Bookish Newsweek…

2nd edition of the bookish “newspaper”

Click on the book titles for the full reviews.


There has been a major furore over the news that Big Ben, the bell in the clock tower in the Palace of Westminster, the home of the UK Parliament, is to be silenced for four years while repair work is carried out.

Edmund Burke by Jesse Norman

Jesse Norman is a British politician and a Conservative Member of Parliament. In this biography of Burke’s life and thought, Norman shows the influence that Burke’s thinking had on how Parliament developed in Britain (and, Norman claims, in America) – an influence still felt today. It was Burke who argued that government should be representative – that once in Parliament MPs should be governed by their own opinions rather than bowing directly to the wishes of their electorate. This rested on his idea that it is the duty of politicians to study deeply and understand the history behind current events and the institutions that form the basis of stable societies.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (no link, since I haven’t reviewed this one)

Dickens began his writing career as a journalist, sitting daily in the gallery of the Commons to cover the proceedings of Parliament. What he saw there influenced his views on Victorian society and after he left he apparently said he would never return because he could not bear to listen to another worthless speech. His semi-autobiographical hero David Copperfield was also a parliamentary journalist, and gives an indication of Dickens’ feelings on the experience…

Night after night, I record predictions that never come to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that are only meant to mystify.

Robert Powell as Richard Hannay clinging to the face of Big Ben in Don Sharp’s 1978 film of The 39 Steps by John Buchan – not that it actually happened in the book!

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This week A-level results came out – the final school exams. There has been the usual annual rush as young people scramble to get into the universities and courses of their choice. They should be careful which one they pick…

Past Tense by Margot Kinberg

Back in the early ’70s, Bryan Roades was a student at the University of Tilton in Pennsylvania. Inspired by the great Woodward and Bernstein investigation into the Watergate affair, Bryan hoped to emulate them by becoming a campaigning journalist.When he disappeared, the police could find no trace and most people thought he’d simply done that fashionable thing for the time – gone off to ‘find himself’… until the foundations are being dug for a new performing arts building. The building crew are shocked when they discover a skeleton buried there. Forensic tests show that it belonged to a young man and dates from around forty years earlier. Joel Williams, ex-cop and now college professor, investigates…

The Vanishing Lord by Lucy Brazier

When the famous portrait of the Old College’s founder Lord Layton disappears, Deputy Head Porter knows not to call the police – the college keeps its problems to itself. Unfortunately the police aren’t quite so au fait with the college’s rules, so when word leaks out, they come snooping around and soon begin to suspect that the wall of silence they’re being met with from the Dean and porters suggests they must know more about the alleged theft than they’re letting on. Meantime did the Master of neighbouring Hawkins College die a natural death or is he one in the long line of mysterious murders that afflict these ancient institutions? Deputy Head Porter, helped or hindered by her colleagues, must investigate in this humorous murder mystery.

Deputy Head Porter

Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts

When the body of first-year student Emily Brabents is found floating in the weir, it falls to recently promoted Detective Inspector Erica Martin to investigate. Having just transferred to the Durham force, Martin soon discovers what a huge part the prestigious University plays in this city, and the pressure is on to get a quick result before there’s too much bad publicity. But as Martin begins her investigation, she discovers that underneath the ancient traditions and academic reputation, Joyce College is awash with sex, secrets and online trolling. And pretty young Emily, desperate to be popular, has been at the centre of much of it, with sexually explicit photographs and videos of her appearing on Facebook, attracting the attention of every bully and troll in the College…

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For the first time since 1918, a total eclipse of the sun has been visible all across the United States.

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

Laura and Kit are newly in love. Kit is an eclipse-chaser, travelling the world to experience full solar eclipses as often as he can. So they’ve gone together to a festival at Lizard’s Point in Cornwall to witness the 1999 eclipse – Laura’s first. Still on a high following this semi-mystical experience, as they make their way back to the festival site Laura comes across two people who at first she thinks are making love. But then she sees the girl’s face, frozen in shock, and reassesses what it is she’s actually seeing. Now she’s going to be the major witness in a rape trial. Fifteen years later, Laura and Kit are still together, awaiting the birth of their twins, but hiding from the world. The book tells the story of how the events after the eclipse have led them to this…

King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard

When Sir Henry Curtis’ brother George goes missing in Africa, Sir Henry and his friend, Captain Good, set out to find him. While they are en route to Natal, they meet up with Allan Quatermain, a famed local elephant hunter and adventurer. Sir Henry begs Quatermain to go with them to seek for the mines, in the hopes of finding his brother there; and, in return for a promise of a share in any treasure they find, Quatermain agrees. Along the way, Captain Good will use his trusty diary and a fortuitous total eclipse of the sun to save the lives of the travellers…

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Scientists think they have solved the mystery of how birds navigate over long distances – by instinctively being able to judge the distance between true north and polar north (or something like that).

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

On a cold winter’s night, Nat Hocken is awoken by the sound of tapping at his window and discovers it’s a bird seemingly trying to get in. Then screams come from the children’s bedroom and when he rushes there, he finds hundreds of birds have come through the window and are attacking his son and daughter. No-one knows why the birds have suddenly started attacking and no-one knows how to stop them. Du Maurier creates a wonderfully terrifying atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia as Nat battles to protect his family…

Gods of the Morning by John Lister-Kaye

In 1976, John Lister-Kaye bought an estate in the northern central Highlands of Scotland, and set up what is now Scotland’s premier field study centre, Aigas. Although a wide range of wildlife lives and is studied there, Lister-Kaye’s own main fascination is with the many varieties of birds that make their home there – his gods of the morning. In this book, he takes the reader through a year, showing the changes that come with each season, as different birds arrive, nest, breed and leave again.

No sound in the world, not even the rough old music of the rooks, etches more deeply into my soul than the near-hysterical ‘wink-winking’ of pink-footed geese all crying together high overhead. It is a sound like none other. Sad, evocative, stirring and, for me, quintessentially wild, it arouses in me a yearning that seems to tug at the leash of our long separation from the natural world.

* * * * * * *

The greatly loved singer, dancer and all-round entertainer Bruce Forsyth died this week at the age of 89, after a career spanning more than 70 years. No books for this one – instead a little sample of the fun he brought into our lives… your Brucie Bonus.


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34 thoughts on “Bookish Newsweek…

  1. God bless you Brucie, off to the great stage in the sky! We will never see your like again, most probably. At the risk of sounding like a proper old codger, we really don’t have any all-round entertainers anymore, do we? Where is all the proper talent, I ask you? Grrr. Speaking of which, I notice a familiar title there, thank you very much for the mention is this highly esteemed feature 🙂 And what a beautiful excerpt from Gods Of The Morning – the title itself is marvellous!

    • We don’t – these all-rounders came out of the variety theatres, I think, and there’s nothing similar for today’s stars, who quite often are just “personalities”. I’ll miss Brucie – he’s given me decades of entertainment right back to the old black and white Sunday Night at the London Palladium days! (Long before your time!) My pleasure! 😀 God in the Morning is beautifully written – the fact that I still remember some of the descriptions years after reading it is a real sign of quality.

  2. Very sorry to hear of Bruce Forsyth’s death…. And now Jerry Lewis has passed, too. And just when we need entertainment.

    At any rate, another brilliant edition of your newspaper, FictionFan, and thank you so much for the kind mention. You’re reminding, too, that I really ought to read the Erin Kelly. It’s on the wish list – just hasn’t gotten to the TBR yet *Sigh*…

    • It’s been a bad week for entertainers, though both of them had a full span of years and entertained us all for most of them. I’ll miss them!

      Thank you, and my pleasure! It fitted in beautifully to the category. I was less enthusiastic about this Erin Kelly than about her previous books, but plenty of other people have really enjoyed it, so I hope you do too. 🙂

  3. Loved the Brucie bonus and your timely news as usual. Wow! Watching that video made me feel so lazy.

    I saw the eclipse from a far. I didn’t have glasses and we had heavy cloud cover. The saw burst through the cloud cover right at the eclipse.

    • I wasn’t sure if you guys over in the US would know Brucie, but he’s been a fixture throughout every British life really – like the Queen! He was amazing – still dancing up until about two years ago.

      Oh, I’m glad you got a glimpse anyway! We had one here about twenty years ago and it was cloudy too, but it was still an amazingly weird experience. 😀

  4. This is such a great series, FF; you are quite the genius! I was doing so well at enjoying your cleverness and ignoring the temptation of the books themselves – but then came Gods of the Morning… I just have to have it!

    • Haha – thank you! It’s a form of therapy to try to take my mind off the real news! The writing in Gods of the Morning is great and I still remember several of the descriptive passages years after reading it, so I do recommend it. If you get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it. 😀

  5. Loved the Brucie bonus! I wonder if parents can get kids today to take dancing lessons the way they did in his generation? Gee, an entire way of life is passing before our very eyes.

    Ah, and I see Miss Lucy’s book made your news this week — brilliant! I’m looking very much forward to reading it.

    I saw The Birds, and I still feel creepy when I see flocks of birds flying around. Hitchcock was a master of suspense!

    • I wasn’t sure if you guys would know who Brucie was, but he’s been a part of life over here for so long – like the Queen! And his popularity meant that Strictly Come Dancing got huge audiences and started a whole new craze for ballroom and Latin dancing, so maybe some kid will grow up to be a great dancer because of him… 😀

      I think you’ll enjoy Lucy’s book…

      Yes, The Birds terrifed me when I was young – and the story is as scary as the film!

    • Truthfully I suspect most people don’t care in the slightest, but older Londoners and some MPs are outraged because (apparently) Big Ben was never silenced during the war and became a kind of symbol of our national spirit. So the workmen should be willing to be deafened by it (apparently) to prove that Britain is still Great! 😉

    • He’ll be sadly missed! Haha – I’ve discovered it’s a great form of therapy – a way to waste many an hour when I should be doing something more productive… 😉

    • Ha! I nearly included a pic of my old teddy, but I wasn’t sure the non-Brits would get it… I’ll miss Brucie – he’s been such a part of light entertainment all my life.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Putting it together is a great way to waste some time, I’ve found… 😉

      Ha! I didn’t know either till I got this collection a couple of years ago. A lot of Hitch’s films are based on books or short stories and he seemed to like du Maurier – The Birds, Rebecca, Jamaica Inn…

  6. The Birds was filmed in Bodega Bay which is nearby where I live, so it seems extra scary to me since so many of the landmarks are recognizable, and it feels very real! I still need to actually read that book – I’ve just seen the movie.
    Didn’t get to see any of the eclipse where I am – it was cloudy all morning, and the sky did get dark, but it just felt like we were about to have a big rain storm. Bummer for those who were hoping to see it!

    • Ooh, yes, I think knowing a place that’s in a book or film always make it become even more “real”! The original story is set in Cornwall in England, if I remember correctly, and there are no beautiful blondes in it, but otherwise it’s just as scary as the film…

      Oh, that’s a shame! We had one here about twenty years ago and it was pretty cloudy too, but we managed to see enough to get the impact. Maybe you’ll have better luck with the next one. 🙂

  7. Another brilliant episode and I’m now relying on this for my news roundup although there seemed to be a lack of confidence in your delivery of bird’s navigation skills – loved Bruce the last of the true family entertainers.

    • Ah, you noticed that, did you? See, when I came to write the post I couldn’t find the article I’d read so I had to kinda guess! But I bet I was nearly right, more or less… 😉

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