Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton


Four years ago a little girl was abducted from her home.  She was never seen again. Jean Taylor’s husband was the chief suspect.  Jean and Glen married when she was young and vulnerable.  He swept her off her feet,  creating a world for her that involved just the two of them, with Glen clearly in control. Faithfully Jean stood by Glen through court appearances, imprisonment and after he was found ‘not guilty’.   The story opens just after Glen has died.   Apart from the army of reporters camped on her doorstep, Jean Taylor is a widow and alone for he first time. Until now she has never spoken. Finally she is ready to tell what she knows.  Or is she?

Apart from Glen and Jean, the other main players in the novel are Kate the tenacious reporter, desperate to get the story,  and Bob Sparkes the detective desperate to prove Glens guilt.  Each chapter  focuses on one of these characters giving their perspective and experience of events.

This book is fascinating because it tells the story of the silent wife.  The woman who stands by her man throughout.  Daily attendances at court, silently watching on as her husbands character is disseminated in front of the worlds press and her life is destroyed.  Who is this woman? what does she know? What is she thinking? What goes on when that woman goes home with the accused killer / child abducter / rapist?  This is her story

This story is absolutely a page turner but it moves at a steady pace, with gradual revelations.  Did Glen really do it? What part did Jean play?  What about the little girls mother, does she know more than she is telling us?

Fiona Barton has great credentials for writing this kind of novel.  She is an award winning  journalist and as a writer for national newspapers  she covered many notorious crimes and trials.  She writes with clear insight and authority making this book authentic and chillingly believable.

This novel was billed as the book to fill the dark void left by ‘The Girl on the Train’.  I am one of the few who hasn’t read ‘The Girl on the Train’  so don’t have this void, and I’m not even a great reader of psychological thrillers.  However, I do like a book that will keep me turning the pages  late into the night and this book certainly achieved that.

5 on Friday: 5 Delightful Doorways

5 delightful doorways.  Really?  ‘Scraping the barrel here’ you may be thinking.  ‘Finally run out of things to write about’ is probably going through your mind.   But , NO my friends.  My name is Angela and I like to photograph doors.  I’ve known and accepted this for some time now but it was highlighted on a recent trip to Venice with my mum.  As we wandered through the canals and campo’s it was pointed out to me that my lens was frequently being pointed at closed doors.  The scruffier, the better.  Peeling paint, rusty hinges, bring it on.

It’s not just the doors themselves, its the unknown hidden by the closed doors.    Behind every door is a little unknown microcosm of life.

There are many important doorways in literature .  Who can forget the doorway that led to The Secret Garden in the novel of the same name.  I have loved the idea of a door in a walled garden ever since.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice came across a tiny golden key  that opened a door which revealed a garden she was so desperate to enter she unknowingly drank an unknown substance  from a bottle with a label saying ‘Drink Me”

“Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw”

And what bout Narnia?  The doors of a seemingly innocuous wardrobe stuffed with fusty fur coats led to a scary, magical, wonderful world of talking beavers , snow queens and the majestic Aslan.

Doorways lead to secrets and mysteries and intrigue and adventure.  Here are 5 of my favourites from trips to Cuba, France, Venice and Chiswick!

Doorway of Cuba

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Book Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other AnimalsA recent preoccupation with running, a short break to Venice and a long spell reading the almost 1000 pages of David Copperfield has resulted in fewer blog posts and in particular fewer book reviews than usual.  Fear not I am back!  Relatively recent Sunday night viewing  of the  televised ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell led me to borrow this bestselling and much-loved classic  book from my mum, in an attempt to see what I had been missing out on all these years.

For those who don’t know; although I imagine most people reading this do, at the age of 10, Gerald Durrell moved with his unwieldy family to the Greek island of Corfu.  There he developed an already burgeoning  passion for animals, wild life and eventually conservation.   In later life, this led Durrell onto numerous expeditions all over the world.  He founded the Jersey Zoological Park and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and David Attenborough has been quoted as naming Gerald Durrell as his inspiration.

It was with encouragement from his brother that Durrell was persuaded to write about his life’s work.  ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is an account of the time in Corfu he shared with his mother, his sister, two brothers, a bunch of Greek friends and a menagerie of animals.

If you watched and enjoyed the series but haven’t yet read the book, I would encourage you to do so.  It brings the series to life and helps the characters live in your imagination.  It is a charming book, full of warmth and humour, but is also a mini natural history guide to the wildlife of Corfu.

I don’t know whether Durrell kept journals of his time time in Corfu?  If not he clearly has a superb memory for detail and is able to recount events as if they happened to him yesterday. Reading this  I was transported to the ‘bays of butterfly blue’ where ‘faintly ringing from the shore like a chorus of tiny voices the shrill triumphant cries of  the cicadas’  can be heard.

“…a gentle curve of hillside that rose from the glittering sea.  The hill and the valleys around it were an eider down of olive groves that shone with a fishlike gleam where the breeze touched the leaves.  Halfway up the slope , guarded by a  group of tall slim cypress trees nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery.  The cypress trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busy painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival”

Now I appreciate, for some, this style of writing may be a bit much.  The descriptions are extensive and effusive and Durrell’s style is not what you would exactly call ‘pared down’ or lean. The result however is  a picture of a magical island where it seems anything might happen.

Some may feel Corfu is the star of the show and with descriptions like the one above it could be difficult to disagree.  However for me, the combination of Corfu, wonderful Greek characters like Spiro the larger than life local who took the Durrell’s under his generous wing,  the assortment of animals, and of course Gerry and his family. make this very much an ensemble piece.

My only regret about this book is that I didn’t read it much earlier in life.  This is a lovely book for both adults and children and one you might want to read to relieve the winter blues when they inevitably set in.

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Running the Royal Parks Half


Although a week has now passed since I completed the Royal Parks Half marathon in London, I have to admit to still basking in the afterglow .

The air was crisp, the sun shone and London had never looked finer as thousands of runners made their way from Hyde park, along constitution hill, through Green Park and St James Park, along the Strand, back via the Mall into Green Park and  Hyde park again, looping through to Kensington Garden’s eventually finishing where we started close to The Royal Albert Hall.

Generally I am a solitary runner, I have never been part of a running club, I often run alone and mostly enjoy being solo as I mentally and physically cross of the miles.  However, there really is something quite joyful about running on mass.  The atmosphere usually generated at these kind of events when thousands of people join together with a collective goal of getting to the finish line is uplifting and encouraging.  Mostly runners are running for a charity and raising money for a cause which means an awful lot to them.  There is an awful lot of good will on a day like this, and it lifts the spirits to be a part of it.

On this occasion I was running to raise money for The Pembridge Hospice Charity. The Pembridge Hospice is a place I worked for over 8 years and still have strong links with in my current job so it was a privilege to run and generate funds for a place that continues to mean a lot to me.

If running for 13.1 miles can be classed as fun, then I had a whole lot of fun.  Everything came together on the day, no injuries, perfect conditions and despite my terrific nerves prior to reaching the start line, I  managed to bag a little PB along the way.  I arrived home for lunch with a smile on my face, a medal around my neck, and leg muscles that were starting to rebel.

Half marathon

Thanks to all those who supported me via my Just Giving Page and helped me to raise almost £700 for The Pembridge Hospice Charity.

5 on Friday: 5 for under £5 October

5 Under £5Why bless my soul, its October already.  The leaves are turning, the temperature is falling and I have had to admit defeat and squirrel away the sandals for another year.  The light is also fading which is always a challenge when trying to squeeze  blog photography into the shorter days as these photos will testify.  My 5 for under £5 collection this month seem to have taken on a sunny orange theme.  Completely unintentional but perhaps it’s my subliminal reluctance to leave summer behind.  So without further ado, I given you October’s 5 under £5, starting with these peachy blooms.  A bunch of blooms cannot fail to brighten a room.  When it comes to roses, my usual colour of choice is white or cream but I couldn’t resist the delicate hue of these beauties.  £4 a bunch in good old M&S

Oh Comely

The satsumas, or are they clementines? I can’t quite remember.  Anyway I have been intentionally buying and munching them this week in a bid to boost my vitamin C intake.  I’m on the final count down to the half marathon I’m running on Sunday,  so I’m doing all I can to boost my immunity and avoid the coughs and colds that begin to lurk at the changing of he seasons.

Oh Comely isn’t a magazine I’ve read before.  I’m having a few days away with my mum next week and a trip away is always a good excuse to buy a magazine.  When I saw this in my local newsagent this week, I could’t resist.  It was £5, which is quite pricy for a magazine but it is very beautiful.



Socks, socks socks.  5 pairs of socks for £5 to be exact.  I was looking for some ‘trainer socks’ to wear with some spiffy new white trainers I’m currently sporting and when I saw these on sale in M&S last week they went straight into the basket with barely a moments hesitation.  The eagle eyed among you will notice there are only 3 pairs here.  The other 2 are in the washing basket and I didn’t feel the need to fish them out, even for blogging purposes.


And finally, I give you 2 vintage style coat hangers,  purchased for the princely sum of £1, yes you read that correctly.  £1, or 50p per coat hanger.  Pound land comes up trumps again.  I’m not going to pretend they are top quality but they are hanging on the back of the door of our spare bedroom and are ideal for guests to hand their threads on.Coat hangers

So there you have it an orangey October 5 under £5.

If you want to see more  inspiration for Five Under £5 or better still join in yourself then check out Rainbeaubelle.

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Queens of Crime at Chiswick Book Festival

Chiswick Book FestivalA couple of weekends ago I hopped on a bus to make the very short journey from my home in W5 to Chiswick book festival in W4.  It really took very little time or effort on my part.  This made the treat which is Chiswick book festival even better,  and me a just a little bit smugger as I took my seat in some of the lovely venues which host the array of authors that come from near and far to talk books with the good people of west London.

Jill Dawson is an author I always feel is under recognised.  She is hugely talented and I am a big fan of her novels, having first encountered her at another book event some years ago.  So when I saw her name on the programme for this years Chiswick Book Fest I couldn’t wait to go.

Jill Dawson’s latest novel ‘The Crime Writer’ weaves the biography of the crime writer Patricia Highsmith with a tale of mystery and madness.  Along side Jill was Sophie Hannah who was commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate to write a Hercule Poirot novel in Agatha Christie’s name.  Such was it’s success, she since written a second entitled ‘Closed Casket’.  In a well chaired event, Jill and Sophie debated whether Highsmith or Christie should be crowned the Queen of Crime.Chiswick Book Festival

Although I have read a number of Agatha Christie novels over the years, prior to this I was  unfamiliar with Patricia Highsmith novels.  Nevertheless, I was fascinated to listen to both authors discuss the various merits of both women.  In fact I took copious notes throughout the talk.  It doesn’t take a detective to spot the blogger at a book event . S/he will be the one scribbling furiously in a note book whilst trying to look inconspicuous #deadgiveaway.

Although Highsmith and Christie are both slotted into the ‘crime genre’ of fiction, Jill and Sophie were keen to point out the differences.  Christie is much more about the mystery.  Her books are puzzles, where clues are gradually revealed until they make a whole.  High smith is all about the psychological suspense.  In fact Highsmith didn’t want to be known as a crime writer; she wanted to be taken seriously for the moral questions she posed in her books, even if she wasn’t interested in solving them.  She was keen to show that right does not necessarily prevail and in fact justice is often not done.  Reading through my notes now I can see that I have written in quotes that Highsmith was “a novelist with palpable evil on the page”.  I’m not sure who said that, it may have been Jill but it certainly paints a picture of an author with a dark mind, and is perhaps what you would expect from a writer who was said to have had murderous thoughts from the age of 8.

Sophie, although also a fan of Highsmith was clear that for her no one could match the skill of Christie, and her unique insight into the human condition.  The character played by David Suchet is the image that most of us probably have when we think of Hercule Poirot; the Belgian detective who cleverly manages to straddle the line between character and caricature.  All of Christie’s novels are structured, they follow a neat and familiar pattern.  Encountering a Christie novel is encountering the beginning of a shape you know will be tidy and complete by the end.  Poirot is no exception.  Unlike characters in Highsmith novels he manages to show not just the brutality of life, but the need to enjoy life because of it’s brutality.

I’m not sure if a conclusion was reached, other than, and I quote from Jill Dawson here “writers write the books they love to read”. Jill and Sophie are both clearly fans of the respective authors of whom they write about and for and are probably now inextricably linked.

The conclusion I reached was that I must read some Agatha Christie again soon and I can’ t wait to read Jill’s book ‘The Crime Writer’.

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Book Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

A Year of Marvellous Ways

Marvellous Ways is 89 years old and she lives alone in a remote Cornish creek where she has lived most of her life.  Her mother was a mermaid.  Marvellous  is waiting, she isn’t quite sure for what but she’ll know when she sees it.

Drake is a young, traumatised soldier who on his way back from war promises to deliver a letter to the father of a dead man.  Eventually he washes up on the shores of Marvellous’ creek broken in body and sprit.  Marvellous soothes and heals him with stories, magic, sloe gin and the power of the sea.

“His appetite was scant and his words few,and the notion of living well had been replaced by a trenchant need to survive, nothing more.  He turned and looked up towards her caravan.  Thats when she saw the great big troublesome dream buzzing around his head, a dream as loud and dripping as a dragonfly.  She quickly locked her windows.  Maybe it was the action or maybe it was the noise, but that dragonfly-dream turned right and headed for her locked-up glass and the sound was like a pistol shot, and the sound threw her to her bed shocked.”

As Marvellous discovers who Drake is and allows him to discover himself again she reveals her self through her memories and stories of her great loves and losses.  All of this is acheived in a poignant and moving way

This has just the perfect amount  of fairy tale and magic for me.  I love Sarah’s lyrical, almost poetic style of writing and find it very easy to lose myself in this world she has created.  Cornwall is the perfect setting for a story like this.  A ragged coastline with shipwrecks and mermaids makes the magic all the more delicious.

This is a book to lose yourself in, allow yourself to be carried away with the tides of imagination and be swept along with the whisper of the sea.  Winman has created a world which is both mesmerising and beguiling, a place where magic really might happen.

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5 on Friday: September on Instagram

Despite my lamenting the arrival of autumn in my previous post it seems it cannot be ignored. My September instagram feed bears witness to this.  Notwithstanding the slightly greyer skies, pumpkins in the shops and fading light, September has continued to feel quite summery here with unseasonably warm days, art galleries, and  literary festivals.  A visit to Kew Gardens  to listen to author Joanne Harris talk about her latest book was a highlight as it gave me the perfect opportunity  to stop by the much talked about Hive.  An incredible sculpture literally humming to the sound of busy bees.

This weekend I shall be mostly putting our house back together after some unavoidable repairs this week.  Dust, dust and more dust.  I shall continue my reading of David Copperfield, (i’m past the half way point now), try to fit in a bit of baking (GBBO inspired) and look forward to a catch up with friends Saturday night.  What ever you are planning, have a happy time.

You can find more of my snaps on Instagram @angiev1n

Struggling with the Seasonal September Shift

Septermber in Greenwich

Is it just me or does anyone else start to struggle as the nights draw in, the days get shorter and the morning alarm clock goes off in the dark?

There’s nothing I can do about it, I’m a summer girl.  I love a flip flop.  I could happily spend my life pottering around in flip flops.  Getting home from work, shoes off, straight into flip flops. Perfect.  Get up in the morning, out of bed, slide into a flip flop.  A wander around the garden. Flip flops. Absolutely.

Who doesn’t want to start the day by pulling on some shorts, and a t-shirt, or a floaty summer dress.  No jumpers, no ‘do I or don’t I need a coat?’ dilemmas. No tights in July for me, thank you very much.

And make up.  In the warm summer months with sun kissed, glowing skin, who wants to plaster themselves in make up which inevitably becomes shiny and slides down the face.  A sweep of mascara, a dab of blusher, a slick of a peachy lip gloss and good to go.

Minimal fuss, bag, phone, keys. Done.

Breakfast al fresco?  Yes please.  And lunch and supper too if you don’t mind.  Salad, strawberries, raspberries, water melon, ice cream.  I’ll have it all.

I admit, (grudgingly) there are some advantages to the cooler months. Personal grooming of the leg shaving, toe painting kind can step down a notch as legs and feet get tidied away into tights and boots.  But with my self imposed no boots and not tights before October rule, I’m not there yet.

Although I don’t exactly get dragged kicking and screaming into Autumn. There’s just no getting away from it, Summer is my season.  Now where did I put the sunscreen?

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5 on Friday: 5 recent blog discoveries

BloggingThe blog world is a busy place.  There are so many of them, and so many of them are  just so good.  As a blogger, this is wonderful and inspiring.  There is so much clever writing out there,  and you don’t have to look far to find other like minded souls.  Sometimes when I discover a new blog I just want to read everything it has ever published.  My relationships with blogs ebb and flow, there are some blogs I will always turn to.  Others might interest me for a while, I might then drift away, sometimes returning, sometimes not.  There are other blogs that I eagerly turn to throughout the week hoping a new post has been published.

Many of the blogs I find, I find through twitter or through the kind bloggers that choose to comment or like a post on my blog.  Finding one new blog usually leads on to finding lots more. These are 5 fabulous blogs I have discovered recently and wanted to share with you, because blogging is all about sharing the blog love.

  1. Diary of a Londoness  I discovered this lovely London based blog after the author Scarlett began following me on twitter.  I was particularly excited by this particular ‘follow’ and immediately started reading ‘Diary of a Londoness and couldn’t stop.  If you live in London, this classy blog is definitely one for you.
  2. London Kitchen Diaries  Another London based blog but this time a ‘food, travel and lifestyle blog’.  Oodles of gorgeous foodie pictures, recipes and restaurant recommendations.
  3. Page to Stage Reviews is lovely collection of book reviews, theatre reviews, a bit of lifestyle and lovely photographs.
  4. Notes From The Chair I discovered this (as I do many things) through twitter.  Nina is a Hairstylist who blogs about all things bookish.  She is an avid reader and book event attender and often interviews authors who take to her chair to be coiffed.  She also has a great twitter feed.   I actually almost met Nina last weekend at Chiswick book festival.  I recognised her at a couple of the talks I attended, but annoyingly was too shy to say hello!
  5. The Book Keeper I love this unique blog. It is written by the owner of a little book shop in South Australia and is a journal of her interactions, conversations and experiences with books and those customers that frequent her shop.

I hope that you enjoy some of these blogs.  I would love to hear about any blogs you would recommend.  Have a lovely weekend.

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