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It both has massive commercial potential and is a singularly modern, heartfelt and meaningful piece of writing. A short, emotional and entirely captivating novel based on the real events that surrounded, enclosed and smothered the notorious Mata Hari. She will not accept that the Job Centre has nothing for her and is eventually given a dead-end, short-term job as caretaker in a closing sports centre in a dying town.

How she wins everyone round and makes a life for herself is poignantly realised. A lovely read. This latest novel from the acclaimed author of the Orange-longlisted The Pink Hotel is an exploration of memories, consequence and the difficulties of living with the past. Cathy is a curator of natural history in Berlin. She is engaged, about to receive an award for her work and beginning to feel that she has finally escaped her past, a past that she keeps locked away within her own museum of curiosities.

Yet on the day she is due to receive her award she receives a gift that tells her that a shadow that haunts her memories has resurfaced to claim back what he feels belongs to him. I was completely swept away with this story. I found the exploration of characters sensitively handled and yet provided enough suspense and contained a level of sinister tension that had me guessing just what each one may be capable of.

This is exquisite, beautifully written prose and the use of the museum as a theme throughout with setting, a means of storytelling and metaphor, is quite brilliantly executed. It is personal, it is universal and it is something that lives within each of us and the memories we hold. Flora Mackie leads a remarkable life. Jane Wood, Publisher, Quercus. Author: M. Isolated at the tip of Australia as a lighthouse keeper, emotionally traumatised World War I veteran Tom fears for his wife's sanity after her third miscarriage.

Then a boat turns up carrying a dead man and a newborn baby. They bring the baby girl up as their own. The repercussions of this on the girl's biological family, and eventually Tom's guilt, are movingly portrayed. This covers vast themes, moral dilemmas and heartbreaking decisions. A doom-laden tale which really does make you question the rules as along the way someone has to get very hurt indeed Powerful stuff and highly recommended.

What a brilliant and memorable debut. Superb characters, heart-rending plot and, set on an island miles from Australia, a uniquely beautiful setting. After the horrors of WW1 Tom finds first solace as a lighthouse keeper and joy as he shares the experience with his young wife. Then one morning a decision they take, seemingly for the best, has devastating consequences. We think this is a perfect book for reading groups. A smart and sassy take on a 21st century mum making her way in the world, trying not to cause too much damage but also hoping that maybe, just maybe she may be able to find the contentment within herself that she so badly craves.

Then her day takes an unexpected turn as the past creeps into her present. Suddenly there are questions demanding to be answered. Where is he disappearing to each day? How will she explain to Timby about the sister she never talks about? And what will happen to The Flood Girls? Long since consigned to the back of the closet. We also experience the crazy thoughts that often flit in and out of her head.

Thoughts we can all relate to and the unexplained conclusions we leap to and in turn the consequences they have on our happiness. Today Will Be Different shares the hope that we can learn to be more accepting of who we are and allow ourselves to be happier. Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize Our first-person narrator, Anne Jaccobs, is an extraordinary young woman for her period. This is Georgian London in and she a lady eager to learn. Her well-to-do family have plans for her but year old Anne is an interesting, forceful character. In a novel rich in period detail we follow this spirited girl through some highly unexpected scenarios which two-thirds of the way through the book turn into a bawdy romp.

At times dark, at times humorous, this is an historical novel not to be missed, a debut from the much-loved Blue Peter presenter. Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize He takes it to a Lovell, a banker based on Golden Hill Street, in order to have it cashed. Speculation is duly aroused: what on earth is Smith planning to do with such a quantity of cash? The depiction of place is gratifyingly sensory.

While the puzzle at the heart of the novel is not revealed until the very last pages, the plentiful and nimbly executed plot twists provide much satisfaction throughout. Part mystery, part homage to eighteenth century literature, this is an exuberant literary delight with all the readability of a page-turner. A great, unruly city is being born. Francis Spufford creates a world that is hypnotic and believable, brought to life in sparkling prose and pitch-perfect dialogue, and tells a gripping story that's full of tension and surprise, with characters who live on after the book is closed.

His non-fiction writing has been much-admired. This first novel is an astonishing achievement because his novelist's voice is already enticing, rich and mature. An eighteenth-century treat. October Debut of the Month. Arthur quickly realises that before she met him, his wife had a whole host of experiences, and Arthur knew nothing about them! Phaedra Patrick writes with a beautifully light touch, yet imbues each page with a meaningful eloquence.

Arthur is a joy to get to know, you feel his sadness and bewilderment at his loneliness and loss, then as he steps out on his quest, you witness his cloistered heart and mind unfurling towards the possibilities that life can offer. This is a beautiful little gem of a read and I highly recommend it. Sarah Broadhurst's view Early on we meet Lucy, twenty-four, who needs a heart transplant.

She is a plucky girl trying to live a normal life greatly hampered by her sad ill health. For eighteen months she has been on the transplant list. Preparing to go on her first holiday ever with just her sister her family watch the television News and a report on a train crash which eventually turns into a motorway crash. Among the victims are three close women friends, all badly injured.

We swing back four months and get to know these three, their reliance on each other and their reason for being in that crash. Interspersed with their lives is their post-accident hospital treatment where surely one will die for Lucy to get her heart. This is a tale exploring many strong issues; fertility, loyalty, betrayal, responsibility, young motherhood, divorce, independence, dementia and much more. Pretty powerful stuff and excellent for reading groups. This witty and twisty tale of an elderly con man intent on a final hurrah when he initially goes on a blind date with a retired, wealthy woman, brings more than smiles to the face.

However she is not all she appears to be and as his own past is slowly unveiled in parallel to the con he studiously devotes himself to, increasing layers of lies and domestic intrigue are revealed which often turn the elaborate plot upside down. With echoes of Patricia Highsmith but without the die-hard cynicism, this is an affectionate and deliberately old fashioned psychological thriller with just the right touch of humour and humanity. Engrossing and with a tightly-engineered plot that holds surprises at every corner and what is there to dislike in a thriller where the main character is in his 80s?

Just fabulous. This is one of those wonderfully rare books that sets you in the middle of a familiar location and then prowls down a previously unexplored and unexpected path. Exquisitely pitch perfect, with clear and self assured writing, the story slides backwards in time, releasing information, raising suspicions and spiralling down into darkness.

As I turned the last page, I paused, and felt within, one of those electrifying moments before applause bursts forth. I want to tell you about this fabulously compelling novel Viking is publishing in January. The response within Penguin has been extraordinary so far — with staff in every department raving about it. His target is Betty, a woman whom he is planning to seduce and then run off with her life savings. Roy is incredibly creepy and Betty is wonderfully admirable, if a little mysterious.

The twists and turns of the narrative are endlessly surprising. I have also, only very occasionally witnessed such an amazing in-house response. It would be terrific if you liked the book as much as we all do. Thanks so much for your time. Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize Traversing continents and generations, this sublime debut explores identity, self-sacrifice and dislocation with elegance and wit.

Despite sharing a bed with Odile, Yuki never feels close to her. Odile is wrapped up in forging a modeling career, and then heads to Italy, abandoning Yuki to Lillian and her violent boyfriend. Abandonment, loneliness, and seeking solace from loneliness are recurring themes. Some years later, when she has a home, a husband who loves her, a baby son, and the talent to be an artist, Yuki remains unsettled, and feels a desperate desire to leave.

August Book of the Month. Tense and full of intrigue, this is a novel that sinks into the depths of obsession and discovers a very dangerous game afoot. The newly opened, glamorous lido calls to Natalie and in one summer her life changes beyond all recognition. The prologue and first chapter declare from the outset that a dramatic event has occurred.

The story explores the whole of the summer, occasionally touching on the past and then suddenly switching directly to the aftermath. These jarring changes in time create a feeling of foreboding as the timelines slide towards their inevitable collision. Louise Candlish excels in looking at the darker side of relationships, she discovers thoughts and feelings that are recognisable but at the same time feel dangerously untouched.

As decadent and scandalous as New York Society in the roaring twenties, A Certain Age will whisk you back to a time of Jazz, elegance, charm, and murder as only Beatriz Williams can. The world is slowly recovering from the horrors of the Great War. She turns to Rofrano to carry out this small favour and sets in motion a string of events that will change their lives forever. Thrilling and heady, A Certain Age is a delightful novel to escape into.

Click here to view the Reading Group Notes for this title. A Maxim Jakubowski selected title.

  • The Littlest Ginkgo.
  • The Project Gutenberg eBook, Vagabonding down the Andes, by Harry Alverson Franck.
  • 25 Years of Christmas Poems?

July Debut of the Month and eBook of the Month. From the author of Possession and The Children's Book comes an extraordinary tale, inspired by the myth of Ragnarok. Intensely autobiographical and linguistically stunning, this book is a landmark work of fiction from one of Britain's truly great writers. You might also say it's timely in that it is a book about how stories can give us the courage to face our own demise.

So just as Wagner's Ring Cycle was inspired by Norse myth so Byatt has taken this remarkable finale and used it as the underpinning of this highly personal and politically charged retelling. July Book of the Month. Also very present are the Gods themselves, playing with lives, betting on battles and arguing amongst themselves. It is a well-known tale, moving, frightening, bloody. This re-telling shows a feminine side, away from the battles but still dependent on their outcome. It is an engrossing world, easy to fall into.

As spies, lovers, slaves and prophets these women of Troy show themselves the equal of the more famous men. Even if you know the story well this is still an entrancing read. A beautifully quirky, yet at the same time completely logical love story well it is logical once you've realised that you too, have fallen in love with an alligator.

I believe that John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway would remember their parts in this tale with glee, who wouldn't want to have been introduced to the charming and rather glorious Albert? I quite simply devoured this enchanting book in one sitting, and I will want to read it again and again. It is easy to think of the Celts as savages and the Romans as the bringers of civilisation when in fact Celtic society was complex and well-structured.

Skin captures the flavour of that ancient time beautifully. The people feel a strong connection to nature and magic is everywhere. Within this ordered society Ailia is a misfit. A wonderful narrator full of youthful fire, fear, confusion and joy. Her journey is strange and compelling, for her and the reader, as she is torn between loves and duties in two different worlds. A thrillingly realised and richly populated novel, imbued with a wealth of historical detail, suffused with the magic of place and plotted with verve.

It is difficult to know if this huge, sprawling novel would have quite the same appeal if you had not read the first two but I suspect you could probably dive into this as a complex historical adventure of India and China in the middle of the 19th century when the East India Company had great power. It mostly revolves round opium. The story jumps from one strand to another for the first half of the book with some truly lovely cameo pieces, a joy. It is also a beautiful novel in its own right, and a compelling conclusion to an epic and sweeping story - the bestselling Ibis trilogy from the author of Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies - it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The Ibis Trilogy Sea of Poppies2. River of Smoke3. Flood of Fire. Pencraw Hall, Cornwall, is a beautiful old house, the holiday retreat for the well-off Alton family of four children, twins and then a couple much younger, a hard-working father and a young, gregarious American mother, very liberal. Wonderful times are had at Pencraw in the late 60s.

It is nicknamed Black Rabbit Hall due to the silhouette of numerous rabbits which actually lead to the tragedy that shatters the family. We follow them and in alternating sections, Lorna, thirty years later who is looking for a wedding venue and is inexplicably drawn to the now decaying house and its mysterious occupants.

This is straight down the line pure country house, classic mystery, wonderful stuff. Suspenseful, haunting, startling and full of the unexpected. This isn't exactly a love story, it is rather, a tale about love, in all its different forms. While Cora and Will form the heart of this novel, every member of the surrounding cast is as important as these two, each fitting into a perfectly formed relationship jigsaw. At times they may not be likeable, they may have their quirks, their differences, yet they are so well formed, it is possible to feel empathy as you question a decision or comment made.

The Essex serpent coiled and waiting, exploits fear and mistrust, creating a fascinating setting in which connections flourish and wither. At times the Victorian setting vanished and the relationships felt very current and modern, while at others the different time period proclaimed the complications and difficulties faced by anyone judged as being different.

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award And then there are those books that you become so close to that you almost feel as though they are a part of you. It is a sumptuously imagined novel of lives playing out against bigger historical moments, and it is the most unusual and moving love story I have ever read. June Book of the Month and eBook of the Month. Ferney was one of my all time favourite books of the year it was published, It tells of a love through the ages, a tale of reincarnation, passion, longing, history and mystery. This is its sequel. You do not have to have read Ferney first but I would highly recommend that you do so.

This is a modern day love story bound up in the memory of past lives. It brilliantly brings together all the loose threads to a fulfilling conclusion that leaves a shiver down your back. To reunite the characters again, James Long has a school out, an archaeological dig, a busy mother and a mystified teacher all there to join up Ferney and Gally. Long said that "you either bore people with the complexity of the scenario who already know about it, or you baffle them. Abandoned by his long-time girlfriend, travel writer Paul goes to Tuscany to research his next book. Arrangements are made but upon arrival no car is available.

Enter one bulldozer, a wacky scenario which results in some charming pieces. Paul enters village life and that atmosphere is vividly and warmly described. Then long-time girlfriend turns up and life gets complicated. Only McCall Smith has the literary dexterity to pull this off. May Debut of the Month. Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction A bittersweet, page-turning love story which jumps back and forth in time.

It tells of a Japanese couple, Ameterasu and Kenzo, now living in America and the loss of their daughter and grandson after the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The identity of these men is at the centre of this tale. So the past is revealed to us in dramatic bursts and Ameterau tells us of the emotional conflict between her and her daughter: so sad.

At the beginning of each chapter there is a Japanese word and an explanation of its meaning and usage, not always relevant but always interesting, hence the title. A captivating and deeply dark family drama and mystery, set in the midst of a London communal garden square. The story then spins backwards in time, to Clare and her two daughters, Pip and Grace, as they get to know their new neighbours.

Focusing on several families, the story weaves among the children and adults as it begins to traverse a slippery and sinister slope. Lisa Jewell explores friendship, trust and suspicion. She writes with a familiar light touch, yet a threatening presence hovers over the pages and the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters bubble with intensity. Beautiful adventurous Maisy and loyal, knowing ayah Pushpa tell their own tales, which are inextricably linked to each other.

Louise Brown writes with the lightest of touches, yet is able to convey earthy, vibrant tones with an expressive eloquence. There are occasional moments of heart wrenching savagery, described by a character in such an unaffected, matter of fact way, that the thrust travels all the more intensely. My imagination soaked up this moving tale, the emotion it generated constantly surprising as I found myself transported to an exotically precarious world. Her mother is a prostitute and alcoholic, and when Maisy is seduced at sixteen by her Indian tutor, her life changes forever, for better and for worse.

What sets it apart from me is the incredibly vivid sense of location, from the backstreets of the shared housing in Calcutta to the colonial bungalows beautifully wrapped by their flower-filled gardens — both dwellings are places that provide comfort and yet entrapment, too. The author also delves into some very serious issues simmering beneath the love story that arcs over the novel. It portrays an alternative story to the usual stories of dusty haired, bored British Colonial wives.

It's colourful, rich in detail, probing in subject matter and beautifully researched. A wonderfully unconventional and thought-provoking read, where a mystery waiting to be solved shelters behind a penetrating and wryly emotional family tale. The first paragraph, short as it is, marks itself indelibly in your minds eye, it also encapsulates the detached and challenging personality of Morwenna, the narrator.

As the story ponders the weight of family expectations it also peeks at the tricky complexity that is imagination versus recollection and how often the two blend into a murky uncertainty. Julia Rochester has a fascinating way with words, words to make you stop, think and consider, she captures your thought processes and then hurls them in an unexpected direction. This is an intelligent, discerning and surprising debut novel and deserves to be highly recommended. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.

Winner of the Costa First Novel Award Perhaps it's the sheets of rain which fall continuously on The Loney, that " wild and useless length of English coastline", a "strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest", but I've not read so chilling a horror novel for years.

The setting for an Easter-time Catholic pilgrimage for Andrew Michael Hurley's teenage narrator, his mentally handicapped brother and a motley collection of parishioners, the dread builds slowly but inexorably, as strange movements from creepy locals start to intrude on the religious retreat, and it becomes clear that while some might be looking "for God in the emerging springtime", others are on the trail of something entirely different. A truly eerie, captivating read, as mysterious and disturbing as its foggy, wet, bleak location.

Masterfully pulled off. It's great April Debut of the Month. April Book of the Month. Totally and utterly and completely gorgeous in every way, the thought of having to put this book down for even a second is inconceivable. The first few pages make you smile, make you laugh and charm you, there is a hint though, of the difficulties that seven nearly eight year old Elsa is experiencing. There is a beautiful simplicity to the writing, yet this is not a simple book by any means, there is a complexity to the emotions it evokes and explores.

Set aside some quality time, so you can laugh and cry undisturbed, as the author is able to enchant, to capture your imagination and hold it spellbound from the first to the last page; this is a must have, must read, must treasure book. Fox recollects meeting the love of his life just after the Second World War, while in the present, grieving the death of his wife, his grandson helps him reconnect with music and the world around him. There is a beguiling sense of honesty to the story, it feels as though Fox is seeking peace and reconciliation not only with others, but also with himself.

Natasha Solomons has a wonderful ability to connect to thoughts and feelings and bring them to life, make them feel totally and completely real. There aren't any cunning tricks, hidden mysteries or unpredictable events lurking to hijack you, just a beautifully written, special and moving story waiting to be heard. April Reading Group Book of the Month. A compelling, almost bittersweet read, where a shocking discovery leads to an emotional journey. Amanda Jennings encourages Bella to step out of herself, on occasion the words create an almost dreamlike quality, while on others short sharp sentences jolted me back into reality.

As shafts of understanding light the pages, shocking moments still lie in wait, ready to trip up your thoughts and feelings. In Her Wake is a chilling, exquisitely written and evocative thriller that hinges on the abduction of a child, and the effect this crime has on everyone connected with it. In Her Wake has bestseller written all over it, and in terms of psychological thrillers, I cannot think of even one that matches it.

When a host of highly regarded, well-known authors submitted their endorsements, one after one, in a virtual flood, my heart nearly burst with pride for Amanda. This is a book you will never, ever forget. Winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award-winning Frances Hardinge is spellbinding in this hugely entertaining and dramatic Victorian thriller. Discovering the extraordinary Lie Tree which thrives off hearing lies and, in turn, reveals secrets long kept hidden Faith begins to uncover a web of secrets and mysteries that will change her view of the world forever.

Faith is a feisty heroine whose courage combined with a determination that girls can be brave and resolute leads to the exposure of much dishonesty and many deceptions. We loved the first in this post WW2 series, Brighton Belle, and the second adventure is even better with a satisfyingly complex plot bubbling over with period detail. Nostalgic, atmospheric, well written, crime fiction with a fantastic central character - ex Secret Service office girl Mirabelle Bevan. Sara just pulled me into the world of wintry post-war London, seedy jazz clubs and a missing heiress.

During editing Sara and I had many conversations about everything from car models and radio shows to rail travel, pies and shoes. No detail is too small for Sara, she really is obsessed with getting things absolutely right for the period of London Calling. As a result her writing evokes the early s impeccably, creating wonderful atmosphere and the perfect background to Mirabelle Bevan, a deeply engaging woman with a past.

A delightfully unique and quirky novel that is able to provoke a sledgehammer of emotions into action. Three friends are due to take part in the annual Brilliant and Forever literary competition, and this is a competition with a difference. While the focus remains on the three friends, the competition entries are included, consequently we read stories within the story, which encourages thought processes to fly in new directions.

The writing is different, at times quite beautiful, while at others I sat and scratched my head as I puzzled and allowed thoughts to float just out of reach. Kevin MacNeil has created a striking, often amusing, sometimes menacing, and provocative tale. As soon as I had finished, I re-opened the book at random, sat back down and started to read again.

Talking alpacas! A wonderful and fascinating insight into hidden happenings at Wuthering Heights, from the perspective of Nelly Dean. Alison Case has gently and sensitively linked these two novels with a velvet ribbon of empathy and consideration. This story creeps into the background detail; the daily working of life in service and the moors and surroundings are all bought vibrantly to life. Hidden depths are revealed, heartrending secrets are spoken and a new panorama of understanding is offered for discovery. March Reading Group Book of the Month. Kate Riordan has written another heartfelt beautifully readable novel about two families, set in the dual time frames of and As a tragedy unfolds in front of our eyes in the prologue, captivating whispers of intrigue continue to echo through the tale.

The story revolves around Fenix House, a family home where Grace arrives as Governess in , her Grandmother Harriet held the same position in but in very different circumstances. The undertones of unease reflect through each story as connecting circles ripple and expand, linking the two until they become one. There is a gentle luminosity to the writing, it embraces you as you read, both poignant and moving, 'The Shadow Hour' is quite simply gorgeous. It also comes complete with an extract for The Shadow Hour. Shorlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize Set between and , Gavin McCrea has planted this story in fact, and then weaved a magical yet earthy tale.

Lizzie Burns was a woman of practical strength and determination, she takes the reader into her confidence and tells her own story, and what an amazing tale it is! The language surprises on occasion, and may cause a raised eyebrow, it is so full of attitude and down to earth. Lizzie Burns was a woman who would have been extraordinary today, the voice McCrea has created is startling, and this is a simply wonderful and entirely captivating debut. The writing always surprises, his characters are compelling without having to be likeable and, as all of we judges noted, Mrs Engels is perhaps the most feminist novel we read for the Prize.

February Book of the Month. Coming after Snowdrops, A. Miller's Booker-shortlisted Moscow spy thriller, The Faithful Couple is a very different sort of creature altogether, a novel about male bonding, class and the vagaries of life, growing up and passing years that resonates deeply with both sometimes the voice and structural touch of David Nicholl's measured novels of ordinary people. Two young Englishsmen meet in California on an American gap year and forge a fascinating friendship in which envy and admiration make for awkward companions.

An encounter they make whilst on a trip to Yosemite in which neither comes off with much honour will mark the rest of their lives and the ties binding them. The progress of their careers and love lives is examined at regular intervals with irony and acuity and their paths take surprising turns. A slow-building novel of British manners that grows on you page by page. With strong psychological and sexual components, the terse prose style draws you into a very recognisable world yet seen through an intensely strange filter. A literary human drama of the highest calibre.

One of our YA Books of the Year February NewGen Book of the Month. A deeply powerful novel for emotionally mature readers about surviving rape, speaking out and the ways in which women are forced to burden the blame for misogynist brutalities. Rather, to Romy, make-up is armour, and worn for good reason. Romy goes missing on the night of the notorious annual lake party and wakes up on the roadside.

When it emerges that another girl, Penny, went missing that same night, people turn on Romy again. For a time Romy bears the abuse, but knows she has to break her silence about what really happened that night. Mysterious, exciting, immensely rewarding, it is one of those memorable books that has to be among your of all-time favourites. I fell in love with this book when it was first published in It did moderately well but not as well as it should. I think one of the problems was that up until then James Long had written adventure spy stories, he was formerly BBC correspondent and certainly knew his stuff — but then he produced this enthralling, tangled love story.

It is such a wonderful, uplifting and unusual story of a couple settling in Somerset.

Remarkable Rogues by Charles Kingston (The Careers of Some Notable Criminals of Europe and America)

As they renovate their house they discover its history, meet a previous inhabitant and unlock its secrets. Beautifully thought-provoking and yet simply and effortlessly readable, this is an intimate compassionate dance with life, death and hope. Read the first letter, followed by the prologue and you think you know exactly what this is going to be, a book that makes you cry, however there is so, so much more to be experienced than heartache. The author allows us to see moments in time for four different people, it feels as though she has a deeply affectionate link to all four, all the more so when we see their inner confusion, agitation and pain.

The fleeting links become important and create stories within stories. The individual letters, so expressive and eloquent, sad, sometimes funny, create a pause, yet at the same time unify the feel and the emotion of this story. A teenager in the eighties and nineties, before any one had heard of emails or texts, I always wrote to old school friends to keep in touch, and they always wrote back.

Letters would be long-winded, funny, fully illustrated, addressed to made-up names. Then gradually over the years that followed it stopped being necessary to put pen to paper, in almost any form. Now we can say - to a loved one, and old friend, even a celebrity - what ever we want to say, instantly and often, publicly. I had started with a plan to write a letter, and post it every week, and it had been going really well.

And then in the summer my youngest son was injured, in a deeply traumatic way, that although was not life threatening, shook my family very deeply. My letter writing stalled, and never really found its feet again, but over those difficult, deeply upsetting weeks of summer, I got three letters from dear friends. Friends who knew what our family was dealing with, who knew how hard it had hit me, who knew that I was finding it difficult to find my feet again. Those three letters, each one unique, were little pieces of the people who wrote them, coming through my letterbox to offer me a hand of friendship.

It captures a moment in time, a feeling, a thought and a sentiment and it preserves it, for as long as the letter is preserved. It becomes a lasting token of what would otherwise be fleeting. So I keep those three letters in a special place, with my special things, because it meant so much to me that my friends took the time to think of me, and write those thoughts down.

A 'Piece of Passion from the Publisher This is a sensitive, often funny and thoroughly engaging story of teenagers coming to terms with who they are. David has known since the age of eight that he wants to be a girl. New boy Leo seems to have problems too and when the two become friends they discover they have more in common than they ever thought. This ultra-readable, highly entertaining story could also provide readers with some much needed reassurance that normal is as normal does.

Alice Liddell, the young inspiration for Lewis Caroll, is the great-grandmother of the author of this novel. Seventeen-year old Peggy has recently returned home, initially we know not from where. Her father is dead, her mother has destroyed all evidence of him from their home. Peggy has a nine-year old brother who she has only just met. Slowly we are drip-fed an extraordinary tale of madness and survival. Young eight-year old Peggy spent an idyllic summer living rough with her father, learning survival skills.

He then takes her on a trek across Europe to a deserted wooden hut where they turn native for he believes the world has ended and he and Peggy the only people left alive. How he dies and she eventually gets home is the heart of this terrific tale. It is an unusual, atmospheric, alarming, horrifying tale of madness and survival. This is a completely charming and very different slice of World War Two fiction.

The prologue sets the story beautifully, releasing snippets of information yet encouraging you to feel, to appreciate the heart and soul of Noel. Lissa Evans balances a gentle charm with barbed spikes of wit and reality. The other characters are as vibrant and fully formed, even those with walk on parts light up the pages. Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize. Winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction A quite simply sensational debut, one that reaches into the beastly heart of prostitution, drugs, and violence, and makes it relatable and so very very human. Set in Ireland, an accidental murder twists the lives of five Cork residents into warped disarray.

The five stories nudge, then collide together as they become one. I found I had to re-read the first paragraph, it felt deliberate, a statement of intent, once I was used to the style, I quite simply devoured this stunning novel. Lisa McInerney writes with eloquent beauty, words either gang up together to punch and kick your thoughts, or they linger, waiting to kiss your soul.

Lisa McInerney has a distinct and powerful voice, I found this beguiling, mesmerising and on occasion wonderfully shocking. Lisa is a genuinely exciting writer — there is electricity running through her prose. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner". An engaging and satisfying family tale, full of drama and emotion. Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn breathes life into characters that have aching vulnerabilities. She occasionally frees notes of emotion that twang and jar and set your feelings on edge, consequently the characters are realistic and convincing.

The writing flows, sometimes leaving unexplored pockets of what-ifs, just like life itself. Click here to view a reading group guide for this book. Author: T. An intriguing and successful experiment in presenting a crime thriller from a different angle, Richmond's accomplished debut encourages the reader to become the sleuth. Alice Salmon dies in what initially appears a tragic case of drowning.

An academic tries to assemble the pieces together and get to the bottom of the mystery and we follow his attempts through the traces of herself Alice scattered in her wake, online and elsewhere: tweets, newspaper cuttings, blogs, diaries, letters, emails. An ever-shifting perspective blurs before the reader's eyes until the whole begins to coalesce and unpeels layers and layers of deceipt and secrets. Another variation on the currently thriving unreliable female narrator bandwagon but one that makes it work in a unique manner.

Will give you a lot of second thoughts about what you leave behind in your own day to day life! Genuinely chilling. This is likely to be one of 's most haunting and unforgettable debuts. Accident, murder or suicide? This adds a huge amount of suspense to the tale. Alice is fairly unstable, self-harming in her teens. She uses her diary for release, like blood-letting, but how reliable is her narrative?

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She was a young journalist 25 when she died. Jeremy Cooke had a long ago affair with her mother and knew Alice at university. The police are completely baffled! This shocking story of love, loss and obsession where everyone - including himself - has something to hide. It is a great read. A ghostly, achingly sad, yet excruciatingly beautiful debut. This is effectively one story, however there are a number of narrators covering a period of 80 years from ; at times it feels as though you are being kept at a considerable distance, at others as though you are at their shoulder, seeing, listening, feeling.

The stories are not told sequentially, instead time meanders, darts, pulls and pushes, which initially creates a feeling of confusion, yet, yet…Rawblood gradually takes a grip and absorbs you, as a malevolent presence hovers over the pages, waiting. The house of Rawblood set within Dartmoor sits centrally in the storyline, described so vividly it feels as though you can reach out, touch it. As understanding grows, a fear develops for what is to come, for what has already been. To describe Rawblood just as a ghost story feels like an injustice, Catriona Ward has created a moving, original tale of love and destruction, one that is truly enthralling and memorable.

Jojo admits that this follow-up to Me Before You came as a result of popular demand. Fans wanted to know what happened to Lou after Will died. A tale of a young woman hurting badly after death by assisted suicide of the love of her life. It tells of her sad coping, of stumbling, existing and trying so hard to heal. It is a very fine novel in its own right. If you have read Me Before You then this will mean a lot to you. Lou discovers Will had more to his life than she realised and discovering bits about him makes for a fascinating read.

Suffice to say that it is good and that is all you need to know before buying it. October Book of the Month. A well-observed domestic drama turns half way through the book into a compulsive, emotional thriller. We are told right at the start that baby Sam is kidnapped. They are medical consultants with two girls, aged 11 and 6, and the unplanned baby son.

The tussles within the family are beautifully portrayed; should they all uproot or just the husband? It is his research into the links between lymphoma and HIV that the institute in Botswana is interested in. They do all go. The months of adjustment are equally fascinating. Then the tragedy hits, the tension is ratcheted up and you will find the book very hard to put down as the search for baby Sam unfolds.

It is an excellent read, highly recommended. Startling, assertive and intense, this is a distinctive and original take on the myth of Odysseus, focusing on reality, creative reality and fabrication. This is also a book where four-letter expletives and the treatment of women may make you cringe, in fact they should make you cringe. Keep an eye out for the icons heading each section as you start to read, Odysseus, Penelope and the Narrator have very different voices, yet the icons set the tone for the story and your expectations.

Odysseus is a soldier, brutal, frank, cunning, able to express the basic animal instincts that cut in during battle, yet he also has a higher awareness of humanity. Penelope weaves gossamer strands of truth, spinning romance, half truths and exaggeration into a tapestry of myth and legend. Occasionally, I found some of the modern day terminology that Odysseus uses, jarred slightly in the storyline, however it served as reminder that war hasn't changed, it still maims and steals mental wellbeing and lives.

Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Longlisted for the Jerwood Prize. In the middle of a winter's night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget.

Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night - a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.

The thoughtfulness, intensity and sheer beauty of her writing in her first two novels, The Wilderness and All Is Song, brought Samantha Harvey both huge acclaim and many prize shortlistings. Those readers who loved those novels will fall on Dear Thief with relief and delight. Etta, after being married to Otto for many years, decides, aged 82, that she wants to see the sea before she dies so she sets off from their farm in the middle of Canada to walk to the coast — alone. On her journey she is joined by a lovely companion, James.

The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time. We learn how both boys meet Etta when she becomes the local school teacher. Russell had a childhood accident so when war breaks out he is unable to join the army and becomes very friendly with Etta while Otto is serving his country. Hypnotic and a joy to read, this is a delightful, fascinating tale, magical, lyrical, a very special book indeed.

The quest for eternal life; a tale of alchemy and skulduggery in the thirteenth century. Starting in France our young hero, Philippe, in the employment of a count in the court of Louis VIII discovers some false documents which he uses for a bit of blackmail ending with the lad fleeing for his life.

And working on these books is nothing less than a delight; each is unique and imaginative in its depiction of the Middle Ages. A book to completely lose yourself in, this is a wonderful quirky little gem. Set in Australia, Millie, Agatha and Karl begin a journey of discovery and along the way contemplate death, love, forgiveness and understanding. Brooke Davis captures both older and younger thoughts and feelings quite beautifully, she encourages a different perspective on age and death to flutter free from the pages. A 'Piece of Passion' from the author It was all play: books and childhoodI grew up on ten acres in a quiet bush town called Bellbrae.

It was pretty idyllic: the air smelled of eucalyptus, we were friends with all our neighbours, and we had the space and time to play and imagine. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark.

I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time. It was all play to me. August Reading Group Book of the Month. With most of us besotted by The Great British Bake Off this lovely book comes to further nurture our appetite. It is indeed about baking, but its heart is about relationships, about being wives and mothers. A good slice of social history and the contrast of the periods are produced alongside a lot of emotional trauma; a great title for reading groups. This is a genuinely democratic story, sophisticated and yet also accessible, that appeals right across the generations - whoever we are, whatever baking means to us and however we live our lives.

August Debut of the Month. Simply clever, lightly understated writing highlighting life decisions, journeys and discoveries. Ananda is lonely and poetically trying to understand where he fits in the world of his choosing; viewing his life through his eyes, you are able to see the ties that give him strength and support. This is pure artful escapism, the author has the ability to be subtly sensitive, compassionate and yet also to wryly tease and thrust little jibes of fun.

This is a book that is able to connect, to embrace and leave you at the end unable to say goodbye. Provocative and challenging, this is a novel to set minds and discussions spinning. A parcel posted with intent shatters the Shanley family into separate little pieces. Although each family member has a focus in this tale, it is with eleven year old Kay, suddenly thrust into a world beyond her knowledge, that the heartbreak is truly emphasised. Split into four parts, events do not necessarily run concurrently, which effectively fractures the story and highlights the confusion and despair of each family member.

At times uncomfortable, at times even frustrating, Julia Pierpont ensures, with some intensely beautiful writing along the way, that this is not an easy comfortable journey to take. Rich storytelling set in and around late 18th century Bristol with each character being given a voice and view in separate chapters. You are driven to read chapter after chapter to gather the differing viewpoints of the plot; highly compulsive.

It centres on a group of female boxers and their patrons which is quite fascinating. Bawdy, rude and fun, there are three main girls, Ruth in particular is delightfully course! Careful attention is paid to the street language of the time and the contrast of rich and poor is well drawn. But in the end it seems that alcohol and gaming addiction are the real stars.

I am a big fan of this author. She tackles gritty, sensitive issues in a thrilling manner. This one is about post-natal depression which it displays in its worst form. Jessica and Matthew are happy, young and in love. Their pregnancy is unexpected, a bit earlier than planned but still welcomed. Sadly the birth is a Caesarean and Jessica feels distant from her daughter. Everyone else is euphoric. Eventually she gets medical help and things do improve. Then suddenly she begins to deteriorate. This has now gone on for a year and then, of course, the crisis comes. A page-turner, difficult to put down, brilliantly written in an accessible style and language.

We have the story itself and also a diary, so sad. I cannot speak too highly of this book. A remarkably captivating book that starts as a slow-burner then sparks into an absolute firecracker of a read. The introduction to Fascism in Florence just before World War Two, when we know life is on the brink of upheaval and collapse, is artfully portrayed by the author.

Lazy summer days full of vibrant idealists and English eccentricity is peppered by prejudice, corruption and brutality, deliberately keeping you on edge and apprehensive. As war breaks out, we observe as Esmond the title character is influenced by others, we bear witness as he alters, changes, transforms. The author brings this time, this city, these people, their ideals vividly to life. At times this is an extremely uncomfortable read, however every word, every thought, every emotion feels completely essential.

Prepare to sit on the edge of the precipice, prepare for the heartrending plummet of shock and upset, prepare for the impact that a powerful and compelling novel leaves behind. Alice Liddell, the young inspiration for Lewis Caroll is the great-grandmother of the author of this novel. One of those involved family dramas of uncertain parentage, mystery and secrets. Wonderful stuff. It concerns a young woman, Kate, who at the age of six loses her mother in a plane crash.

Her mother, June, had been a famous ballerina, an orphan child and it is her story we unearth. In doing so Kate travels to Corsica to visit a famous artist where she finds love. So we get a past love story and a present one and beautifully told they are too as we swing from through to the 90s. Spanning the lives of a couple and their friends, lovers and family over several decades from Cambridge undergraduates to old age with an affection for the characters that drips off the page, we follow the subtle and at times frustrating way insignificant moments can change the unfurling of a life and how happiness can sometimes depend on the smallest incident —a dog colliding or not with a cyclist- and the road of life can so easily bifurcate into alternate and often contradictory existences.

A clever political thriller with a powerful message on a large scale. Computer hacking genius Gaby, involved with an extreme anarchist gang, is the daughter of a high ranking Australian politician. She manages to get prison doors to unlock and somehow her programming unlocks doors in America too, so a link between the countries is verified. How the two cross paths, separate and cause havoc is quite a tale. From a twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, it is obviously extremely well written, a book of great merit.

An excellent Harry Bosch novel from 'one of the great storytellers of crime fiction' Sunday Telegraph. But it is all one would expect. Light but entertaining, a story about people. It was the tongue of our town and every word was vital. But I savoured him at his saltiest, and read with gusto about The Lass that made the bed for me , and the Louse in the lady's bonnet.

I preferred humour to sentiment and liked it racy. Already I felt an urge to shock people. This with my contempt for fairies are traits in my character that revealed themselves early. One day, after I had spun an unusually convincing yarn, he surprised me by saying: "Ye ken, ye've got something I havna' got. I admired him so, I would gladly have changed places with him.

But one day he turned the tables on me and I ceased to be the dominant one. He had returned from a visit to the city, where his father had taken him to the theatre to see Barry Sullivan, the red-haired Irish Hamlet. The play was King Richard Third , and Pat paced the sward ranting: "a horse, a horse, me kingdom for a horse. He was ablaze with enthusiasm, particularly as one of our village boys had gone to America and won to fame as a Shakespearian player. Aunt Jeannie told me that my father had had a fight with this boy over a girl. His name was Robert Mantell.

Pat brought some paper-backed copies of the tragedies to the dell, and there we strutted and spouted. I rather think Pat had more enthusiasm than talent. However, he had listened to his father for so long he knew how to deliver blank verse. It must 26 have been a quaint sight to see us two kids shouting and sawing the air in the green glade by the babbling spring. Then one day my parents retrieved me, and I was spirited away to the city. I imagine he missed me miserably, just as I did him. For despite our differences we clicked marvellously.

He was more sentimental than I and listened emotionally to those stories I told with my tongue in my cheek. I found I could play on his feelings, even hold him spellbound. This power excited me, inspiring me to more daring inventions. It was so easy. One idea led to another till the trouble was to curb myself. Yet, though it gave me a sense of superiority, I had nothing to be elated about. He had all the qualities that make for success. He was constructive, responsible, born to lead. I had none of these.

Dreamer and fumbler, I was of the stuff of which failures are made. I do not want to leap ahead in this history, but it seems fit I should tell of my next meeting with Pat. It was thirteen years later, when I had almost forgotten him. It has often worried me, my faculty for forgetting people. I get so absorbed in the present, the past becomes vague and unreal. I do not mean to be ungrateful, but when I am separated from my friends a curtain drops between us, gradually blotting them out. So the memory of Pat faded, and the brightest chapter of my childhood became like a dream.

The innocent boy that was I died in the Fairy Dell, and maybe his ghost haunts it to this day. Perhaps two boys died there and two ghosts stride the greensward, and the willows remember them, and the Spring babbles of their limpid joy. Well, it happened that I paid a farewell visit to my aunts before sailing on the Great Adventure.

In the evening I took a walk to the Iron Works, for I loved to see the blast furnaces opened and the molten metal run out. I was returning by a row of sordid little houses when a voice hailed me. I stared at a tall young fellow, lounging in soiled clothes in a narrow doorway. After all these years. We're no longer kids. I felt sorry for him. He was only twenty-three. Oh, how glad I was to be free!

He must have sensed my feeling, for he went on bitterly: "Yes, I'm in a trap, done for. Not that I should complain. The wife's a good lass, and I suppose I'm lucky; but God! He was well-knit and nicely proportioned. I imagined he was solid muscle yet quick withal. I'm a bricklayer's helper. Carrying a hod up a ladder develops every muscle you've got. But to think of the days when Father used to read Shakespeare and I wanted to be an actor! And here I am a hodman, with no chance to be better.

His eyes lit up with hope and he gripped my hand. Maybe we'll string along yet. Oh, I'll never forget the old days. You know, I sometimes go back to the Spring and think of the times we had. Remember you wanted to write? But I'll never be an actor. Shadows we are and shadows we pursue. Remember how Father used to roll out those lines? Some years ago. Lost his voice coughing soot.

It broke his heart he could no longer spout Shakespeare. Well, come on ben; the wife will make you a cup o' tea. The single room was bare of ornament, yet a good fire blazed, for coal was cheap. A bairn cried in a cot and a little woman rose from soothing it. She would have been slight but she was heavy with 28 another. She was pretty in a frail way, with a bunch of bright hair. She looked at me curiously as she poured tea though she said nothing. However, Pat gave her little chance. He talked as if my coming had roused him from despair. I could see hope kindling in his eyes.

His wife looked at him with pathetic anxiety. She made a sympathetic appeal to me and I felt sure he would never do anything to hurt her. It's a Godsend you dropped by. Somehow I feel the luck's going to turn. Well, I'll do my damnedest to make it. So long, old boy. As I walked home I felt depressed.

Here was I, free, with all the promise of the future, and he going back to his sordid home and his hod. And I thought of his father. They never get a chance. No wonder she looked at me in that peculiar way. I recognized her now. It was Nellie Purdie, the girl I had championed in the schoolroom. That was true. I had gone to class so proud in my Highland costume. But the other boys had jeered, and then one of them had lifted me up and spanked me. Before the girls too. Oh, how I was shamed! No, I wouldn't wear them again to school, and Grandfather sustained me.

But kilts were my first costume and they are associated with my earliest memory. It is interesting to discover one's first recollection. Mine is of going to jail. It was the year before I went to live in the Long Grey Town with my aunties, and I was then in the city with my parents.

I was wearing my kilt for the first time. Perhaps that was what impressed the occasion on my memory. I was walking with my nurse. She lugged me along with one hand while with the other she pushed the pram with my baby brother. I hung back, wanting to look at the shops. A candy shop particularly excited me, but my nurse dragged me on. Then Romance entered her young life and she released my hand to surrender hers to a budding butcher.

This was my chance. Always the Escapist I slipped away. The sweetie shop was round the corner, and there I gave myself up to the joy of window-shopping. For half an hour I stood with my nose flattened against the pane; then I suddenly remembered my nurse. No sign of her. I was lost. It rather elated me. Forlornly I stood at the curb and a crowd collected.

The crowd increased. Suddenly a stalwart policeman parted the people and loomed over me. He had a long black beard, but I looked up at him without awe. No doubt this was because nurse had been told to get home by half past four, and that was all I could remember. But again he asked me, and again I answered: "Half past four. Then the officer took me by the hand and conducted me to the police station. It is difficult for a bobby to maintain his dignity holding a tiny tot by the hand.

He must have felt this, for he walked in a stately way and loftily ignored me, while the people we passed gave me glances of pity. But I trotted along cheerfully, enjoying it all. The station waiting room consisted of bare walls and benches garnished with squalid looking people.

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They gave me the same commiseration. The "wee callant wi' his braw kilts" held the centre of the scene. Then a blousy matron arrived and clasped me to her capacious bosom. I resisted—till she brought me tea and buns and tempted me to sit on her knee. I was enjoying myself when Mama blew in. She was frantic and ran to grab me; but I was having a gorgeous feed and, with my mouth full of bun, I refused to leave the matron. Kicking and howling I was dragged from the police station; and though I have no doubt I richly deserved it , I take this occasion to state I have never been in one since.

Yer father and mother are comin' to visit ye. It had been a long time since I had seen them, and I had almost forgotten their existence. From time to time I heard of the birth of new brothers but did not feel interested. So I donned my kilt, now too short for me. When my parents arrived I was so shy I hid in the wash-house and had to be routed 31 out. I hung back as I was introduced to the authors of my being, and it was only by offering me sweets my mother coaxed me on her knee.

When she did, I remember a look of horror coming over her face. However she said nothing—just then. Apart from my diffidence, the visit was not a success. Aunt Jeannie objected to tobacco, and Papa was obliged to go outside to smoke. While he puffed his pipe moodily by the pump, Mama was having an argument with Aunt Jeannie by the hen-house.

To think that that poor boy has nothing on under his kilt—nothing. He's absolutely bare. Mama was unconvinced. Then Aunt Jeannie stressed the handiness of the garment when it came to performing certain natural functions, and this Mama was obliged to admit though it evidently shocked her. However, Mama was anti-adoptionist to the core. If she had had a hundred children, instead of a mere ten, I do not think she would have parted with one.

I respectfully submit that whoever made up the Ten Commandments might have done a better job. Take the fourth. One is exhorted to honour one's parents, with a bribe of longevity. Honour to whom honour is due, say I. I have known very few men worthy of it, and I could never see why parents should be honoured just because they are responsible for our existence. I know it is considered bad taste to criticize them, and I do not want to be lacking in respect; but I have always felt that it should be the other way about—that it is the parents who should honour the children; for if the race is really advancing, the new stock should be better than the old.

I must confess that on his visit to me Papa failed to make a favourable impression. He had the reddest face I ever saw. His head was balder than that of Mister Lamb, but his mutton-chop whiskers were longer. In fact they looked like discouraged Dun 32 drearies. But what most impressed me was his stomach, which ballooned a fancy waistcoat girt by a heavy gold chain. Although he carried his bay-window with dignity, I disliked it. Of the many good things Papa did for me, not the least was to serve as a physical warning.

My hair has faltered but never failed, while my girth has not got out of bounds. Of course we are not permitted to pick our parents; but I think every father should so conduct himself that his children would never want any other, even if they had the choice. Family and ancestry have never interested me. I hope I am descended from yeoman farmers with ruddy faces and bright eyes. If I am descended from pale weavers, I am not ashamed, for they are a worthy folk and their brains are alive. But if I am of collier stock, I will say nothing.

Yet I have a dark suspicion, for I remember an old lady, a sister of my grandmother. She had a face as delicate as a cameo, and she was handsome in an aristocratic way. But she wore a mutch, and she used to sit by the fire with a cutty pipe in her mouth, smoking strong tobacco that savoured of the pit. Of all my family Grandfather most commanded my respect. He was a pawky Scotsman of the non-committal type. If you said it was a fine day, he would look thoughtfully at the sky and finally admit: "Weel, I've see waur.

He had two enthusiasms, the Scotch Kirk and Scotch whisky. Every morning he would stir into his porridge, which he took in a wooden bowl, a big wooden spoonful of Mountain Dew. But he also boasted that though he liked his wee dram he had never been the worse of liquor. He was canny in his cups. And what a pleasure he got out of eating! Every Saturday night he would bring us a dozen twopenny mutton-pies and I would be given a whole one.

How delicious they seemed, fresh from the baker's oven. And the black 33 puddings Aunt Jeannie made with blood from the butcher's—how crisp and crackly! Our high tea was a prideful occasion, with cookies, buns, scones, bannocks and oatcake, all made by Aunt Jeannie. Grandfather was praiseful of everything he ate, believing that when people cooked for you you should always be grateful and never criticize. However, Aunt Jeannie's cooking was above criticism, particularly her cakes. Not that sometimes she didn't have a dud, but I liked duds best. Oh, how I loved the sad, heavy streak in the centre!

And her short-bread! Scotch short-bread was glorified by her magic. Many a sore belly have I had from it; but bless it! Cold boiled ham was Grandfather's delectation, and the sight of it always makes me think of his death. We had a whole one for supper in honour of a lady visitor. Grandfather carved it with virtuosity and kept us in a simmer of merriment with his humorous remarks. Finally, the lady had to catch a train, and as she said her good-byes she complimented Grandfather on the deliciousness of his ham. Immediately he carved a huge slice.

His answer was prompt. I saw the glass tilt in his hand and the water spill down his beard. I thought it was because he was laughing so; then I saw the glass fall to the floor. Still laughing, he looked at his hand wonderingly. A look of childish surprise came over his face. There was no pain, no fear, just helpless bewilderment.

Then he slumped over and was dead. So he enjoyed life to the last, and passed like a flash with a laugh in his eyes and a joke on his lips. But before I crossed the seas I went to say good-bye to my aunties. They were getting on in age but bearing up bravely. Though we merely shook hands on parting, they saw me go with some sadness. I did not share this, for life was behind them and for me it was mostly to come. I wanted to get away as quickly as possible. I hated any sentimental fuss, so she pretended to smile, all the time thinking she would never see me again.

But I wanted the train to hurry. All I thought of was of the adventure awaiting me. With the selfishness of youth I forgot her care and tenderness. As the train pulled out she kept waving her handkerchief. I could see her eyes shining, and I knew that when I was gone she would go behind the station and jab her hanky into them.

I promised to write often, but I rarely did so. I was fighting the battle of life, and they lived in a vague past that no longer meant anything to me. But from time to time I got news of them. They had retired to a tiny cottage, living pinched and meagre days. I did not realize it or I would have sent them the odd hundred pounds. I would never have missed it. It would have meant all the difference between scrimping and luxury to them. Instead of a loaf they might have bought a cake. Well, I just didn't think of it, and I am everlastingly sorry.

Forty years later I visited the Long Grey Town. It was changed out of recognition. There was a modern Post Office, and when I asked where the old one was they could not tell me. I found it at last, a pinched little grey house. But it was as neat as in Aunt Jeannie's time. There was the front door, freshly varnished, with its iron knocker. She was proud of her door and kept the flag-stone gay with whiting. Even the cobbles were scoured.

There was the thick mossy wall with the sunken door that led down to the garden. This was the one I always used, and through the hole in the top hung a cord to lift the inside latch. I got the owner to let me take a peep at the garden. That, at least, had little changed.

I saw the same flower-beds and remembered how I was sent to school with a sprig of sweet-william in my coat. The smell of the black currants made me think of poor 35 Aunt Aggie, and as I looked at the raspberry canes I seemed to see a wistful little ghost peering out at me.

Such an innocent boy, dreaming of fairies and knights in armour, and loving to be by himself so that he could live his dreams. Yes, there were ghosts all around me, but chiefly of Aunt Jeannie and Grandfather. I cursed myself for being sentimental. Nevertheless I said: "God bless them. Then I went to the church and sat in our old pew. Little was changed, except that there was a stained glass window instead of the clear one through which I used to see the swallows.

And there were cushions on the seats. But there in front of me was the knot in the wood I had tried to punch out, with the marks of my knife still in the varnish. I felt like a little boy again. It was hard to realize that over half a century had gone and that for me life was nearly over. Most of the congregation had passed on, and soon I too would be eating my salad from the roots. As I left the church I was sunk in melancholy. I searched for the graves of the family.

The grass grew long and rank. Bedded in it were mouldy slabs of stone and moss-grown tombs half weathered away. Oh, it was old, old—confusion, neglect, rottenness! It smelt of the charnel house, and over it hung the ruined wall of the ancient Abbey. I sought out the sexton, a grey-haired man and bent. There's no' many like them now-a-days. But there's no' many left to mind o' them. Yes, it was a shock to me. In this town they had been born, lived and died. They had been a part of it and had helped in its growing.

Every one knew them and they knew every one. Yet now almost no one knew of them. Few had ever heard of them. Even their names were forgotten. We searched for the family grave, but he explained that a recent storm had blown down many of the tombstones. Finally he gave a grunt of discovery, and lifted a flat, mean slab covered with green slime, on which I could decipher the name of my grandfather alone. I minded when it was clean white marble—a thin, cheap stone, but the best we could afford. So there they were, these old folks, so fine, so worthy, lying in a nameless grave. I felt shamed beyond belief.

I went to the chief stonemason of the place and ordered a tall monument of granite, bearing all their names; and in due time it was erected. I have never seen it; but perhaps sometime I will go back and pay my last respects to those humble people who were of my blood. Of my three aunts I think sadly. They should have married and had many children.

They were made for that. But destiny meted out to them obscure and frustrate lives. Sterile and unfulfilled, they passed. Unwanted women—Ah! Yes, I will go back and beg them to pardon me for my neglect. I might so easily have made their life less hard. A few luxuries, ribands for their caps, silken petticoats; instead of bannocks, cakes. And standing in the shadow of their tomb I will think sadly:. When I was first recalled to the family fold I must have been a most objectionable brat.

My aunts had spoiled me to the point of exhibitionism. True, I could draw and recite, and I was unusually "quick in the up-tak'"; but there was no reason to regard me as a boy-wonder. Because I was different, they thought me original; because I was precocious, they fancied me a prodigy. If I had remained with them I would have turned out a prize prig.

But my new education was bang in the other direction. It was an inferiority complex course, from which I never recovered. It moulded me into the meek middle class to which I belonged. How often did I hear phrases such as: "Children should be seen and not heard. But it was the life itself which wore me down to submissive humility. First of all, I had to get acquainted with a swarm of brothers. I forget how many there were, but it was rather bewildering. At first they looked on me as a stranger and were inclined to resent me, especially as I tried to patronize them.

But soon I fell in line, though I never quite recovered from the feeling that I was a changeling. That night in a large bare room shared by four of us, I knelt down by my bed and began my "Gentle Jesus. Mama intervened, telling my brothers that they would be better following my example. Having never been taught to do so, they found this funny. Their derision became indifference as I persisted in my prayers. Maybe I got a 40 self-righteous kick out of it. One night, when I shivered in the freezing cold, the idea came to me to say them in bed.

Maybe God wouldn't mind, I thought, as I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and drew up my legs as if I were kneeling. Thus comfortable, I prayed longer than usual, elaborating my usual petition to include friends far and near. Indeed, as I went on, these cosy bed-prayers became so comprehensive I often fell asleep before they were finished.

Then one night I went to sleep before they were begun. I had fallen into the habit of making up stories in my mind and became so interested that I ended by drowsing off before I got round to my prayers. Very remorseful I tried to make up for it by a morning prayer and resolved it would not happen again. But it did, more and more often, till finally I lost the prayer habit. It died hard, though. For years I would pray intermittently, especially when I was worried or afraid; and when I realized I could no longer continue, I had a sneaking feeling that I was letting God down.

My new home was certainly a contrast to my old. It was absolutely devoid of religious atmosphere. I never knew Mama and Papa go to church. They brought us up like pagans and I never heard mention of even the existence of a deity. No doubt there was a place for piety but it was certainly not the home.

In church on Sunday the Minister took care of that, and we as children were prodded on to fill the family pew. It cost a pound a year, so Papa had to get value for his money. And nearly all families were like that.

University College Cork

Sunday morning church squared us with God for the rest of the week. That was the difference between town and country. In the latter the religious spirit was integral in our living, while in town it contracted to a weekly ritual. Religion died hard in me, but when it passed it did so for good. It seems a pity that all my Bible reading should have been wasted. Yet I think Aunt Jeannie's teaching did me no harm. Ultimately my sceptical spirit was bound to prevail, but until I was well advanced in boyhood my respect for righteousness survived.

Our home was in a four-story block of flats called Roselea Terrace. Opposite it was a similar block called Ferndale Terrace. Their sole 41 rustic suggestions were their names; for they were both grim and gloomy, and only in high summer did the sunshine gild our door-mat. But it was a highly respectable street, where we lived in genteel poverty. Our flat was number nineteen, the biggest and the last in the terrace.

It was on the ground floor and had a basement where there was an occasional rat, lots of mice and swarms of cockroaches. The latter were big glossy fellows that came out at night, so that we hated to venture into the kitchen after dark. They crunched horribly under the descending carpet slipper, and when the gas was lit they scuttled in all directions. Often they got in the beds, and I always remember the screams of Mama when a big one dropped from her panties. We paid forty pounds a year for the flat, but generally had to borrow money to meet the rent. As time went on we had to turn the drawing-room into a bedroom, owing to the family increase.

There was a downstairs sitting-room we called the nursery, where I sat till midnight reading yarns of adventure when the house lay asleep. Then I would stumble to bed and know nothing more till awakened in the morning by Papa pulling the clothes off me. That was his way of making me get up. Roselea Terrace stopped at our house and gave on a vacant lot we called the Hollow. It was full of pot-holes and clothed with rank grass and nettles, but it was our beloved playground. Board fences surrounded it, the crevices full of earwigs.

It was priceless to us, as otherwise we would have been obliged to play in the streets. Although only a squalid wasteland, to our notion it was precious country where green things grew and the air was fresh. I have no doubt that sunken field did much to help our growth. There were a gang of about twenty boys in our street and we were very aggressive. On the hill beyond was Sunnybrae Gardens where the boys were of a superior breed.

Their fathers were successful business men, and they went to private academies, not to plebeian board-schools like ourselves. We called them "gentry pups" and sought fights with them. But down in Byars Road, which lay below us, was another class of small tradesmen, and their sons we called "keelies. We were the middle-middle class, most bellicose of all, because we were better 42 fed than the "keelies," and less fastidious than the "gentry pups.

Of course I had to go to a new school. It must have been of better quality than my last, for bare feet were forbidden. My suggestion that I should go without shoes shocked my family. Papa said: "No one wears bare feet in the city. It's against a civil ordinance. At eight in the morning we were routed out of bed, and after a cat's-paw wash we had breakfast of porridge either under-cooked or burned , a roll and a straw-flavoured egg. Gulping it down we were bundled off to school. As a rule we were late and had to run, leaving the smallest blubbering in the rear.

There was no protective spirit among us. The youngest had to look out for himself. Fortunately the roads were safe, cabs and drays forming most of the traffic. Accidents were rare. The streets of my youth were fresh, calm and innocent. The school was in a dubious region between slum-land and respectability. It was dingy, grey and shabby, but we used to run most of the way to get there in time to play. When the whistle blew, the playground would be jammed with boys playing games.

Every Friday, being washing-day at home, we were allowed to take a lunch to school. This consisted of an egg sandwich, with bread and jam. It took us five minutes to bolt it, after which we had the rest of the hour for play. The Masters wore shabby tail-coats and swung straps as they paced the floor. At my first school canes had been the instruments of discipline, but here thongs of leather were the symbols of authority.

One can imagine the young Master going to the leather merchant and carefully selecting the tool of his trade. Or "Maybe I'd better try one of those broad heavy fellows. Perhaps it would be more effective if I soaked it in brine. Let me swish it through the air to get the balance of it.

There was a technique in swinging it. A turn of the wrist, and it would lacerate the hand.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walden,” 1854

But most of the Masters played fair. Only when they were exasperated did they resort to that vicious twist. On the other hand a flat delivery would raise a blister. Two strokes were the average and the maximum was four. After four it was a long time before the hands regained their feeling, and one was lucky if they were not cut open.

But no one thought of complaining. We would grin ruefully and tell our chums we had been given a good licking. We would be proud of our bruises and boast how we could take it. The unwritten law prescribed that one must never be a cry-baby or a sneak. We dare not tell our parents, for they would have replied: "Well, you must have deserved it.

Spare the rod, spoil the child. Corporal punishment is a part of education. Maybe they were right, for was not the theory backed by ages of convention? Flogging was supposed to toughen the race. But in my case it had a contrary effect. I resented my strappings, and there was one in particular that even to-day makes me grit my teeth with rage. The German Master said something that set the class laughing, and he picked me out as a scapegoat.

I was sent down to the Head to be flogged. He was a bearded man in a frock-coat and he took from his desk a black strap. He answered: "I cannot punish the whole class, so I will make an example of you. That was the only time I got six. But though my hands were numb he did not break my spirit. Toward the last I was feeling distinctly murderous. It was not so much what he did to me as the gusto with which he did it. I found myself eying a heavy ink-well on his desk and wondering what would happen if I hurled it at his head.

It was red ink too. I believe another lash would have made me do it. One does not forgive and forget punishment that is severe and unjust.

Walking by Henry David Thoreau. Matthews, Brander, ed. The Oxford Book of American Essays

Years after, when I heard he had been drowned while bathing, I laughed for joy. Yet I have no doubt he gave no further thought to the matter and would have been profoundly surprised at my lasting resentment. In the lane behind the playground we frequently staged fights. I would say to another boy: "I can lick you," and he would reply: 44 "I don't think you can. Sometimes the school janitor, an old soldier, would intervene. But he would not argue the matter. I disagreed with him. It is good for boys to fight, I thought.

But the Master had to disapprove, so he gave us both a light one. Then he looked at me quizzically. But the latter, not to be outdone in generosity, insisted I was the victor. So the Master said: "Well, I suppose it was a draw; but don't make any return match, or I'll really warm your palms for you. Now shake hands. On account of the boxing lessons Pat had given me I acquired the reputation of a scrapper.

Luckily no one knew how little I knew, and the bluff worked. I do not think I was yellow, but as I never got a real licking I cannot be sure. And before I could find out, I was beyond the blubber age. For there comes a point in a boy's life when he discovers he no longer cries when he is hurt. When I was ten I crushed my hand in a gate and the pain was agonizing.

But it was forgotten in my amazement to find I did not howl any more. I was on my way to be a man. Of my companions at this school I recall only one, and he was unforgettable. He sat next to me, a boy with a pale face and a big head. One day I noticed that he was making drawings, and he showed me one.

I admired the drawing, which was copied from Phiz. He had a lively sense of humour, and, though he did not shine at his lessons any more than I did, he was more avid and precocious. In fact, I was rather awe-struck to find that he had been able to absorb a real novel , as my reading was confined to penny dreadfuls and papers like Ching Ching's Own. My friend high-browed me, and sought 45 to wean me away from Jack Harkaway and Deadwood Dick, but without success.

Eric, or Little by Little gave me a pain in the neck, while Tom Brown's School Days repelled me by its moral platitudes. He tried to interest me in the Boys' Own Paper , known as the B. No doubt it was pukka , but I was not. So my apostle of uplift failed in his effort. I mention him because to-day he is known as Britain's Best Journalist. He is the London Editor of a famous daily paper and has published many books. Cabinet Ministers consult him, and mandarins of letters weigh his words.

One of his brothers is a famous etcher who has been knighted; while another is skipper of a big Atlantic liner, and himself an author of note. I used to call him Jimmy but now I call him James. He still high-brows me and I love it. May he long live to drink the Scotch he enjoys so heartily.

I left this school in a glow of triumph. We had been told to do an essay on coal , and the subject pleased me. So I sat down and found myself writing with surprising ease. Ideas crowded on me, and words came to clothe them so willingly I wondered what had gotten into me. It was my first experience of Inspiration.

I finished in a mood of exultation. I knew my work was good; indeed, I knew it was better than the combined class could do. When the essays were handed back to us the teacher did not return mine.

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Instead he said: "Here is one I want to read aloud. He did so, while I hung my head in embarrassed shame. I blushed when he indicated that I was the author, and the other boys laughed derisively. To write well was to be considered a sissy. Afterwards he took me aside. I did not know what he meant, and he left it at that. But I was 46 leaving next day for another school, so after I had packed my books I went to him and said: "Good-bye and thank you, sir.

It was a gallant struggle to bring up a family of ten on two hundred pounds a year, and Papa and Mama should be given all credit. Especially as they kept up a front of bourgeois respectability. Behind the scenes our standards were proletarian. We boys slept in the flannelette shirts we wore during the day and would have considered serviettes at table a form of swank. I was fifteen before I bought my first tooth-brush.

But we were clean and healthy, for we had a bath with soap every Saturday night. I believe we all used the same hot water. At home it was a struggle to make frayed ends meet, yet each day we trooped off to what was then the Finest School in Scotland. There we were lucky, for it was brand-new and only five minutes from our house.

It was a show school. The city fathers were proud of its beauty. It was equipped for science, art and domestic economy. Visitors were shown round ad nauseum. It made the swanking private academies look cheap. The Masters had University degrees and were hand-picked, while the Head wore a stove-pipe hat. It was a dream school dumped down almost at our door. Here I remained until my final expulsion. I had the same teacher for three years and came to have a liking for him. He was a bantam of a man, with bandy legs and a big red moustache like a viking.

To me he was a hero because he had been a famous football right-winger, and had won his international cap. That far outweighed any scholarship in my eyes. For a while I worshipped him. Then one Saturday afternoon in a side street I saw him stagger out of a pub. Once he pitched and fell, picking himself up with difficulty. I shrank into a doorway. How thankful I was he had not turned my way! I was as hurt as if I had received a clout on the face. I never told a 48 soul about it. Most boys would have blabbed, but nothing would have made me sneak on him.

No longer was he a hero in my eyes. I was inclined to dramatize my difference from other boys. One time the chap next to me was called up for speaking in class. The Master was going to punish him when I stepped forward. Said the Master: "You should say 'as well as he,' so I'll punish you for bad grammar. Thus I was snubbed for my quixotic priggishness. My chief failing was a pertness that amounted to impertinence. One time I was punished for this, and I remember it because it was the last occasion I ever received the strap.

I think I had been making sketches in class, and I did not question the justice of the chastisement. Unless one got a licking every few days one suffered from an obnoxious sense of virtue. It was up to us to qualify for another strapping, and to grin to the class on returning to our seats. In this case I may have felt that my quota of punishment was about due.



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