Marking the 50th. anniversary of Project Neptune, the National Trust's campaign to protect and preserve the coastal heritage of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, "this is a story of the most beautiful 742 miles of coastline: its rocks, plants and animals, views, walks and history, and the people who have made their lives within sight of the waves. As he travels along coastal paths, visits beaches and explores coves, Patrick Barkham reflects on the long campaign to protect our shoreline from tidal erosion and human damage and weaves together fascinating tales about every aspect of the coast - from ancient conquests and smugglers' routes, to exotic migratory birds and bucket-and-spade holidays - to tell a more profound story about our island nation and the way we are shaped by our shores.
Featuring beautiful accounts of national coastal treasures such as Scolt Head Island, the Undercliff of Lyme Regis, the Penwith Peninsula, the Llŷn Peninsula, Strangford Lough*, the Goodwin Sands and many more, this evocative and engaging book offers fresh perspective on what it means to live in a land that is 'more edge than middle' and confirms Patrick Barkham as one of the most eloquent writers on these isles."
I'm sure we can all relate to this New Yorker cover - the reading part, if not the winter sports ... Anyway, snug here in my warm house I can contemplate some wintery fiction, and a recent arrival would seem to fit the bill:
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck is set in Swedish Lapland in 1717. "There, a group of settlers from across Scandinavia, all with reasons to escape the past, have come to forge a new life in the shadow of the Blackåsen Mountain, among them intelligent, resilient Maija.
Not long after their arrival, her fourteen-year-old daughter Frederika stumbles across a mutilated body in a picturesque glade. The other settlers are quick to dismiss this as a wolf attack, but Maija is certain that it is a vicious murder - and one committed by someone within their small community.
As the seasons change and that harshest of winters - a 'Wolf Winter' - descends, Maija begins a dangerous quest to unearth the secrets that both her neighbours and the Church that dominates their lives have conspired to bury. But past tragedies and betrayals still haunt the community and as the truth begins to emerge, Maija will learn the full cost of survival demanded from the mountain - and the terrible truth about those who have paid its price."
"Like a silent fall of snow; suddenly, the reader is enveloped ... visually acute, skilfully written; it won't easily erase its tracks in the reader's mind." That praise for this debut novel comes from Hilary Mantel, no less, while its publishers describe it as "a story built up layer by layer, simultaneously a labyrinthine mystery, an evocative exploration of a time and place far from our own, and an exquisite literary novel." It's due out here on the 12th. of February.
Out here in February (and just released in the US) is Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, "a compelling and dazzling story of sisters and art, love and betrayal - of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf".
This is an epistolary novel of which Virginia Nicholson, Vanessa Bell's grand-daughter says, "An account of my grandmother's early life, told with faith, elegance and an almost uncanny insight into the subject. But this is also an absorbing work of fiction - and Priya Parmar has made Vanessa's story her own."
The book begins in London in 1905: "The city is alight with change and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a sparkling coterie of artistic and intellectual friends who will come to be known as the legendary Bloomsbury Group. And at the centre of the charmed ring are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.
Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa has never sold a painting. Virginia's book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E.M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this shimmering enclave of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa's constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family Vanessa must choose whether to protect Virginia's happiness or her own."
I know a lot of us are fans of Adèle Geras's books, and will be glad to hear that her new novel for adults, Cover Your Eyes, has just been published. I'm greatly looking forward to this one and shall be reading it soon (and then passing it straight on to my mum who loves Adèle's work), but until I get to it, here's the blurb:
"Eva was once a legendary fashion designer whose career ended abruptly. She lives with her family in Salix House, the home she's loved for forty years. When the family announces it's time to sell, Eva is reluctant. The house contains many memories and long held secrets.
Megan is a fashion journalist who interviewed Eva for a magazine. Devastated at the end of a love affair, Megan is drawn back to Salix House.
Although decades apart in age, both women share painful pasts. Perhaps together they can confront their fears, discover the truth of Salix House's secrets, and move on."
Click here to read an article Adèle has written about the real and terrible events which form the background to the novel, and on a lighter note, the fun she had creating her central character's life in fashion - Eva is a Jean Muir figure, and that elegance and style should make for some lovely detail.
Adèle ends her piece thus: "I think the present is much more interesting when it's aware of the past; when it looks back in some way. In Cover Your Eyes, Eva's early years are woven through the text, threading scenes set in 1938 and at various times in the 1960s into a story that takes place in the present day. I hope that everyone who reads it enjoys this novel and relishes, like me, travelling magically through time."
"Take five strangers with nothing in common except a passion for baking.
Add a hotly-contested competition and beat to stiff peaks.
Heat to just the right degree of tension.
Ice with the bittersweet tale of the iconic woman who inspired them all.
Enjoy in snatched bites, or devour at one sitting.
Relish the exquisite combination of dark and light flavours, the delicious moments and mouth-watering twists."
The search is on to find the 'New Mrs. Eaden', someone to 'don the apron' of the famous cookery writer, author of the 1966 book The Art of Baking. As five amateur bakers compete, "they will learn - as Mrs. Eaden did - that, while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life".
I spent about two hours this afternoon writing a longish post on the books I'll be reading over the next couple of weeks, only to press 'save' and find that Typepad was down again, and my carefully crafted piece had vanished.
So, to begin again, but more briefly this time, here's my 'soon to be read' pile:
Going Back by journalist and broadcaster Rachael English is a debut novel which sees Elizabeth Kelly leave Ireland to return to Boston where she spent the summer of 1988. "Can she reconcile the dreams of her twenty-year-old self with the woman she has become?"
Writing the Garden by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is subtitled 'A literary conversation across two centuries', and is a collection of writings on the art of gardening by the likes of Vita Sackville-West, Elizabeth von Arnim, Edith Wharton, Beverley Nichols, Penelope Hobhouse and Margery Fish. Perfect for this time of year.
The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go is another debut, this one a time-slip tale of an unclaimed inheritance, "part historical tour de force, part heart-rending love story," a breathless race from London archives to the battlefield of the Somme and the fjords of Iceland to piece together the events of a long-ago love affair and uncover vital proof of lineage. The author talks about it here.
The White Russian by Vanora Bennett is "a sweeping, heartbreaking novel of illicit passion and family secrets set amongst the Russian émigré community in Paris in 1937". Evie comes from New York in search of art and adventure, but her grandmother's sudden death leads her on a quest to discover a mysterious man from her family's past. "With the world on the brink of war, she becomes embroiled in murder plots, conspiracies and more as White faces Red Russian and nothing is as it seems."
Last but by no means least, The Stories, a collection of Jane Gardam's short fiction. Some of these I've read before, some are new to me, all come from the pen of a literary star whose work I love and admire. As the blurb says, "Jane Gardam shakes out life and finds diamonds in its folds." I can't wait.
With the ongoing Typepad problems I hardly dare ask you to tell us what you're reading this weekend, but if you find you can leave a comment - and especially if you have something good on the go - please do let us know.
"In the dark heart of 18th. century England: a mistress, a maid, a mystery ..."
Martine Bailey's An Appetite for Violets will be published later this month and it sounds like one to look out for:
"Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at the foreboding Mawton Hall, wants only to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries the young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets and lies.
Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, Biddy takes with her an old household book of recipes, The Cook's Jewel, in which she records her observations. When she finds herself embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, Biddy realises that the secrets she holds could be the key to her survival - or her downfall ..."
The novel is billed as "an utterly compelling story of food, obsession and mystery, introducing a brilliant new voice in historical fiction, " and Maria McCann, author of As Meat Loves Salt and The Wilding (on which there's a post here) says of it, "I adored this novel: a delicious addictive mix of confectionery, skulduggery and crime, sprinkled with dark secrets and sauced with piquant comedy."
Many of us will have Raffaella Barker's novels on our shelves, and like me, will be glad to know that she has a new one out soon (and that her entire backlist is being republished, too).
From a Distance is "a compelling story of a family divided by war. Moving between the post-war artists' colony around St. Ives in Cornwall and present-day Norfolk, it explores the secrets and flaws that shape our interactions across generations.
April, 1946. Michael, a soldier, returns to Southampton on a troop ship. Brutalised and in shock, he cannot face the life that awaits him at home. Impulsively he boards a train to the western tip of Cornwall and the process of restoration begins in the heart of its artistic colony.
More than half a century later, Kit, an enigmatic stranger, arrives in Norfolk to take up an inheritance he doesn't want - a de-commissioned lighthouse. According to Kit, as director of Lighthouse Fabrics his life is complete, and he doesn't wish to see anything the lighthouse's glare exposes.
Luisa and Tom have a seemingly perfect country life. He's a teacher, she, a second generation Italian, makes exquisitely flavoured ice creams. But their children are growing up and Luisa can't help but feel a sense of loss as she watches them stride into their own futures.
When Kit and Luisa meet, family history starts to unravel and neither can escape the inevitability of Michael's split-second decision at Southampton docks.
Raffaella Barker writes with lyrical precision about landscape and emotion, a lightness of touch in plot and character, and in From a Distance subtly explores the reality of loss and recovery."
"Complex and thoughtful, moving and carefully researched, this is a novel to love and treasure," says Philippa Gregory of Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure, out here early next month.
"Salzburg, 1946. A fugitive train loaded with Jewish treasure. A dazzling jewelled pendant in the form of a stylised peacock. And three men - an American infantry captain in World War II, an Israeli-born dealer in art stolen by the Nazis, and a pioneering psychiatrist in fin-de-siècle Budapest - who find their lives turned upside-down by three women, each locked in a struggle against her own history and the history of our times. And at the centre of Love and Treasure, nested like a photograph hidden in a locket, a mystery: where does the worth of a people and its treasures truly lie?
Waldman traces the unlikely journey, from 1914 Budapest to post-war Salzburg to present-day New York, of the peacock pendant whose significance changes with the changes of fortune undergone by her characters as they find themselves caught up in the ebb and flow of modern European history. Spanning continents and a hundred years of turbulent history, encompassing war and revolution, the history of art, feminism and psychoanalysis, depicting the range of human feeling from the darkness of a shattered Europe to the ordinary heartbreaks of a contemporary New York woman, this novel marks the full maturity of a remarkable writer."
Michael Ondaatje comments, "One is quickly caught up in Love and Treasure with its shifting tones and voices - at times a document, a thriller, a love story, a search - telescoping time backwards and forwards to vividly depict a story found in the preludes and then the after-effects of the Holocaust. Waldman gives us remarkable characters in a time of complex and surprising politics."
There is a video trailer for the book here, but you may wish to turn off the audio as I found the music detracted from the images.
"This is an astonishing and luminous novel," said Hilary Mantel of Grace McCleen's The Professor of Poetry, which is out in paperback shortly.
"Whilst recovering from cancer, Elizabeth Stone, a respected academic, returns to the city where she was a student over thirty years ago to investigate some little-known papers by T.S. Eliot, which she believes contain the seeds of her masterpiece; a masterpiece that centres on a poem given to her when she was eighteen by Professor Hunt ...
But as the days pass in the city that both enchants and disquiets her, Elizabeth's memories return her to a time shadowed by loneliness, longing and quiet despair, and to an undeclared but overwhelming love for the elusive Professor Hunt. Haunted by a sense of waste, stunned by the intensity of her emotion and faced with new challenges, Elizabeth Stone comes to realise she is facing the biggest test of her life.
With shades of Jane Eyre and A.S. Byatt, this is a timeless novel that takes time as its subject, a novel filled with silence and stillness that nevertheless rejoices in the musical, dynamic qualities of prose."
"On the night of May 3rd., 1942, fifteen-year-old Alma Braithwaite and her fellow boarders at Goldwyn's school huddle in an air-raid shelter as bombs rain down on Exeter in one of the Baedeker raids. By the time the girls emerge, half the school is in ruins and the city centre has been destroyed.
Twenty-one years on, Alma lives alone in the family house and teaches music at her old school. She's moderately content, until the death of the long-serving headmistress brings a new broom in the form of the steely, modernizing Miss Yates. A new student starts too - the daughter of a man Alma hasn't seen since 1942, when he played a pivotal role in her life. Suddenly, Alma is taken back to the summer that followed the raids, a summer of numbing loss yet also of youthful exuberance, friendship and dancing.
In the enthralling After the Bombing, Clare Morrall captures the impact of the Second World War on those at home, particularly the ones too young to take part, and poignantly conveys the long shadow it cast for a generation of women."
"A novel about marriage, poetry and art, and what it is to live under the shadow of a great man, The Poets' Wives by David Park is literary writing at its finest.
Three women, each destined to play the role of a poet's wife: Catherine Blake, wife of William Blake, the nineteenth century poet, painter and engraver; Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, whose poetry cost him his life under Stalin's terror; and the wife of a fictional contemporary Irish poet, who looks back on her marriage during the days after his death.
Set across continents and centuries and in very different circumstances, these women confront the contradictions between art and life, contemplate their sacrifices for another's creativity, and struggle with infidelities in many forms. They find themselves custodians of their husbands' work, work that has been woven with intimacies and which has shaped their own lives in the most unexpected of ways."
While we're on the subject of poets' wives, may I recommend The Poet's Wife by Judith Allnatt - there's a post on it here.
The arrival here of a new Flavia de Luce book is always a pleasant moment with its anticipation of much reading pleasure. With the latest in Alan Bradley's wonderful series, that joy is tempered by the knowledge that this is billed as the last one!
I shan't say anything about the plot of the new book for fear of spoiling things for anyone who hasn't yet read the earlier ones, but The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches will be published on 13th. March, and while Flavia fans will be eagerly awaiting it, I'd urge anyone who hasn't yet discovered this clever, nostalgic series to make a start on the books soon as they are too good to miss.
Lots of exciting-looking books have come in over the last few days, so I'm going to do a few short preview posts to show you what's new, beginning with Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan:
"Feilamort can remember very little of his childhood before he became a choir boy in the home of the Laird and his French wife. Feilamort has one of the finest voices in the land. It is a gift he believes will protect him . . .
Deirdre has lived in the castle all her short life. Apprentice to her mother, she embroiders the robes for one of Scotland's finest families. She can capture, with just a few delicate stitches, the ripeness of a bramble or the glint of bronze on a fallen leaf. But with her mother pushing her to choose between a man she does not love and a closed world of prayer and solitude, Deirdre must decide for herself what her life will become.
When the time comes for Feilamort to make an awful decision, his choice catapults himself and Deirdre head-first into adulthood. As the two friends learn more about Feilamort's forgotten childhood, it becomes clear that someone close is intent on keeping it hidden. Full of wonder and intrigue, and told with the grace and charm for which Anne Donovan is so beloved, Gone Are the Leaves is the enchanting story of one boy's lost past and his uncertain future."
Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams will be well known to many of you, and some fifteen years after reading it I still have the 'ghost' of the book in my mind. In April - appropriately, season of showers - comes his next novel, History of the Rain, and I love the sound of it:
"Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, in the margin between this world and the next, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father. To find him, enfolded in the mystery of ancestors, Ruthie must first trace the jutting jaw lines, narrow faces and gleamy skin of the Swains from the restless Reverend Swain, her great-grandfather, to grandfather Abraham, to her father, Virgil - via pole-vaulting, leaping salmon, poetry and the three thousand, nine hundred and fifty eight books piled high beneath the two skylights in her room, beneath the rain.
The stories - of her golden twin brother Aeney, their closeness even as he slips away; of their dogged pursuit of the Swains' Impossible Standard and forever falling just short; of the wild, rain-sodden history of fourteen acres of the worst farming land in Ireland - all pour forth in Ruthie's still, small, strong, hopeful voice. A celebration of books, love and the healing power of the imagination, this is an exquisite, funny and moving novel in which every sentence sings."
Having read just one chapter, it's no doubt wholly premature of me to pronounce, but on the strength of that beginning I'd say this is a special book.
"Roberta likes to collect letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother's belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew - dated after he supposedly died in the war.
Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later ..."
I've just read the beginning - a description of the bookshop in which Roberta works - and would love to go on with it right now, but it will have to wait a bit. US readers may like to know that it is to be published in the States, too, and by Amy Einhorn, publisher of Kathryn Stockett's phenomenally successful The Help. Finally, who could resist that cover?
Billed as "her most ambitious and atmospheric novel to date", the book sees "love, seduction, magic and illusion collide as she takes us on a spellbinding journey through the shadowy world of Victorian London. Set in and around "The Palmyra", a new theatre of varieties, The Illusionists perfectly captures the spirit of Victorian England..."
Beginning in 1870, it's the story of Eliza, an artist's model who meets a showman by the name of Devil Wix, a man whose dream is to run his own theatre company. Wix's right-hand man is Carlo Boldoni, an ill-tempered dwarf with whom he is usually at odds, and then there's Jasper Button, "mild-mannered, a family man at heart, his gift as an artist makes him an unlikely member of the motley crew.
Thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked: the fortune of one depends on the fortune of the other. As Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life ..."
"A mystery unsolved to this day. A mystic who confounds the cynics. A writer looking for the story that will make his name.
A ghost ship appears in the mist. To the struggling author Arthur Conan Doyle, it is an inspiration. To Violet Petra, the gifted American psychic, it is a cruel reminder. To the death-obsessed Victorian public, it is a fascinating distraction. And to one family, tied to the sea for generations, it is a tragedy.
In salons and on rough seas, at séances and in the imagination of a genius, these stories converge in unexpected ways as the mystery of the ghost ship deepens. But will the sea yield its secrets, and to whom?
Intricate, atmospheric, and endlessly intriguing, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a spellbinding exploration of love, loss and the fictions that pass as truth."
I can't wait to read this one from the author of the Orange Prize-winning Property and Mary Reilly (which, by the way, is relevant to our CBG book for February), but meanwhile let me draw your attention to the cover design which appears as you see on the picture above left, but achieves that misty, ghostly effect by means of a semi-opaque jacket over the image in the picture on the right.
I've mentioned Harriet Lane's eagerly anticipated second novel before, but details were scanty then. Her new book, Her, won't be out until June, but that gives plenty of time for library requests and pre-orders, so here's the gist:
"Two women; two different worlds. Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold. Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control.
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did.
But what exactly does Nina want from her?
And how far will she go in pursuit of it?"
You will remember Harriet Lane as the author of the superb Alys, Always, a brilliant debut and one of my books of the year in 2012 - if you haven't read it you'll find a post on it here, and you'll see why I'm so looking forward to reading her new book.
"It is evident from the way the stones are set into the slope of the hill that industrious hands once toiled to make this pathway. It is overgrown now, the shallow impression of a ditch on one side. He makes his way carefully down towards the remains of the village, pursued by the oddest sense of treading in his own footsteps. And yet he has never been here.
The silhouette of a broken-down drystone wall runs along the contour of the treeless hill above him. Beyond it, he knows, a crescent of silver sand curls away towards the cemetery and the standing stones on the rise. Below him, the footings of the blackhouses are barely visible among the peaty soil and the spikes of tall grasses that bend and bow in the wind. The last evidence of walls that once sheltered the families who lived and died here.
He follows the path between them, down towards the shingle shore where a ragged line of roughly hewn stones vanishes into waves that cast their spume upon the pebbles, frothing and spitting. They are all that remain of some long-forgotten attempt to build a jetty...."
I know a lot of us were big fans of Peter May's Lewis Trilogy, The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen (which I don't think I wrote about here), so it's good news that he has recently published a new novel. Entry Island begins with the passage I've quoted above, and I've just started reading it today so can't say much yet other than that it links Canada and the Hebrides and features Detective Sime Mackenzie on what appears to be a routine investigation, but one which seems to have another dimension ...
More on it soon, I hope, but while we're talking about Peter May, I must recommend his pictorial accompaniment to The Lewis Trilogy, the very beautiful Hebrides with photographs by David Wilson, and if you've ever marvelled at his output, in this short video he explains his writing methods and how he 'hits the ground running' with every book.