Book of the Week, September 2nd 2017

Every week a postcard pops into Ellie’s mailbox. Each is from the same person and picture a different place in Greece. They are just signed ‘A’ and addressed to a previous occupant of Ellie’s dull basement flat. She is attracted to the colourful, country scenes and the enigmatic messages the postcards contain. With no possibility of returning or forwarding them she pins them up in her kitchen and begins to dream of visiting Greece herself.

 

Finally she books a trip and just as she leaves a package arrives. Inside is a hand-written notebook written by the same mysterious sender of the postcards. Within the pages are diary entries and a series of bitter sweet stories that bring to life the landscape, history, culture and style of the country. Ellie embarks on an exploration of Greece inspired by what she reads in the stranger’s journal. The novel follows Ellie’s journey as she, in turn, follows the notebook in this unusual and captivating novel, while we, as readers, cannot help but wonder if their paths might cross.

 

Book of the Week, August 26th, 2017

I don’t know how many brushes with death the average person has in a lifetime but Maggie O’Farrell has certainly had more than her fair share. This unusual memoir is the award-winning novelist’s first book of non-fiction – each chapter examines one episode in her own life when the grim reaper came close to claiming her. It opens with how, as an eighteen-year old, alone on a cliff top, she encountered a birdwatcher and sensed something suspicious. Soon his binocular strap was around her neck and she realised his intention was to kill her. By a mixture of quick thinking and good fortune she escaped, but days later another young women was killed close to that path …..strangled by the same man with his binocular strap.

As a child aged eight she was hospitalised and critically ill. She cheated death then and following months of rehabilitation, lived fearlessly, seizing every opportunity. This led to some risky behaviour – like a jump from a fifteen metre high harbour wall into the sea and then there is flight on a plane that nearly crashes. Each of seventeen close encounters with death is richly described with a novelist’s eye for detail.

Book of the Week, August 19th 2017

John Constable is the painter most famously associated with Suffolk but another Suffolk artist, Thomas Gainsborough, inspired the young Constable. Born the son of a weaver in Sudbury, Gainsborough soon impressed with his drawing and painting skills and as a young teenager he was sent to London to study art.

As he grew older his precocious talent was matched by a growing reputation for an unconventional lifestyle. But he was always dedicated to his art and was an originator of British eighteenth century landscape painting as well as becoming the most celebrated portrait painter of his age.

Unusually he would paint portraits in such a dimly lit studio his sitters wondered how he could choose the right colours and even his airy landscapes were often painted indoors from models built of rocks and moss.

As well as examining the development of his art, this is a vibrant biography of a man who led a riotous life. Alongside painting, drink, women and music were his passions. While living in Bath, he became so ill from his wild living that his death was incorrectly reported in the local paper. He was regularly the worse for drink but even when sober his behaviour was often quite mad. This biography brings vividly to life the man behind the paintings, his humour, and his disregard for convention.

 

Book of the Week, August 12th 2017

It is New Year and the Shaw family are holidaying in a small Peak district village. When thirteen-year-old Rebecca fails to return from a walk in the hills the hours pass and concern grows for her safety. The villagers band together to help search the moors but as journalists and TV crews descend on the quiet village, no signs are found of the missing girl.

This might be a familiar opening scenario for a crime thriller but this is an entirely different kind of book. As the days turn into weeks, the detectives, the details of the investigation and even the parents are firmly in the background. The focus is on the residents of the village. As the intense drama of the missing girl subsides, life has to continue. Weeks become months and then years. People grow, a new shop opens, relationships build or falter and eventually a new generation become adults. In brief, fragmentary glimpses the seasonal cycle of village life is described; the sheep on the farms, the Christmas pantomime, the annual well dressing ceremony; all the village traditions continue but Rebecca’s disappearance casts a shadow down the years.

 

Book of the Week, August 5th 2017

Alan Marshall has a passion for art, landscape and natural history. Together with his wife, Marion, he also runs a small independent publisher based in Norfolk who specialise in beautifully designed art books.

This volume is a rare treat. It examines the county of Suffolk through the work of 38 different printmakers, each bringing a distinctive and individual vision to portrayals of their favourite places. Suffolk’s varied landscape; the winding rivers, heathlands, salt marsh, characterful villages and crumbling cliffs have attracted so many artists to the county and here we see their inspiration translated into a wonderfully varied collection of prints. Alongside the pictures is a commentary packed with information on the background history, nature and artistic connections to each part of the county, together with insights into the techniques of printmaking. From places like Flatford and Aldeburgh, which attract visitors by the thousand, to the little known villages and byways of rural Suffolk, this is the perfect book to open your eyes to the beauty of our neighbouring county.

Published by Mascot Media, paperback, £17.95.

 

Book of the Week, July 29th 2017

Beneath the city streets of Norwich lies a subterranean world of tunnels, many dating back to the chalk and flint mines of early mediaeval times. Not all of the tunnel system has been fully explored or mapped. This provides a wonderfully creepy background for the latest murder mystery featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, who is summoned when old bones are uncovered during a building excavation. When the bones turn out to be modern rather than mediaeval, she teams up with DI Harry Nelson and soon a connection is suspected to a missing homeless woman.

When a rough sleeper is found stabbed and another is reported missing the investigation widens. There are pointers to cannibalism and ritual murder but the clues all seem to lead to the secret underground world of tunnels.

Elly Griffiths brings fascinating archaeology and some brilliantly realised characters into this gripping police procedural and manages also to highlight the social and human cost of the increasing numbers of rough sleepers in our town centres.