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