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Review of ‘Bretherton, khaki or field grey?’ By WF Morris

December 27, 2018

I have no idea, now, how I came across this rather peculiar book. It is one of the Casemate classic war fiction series.

It is set in the first world war, a period which I know to be a period of poetic flourishing, but had always assumed to be rather under-represented by fiction.

W F Morris first published this book in 1929, and it reads very much as though he was there. Indeed, I cannot remember having read a book of prose in which the way of life at the front is so vividly depicted. No Mans’ Land, the minor and major forays across that blasted ground, the barrages, the spotter plans, the strafing, the Verey lights, the landscape – grass and tree and cottage – torn to shreds; the comparative comfort of a billet behind the front lines, the calm acceptance of a duty to be done. What is not in the book is the sort of condemnation of the war that one finds in the later WWI poetry of Owen, Sassoon, Blunden and others. A task is being performed as well as possible by men who maintain a sense of humour and drink a lot of scotch. It is surprising, perhaps, how believable that is. Or perhaps it is not surprising at all.

The plot of the novel is complex and to hint, even, is to give too much away. Suffice it to say that this reader believed three times that the denouement had arrived when it had not. The book meanders through the story in an apparently random way, which is actually cunningly crafted so that every time one thinks, ‘Ah! So that’s when/how/why …’ it actually isn’t. Morris put together a fine mystery in 1929 and told it beautifully. It has stood the changes of fashion in fiction remarkably well, and certainly merited unearthing and reprinting in this current Casemate series in 2016. Although Casemate might have made a better fist of proofing the last third of the book. Most of the errors are just little irritants, but on a few occasions they lead to puzzles for the reader.

If you are interested in WWI I recommend this to you without reservation. Despite the proofing errors, holistically it is a really interesting and well written novel.


Review: ‘The Naples of England’ by Andy Christopher Miller

December 13, 2018

The Naples of England: Andy Christopher Miller by [Miller, Andy]This is a most interesting memoir of a Baby Boomer growing up in Weymouth, Dorset. Miller was born ‘at the beginning of a New Age. 1946. The world had been scoured, scorched and cleansed at a terrible cost. Chance had chosen me and my generation to be its most fortunate beneficiaries.’ I also believe that to be so. These days we tend to forget how very far from that sort of childhood technology and consumerism have brought us, so it is good to remember those endless days when we were, grubbily, in and of the world around us. I remember similar incidents in my own girlhood. Here are the events that remain in the memory when much has been crowded out by the accumulations of adulthood. Some are of important events, some are quirkier.

This is the sort of book that many people intend to write, even if only for their descendants. Miller had the sense to start collecting information for his before all his sources were gone. Although the memories are vividly those of a lad between 8 and 16, the surrounding detail must have been helped immensely by input from his parents.

Miller is not afraid to dig deeply into his memories. He finds some which are poignant, others which show him in a less favourable light. He is an honest author with a broad palette with which to colour his childhood.

The story of his grandfather creating a ship in a bottle is a delight. We learn with him what he might want to be when he grew up, how he discovered a lifelong enthusiasm for rock-climbing, of endless summer days on a beach so full of holidaymakers it was difficult to find your way back to your own encampment if you went to get an ice-cream, of doing bed and breakfast (in defiance of the tenancy agreement) in a house already stuffed full of family, of comic books and bitterns. He speaks of a trip to  Chesil Beach and being awed by the power of the roiling water. He relates how he and others from his school walked fifty miles to show the Headmaster what they were capable of. He writes of the first long-haired youngsters (‘Mohairs’’) arriving in Weymouth and the explorations of philosophy and literature they initiated in him. Then there were UCCA forms and suggested sandwich courses and – at last – a light bulb moment of What To Do When I Grow Up. And, finally: London.

All the names and places have been renamed. Folk living in and around Weymouth will have fun identifying the places he talks about from the geography he describes on his way from here to there.

There is a final chapter which deals with memories from his parents which sets him back on his heels. Two incidents occurred before he was old enough to retain any memory of them himself. But both are huge. And neither was ever spoken of within the family. Miller discusses what he comes to know of the events and one feels his dismay and his need to set this down, so that the people concerned are not forgotten.

**I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review**



New review in Frost magazine

December 8, 2018

There is currently an enthusiastic review in Frost magazine for my novel Wonders will never cease.

If you’re stuck for a Christmas pressie for someone who has a connection to the Open Uni, why not get them a copy? They can spend 12 happy days of Christmas looking to see if they’re in it …

Find it here, on AmazonUK:


Review – ‘The Book of Dust, Vol 1: “La Belle Sauvage”‘ by Philip Pullman

December 8, 2018

We have been waiting 22 years for more about Phillip Pullman’s steam-punk world, where every human is accompanied by a totem animal. Is it worth the wait? Yes. If you haven’t read the “His Dark Materials” trilogy to which this is a prequel I think you will manage fine. I would say start here, except that we are currently two books short of the promised set, which will leave you with gaps to the more demanding, later trilogy. ‘Dust’ was being researched enthusiastically as a major theme in those books. Dust begins to be explored in this prequel. All the books are set  in a kind of parallel, steam punk, world to our own, so they have not aged in the 22 years in the way that their readers (sadly) have.

Philip Pullman writes so warmly about his child protagonists. This is partly because every soul on earth comes in two complementary parts, so no-one is ever truly alone. The soul, or perhaps conscience, is in the form of an animal daemon. Human and daemon are always in complete harmony and close proximity. Terrible anguish results if they are separated. No right-thinking person in Pullman’s world would dream of hurting one (although, not all the characters in this book are right-thinking). In children the daemon can change form at will in response to circumstances or emotions. Around puberty the form hardens. Lord Asriel’s daemon is a snow leopard: the daemons of servants are always dogs.

Another warmth-imparting theme is food. Malcolm Polstead, the youthful hero, has a mother who is a kick-ass cook. She cooks for her husband’s inn, and she cooks all that good stick-to-your-ribs stuff that we Baby Boomers remember: pies and roly-poly pudding, spotted dick and thick aromatic stews with dumplings. Quite what modern youngsters will make of all this carbohydrate and red meat I cannot imagine.

A further strand is Pullman’s desire to point up the best in people who march to the beat of a different drum and are marginalised by society’s movers and shakers. His marvellous flights of imagination enable him to meld witches, gypsies, river gods, children, academics and magicians within a surprisingly ‘normal’ steam punk existence.

The final thread is a flood of biblical proportions, which sweeps through Oxford and the surrounding countryside. Oxford locals will, no doubt, enjoy this fictional flood to this which actually occur on the water meadows. The story becomes a chase as the protagonists are swept away by it. Great evil is felt, great grief is experienced. Enormous courage is shown. The god of the river shows himself.

Because of the warm world Pullman evokes, those who seek to destroy it immediately come across as cold. Pullman is known for his antipathy to organised religion, and there is a very cold thread indeed which draws on that. Pullman doesn’t seem to have much time for politics or science either. But he certainly seems to believe in evil.

The unwanted baby, Lyra Belacqua (the heroine of the later trilogy), has been placed with a convent. However, the child soon becomes the target of several different kidnap enterprises. Only young Malcolm (who has formed an attachment to the baby) seems to have the sort of gumption which can prevail against the various clever, well-organised parties seeking to capture Lyra. If I were to set his actions down here they wouldn’t, perhaps, seem so heroic – but he is a true hero who simply keeps going until the job is done.

This is an easier read than the previous trilogy, despite the length (it is a meaty 546 pages in hardback). The threads carry the reader clearly through the story. I wasn’t quite convinced by the motivation of Gerard Bonneville, but he does make a splendid and hideous villain. Matters which never were really explained in the later trilogy are, finally, set up in this one.

Suffice it to say that I have read deep into the night, night after night, to know how this story unfolds and then resolves. It is a tale as full of matter as one of Mrs Polstead’s mouth-watering pies.

This would make a special gift for Christmas.

My booky wooks

November 21, 2018

Christmas is coming …

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Review : ‘The Lost Letters of William Shakespeare: The Undiscovered Diary of His Strange Eventful Life and Loves’ by Terry Tamminen

November 17, 2018

I was provided with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Letters of William Shakespeare: The Undiscovered Diary of His Strange Eventful Life and Loves by [Tamminen, Terry]

This is a fascinating project.

I perhaps should announce an interest up front, in that I am a Shakespeare fan – I have even performed in a few myself as an amateur. And not only of the plays but also of his life and times.

How you receive this book may depend on whether you believe that these are lost letters, written by Shakespeare. Other reviewers say that they don’t care if the letters are genuine or not, and have found this book a way into Shakespeare and his language – and that is something that can only be applauded. Which I do.

The book is well written, with a few odd spellings perhaps unavoidable when an American takes on Elizabethan English. Either Shakespeare or his editor, Tamminen, is very fond of commas, which bespatter some of the longer sentences to the point where one has negotiate stepping stones of phrases and sub-clauses.

The preamble to the book, dealing with how the lost letters came into the author’s possession, is very interesting and gambols along. The illustrations, glossary and dramatis personae of Shakespeare’s life are a helpful support to the letters.

Of the letters themselves, much is promised and, indeed, much is delivered. There are 16 letters, each prefaced, engagingly, by Tamminen. All the letters are long. To the extent that this is a book of 546 pages. One wonders where on earth Shakespeare found the time and writing perquisites to write at such length. Lack of television was, presumably, key… This reviewer found some of the material (whisper it soft) a little dull. There is no plot of course – no beginning, middle and end. This is not a novel. Nor is it a play (which is how we are most used to experiencing Shakespeare). Life happens and is relayed to Shakespeare’s ‘coz’, and thence to us, in these 16 epistles. As Elizabethan English never uses a short phrase where a long one will serve, it is perhaps unsurprising that there could be longeurs.

This is a first tranche of the letter cache: more volumes are promised. What is in this book covers three years between 1586 and 1589: Shakespeare has written a few sonnets but has not yet written a play, although he has doctored several.

To escape problems at home in Stratford, he joins a band of travelling actors (‘Leicester’s Men) as their Jack of all trades and over the course of these early letters becomes interested in acting as a profession for himself. He discusses the times: amongst other things the necessity to be seen to espouse the right religion and the prevalence of plague in town and countryside. A wild scheme to make money and pay off his father’s debts is a running thread through the letters. He falls in love and berates himself for cheating on his wife and children. There is an intriguing revelation about why he married Anne Hathaway.

The letters add to what is known of Shakespeare’s life, filling in a number of the well-publicised gaps in his life story, and prefiguring material in sonnets and plays to come when Shakespeare hits his writing stride.

Is it true? Read it and make up your own mind.

Actual face-2-facery! Tues 9 October

October 2, 2018

Yup – that’s next week.

“I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.” (Kipling)

This and other conversations:

Image may contain: one or more people and text

We will have books available to buy.

Smashing review of my first book ‘Is death really necessary?’

September 8, 2018

Did I ever post this here? Who can say. I have the memory of a goldfish. So here it is, just in case:

Is death really necessary? by [Moore, Judi]“Judi Moore’s novel Is Death Really Necessary? provides a fresh and intelligent approach to the genre of science fiction, dispensing with stereotypical fodder such as androids and electric sheep and, instead, introducing an intriguing environmental terrorism angle that is relevant to today’s concerns about the planet. This clever combination of both the current and an idea of the future grips the reader from the start and ensures their interest is maintained throughout. The other main plot driver – the race to find a life-saving tonic for Teddy, the main female protagonist, brings to mind the topical debate of science playing God and asks how far will people go to cheat their own mortality. Thrown in to the fast-paced tension is a spot of romance, broadening the appeal and the scope of the novel to beyond the traditional realms of science fiction.

Moore handles the material deftly, with an attractive writing style that defies other exponents of Sci-fi. The narrative makes use of a wide range of writing styles to complement the unfolding action – we have beautiful, descriptive prose alongside tense action, and all wrapped up in a subtle yet charming humour that makes the novel easily likeable. The characterisation is skilful and the dialogue realistic and well-balanced, achieving a good parity between general fiction and the more specialist vocabulary and narrative style of science fiction. This is a novel that will appeal to a broad readership – male and female, sci-fi fans and lovers of general fiction – and the adept use of nanonics in the storyline weaves the science fiction alongside elements of the thriller, with a level of comedy that provides well-placed relief from the tension. A great story by a talented, skilful and diverse writer.”  Sam Pope,  April 2014

‘A Writer’s life for me’

September 2, 2018

They asked me what it’s like being a writer. So I told ’em.

In Frost magazine, 1 September, 2018:

Review of ‘Tizita’ by Sharon Heath

August 25, 2018

**  Review originally prepared for Big Al & Pals. Received a free review copy  **

Genre: Literary fiction     

Description: Amazon’s blurb says “Physics wunderkind Fleur Robins, just a little odd and more familiar with multiple universes than complicated affairs of the heart, is cast adrift when her project to address the climate crisis is stalled. Worse, her Ethiopian-born fiancé Assefa takes off right after her 21st birthday party to track down his father, who’s gone missing investigating Ethiopian claims to the Ark of the Covenant. … Assefa’s reconnection with a childhood sweetheart leads Fleur to … a bumbling encounter with her rival. The experience of tizita – the interplay of memory, loss, and longing – [flings] Fleur into conflicts between science and religion, race and privilege, climate danger and denial, sex and love … with humor, whimsy, and the clumsiness and grace of innocence.

Author: Amazon vouchsafes “Sharon Heath writes fiction and non-fiction exploring the interplay of science and spirit, politics and pop culture, contemplation and community. A certified Jungian Analyst … and faculty member of the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, she … has [inter alia] given talks … on topics ranging from the place of soul in social media to gossip, envy, secrecy, and belonging. She blogs at Which is all to say that she knows whereof she writes. Her breadth of knowledge about all manner of things is astonishing. She has the magpie eye of the true writer.

Appraisal: This is an extraordinary book. It is so stuffed with ideas that they overflow. There is a curiosity about the world in all the vibrant characters who inhabit the book. I learned much (as you know, I do like to finish a book feeling that I have done so) about physics, philosophy, religions (various), Ethiopia, Jane Goodall’s Gombe chimp sanctuary, the odd way humans behave toward each other and (not the least just because I’ve put it last) climate change. Read it to be amazed and informed as well as royally entertained. (Some of the word choices are exquisite.) Along the way Heath discusses racism, rape, female circumcision and abortion in the present day through her characters’ experience of these. There is plenty of sex. There is also plenty of mild self-harm (if self-harm can ever be mild).

Do not be put off by (but be prepared for) descriptions of everything a character’s eye lights upon (the descriptions are always vivid). There is also rather too much harking back to the first book about Fleur Robins (The History of my Body). There is both not enough to make what happened in the first book meaningful for someone who has not read it, and too much of it for Tizita to carry without it becoming burdensome. These interpolations interfered with pace from time to time. This strategy also threw up that Fleur’s life (physics project apart) seemed to have been marking time for the five years between The History of my Body and Tizita.

FYI:   a few f*ck-bombs, plenty of sex, description of rape, female circumcision, and self-harm; discussion of abortion and racism.

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