book.

Akin, Emma Donaghue, 2019 “ Daft premise, clever writing”, wrote a Guardian reviewer. Emma Donaghue is an accomplished writer who ranges over a wide variety of themes in her novels. I’ve read several and this title, meaning A Relative, is the shortest of any title. A 79 year old retired widower professor, Noah, is about to set off on a sentimental journey, a holiday, to Nice and the Cote d’Azur, when 9 he finds himself lumbered with his 11 year old great nephew. Michael who has been put several places to stay previously because his mother is in gaol. Michael has to go with Noah on the holiday. The book is is not plot-driven. It relies mainly on dialogue exchanges between the old man with his scholarly, genteel way of speaking and this dynamic, quirky little boy, who speaks in the laconic slang of down-town New York. There is so much explaining for Noah to do as he tells Michael his memories of his parents and grand-parents, WWII, Jewish connections and so on. The dialogue reveals the huge generational differences. As they move round different places in southern France, the reader begins to see Noah’s great patience being rewarded by warmer responses from Michael. The ending offers a future for both which they had not thought of before.

A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier, 2019. This is the 2nd T. C. book reviewed in this Talk and like The Girl with the Pearl Earring, it is well-written & has a bitter-sweet ending. Violet Speedwell lost her brother and her fiancé in WW1. From then until the 1930s, when the story begins, she, aged 38, has been holding up a boring office job and living a dispiriting existence with a demanding mother. She has however, a fiercely independent spirit, longing to make a better life for herself in a men-scarce world . She moves to Winchester to start a new life and joins the team of embroiderers at the Cathedral amongst whom she makes new friends. I enjoyed this part of the novel particularly. She also gets to know Arthur, a married man, a cyclist & a bell ringer at the cathedral. Violet takes up cycling, but knowing Arthur will not leave his wife, persuades him when they are out cycling amidst hedgerows and green fields, to have sex with her. This he does. She eventually gives birth to a little girl, Iris, and then is offered a housekeeping job by 2 lesbian friends in Southampton. Iris is baptised in Winchester Cathedral in the company of friends & family, while Arthur incognito, rings a solitary bell overhead.

Small Pleasures, Clare Chambers, 2021. This is already long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Historical period 1957, is meticulously researched. Begins with an announcement of a train crash in the newspaper where Jean Swinney is a reporter. We do not know the significance of the crash until the end. Jean, is single and lives with her mother and does not seem to resent the demands made on her. She has virtually no social life & is seemingly content with “small pleasures”. At work, Jean is given the task of investigating the claims of a married woman, Mrs Gretchen Tilbury, that her daughter, Margaret is the result of a virgin birth. During the lengthy investigations, answers to which are not entirely satisfactory. Jean becomes deeply involved with the family, especially with Harold, the husband. The story ends as it began with the notice of the 10 crash. The ending may be tragic, but it avoids a betrayal & deceit. Very good book.

Conclave, Robert Harris, 2016. This book has been highly acclaimed and has won many awards. Beautifully written and is full of agonising suspense with a final twist in the tail. It is about the election of a pope with acute observations of the lives and personalities of the cardinal candidates, all men, drawn to the Vatican from all parts of the world-wide RC church. Cardinal Lomeli is the main character. He is not a candidate but the lynchpin who is in charge of the organisation. We see characters & the activity through his eyes. He is responsible for seeing to the needs of the cardinals in their separate rooms. On one visit, he notices that one candidate does not use a razor. There are several ballots in the process of elimination before the final one. The suspense is unbearable Then the white smoke goes up from the Vatican chimney. A new pope has been elected. Who is it?

Feel Good Factor Books- romance , people, environment, natural world The Switch, Beth O’Leary, 2021 , S.T. Best seller, Rom Com, from RNA website. Eileen, the 79 year old grandmother who lives on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and Leena her grand daughter in London, take it in turns to tell the story. Leena has been given 2 months paid leave from her firm, as she is suffering from stress from mourning the loss of her sister. Eileen whose husband has left her for the dancing instructress, and Leena, agree to switch homes for the two months. Eileen promptly forms a relationship with an old guy, while Leena takes on her grandmother’s various roles in the village, during which she is attracted to Jackson, a primary school teacher, while trying to be faithful to Ethan, her boy friend at home. Once Ethan is proved unfaithful to her the way is clear for a relationship with Jackson. The story is well-told and it rips along at quite a pace. It is a bit of a romp, but fun to read. Escapist? Yes. Don’t despise that. We all are!

Woodston, John Lewis Stempel, 2021. Sunday T. Best Seller. The author has a reputation of being England’s finest writer on the natural world. In 2017, his work won the Wainwright Prize, and other awards as well. He is also a farmer. Woodston is the name of his family farm, situated on the Herefordshire-Gloucestershire- Worcestershire border. He can trace his Herefordshire family roots back 700 years and his farming connections to the area, several generations. He is no mere observer of natural features, a recorder of seasonal changes and the events of the farming year. He is a historian whose profound and extensive knowledge of the land, its wildlife and people, their land usage and animal husbandry goes back to prehistoric times and that is where he begins. The organisation of material follows a clear and distinct pattern. There is nothing boring about this book. The 11 writes beautiful, lyrical prose from a rich and impressive background, and grabs the reader’s attention. I really enjoyed this book.

The Midnight Library, Matthew Haig, 2020, Waterstone’s list. Norah Seed, at 36, feels that she has made a mess of her life. The story in her dream begins in the library of her old school where she is telling Mrs Elm, the librarian that she Nora has only 19 more years to live. In her dream, she is in the Midnight library with Mrs Elm who is advising Nora to choose books appropriate for different phases of Nora’s life. She has to make right choices and live the rest of her life more positively to avoid the prophesy of her early death . The book reminded me of Dickens’ Christmas Carol where Scrooge learns from the 3 ghostly visitors that he has to change the direction of his life & move towards caring for others. The book is well-written but I felt it did not quite fit my situation. It is is amazingly popular.

The Comfort Book, Matt Haig, 2021, “instant S.T. best seller”, a collection of MH’s “Life Rafts”, a book to browse through, It reads like a secular Bk of Proverbs. Some sayings are trivial, some quite profound. I found myself mulling over quite a few. Here are a couple, “Continually looking for the meaning of life is like looking for the meaning of a piece of toast. It is sometimes better just to eat the toast.” and “Life is short. Be kind”. And finally, …..

The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn, 2020. Sunday Times Best Seller. Many accolades This book is proving to be as popular as its predecessor, The Salt Path, mentioned in a previous Talk. Popular in Book Groups, huge international sales. The first part of The Wild Silence recalls how Moth, Raynor’s husband was diagnosed with a terminal, degenerative disease. After they lost their home in a disastrous sales deal and were nearly penniless, they decided to walk the South Coast Path. Both of them loved the outdoors and if anything could keep Moth going, it would be this venture. By the time Ray starts her second book, Moth seems to be still in a period of remission, which puzzles his doctors. In hope and with great courage, Moth enrols for a university course. Amazingly he does well and is offered work as a result. Just when they are wondering how to cope with the next stage of life , they are offered a farm to re-wild. The owner does not want to take up residence in the immediate future. They enter into it with great gusto. Towards the end of the book, it dawns on them that living in the outdoors has been the means of Moth’s remission .and decide to go on a walking trip to Iceland. This is a wonderful, inspirational book, and Ray is truly a very gifted and passionate writer, both of the natural world and of her deep, personal relationship with Moth. Their story is one of hope over despair. Thank you for listening and watching. 12

The Modern Book Scene Part 2 by Kathleen Kinder

The Script from Kathleen Kinder’s talk

I extend a warm welcome to everyone watching and listening, wherever you are. I’ll speak around 60 minutes with time for questions afterwards. This is the second Zoom talk on the Modern Book Scene. I  thank the Settle library management committee for their continued support, particularly, Hazel Allen, for organising the event  and agreeing to put the Talk notes online as last time,  and this time recording it online  as well.

Thank you also to friends who have helped with the publicity. During the lock-down I’ve been able to borrow from the NY library service  the e-books I needed. There are library copies of all of the modern  books discussed  (except for one – I’ll explain later). Libraries are now open nationally & printed books can be borrowed again. 

Project Gutenberg.  I am also recommending a few free books you can download. Go to the web-site On the Home page select Find Free Books/Search & Browse/Quick Search. Write the title. Select the book from the list and  the format, epub if you have the app. or html. I have chosen those pre 1925 © books to enrich our appreciation of  modern book origins. It is one way we study and  enjoy our literary heritage, to show how techniques, topics, attitudes etc  develop over the centuries. We are enriched by our past. Try to silence it, as sometimes happens in a secular environment (my experience), then cultural impoverishment is a real possibility. 

I interpret “The Modern Book Scene” as books  published in the last 10-20 years, a few as recently as a few weeks ago. The emphasis is on books that have been in a prize list, have stirred up discussion and controversy, and which reflect current interests amongst the general  public. I hope also to provide for local library interests, having worked as a volunteer in the Settle library for 3 years, and having oversight of our 14 Book Groups, as they were before lock down.  

 I have more to say on some books than on others. Most  are fiction, a few non fiction. Mixed genre books feature several themes in one volume, For example, historical fiction can be the backdrop to feminist issues, slavery, romance and  murder. I end with books that encourage  “ a feel good factor”, fiction and non fiction.

 Murder, Mystery and Thrillers – the largest fiction group

I include in this Group, one book that features mystery, intrigue but no murder. There is great variety here. I begin with a book which I consider a classic murder mystery.  The Dry by Jane Harper, an Australian author. Published in 2016, this book has won many  international awards,(New York & Sunday Times) and sold over a million copies worldwide. The main character  Aaron Falk, a federal police investigator, has returned  to his Australian outback home town of Kiewarra to attend the funeral of  his best friend, Luke, who is thought to have committed suicide after murdering his wife and child. Falk returns to the town during the worst period of drought the area has suffered for years. He soon finds himself drawn into a claustrophobic web of hatred and lies. The plot is cleverly managed. After overcoming the suspicion which surrounds him, Falk proves to be a skilful investigator. The reader’s attention is held to the very end & this is one of the best murder mysteries I have ever read.

Nordic Noir Murder Mysteries.  These are good translations into English, very popular throughout Europe.  Before Icelandic thriller writers joined with those from Norway, Finland and Sweden, these murder mysteries were called Scandi Noir  and they certainly are dark. Considering how the terrible  heat and drought  intensify the atmosphere in the Jane Harper novel, I then thought of the 3 Nordic  Noir novels I’ve read where near Arctic conditions of intense winter cold and lack of sunlight add to the horror and suspense, while the perpetual daylight during the summer months does not help either. 

1.Firewall: Henning Mankell 2008 (Swedish). This is the first of the Inspector Kurt Wallander books, (recent series on TV ). It begins dramatically. A man about to use a town  cash machine, falls down dead. Two teenage girls murder a taxi driver; one girl disappears. The horror intensifies when there is a complete blackout throughout the area. This was my first encounter with the use of cyber crime in a murder mystery. That hyped up the atmosphere even more. Inspector Wallander has a lot on his hands and of course, he sorts it all out brilliantly. “A very good novel”. That’s the note in my little Red Book.  

2.Reykjavik Nights  Arnaldur Indridason 2014,who is called “ King of Icelandic crime”. This is the prequel, or first in a series of  crime novels, now world famous, featuring Inspector Erlandur, although in this prequel he has just joined the police force as a night traffic officer. He has a particular concern for missing persons and it is that which leads him  to the trail of murderers lurking in the city’s dark underworld. The author paints a vivid, warm picture of the Icelanders , their culture and extraordinary environment – volcanoes & glaciers. The atmosphere is unique. I hope to read more, eventually.

3.The Second Deadly Sin, 2014, woman novelist, Asa Larsson,(Swedish). The Arctic location is the north of Sweden. This is the 5th novel to feature female investigator Rebecka Martinsson. It has all the ingredients of an accomplished Scandi noir novel with a well-paced  plot, good characterisation, a budding love relationship and a  terrifying episode with a bear. It begins with the murder of a woman in her home. Note on the novel in my little Red Book -“good but grim”.

Sunday Times Best SellerMagpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz 2017. This is the first of two books to feature character, Susan Ryeland, crime editor of Clover Leaf Books,  investigator of  murder mysteries. It has a double story interest. The first novel” within a novel is reminiscent of Agatha Christie and is an Atticus Pund  murder mystery by the fictional author, Alan Conway. The murder of the housekeeper is supposedly solved by the end, but who killed Sir Marcus Pye? The final chapter is missing. Susan Ryeland begins the second novel by considering the suspects in the first, but then Alan Conway is mysteriously killed. Who is his murderer? The book is over twice the normal size simply because there are 2 in 1. The two novels are given different typesets in the printed edition. The double novel is cleverly written and is one for the specialist lover of crime fiction to enjoy. (U3A Crime Novel Book Group)  Moonflower Murders , its sequel, was published late 2020. I have just begun to read it!

Novel by a popular TV Presenter.    The Thursday Murder Club , Richard Osman, 2020, appears to be one of the most sought after murder mystery novels. A friend kindly offered me her printed copy to read, as I was 95th in the queue for 34 e-books! The sentences and chapters are short, giving the writing style a jerky, staccato effect. It was a good idea to have  in a retirement village, an informal club whose 4  members  have  qualifications, suited to the task of murder investigation, although their relationship with the police when a murder has been committed, is  rather odd  The book is funny in places and I enjoyed about 2/3rds of it. Then  the author lost the plot, too many red herrings and a sub plot to add to the mix. However…..

“Does the punishment fit the crime?”  was a question I asked the next 2 novels, which initially were choices of 2 members of my Book Group. One of the values of a Book Group is you often appreciate choices that are not yours, and it was so in both these cases.

  1. Burial Rites, Hannah Kent, 2013.  This novel is based on a true account from Icelandic records of a young woman, Agnes Magnusdottir, who, in 1828 it was “believed” by the district supervisor  to be complicit with 2 others, in the murder of her employer ,Natan Ketilson.  Agnes was sentenced to death by beheading. She was sent to live with a family, a husband, wife and 2 daughters. until her sentence could be carried out. At first, the family were terrified of her, but as the weeks went by, she proved to be utterly docile. She was intelligent, caring, gifted and a hard worker  . Before she had to face death, Agnes told Margret, the mother, what really happened to the murdered man, who in life, was a cruel, vindictive character who raped the girls who worked for him, and who were referred to as “whores” in the trial. The family are torn with grief as Agnes is taken away. This is a gripping story, beautifully told against the  poverty of the people, the background of a stern Protestantism and the unforgiving Icelandic climate. You will not put the book down until you have read it.    Was Justice done?
  2. Apple Tree Yard- Louise Doughty, 2014. Written in the first person by Yvonne Carmichael and addressed to “X”, her partner in crime. She recalls the series of events which put them both in the dock  accused of murder. The modern location is central London. Yvonne, a highly qualified  scientist is “happily married”, so she says, with 2 teenage children. One day, as she leaves her office, she is drawn into conversation with a man who is watching her in the street. She accepts his invitation to look at the chapel underneath the Palace of Westminster where the first act of  consensual sex takes place, something that had been missing from her own marriage for 2 years.                                                                 

Over the next few weeks, this act is repeated  in various locations of which Apple Tree Yard is one. Matters come to a head when after a party, she is raped by a colleague, George Craddock, who calls her a whore and reveals he knows of her liaison with X. Later she tells X, “Something will have to be done about GC”, and X, alias Mark Costley, who turns out to be a serial sexual predator,  kills  GC. The court’s verdict  is that X is given a number of years in prison, while Yvonne has just 6 months, after which Guy, her husband, who also had had an affair, and her children, welcome her home .  Nearly at the end of the book, Yvonne recalls a remark  made to X, which if it had been revealed in the trial would have given her many more years in gaol, and reduced Mark’s sentence considerably.  Was justice done? A squalid tale? No, a brilliantly written moral tale, worthy of a Shakespeare tragedy, and Yvonne, a Lady Macbeth.

Mystery – no murder  It is time, after all that gloom, for a novel with a “feel good factor”, that ends with a  love relationship and one that has all the mystery solved.  Well, not quite!

The Cleaner of Chartres ,  Sally Vickers, 2007  (some may know it).  On St Agnes Day, in modern times, in the French cathedral city of Chartres, a baby girl is found abandoned in a basket with an earring beside her. Her origins are a mystery. She is given the name Agnes and is brought up by nuns. Later, as she works in an orchard, she is raped and gives birth to a baby boy she calls Gabriel. The baby is removed  for adoption. The loss affects Agnes deeply and disturbs her mental and emotional equilibrium. She then works as a cleaner for Mme Bec, one of 2 friends, who are gossipy, nasty old ladies, but the real joy of Agnes’ life is being able to work as a cleaner in the magnificent, ancient cathedral where she meets and  falls in love with Alain, who is a craftsman restoring the cathedral’s medieval stonework. It is the mellow, peaceful presence of the great cathedral  presiding over human activity which gives hope that “all will be well” (Julian of Norwich). At the end, in a clever and amusing twist of the plot,  the identity of Agnes’ mother is revealed and the second earring recovered. Alain and Agnes have their own baby son, but Agnes to her sorrow, never finds Gabriel. A delightful book, one to enjoy. 

A Spy Novel (not attempted before) & the biography of a Spy.                           

 Restless, William Boyd winner of the Costa Book prize, 2006. This is a classic  spy novel , an utterly absorbing page turner. During the summer of 1976, Ruth Martin discovers that her seemingly English and reclusive mother Sally , is really a Russian emigrée, Eva Delectorskeya,  who was a spy for the British during WW11. Recruited in 1939, aged 29 and a beauty, Eva is trained by the enigmatic Lucas Romer to be the perfect spy, covering up her tracks and disappearing when she suspects discovery. She has to hide her emotions and trust no one, not even Romer with whom she has an affair. It is after this that she begins to have suspicions of the presence of a double agent, a traitor in the team, who has compromised her. This time, in her late middle age, she needs her daughter’s help to give the traitor his just deserts and does she succeed? This is a powerful novel with a fast moving, evolving plot.  A compelling “read”, as we say. Next, a biog.

A Woman of No Importance,  Sonia Purnell, 2019. Most people know of Odette, the woman spy ,who survived torture by the Nazis during WW11. Very few have heard of the wealthy  American, Virginia Hall who also worked as a spy for the British & Americans during WW11.  After the war, she received the highest awards for bravery from the British, Americans and French, but Virginia wished for anonymity. Her story remained untold until Sonia Purnell, an accomplished biographer, wrote it down.  Virginia was regarded by the Germans as the most dangerous enemy spy. The Gestapo longed to get hold of her, but never did. Amazingly, Virginia was disabled. She lost a leg in a shooting accident before the war and managed very well with a prosthetic leg. She was a master of disguises, constantly outwitting the Gestapo. On her retirement in the USA, she married her lover & colleague, Paul. She had difficulty at first, in persuading the CIA to employ her because she was a woman. She died in 1982, aged 76.  A thrilling book, and you will not put it down until you have read it.  Master of disguises  led me to think of 2 books which I first read in my teenage years and which I downloaded  from  by entering each title on the Quick Search line. (new discovery)                                                                                                

The Four Feathers  A.E. W. Mason, 1901, (Harry Feversham) and The Scarlett Pimpernel.  1905, Baroness Orczy  (Sir Percy Blakeney).

One Novel & the Effects of Social Deprivation & Alcoholism

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart, winner of the  Booker Prize 2020. I saw a TV interview with the author, who admitted the book was partly autobiographical and it took him 10 years to write. I’m not surprised; it is a magnificent achievement. The location is  the tenement slums of south Glasgow in the 1980s, during the miners’ strike, no work in the dockyards and steel industry. Shuggie (slang for Hugh)Bain lives with his alcoholic  mother Agnes, older brother Leek and sister Catherine.  His father is about to move out at the beginning of the book and gradually, his siblings follow suit. Only Shuggie remains to cope with his mother’s drink problems, her violence, unpredictability, mood swings and money for drink, but not food. Shuggie is not like other boys, who call him a “pouf”, but he stays with his mother, caring for her to the very end. He copes with her death with amazing resilience, leaving us with the conviction that he will survive to fashion his own life and cope well with whatever lies ahead.  A deeply moving book.

3 Novels & A True account of the Effects of War and Conflict  

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, 2020.  – a highly regarded author, born in Peru, but most associated with Chile. The book is an excellent translation from the Spanish.  It is about Victor Dalmain, a young Spanish doctor whose family are caught up in the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War. He, together with Rosa,  his widowed sister in law whom he marries for convenience, but later grows to love, flee from Barcelona to exile in Chile. The book follows the lives of  4 generations of displaced  persons forced to flee, first from repression in  Spain and then in Chile, The story describes the political developments in Spain to the death of Franco, to the beginning of WW11 and in Chile, to the fall of Pinochet 1990. The book has received many international plaudits. At the end, as the characters pick up the pieces of their lives, they are determined to look forward with positive hope for the future. It is a great book; I loved it and there are plenty of library copies…

Guernica- Dave Boling, 2009, 1 library copy, The book follows  the lives and experiences of 2 families who lived in this coastal town in Northern. Spain before and after the devastating 1937 bombing by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civll war . The bombing which destroyed most of the town and killed thousands of people was all the more horrific  because Guernica had no strategic importance. whatsoever. It was a rehearsal  by the German Luftwaffe for the WW11 London blitz. Picasso, who appears briefly in the novel, painted his famous picture Guernica, which describes the horror graphically. When the picture was on display in Paris, a German officer asked Picasso if it was his work. And his reply: “No. it’s yours”.

The Garden of Evening Mists,  Tan Twan Eng 2012. The author is a Malay who lives in Penang. He is a master of  English in all its variety and I am in awe at his achievement This, his second book, has received several awards, not only in the West ,but in the Far East . As English is a lingua franca, literate people can download this book as an e-book, anywhere, because there are  a million copies available. Look it up on the library web site (brown cover). NY library has “always available”.  Because of the book’s importance, it is probably used as a global  textbook. This  surely provides a world-wide extension of  English literary skills. Book groups world-wide whose members have tablets or i-pads have instant access to this reading material. It is a wonderful book to read with plenty of issues to discuss. You could, of course, discuss it on Zoom internationally. There are, I’m afraid, just 3 printed copies in the library.  Why?  Here is  a bit about the fictional plot and its characters.  Teoh Yun Ling  is the main character and first person narrator. She is a law graduate, trained in Cambridge, only the second woman to be a supreme judge in Malaya.    Now beginning to  suffer from a degenerative disease  she is about to take early retirement. 

The book draws on her memories of her experiences, people, war and events.  ”Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf.  In sleep, these broken floes drift  towards the morning light of remembrance..” That is just an example of the author’s beautiful English.  Teoh returns to the Cameroon Highlands to live and recalls how she first went there to become an apprentice to Arimoto, famous Japanese gardener, who had offered to teach Teoh how to create a Japanese garden  in memory of her sister, who had died as a result of being in a Japanese POW camp, where Teoh too had lost some fingers.  The book is packed full of remembrances, some sad, some horrific to do with the war, some joyous, some quite lovely, all vividly described and told, and  making the reading experience a truly memorable one. 

Endell Street  Wendy Moore  late 2020, causing a lot of interest.

This is the first, fully referenced account of the WW1 military hospital, staffed entirely by  women, who were surgeons, anaesthetists physicians, nurses and ancillary staff,the only man, the policeman on guard at the entrance. In 1914, at the beginning of the War, the opposition in England to women doctors running a hospital for male casualties  was total. Women who had been trained as doctors since the 1860s, had only ever worked with children and women.                        

The French, beginning to be overwhelmed by the casualties at the Front, accepted the offer of a group of women doctors and nurses led by a surgeon, Louisa Garrett Anderson, daughter of the first woman doctor, Elizabeth G.A. and her close friend and anaesthetist, Flora Murray. The women set up a hospital in Claridges Hotel in Paris. The women had never dealt with male patients before, never mind the horrific  injuries sustained by many of them. Most of the women were from upper class families in Britain and had been suffragettes. The battle front moved closer to Paris, and there were more and more casualties. The women knew they had to leave.  In 1915, the British authorities, impressed by the excellent reports of the women’s hospital in Paris, offered the women a disused building in Endell Street, near Covent Garden, to convert into a military hospital. This is what they did. The outstanding care the men received became legendary, and wounded men asked to go the Endell St. Hospital!                                                

After treating  over 24,000 men in 4 years, Endell Street Hospital was dismantled in 1919. Doctors, who were former soldiers and officers, took the places of the dedicated and now highly skilled women staff, who were told to go back to looking after women and children, or to their “place” in the home.  I found myself sharing the anger of the author, anger  which spilled off  the pages as I was reading, that there was no attempt by the men to learn about the new amputation methods women surgeons had developed, nor how women anaesthetists  learnt to use ether and chloroform more efficiently. Male surgeons, anaesthetists and physicians simply picked up where they had left off in 1914. Women were to understand that they had merely been stop gaps, and they were thanked.  Male doctors would catch up quickly. Was it not so that men had larger brains than women, and women anyway should not be allowed to see or deal with men’s naked bodies…..?  .  More online, youtube, photos.   This book has not been out long and in the library, there are 2 e-books, 2 large print books, 1 CD,  and 1 e-Audiobook. We need to ask for some standard print  hbks and pbks. I was so impressed with the book; I bought a copy. That led me to download from Gutenberg..

The Subjection of Women, essay by John Stuart Mill, 1869,  

This was written when women were first trained as doctors. Florence Nightingale had been celebrated for her work  in the Crimea. Victoria was on the throne. There were already outstanding women writers, but women were corseted into  gigantic crinoline cages,- always fainting & were regarded as feeble.  John Stuart Mill  wrote of an experiment where the brain of a man and one of a  woman had been weighed, and the woman’s brain was found to be  larger and     8 heavier! John Stuart Mill’s view was that since  women’s inferior status had never been proven, there was no case for subjection. Views on the subjection of women came from 2 sources, ancient Greece and an ancient Hebrew myth, used by the 3 Abrahamic  faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and which persists in their conservative branches. In Gen 3,16, God says to Eve, “Your husband….shall rule over you..” Polygamy may still be practised in some parts of Africa, to uphold  tribal status, and  continuation of  family lines. In Mormonism (sub Christian sect), monogamy has been in the main US church since 1890, but polygamy could return. Joseph Smith,- 43 wives; Brigholm Young, 53 wives & 55 children, but Solomon, 700, OT, 1K11 (wealth). 

Six Books to support what I have just said – 3f+3nf                             

Man of Property, John Galsworthy, 1906. Gutbg.  wife as property.  Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey,1904 Gutbg.3rd Mormon wife.  Stay with me, Ayobami Adebayo, 2017, polygamy in modern Nigeria.

Educated, Tara Westover, 2018, Mormon to Cambridge University Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman, 2012, rejection of Hasidic Judaism. Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2006, from Islam to atheism. See Youtube videos

Katarina Luther, Anne Boileau, 2016 (based on fact, not in the library)

This is one of several books written about Katarina von Bora,  the wife of Martin Luther, to celebrate the 500th anniversary  of the  Protestant Reformation in 1517.  Suddenly, after all these centuries, the importance of this lady is at last being recognised & celebrated.                                      

Katarina, b. 1499, was put in a convent when she was 5 by her stepmother and there she stayed, taking her vows as a nun when she was 15. She was quite a scholar and assumed a teaching role in the convent. Luther’s writings were smuggled in. Katarina and some others read them avidly, especially the paper calling monks and nuns to come out of their cloisters to marry and lead a normal life. The nuns wrote to Luther who arranged for the man who brought salted herrings to the convent to hide the nuns in the empty barrels on his return to Wittenberg where Luther lived. Soon 5 dishevelled nuns smelling of old kippers arrived .  One of Luther’s students wrote. “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands, lest worse befall”. Four of the five were soon settled. Only Katarina remained. She went to the household of a friend of Luther’s to teach the children,  and do housework.  Luther, an Augustinian monk, was worried after she had turned down 2 offers of marriage. She  then told him, she would marry him. Luther wrote to a friend,”If I marry, it would please my father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.”                                                                                    

He accepted her proposal; he was 42, she 26,(not pretty, he, unkempt & overweight). Luther invited her to meet his students who were  in a theological debate. When Katarina joined in, Luther sternly rebuked her and said a woman had no part in men’s talk. She got up and walked out, but hung around outside till he was free. She then told him in no uncertain way  that if he did not treat her as an equal, she would not marry him.  No Old Testament subordination for her!                                                                          

Luther was  intrigued by this feisty lady who knew her NT  and St Paul’s greeting to women as his “partners” in Christ. Luther apologised. After marriage, they fell in love, had 6 children. She was his ”lord Katy”. Each morning, he liked to see her “pigtails on the pillow”.   Katarina was known as “the female doctor”, or “the Lutheress”. She was a tireless worker, created a student hostel, brewed beer, grew vegetables, ran the farm business and opened a hospital for plague victims. Luther admitted she “sometimes” advised him on church matters.  We must ask for library books about her if only to show that the OT subjection of women, no longer applies, and should never have done so in the first place. (Kindle £3.99)                                                                    

 “Feel good Factor” books.- romance, family and natural world

The Girl from the Tanner’s Yard, Diane Allen, 2020. This book was in the shortlist for the RNA’s award for the prize for the best Romance Saga Novel,  2021. Diane Allen is a local author from LP, and we congratulate her on her achievement. The story, based in the 1850s, is located in the bleak  moorland  near Haworth. I was impressed by the vivid description of the poverty of the people trying to scrape a subsistence living in this beautiful, but unforgiving landscape. We also read of the  enormous problems  encountered by parents trying to bring up  increasingly  large  families. As you would expect, there is considerable Bronte influence. The heroine, Lucy, like Jane Eyre,  is  quite a bit younger than the hero, Adam, but unlike Rochester and Jane, Adam is handsome and Lucy pretty.  As in the novel, Jane Eyre, this has a happy ending, not only for Lucy and Adam but for other struggling family members. A very pleasant “read”. Thank you, Diane.

This Love  Dani Atkins,  This novel won the RNA Award for the best Romance novel of 2018. The story begins dramatically when a fire destroys the flat where the heroine Sophie lives. She is rescued by a stranger, Ben, who offers the homeless Sophie the basement flat in his house. The love relationship develops slowly. There is a “high incidence of coincidence”, to move on the story. We become aware that there is a mystery surrounding Ben, which slowly comes to light . If sadness is there, then we are reminded that true love lasts till death do us part and that comes for some, earlier than for others.  A well-written, thought-provoking novel.                                          

All the Lonely People, Mike Gayle  2021, who has won the RNA’s 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award.  Of W. Indian heritage, Mike is an established author of light romance  fiction (ladlit) The novel tackles the prejudice a mixed race marriage encounters, family tragedies, & loneliness. A young, single mum Ashleigh befriends an 84 year old widower Hubert.  There are time switches into Hubert’s past, his  family life, and his present lonely situation. The sadness is matched by the  warmth and joy of new multi-racial friendships. There is much to commend in this book which breaks into an area where the light  romance fiction genre has not ventured before,- very apt for now.

The Other Bennet Sister  Jane Hadlow 2020  This is one of several modern re-takes or extensions of a Jane Austen novel, and is a very good one. The novelist aims by a series of makeovers and relationships to transform Mary, the plain, intellectual, boring, left on the shelf  Bennet sister, into an acceptable, romantic heroine  attracting at least one or maybe two, suitors. The novelist succeeds very well,- ugly duckling into a presentable swan. I was impressed by the style, modelled convincingly on that of P&P, but yet quite modern.                                             

I did have one concern; the makeover of Mr Collins’ character into a studious, caring scholar who was a great help to Mary, is not entirely convincing. However, the dialogue between Mary and the hero Tom Hayward  is every bit as accomplished as that between Darcy, Elizabeth and other characters in P&P. There is of course, a happy ending  to a very enjoyable novel, a really good one.   

Miss Austen, Gill Hornsby 2020, a good, well-written, semi-novel re.  Cassandra Austen, d.1845, Jane’s older sister  who was her life-long companion and  who out-lived Jane  (d.1817) by many years. I really enjoyed this book. As far as the narrative is concerned, it is a slow-burner, but is never dull, with a lot of fascinating insights into the lives of Austen family members. A good follow on from the previous book.

Books about Enjoying The Natural World- last section.

Wildwood – a Journey Through Trees,  Roger Deakin 2008, who died soon after this classic  was written. I love trees and enjoy sitting in their presence,  watching and listening to what goes on in them and around them, a very restful occupation. In the book, the author weaves together the cultural associations and the natural world which trees inhabit.  The author takes us from the trees in Suffolk where he lives, to experience the trees in the New Forest, the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean. Then we are transported overseas to  the distinctive species of trees in the Pyrenees of France, Poland, Lesbos island, Kyrgyzstan and Australia. I remember listening to and watching a kookaburra in a  eucalyptus in a friend’s garden on the edge of the Blue Mts, in Australia, 1992.   I’m sorry the author did not get to the great redwood forests of California. I remember in 1985 being driven by friends in a motorhome, right through an archway- tunnel formed by the massive roots of a giant sequoia . A great experience.

Rootbound – Rewilding a Life.  Alice Vincent,  2020  This is a first person, autobiographical account written in a beautiful lyrical style, rich in imagery as the author describes her experience with plants and flowers, first enjoyed in her grandfather’s garden. She writes of their history and of the famous gardeners who introduced and nurtured them. Interspersed with these rich passages of prose are the poignant accounts of how keenly she felt the loss of a much loved husband who suddenly announced that he did not wish to be married any more.                                                          

Eventually the darkness and loss are lessened with the therapy of gardening, and even more so when she meets Matt. The relationship develops slowly and gradually. By the end of the book, the reader feels that the author’s pain and loss are being replaced by a new-found happiness, a healing brought about not only by the new relationship, but by the flowers and plants which so enrich her life.

Brief Mention – authors recommended by friends, plenty of copies      

Sightlines  Kathleen Jamie, 2012 –  The author  a well-known Scottish poet writes beautiful prose which brings to mind vividly the remote places she visits, the wildlife and habitats she encounters, mostly northern, killer whales & seals, Greenland icebergs, St Kilda.

The Stubborn Light of Things- a Nature diary – Melissa Harrison, 2020, Times writer of the monthly nature notes. Keen observational skills  ability to express  what she sees makes for very interesting reading.

The Summer Isles – a sea voyage, Philip Marsden, 2019. I love the sea and I miss not being able to visit the coastline every year. This book is  refreshing and delightful to read. It  is an account of a sea voyage along the spectacular, Atlantic west  coast of Ireland,  and then across the Irish Sea, sailing through the waters between  the inner Hebrides &  north to the  archipelago of the Summer Isles.  The account is full of varied interests. The author has a dinghy on board so he can leave his boat anchored in deep waters while he goes to shore to do some sight-seeing (Aran Is), or visit a local pub, where he meets some interesting and delightful characters. On one occasion whilst sailing up the north west coast of Ireland, there is a storm. His description of his battle against the wind, the rain and the huge waves is mind-chilling,  a relief when he comes safely through. Once he gets to the Summer Isles, he has reached his journey’s end  and I’ve reached mine too. Thank you  for watching & listening.                                                                            


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