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Thursday, January 07, 2016


This year I read 110 books in total, with 50 of these being research for the new novel I am working on (about the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and writers in mid-Victorian England). 

So it was difficult to pick only 10 novels and 10 non-fiction books for my annual ‘Best of the Year’ list! I began by eliminating books that I had already read (I tried to re-read an old favourite at least once a month this year) and then slowly whittled it back. Some of the books are not new releases, but they were new to me and I thought that was what was important. 

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog - just click the link to read the full review.


1. The Light Between the Oceans - M.L. Stedman

This novel has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma. A young woman married to a lighthouse keeper longs for a child of her own, but has lost all of her own babies. One day a boat washes up on their remote island. Inside the boat are a dead man and a baby, who is very much alive. The lighthouse keeper and his wife take in the founding child and, before long, Izzy begins to pretend the little girl is hers. The consequences of that decision will change their lives forever. 

2. Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

I just loved Half A King. It was tightly constructed, quick-paced, and surprising – qualities that can sometimes be rare in a fantasy novel. It was also beautifully written. I’m really looking forward to reading the next in the series, Half A World, and discovering his earlier book as well. A must-read for fantasy lovers.

3. The Devil in the Marshalsea - Antonia Hodgson

I can strongly recommend this to anyone who loves a really top-notch, fast-paced, and atmospheric historical thriller.

4. The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

An utterly gripping murder mystery with gorgeous lyrical prose and the pace of a thriller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter was an absolute delight to read. 

5. Affinity – Sarah Waters

I have never read one of Sarah Waters’ books before. Now I want to gobble them all down as fast as I can get my greedy hands on them. Affinity is just brilliant!

6. The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the series of Robert Galbraith’s contemporary crime novels (Robert Galbraith being, of course, the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling) & is a compelling and surprising murder mystery that shines a spotlight on the murky world of modelling. 

7. The Quality of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

This is one of the most beautiful and haunting psychological thrillers I have ever read.

8. Possession – A. S. Byatt

This novel has been on my shelf for more than twenty years, and yet somehow I have never before read it. So at last I picked it up and began. Of course, I utterly adored it!  

9. The Marriage of Opposites – Alice Hoffman

Beautiful, romantic, haunting, and alive with sensuality, I cannot recommend The Marriage Of Opposites highly enough. Read it!

10. The Lake House – Kate Morton

Mysteries and secrets have always been at the heart of Kate Morton’s books, but with this one she takes a step closer to the crime genre. The result is as beguiling and suspenseful as always. 


11. A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France - Miranda Richmond Mouillot

An extraordinary memoir of her grandparents' dramatic escape from Nazi-occupied France and their troubled marriage which followed, A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War & A Ruined House in France is as much a meditation on memory, storytelling, and the dark shadow that the Holocaust continues to cast over the descendants of those who survived. 

12. The Life of Anne Frank – Menno Metselaar & Ruud van der Rol 

This small book from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam tells the tragic story of Anne Frank's life and death through photographs and scraps of her diaries. Intended for children, it is nonetheless a heart-piercing record of the impact of Nazism upon one girl.  

13. Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside - Andrea di Robilant

Another wonderful book from the Venetian journalist and historian Andrea di Robilant, this time about a unknown rose growing among the ruins of his family's once magnificent estate on the Italian mainland. His search to identify and name the rose takes him on a journey through the history of roses, and he meets many fascinating and eccentric rose enthusiasts along the way. 

14. For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink - Sarah Rose

A really interesting non-fiction book about Robert Fortune, the Scottish horticulturist who went to China and bought, borrowed and stole the secrets to growing tea, which had been up to then a closely guarded secret of the Chinese emperor. Utterly fascinating.   

15. March, Women, March: Voices of the Women’s Movement from the First Feminist to the Suffragettes  – Lucinda Hawksley 

What I most loved about the book is the way it foregrounded the stories of the real-life women who suffered so much to bring about such a fundamentally important change in the laws of the United Kingdom, which flowed on to affect countries elsewhere. Famously, Australia and New Zealand were among the first countries in the world to bring about the vote for a limited number of women. It was a little too little, far too late, as far as I can see, and I think many people today are not aware of just what a bitter battle it was.

16. What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

A strange, fascinating and totally original book about the relationship between the words on the page and the images seen in the mind’s eye, this is a book to be thought about and re-read again and again

17. Small Acts Of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger  - Fiona Wright

An utterly extraordinary collection of essays inspired by the author's long struggle with an eating disorder – intelligent, fierce and deeply informative. 

18. The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane 

Robert Macfarlane has been a new discovery of mine this year. He writes exquisitely crafted personal essays on his adventures exploring ancient landscapes on foot ... the result is magical and eye-opening. 

19. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa – Joan Jacobs Brumberg

This book is exactly what the title promises - a social history of anorexia nervosa. And it's utterly fascinating & illuminating!

20. A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke – translated & edited-Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows

A collection of snippets from the poems, letters and diaries of the lyrical German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favourite poets, this book is designed to be read a page a day for a year. I can really recommend it! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Taxidermist's Daughter

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

Blurb (from Goodreads)

The enthralling new novel from the bestselling author of THE WINTER GHOSTS, CITADEL and LABYRINTH.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist's daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford's once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems - is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father's workshop?

Told over one summer, THE TAXIDERMIST'S DAUGHTER is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of LABYRINTH, SEPULCHRE, CIDADEL and THE WINTER GHOSTS.

What I Thought:

An utterly gripping murder mystery with gorgeous lyrical prose and the pace of a thriller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter was an absolute delight to read. Set in Sussex in 1912, the story begins with local villagers gathering in a churchyard to follow an old superstition that says, on that night, the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year will be seen. 

Our heroine is Constantia Gifford. Her father once owned a world-famous museum of taxidermy, but now all that is left is a few decaying specimens. The family is haunted by secrets from the past. Connie has lost her memory, and her father takes his solace from a bottle. 

In the morning, the body of a dead woman is discovered at the bottom of their garden. Connie must try to find out who is responsible, even as lost memories from the past rise to haunt her. 

Haunting, beautiful, horrifying and absolutely unputdownable, The Taxidermist's Daughter shows just what can be done with the historical mystery genre. 


INTERVIEW: Kate Mosse, author of 'Citadel'

Friday, November 30, 2012

I am really incredibly excited to have Kate Mosse appearing on the blog today, answering my usual questions about daydreaming, writing & reading. I met Kate at a literary dinner in London a few years ago, and was virtually dumbstruck at the time, having really loved her book 'Labyrinth'. She was lovely, though, and very warm and natural and kind. She's been on a whirlwind tour promoting her new book, 'Citadel' (which I loved), but took the time out to respond to my email. Thank you, Kate! 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Not really.  I spend a fair bit of time in my imagination, of course, but in the company of characters or trying to work out a problem in this chapter or that.  I rarely just sit and look out of the window.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A reader, more than a writer.  I always hoped I'd be able to spend much of my time reading - I studied English at University, then worked in publishing for ten days, then was involved in setting up a major literary prize (the Women's Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize), before becoming a writer.  Even then, I wrote four books (two nonfiction, two fiction) before Labyrinth, still feeling as if I was a reader who was scribbling a bit too.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in London, but my parents moved back to my father's home area in Chichester, West Sussex, when I was a few months old. I think of myself as a Cicestrian born and and bred and my husband and I (who met at school), returned to live there after years away - in London and Paris in his case, Oxford and London in mine - when our own children were young.  We now live about a mile from where I grew up, a multigenerational household (both Mums) and our children, with my sisters and their families not far away.  As for what I like to do - walk in the woods, swim, read, read and read, go to the theatre, sit round the big kitchen table with family and friends to chat.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
We bought a tiny house in the medieval city of Carcassonne in 1989.  I knew nothing about the southwest of France, but I fell head over heels in love with the landscape, with the spirit of the place, with the history.  Each of the novels is, in a sense, a love letter to Carcassonne and I've been working and researching for twenty-three years now, albeit in an ad hoc way.  ‘Labyrinth’ - the first in the Trilogy, that came out in 2005 - is focused on the medieval Cité. ‘Citadel’, which is the third and final novel in the sequence, is based in and around the modern part of Carcassonne, the fourteenth century Bastide.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I spend years researching the history, allowing the characters to come to me and have a sense of the key sections of each novel.  However, I like to discover things as I go along - in adventure writing, the key is pace, momentum, the excitement that keeps a reader feverishly turning the pages.  So a sense of discovery for the writer, as well as the reader, is essential.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not really.  When I'm writing (as opposed to researching, planning, drafting) I do go to bed very early thinking about the characters and start work very early in the morning, with them still fresh in my head.  A kind of dreaming, I suppose.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
I knew it anyway, but I suppose it just brought home to me the extraordinary bravery of women and men who lived under the Nazi occupation in France during WW2, their morality, their courage to keep fighting against what they knew to be wrong, at terrible cost to themselves.  Would we all be as brave?

Where do you write, and when?
I can write anywhere, truthfully.  The early books were written, mostly, in our bedroom in our tiny house in Carcassonne, looking at the towers and turrets of the medieval Cité above.  Now we are based in the UK, I set up shop in my study on the first floor of our house in Sussex, looking out over copper beach tree, a horse chestnut, apple trees in the neighbouring gardens and squirrels running up and down the trunk.  I start at about 3.30am and work for a good chunk of time, then a few more hours during the afternoon.  I never work after about 5pm. My brain stops working and turns to thoughts of a glass of white wine and supper!

What is your favourite part of writing?
The editing.  I do three drafts always - and Citadel is about 230,000 words long, so that's a lot of material to work with.  The first is getting the basics down, the second is knocking it in to shape, then the third draft is starting again and writing the novel as it is supposed to be.  Then, a period of editing - both my agent and my editor work on the text and give notes - and then it's back to me. I love the edit because it's problem solving, it's about making the book the best it can be, ironing out all the creases.  A great sense of satisfaction when it finally goes to press.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I don't let that happen.  Writing is hard work and it's a job like any other.  So, I go to my computer every day and just keep at it.  Always, I have Samuel Beckett's words in my head - 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading source materials, letting your characters come properly to life, walking in the woods of Sussex or Carcassonne, listening to the stories of other people.  

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Strong, sweet black coffee first thing in the morning.  All you need to get going.  Once you've started, it's easy to continue.  It's the blank screen that's the enemy!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Including - but not limited at all to so few - Sarah Waters, Emily Bronte, T S Eliot, Algernon Blackwood, Margaret Atwood, M R James, Hilary Mantel, Marilynne Robinson, Antony Beevor, Ian Rankin ...

Emily Bronte, painted by her brother Branwell

What do you consider to be good writing?
From the list above, you'll see:  good writing is where the author has succeeded in delivering to the reader what they set out to achieve. Each book is a promise made - of story, of style, of pace, of language, of intent.  If you can make good your promise, then a writer can be proud.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don't dream, do it!  Work every day and work hard. Five minutes a day is better than no minutes ...

What are you working on now?
An idea for a play - a commission from Chichester Festival Theatre - is starting to take root in my mind.  You can't rush this side of things, but rather allow the ideas and characters to find their own shape, before you turn the writer's spotlight on them.  I love this point in a project, where you're excited and everything is still possible - and perfect.

The character of Audric Baillard appears in all of the three books – can you tell me a little bit more about him and how you came to conceive him? What is his importance in the three novels?
Baillard is, I suppose, the Conscience of the South, a person who stands both within his period of history, but also outside of it looking on.  He represents the eternal human qualities that most matter and that are - should be - unaffected by the changing politics of any era, of political expediency, of opportunism.   Baillard was fundamental to the plotting of Labyrinth - he carries a burden of extended life in order that he should bear witness to the horrors of history - then appears, almost as a cameo in Sepulchre - then, of course, in Citadel we see his World War II story that's hinted at in Labyrinth.  He is the character that ties all three novels of the Trilogy together.

Please feel free to leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books Set in France

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My lovely publicist Peri is setting off to France for Christmas, and knowing what a Francophile I am, asked me for a list of books she should read before she goes. 

So here it is. My favourite books set in France:

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris – Sarah Turnbull
My Life in France – Julia Child
True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women In Paris – Lucinda Holdforth (a must read! I'm lending it to Peri)

Fiction by Contemporary Writers
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Girl at the Lion d’Or - Sebastian Faulks
Charlotte Grey - Sebastian Faulks
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris (one of my all-time favourite books)
Peaches for Monsieur l’Cure - Joanne Harris
Perfume – Patrick Suskind   
The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. - Sandra Gullard
The Lady & the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier
The Confessions of Catherine d’Medici: A Novel  – Christopher Gortner 
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Sepulchre - Kate Mosse
Citadel - Kate Mosse 

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer (I love this book so much - it was my first Georgette Heyer!)
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 

I know I'm forgetting some fantastic books! Any recommendations?

BOOK REVIEW: 'Citadel' by Kate Mosse

Monday, November 26, 2012

Title: Citadel
Author: Kate Mosse
Publisher: Hachette 
Age Group & Genre: Historical Thriller with supernatural twist

The Blurb:
LABYRINTH took us to the walled city of Carcassonne, SEPULCHRE travelled to the mysterious town of Rennes les Bains, now CITADEL transports us right to the southern-most edge of France - and to an amazing adventure set at key points in history in this scarred land right on the Spanish border. Combining the rugged action of LABYRINTH with the haunting mystery of SEPULCHRE, CITADEL is a story of daring and courage, of lives risked for beliefs, of unlocking secrets buried by time. Through history, this 'green land washed red by blood' has seen so much - not least the bravery of the men and women who smuggled exiles out of occupied France and away from the Nazi regime over the border into Spain. In CITADEL, Kate Mosse once again sets out to captivate the reader with the people at the heart of ancient struggles, to bring alive places and times unknown to us and to keep us on the edge of our seats with an amazing story.

What I Thought:
I really loved both ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Sepulchre’, which brought together elements of my favourite genres – history, suspense, romance, with a twist of the supernatural. So I was very excited to get Kate Mosse’s new book, ‘Citadel’, which is a lovely, big, thick thwack of a book. You wouldn’t want to drop it on your toe, or have to carry it around in your handbag.

Even though it is very heavy and hard to hold while reading in bed, ‘Citadel’ was a swift and pleasurable read. Most nights I stayed up later than I should have, unable to put it down.  I love books set in France (I’m such a Francophile!), I love books set during the Second World War, and I love books that have a parallel narrative, set in two different time periods – and so ‘Citadel’ ticks a lot of boxes for me. 

Unlike ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Sepulchre’, there is no contemporary narrative in this book. Instead the story set during the Second World War is interwoven with a tale of a Dark Ages monk who is seeking to protect a mysterious scroll called the Codex. This secondary thread is only a minor part of the book, which concentrates on the primary story of the struggles of a group of women Resistance fighters trying to help people escape Nazi-occupied France. Really, the book could have done without the Codex - the story of the brave women Resistance fighters is strong enough to stand on its own. However, with this second narrative thread, Kate Mosse is able to have the same twist of the supernatural that worked so well in her earlier two books, plus tie all three books together at the climax. 

I’m actually rather sad to know that this is the end of Kate Mosse’s Carcassone books – I hope she writes some more!


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