Hexham Book Festival -Lindsay Davis

After going to so many places across the country to Author events and book festivals, I thought it was about time we went to a local festival for Northernreaders, at one of our local towns.

I think that this event has been going for about nine years, and is organised in conjunction with New Writing North. The local independent bookshop, the wonderful Cogito Books in Hexham

supplied books for the signing of by the authors, and still have (as of last night) a good stock of signed books for nearly all the speakers. It was a really well organised event, using the Queen’s Hall, the Abbey and for two days, a Yurt! I managed to get everywhere I wanted to be in a wheelchair, which is no mean feat for this sort of thing. I went to several events, and I’ll try and mention at least a few.

Susan and I kicked off with our first event in The Abbey, which was the Roman (and British Civil War) author, Lindsey Davis. She is mainly known as the writer of the Falco novels about a sort of private detective in the Roman Empire. I had picked up one or two of her books in places like Housesteads Roman fort shop, but not really read one.

I found a copy of Three Hands in the Fountain, which is set in Rome and features some murder, family relationships and at least one very funny punch up in a Roman street.

This is not the first in the series, but I soon found my way round the city and worked out Falco’s family, friends and enemies. It is an exciting book, a funny book, and one I really enjoyed. It is not great literature, or an academic tome, and the language seems almost modern, but nevertheless it is a worthwhile entertainment.

Davis herself is not an historian in the academic sense, but she comes over as someone who actually enjoys writing her books, feels for her characters and does concern herself with getting the details right (even a Roman /Eutruscan cheesegrater). She speaks warmly of her fans of twenty books about Falco, as well as her new series about his adopted daughter. She has also written about the Civil War in two books; one huge which has a long time scale, and one for the Quick Reads project about a single incident.

I really enjoyed the session, was impressed by Lindsey Davis as a speaker, and was impressed by the one book that I have read in the two series. I am looking forward to reading some more over the next few months. Another series to collect!


Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase -Louise Walters

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is a book with great ambitions, and so nearly pulled them off. It is a book set in two periods; the early part of World War Two and  a contemporary environment. The two people are linked by a letter discovered by a bookseller, Roberta, that was written to her grandmother Dorothy. The idea is that Roberta finds letters and postcards in the books sold in her friend Phillip’s shop, so is not too thrown when she finds this significant letter in  a suitcase that originally belonged to Dorothy. Apart from breaking up the text in quite an interesting way, I’m not sure what these unanchored letters and notes add to the book.

Much of the narrative surrounds a love affair between Dorothy and Jan, a Polish pilot, a lost baby, a broken marriage and the loneliness of Roberta as she copes with 21st century life. The Home Front atmosphere is well evoked, the feelings of a bereft mother and a disappointing life well executed. There are some excellent characterisations and much of the book is very readable.

I suppose that it is let down by the coincidences and easy let outs which make for a overall happy ending. There is a bit of falling in love at first sight which takes a little trouble to believe, and one element of chick lit which is exasperating in an otherwise satisfying novel. There is also an episode of violence which I think could have been avoided as not really necessary to the story and seems frankly included for the shock factor. The book did not not need it. I felt that the ending for one of the heroines was too pat, and I wondered if I had wandered into another book by mistake.

Overall, I would recommend this book, as it is well written and there are several interesting themes. There are some jarring points, but it is a good read and the material is well handled. It is a little like Nicholson’s Motherland, another book dominated by the emotions and events of War, but dealing with the long term effects on families. It is a first novel, and I would be very interested to read Louise Walters’ next novel sooner rather than later.

A different book that I received for review is Anyush by Martine Madden. This is a book set in 1915 as the Armenian people suffered starvation and military oppression. It centres on the story of Anyush Charcoudian, a young woman who sees families around her disappear and worse. She is depicted a physically brave in the face of soldiers in the first instance, then emotionally brave in her affair with a Turkish officer, Orfalea.

The focus of the book switches from the small village dominated by war, to the progress of the officers, to the activities of a missionary doctor.

Stylistically I was not so keen on the retorical questions  “Did he regret what happened?” and some of the similes “Her face was white as flour”. The use of letters and thus the first person from the overall third  person narration was a little disorientating. Some of the names and places were a little confusing, but this is at least partly my lack of knowledge of the period and events. There is a strong narrative arc with satisfying subplots, so as a novel it works well.

I am not convinced that this book ends with hope, but it is an atmospheric read  which is strong on plot and characterisation. Not a cheerful or happy novel, but a powerful and well researched book.


Back again! Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders – Kate Griffin

I know it’s been a long time, but I’m Back. A lot has happened since I last posted here, some of it pretty horrible, but I have kept reading so here is the first in a series of posts about some of the many, many books that I have discovered.

This book was recommended to me by Rachel, long time friend of the author. I was pleased to be able to find it in a bookshop and devoured it really quickly. Which is impressive if you could see how many other books I have around me to read…

It is a book about a teenager who is working behind the scenes in a Victorian Music Hall. She has lost everyone in her family, which sounds grim until the story develops and there is a glimmer of hope that someone has survived. She is forced into starring in a new act as Lady Ginger, who runs all the dubious “businesses” locally, engages her to find out about the girls who have been going missing from the area. There is peril, excitement and danger  while Kitty works out who is to be trusted, and who is a real threat.

The real excitement of this book is to be found in the descriptions of life in London in the 1800s. I have read my fair share of Victorian novels, as well as more modern efforts meant to be set in the period, and this is novel incredibly convincing. Griffin manages the details without slowing the action of how it felt to walk through the streets of London in the dangerous hours of night. The atmosphere is terrific, the fear feels real, and the characters are consistent. It is a book that keeps moving, keeps involving the reader, and carries the story well.

There are other books like this out there, but this is not a pretentious read which shows off its research and ambitions. I think there are a few more books to come from Kitty (and Kate!) and I will definitely be looking out for them.