Category Archives: Classics and Historical

LBC 3 Reads – Book 15 – All Quiet on the Western Front


Date:  16th of April 2016
Time:  11am – 1pm
Address: Unit 2
Munro House,
Duke St,
Leeds LS9 8AG




One by one the boys begin to fall…

In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.



Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.


Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!

It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.

We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one.  We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’

The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War.  As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.

AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used  was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed.  It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).

It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid  imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.

We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.

We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well.  We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.

The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to.  It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.

We decided that we  would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.


Trailer for the 1979 film





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Follow @Cafe164 for details on the deliciousables!
Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LeedsBookClub, commenting below or emailing me at



LISTEN TO – The Reith Lectures – Hilary Mantel

Just sat in the car for ten minutes to the last moments of the forth of Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4 – I didn’t want to lose a word, while relocating! Don’t know how I’ve missed the previous three – clearly I’m very successfully sleep walking through life right now – but really looking forward to a catch up!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by SUTTON-HIBBERT/REX (424360ae)

Now, I don’t always ‘get’ Hilary Mantel, but after a rough start with Wolf Hall (see HERE and HERE) but had a much happier time with its follow up ‘Bring up the Bodies’. However, she is always an unusual and spirited speaker and I very much enjoyed listening to how she viewed her world as an author (and NOT a historian!).

For your convenience, links to the 4 parts that have currently aired are below.

From the BBC website:

Over this series of five lectures, Dame Hilary discusses the role that history plays in our culture. How can we understand the past, she asks, and how can we convey its nature today? Above all, she believes, we must all try to respect the past amid all its strangeness and complexity.

This series is chaired by Sue Lawley. The producer is Jim Frank.

Part 1 – The Day Is for the Living

Art can bring the dead back to life, argues the best-selling novelist Hilary Mantel, starting with the story of her own great-grandmother. “We sense the dead have a vital force still,” she says. “They have something to tell us, something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding.” She describes how and why she began to write fiction about the past, and how her view of her trade has evolved. We cannot hear or see the past, she says, but “we can listen and look”.

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 2 – The Iron Maiden

How do we construct our pictures of the past, including both truth and myth, asks best-selling author Hilary Mantel. Where do we get our evidence? She warns of two familiar errors: either romanticising thepast, or seeing it as a gory horror-show. It is tempting, but often condescending, to seek modern parallels for historical events. “Are we looking into the past, or looking into a mirror?” she asks. “Dead strangers…did not live and die so we could draw lessons from them.” Above all, she says, we must all try to respect the past amid all its strangeness and complexity.

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 3 – Silence Grips the Town

The story of how an obsessive relationship with history killed the young Polish writer Stanislawa Przybyszewska, told by best-selling author, Hilary Mantel. The brilliant Przybyszewska wrote gargantuan plays and novels about the French Revolution, in particular about the revolutionary leader Robespierre. She lived in self-willed poverty and isolation and died unknown in 1934. But her work, so painfully achieved, did survive her. Was her sacrifice worthwhile? “She embodied the past until her body ceased to be,” Dame Hilary says. “Multiple causes of death were recorded, but actually she died of Robespierre.”

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 4 – Can These Bones Live?

Hilary Mantel analyses how historical fiction can make the past come to life. She says her task is to take history out of the archive and relocate it in a body. “It’s the novelist’s job: to put the reader in the moment, even if the moment is 500 years ago.” She takes apart the practical job of “resurrection”, and the process that gets historical fiction on to the page. “The historian will always wonder why you left certain things out, while the literary critic will wonder why you left them in,” she says. How then does she try and get the balance right?

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 5 – Adaptation

Hilary Mantel on how fiction changes when adapted for stage or screen. Each medium, she says, draws a different potential from the original. She argues that fiction, if written well, doesn’t betray history, butenhances it. When fiction is turned into theatre, or into a film or TV, the same applies – as long as we understand that adaptation is not a secondary process or a set of grudging compromises, but an act of creation in itself. And this matters. “Without art, what have you to inform you about the past?” she asks. “What lies beyond is the unedited flicker of closed-circuit TV.”

This episode hasn’t yet aired.

Check out the trailer for the excellent BBC series Wolf Hall – based on the first of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy.

PODCAST – BookElfLeeds Reading Challenge – Update

modern mrs darcy reading challenge

This year, @BookElfLeeds and I decided to reignite our reading groove thaing by completing a reading challenge. We found this awesome list by Modern Mrs Darcy – and already we’re inspired!

Jess provides us with an update of her Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge of 2016.

With 6 books read; she’s at the halfway mark already!

From historical fiction to librarian-readers-recommendations books (oooh, secret knowledge!) to coming-of-age to raunchy reading for teens – join us for a fascinating voyage of literary wonder!!

As with any other podcast that I am involved in; the usual language warnings apply (it’s really bad – mixed metaphors, noun-aphasia and swearing that would make a navy blush!)

Mobile Link

Visit our  Modern Mrs Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge page to see our choices (for now!)

  1. a book published this year
  2. a book you can finish in a day
  3. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  4. a book recommended by a local librarian or bookseller
  5. a book you should have read in school
  6. a book chosen by your spouse/partner/sibling/child or BFF
  7. a book published before you were born
  8. a book that was banned at some point
  9. a book that was previously abandoned
  10. a book you own but have never read
  11. a book that intimidates you
  12. a book you’ve already read at least once

If you’d like to join us with this – or any other reading challenges, please drop me an email, leave a comment or tweet one of us!


LBC Outlaws – Dissolution – C.J. Sansom

LBC Outlaws

Date:  Wednesday 7th of October 2015
Time:  6:00pm
Address: Harper Street, LS2 7EA





It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the altar, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic.

Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to investigate. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

Dissolution_(Sansom)This was one of those random picks where some of us got to read a book that has been sat on the shelf for a long time. It was my pick and I wanted to read something along the lines of a previous pick ‘The Name of the Rose’ but without all the latin and for the most part we enjoyed it with praise for the religious debates contained within the story.

After several other books such as Wolf Hall which present different perspectives on Cromwell we found it interesting to see a book written with the common viewpoint of Cromwell in mind – a man responsible for the sacking of Catholic churches.

We found the book to be set just past medieval times – which seems to be a favourite period amongst the Outlaws – but still at a time when history was interesting and as one reader said ‘before history got modern and boring’. Set around the time of Anne Boleyns death; we enjoyed Sansom’s depictions of myths and conspiracies as to why she was beheaded.

It was also a dangerous time and we had a good chat about those in the Kings favour who were often in fear of his mood swings resulting in the loss of their heads. How often people were afraid to speak up especially if they disagreed with the Kings opinions such as with religion. Church was a huge part of people’s lives and we discussed how people would be fearful of having opinions as that could also lead to the loss of one’s head.

We discussed the tradition of patronage and the blossoming egalitarian reformists and how despite reform and our protagonist had been such a person, how he still believed in patronage with his assistant Mark; brought to London after growing up on his father’s farm.

As the crime was set in a monastery we talked about dodgy priests, with one reader commentating that some of the best forgers were from medieval times. This was something from the book, where several priests wrote false land documents.

We discussed which point in the book everyone figured out whodunnit with a varying degree of answers from midway discussions on the constant talk of marshes and a point where it was mentioned several times how heavy certain boxes were by people who shouldn’t be moving said boxes! (spoiler free sentence!). There were far too many co-incidences in the story such as the commissioner at the monastery also being the one to investigate the alleged lover of Anne Boleyn.

We had a little chat about assistant Mark – a man so in love he was prepared to overlook the fact his girlfriend was a murderess who chopped off people’s heads. I have a comment – must be the tight trousers – which I think was to do with Marks constant habit of getting into trouble with women.

With Shardlake himself we liked how he was a flawed individual, weary of the reform he had helped to move forward and prone to tantrums, such as when he lost the girl (Rose) to Mark.We liked the fact that it made him more human-like. Also his hunchback made him an outsider, like the monks helping him to form strong relationships on the way to solving the crimes.

Lots of red herrings in the book which made it enjoyable and we decided it had an air of Agatha Christie about it. We loved the way the story was constructed and the way it was set – descriptions of the journey, the smells of London and so on. It was very easy to visualise the times.

This months tangents (not many this month):

  • Henry VIII wives
  • How medieval crime solving would have been so much easier if they had mobile phones rather than having to travel by horse a hundred miles to pass a message on.
  • The church of Spain claiming to have the head of John the Baptist as a boy. Then whose head did he have as an adult????



For further details, please email me at or tweet me @LeedsBookClub or @LBCOutlaws

The Pub can be contacted on @CrowdofFavours 

And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #LBCOutlaws

LBCPuffins review book 06 -Black Beauty

Black Beauty

by Anna Sewell

 About the book

A horse is a horse of course unless of course the horse is Black Beauty. Animal-loving children have been devoted to Black Beauty throughout this century, and no doubt will continue through the next. Although Anna Sewell’s classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message is universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness.   Black Beauty tells the story of the horse’s own long and varied life, from a well-born colt in a pleasant meadow to an elegant carriage horse for a gentleman to a painfully overworked cab horse.  Throughout, Sewell rails – in a gentle, 19th-century way – against animal maltreatment. Young readers will follow Black Beauty’s fortunes, good and bad, with gentle masters as well as cruel. Children can easily make the leap from horse-human relationships to human-human relationships, and begin to understand how their own consideration of others may be a benefit to all. Written in 1877

About the AuthorAnna_Sewell_Jugendbild

Anna Sewell was born in 1820 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. At the age of fourteen she injured both of her ankles in an accident, which meant that she could never walk properly again. Because of this she relied heavily on travelling in horse-drawn carriages, and it was from here that her love of horses grew. In 1871 Anna began writing a book aimed at encouraging more humane treatment of horses. Owing to her failing health the story took nearly seven years to complete but was eventually published in 1877. Sadly, Anna never got to know of the huge success of Black Beauty, her only book, as she died in 1878, five months after the book’s publication.





‘Do you think that personality and temperament are established by childhood experiences and fixed forever?.’

‘The story is narrated in the first person as an autobiographical memoir told by the titular horse named Black Beauty—beginning with his carefree days as a colt on an English farm with his mother, to his difficult life pulling cabs in London, to his happy retirement in the country.’

Black Beauty is a well know story for children about a horse who survives cruelty and hardship. Where  horses and animals can think to, they just can’t communicate like it stories of Narnia or because us humans can’t read the signs until it’s too late and nothing can be done.  As in another discussion of LBCPuffins, the book isn’t the story most of us remember. For a few members  it was first time of reading the book and some knowing the story from the film with Mark lester in. The film was made, not through talking animals but in the usual ways of humans communicating.

“We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”

For one member of the group this was a childhood favourite, and it was one of those reads that created mixed feelings. Through this book club we have found how as adults we read differently to what we did when we were children. How as adults we bring so much to a book when we sit down to read it when really in some cases we should read like we did as children, and just absorb the story and read it for what it is. Re-reading Black Beauty for some of us, we donut it quite depressing and not what we remembered as a child. One member was a ‘horsey child’ and loved this book for it’s nature and realised that they must have read an abridged version, not remembering all this hurt and suffering. Another felt it red like a horse manual, teaching you how to present a horse and cart or put a blanket over a horses back. Another lesson was that a horse would only drink as much water as it needed and oats and barley were high spirited food so it’s best to stick to bran mash as that gives them a glossy coat and keeps them in check. However it is a story for children and it is about animals and we are very fond of them. The group found that we were all big softies at heart and almost shed a tear when the captain (horse) and Ginger (another horse) died.

Throughout the story the animals are portrayed almost like humans except they cannot speak and the human are seen as ignorant and at one point we can see if they just looked more closely into the animals eyes it might have been able to speak to them, that’s what it shows in most of the film versions of Black Beauty. Although most film versions are not suitable for a younger audience with all the images of cruelty and war and tall handsome men cue Colin Firth in Bridget Jones. The film shows more of the cruelty to the horses of the way they were treated as cab horses, because it was the fashion to be driven around by a horse,  cue Gee Gee cars for a taxi or lead to battle in the wars, and pulling things much to heavy for them.

In the end it was still a much loved book, Black Beauty went on many adventures, met quite a few cruel people, found some amazing friends and showed us it’s quality and not quantity we need.

“My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my friends under the apple trees.”

The book  was enjoyed by the group but did bring up mixed feelings from reading it as a child, but it does have  a happy ending which for children it is a good introduction to death, however like most books of it’s time some of the  group felt the writing is brilliant but a bit preachy for some readers, one of which did not turn up for the discussion.

and I end with:

“If you in the morning
Throw minutes away,
You can’t pick them up
In the course of a day.
You may hurry and scurry,
And flurry and worry,
You’ve lost them forever,
Forever and aye.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

LBCPuffins review book 19 – Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce


LBC Puffins LogoDate: Wednesday 18th of February 2015

Time: 6:30pm

Venue: White Swan Leeds

 Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce1543387

Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

About this Author

Philippa Pearce was one of the twentieth century’s greatest children’s writers. Her books include Tom’s Midnight Garden, winner of the Carnegie Medal; The Squirrel Wife, illustrated by Wayne Anderson; and A Finder’s Magic, created for her two grandsons and illustrated by their other grandmother, Helen Craig. Philippa Pearce died in 2006.





‘A beautiful and haunting story’ loved by kids and adults alike


The one thing about book club is that you never know what you might find. LBCPuffins is all about the little people’s books, one’s that have stayed with us for years that we want to reread and recently one’s we haven’t heard which has led us to discover some little gems.

Tom’s midnight garden is all about a young boy who gets sent away to his Aunt’s and Uncle’s to prevent him from catching measles. He has to stay indoors all the time in case he develops it, but at midnight after hearing the Grandfather clock strike 13, goes downstairs to discover a garden no one told him about. In entering this garden after midnight he meets a young girl called Hatty and after a while becomes really close friends. On later occasions to the garden he finds it’s not always the same, sometimes it’s summer, sometimes it’s winter, sometimes he meets a younger Hatty and then an older one.

The whole story sweeps you along on Tom’s adventures in the garden, meeting Hatty, finding out her story, Tom’s investigation of why Hatty was dressed the way she was, as the group pointed out, not being able to use the internet and digging out the encyclopaedia’s, yet again another book we have read where modern technology is not involved and wonder what we would do without it at the touch of our fingertips even though it’s still quite new age thing, using the internet and such.


‘Nothing stands still, except in our memory’

This was a story loved by everyone. the friendship of the two children, from playing int he garden to Tom’s idea for hatty to hide the skates and for him, and to later find them in the floorboards made him realise she wasn’t a ghost. Previous to this the group enjoyed the little argument the children had about who was the ghost. As the children were from different time periods, it could be said both were. But it was such a sweet scene.

The whole story was beautifully written and captivated the group, with its secret adventures into the garden. The story was also loved for covering years and not weeks when Tom visited the garden, and the fact that he always saw Hatty as the same age until nearly the end when Peter appears and points out Hatty is nearly a woman. The book brought adventure, friendship, and at the end, brought a lot of us to tears when Tom meets the older Hatty.

One question I raised to the group, was had they seen the TV adaption, and some after reading this as a book on its own mentioned that they would be deeply suspicious of any film adaption as it would try to fill in the gaps. It was also mentioned that this book is a world of imagination and with most adapted to screen it makes you lose the characters you created in your head and how you perceived them. I think it might work as a play in the theatre, as the theatre creates magic itself and you feel apart of it. Something I didn’t mention on the night, but film and TV will always be a shady area when it comes to book adaption

In the end the story unfolds that it was all through Hatty’s dreams, similar to a programme once or twice mentioned named Sunset Beach where everything happens and the lead character wakes up and it is all a dream, but this was far better, so find a copy, grab a cuppa and let yourself delve in to Tom’s Midnight Garden.



Check out the trailer (bearing in mind the reservations mentioned above!)

Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCPuffins

Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LBCPuffins, commenting below or emailing me at

EVENT – Chris Nickson Book Launch


Chris Nickson is launching his latest book!

Date: 6th of February

Time: 6.30 pm

Venue: Waterstones Leeds – 0113 244 4588

There will be free wine apparently – just let Waterstones know that you are coming!!



LBCPuffins review book 18 – Five children and it

In this classic tale of adventure and wish fulfilment, five city kids find the countryside to be filled with magic and wonder

Be careful what you wish for.

About the book

15796891After two years cooped up in London, Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and their baby brother, “the Lamb,” are thrilled to be living in the country. The best thing about their new home is that there are no rules, no places that are off limits. One day while playing in a gravel pit, they uncover a fat, furry creature that has been asleep for thousands of years. The Sand-fairy, also known as It, grants them one wish a day, to be shared among them. At sunset, the wish will turn to stone.

But every wish brings a disastrous result. When the children wish to be beautiful, no one recognizes them. When they wish to be rich, their gold doesn’t buy them anything. When they wish to be able to fly, they end up stuck on top of a church tower with no way to get down. Other wishes lead to a confrontation with Indians, a scuffle with kidnappers, and accusations of thievery. When the children beg the Sand-fairy for more wishes to set things right, It agrees—on the condition that they never ask for another wish again.

E. Nesbit’s pioneering fantasy novel continues to delight new generations of young readers.

“Grown-up people find it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they have what they call proof. But children will believe almost anything, and grown-ups know this. That is why they tell you that the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse.”
― E. Nesbit, Five Children and It

About the Author

lrg_128200813849E. Nesbit ( 1858–1924), English author and poet wrote the children’s novel The Railway Children (1906).

Nesbit lived a colourful and active life while writing many poems, plays, short stories, fiction and non-fiction, but some of her most enduring works are her children’s stories. With elements of fantasy, time travel and spies, fairy tales and magic, they are a reflection of her idyllic childhood days and travels through England, France, and Germany. The Railway Children inspired television and film adaptations.

Edith Nesbit died on 4 May 1924 and lies buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s in the Marsh, Kent, England.

Find out more here


In the book we meet five children they are Cyril, known as Squirrel, Anthea, known as Panther, Robert, known as Bobs, Jane, known as Pussy, Hilary, the baby, known as the Lamb and this is their story about the adventures they had when they met “It” the Psammead also known as a sand fairy.

This is one of those classic children’s story, where we have a group of children who are sent to the country to live for a while. One day while playing on the beach the children discover a sand fairy.

The Psammead is described as having “eyes [that] were on long horns like a snail’s eyes, and it could move them in and out like telescopes; it had ears like a bat’s ears, and its tubby body was shaped like a spider’s and covered with thick soft fur; its legs and arms were furry too, and it had hands and feet like a monkey’s” and whiskers like a rat’s. When it grants wishes it stretches out its eyes, holds its breath and swells alarmingly.

During the discussion the group commented on how the book appeared dated, partly the writing style and the idea of going off for a picnic and stuffing their faces. The group also found the wishes the children gave were a bit pointless, like wanting to be beautiful and not thinking through the consequences of what they had wished for.  For example, wishing to be in a castle that’s undersiege, one member asked ‘why, why would you do that!’

And then there was a few health and safety issues that would come into play today if these things happened today. But we’re forgetting it’s a children’s book and this to most children would be a magical story but as some of our members pointed out they much preferred The Phoenix and The carpet as a book but this was always good for a chapter before bed. Overall the book wasn’t loved by all and didn’t score high, but we mustn’t forget the cuteness of the sand fairy in the BBC version to fall back on…….


Highlight of the year – Book wise!

Across the book clubs we read a huge range of different types of books in a year. Some stories and styles more naturally appeal than others; some winded me up thoroughly in very unexpectedly ways and a few just took my breath away.

In previous years, I’ve been hard pressed to pick a favourite story across a year, let alone across the book clubs (and – frankly – I haven’t been that bothered so I just let it go). This year however, one choice in particularly has greatly impacted upon me.


John Williams

augustusWritten in 1972 and the joint winner of the following years National Book Award for Fiction, this book comprises of a series of letters which follow the path of Gaius Octavius Caesar. His path, for Williams, begins on the date that Julius Caesar is killed and follows through his ascendancy via war and violent retribution – first into the ruling triumvirs then to the position of First Citizen (Emperor) of Rome. Alongside Octavius, we learn the fates of several of Rome’s most illustrious citizens – including Mark Antony and Brutus.

John Williams – ever a writer who marched to the beat of his own drum – broke from convention in his portrayal of Augustus in a more sympathetic light than the biographers of his day. Here, Octavius is logical – his lack of mercy for his enemies seen more as pure pragmatism than cruelty or blood lust. While his reign was forged in blood and vengeance; he is also recognised as being a stable leader, one under whom Rome appeared to flourish. His letters reflect a man capable of seeing beyond his own moment of time.

“Rome is not eternal; it does not matter. Rome will fall; it does not matter. The barbarian will conquer; it does not matter. There was a moment of Rome, and it will not wholly die.”

John Williams only ever wrote four novels and Augustus was the most acclaimed during his lifetime, though Stoner has certainly been rapidly gaining admirers in recent years. Each book was of a totally different style and subject matter. I’ve read Stoner (which I didn’t love exactly, but enjoyed the read of) and will one day tackle both Butcher’s Crossing and Nothing but the Night. I almost wish I go back in time though, to read them all in order – I can’t imagine anything ever matching up to the enjoyment I had during Augustus.

When heading into the White Swan LBC meet up; I had been worried that the book might not have had the same impact on others. I needn’t have been.

We had a fantastic conversation. We loved the epistle style; the characters; the development and the fact that Octavius himself remains silent for the first two thirds of the book. Julia was a particular conversational piece and we happily debated her change in status with glee.

Nearly everyone agreed that they would have continued reading the lives of the next three Caesars…heck, one or two or us would have read the story of the next 2000 years if John Williams had been the one writing it!

Indeed, we were so enamored with this book that we picked Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare as our 2014 Christmas read-a-long.


augustus 01

Listening along to Dark Briggate Blues

chris nicksonLBC’s pet author Chris Nickson has just released Dark Briggate Blues – the first in the Dan Markham series (at least I hope that it’s the first; I’m only on chapter 10 and I’m hooked!).

A jazz inspired noir, this book in set in the 1960’s and has a fantastic soundtrack.

Check it out on Spotify HERE 


Leeds 1954. When Joanna Hart came into his office, enquiry agent Dan Markham thought it would be an easy case. All the blonde with scarlet lips and swinging hips wanted was to know if her husband Freddie was unfaithful. But when the man is killed, Markham’s involvement makes him the prime suspect. As the evidence piles up against him, he realises someone had set him up.
In a deadly game, Markham has to battle to keep himself and his client alive. All he can rely on are his wits and the rusty skills he acquired during his National Service in military intelligence. But can he hope to be any match against the killer who has spies on every corner in Leeds and a reach that goes all the way to Whitehall?




Dan’s music (or Track Listing)
* Miles Davis – Round Midnight

* Ella Fitzgerald – Blues In The Night

* Bud Powell – Un Poco Loco

* Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump

* Billy Eckstine – Stormy Monday

* Charlie Parker – Donna Lee

* Sarah Vaughan – Someone To Watch Over Me

* Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk

* Duke Ellington – Prelude To A Kiss

* Tubby Hayes – Round About Midnight

* Ella Fitzgerald – Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me

* Coleman Hawkins – Body And Soul

* Dexter Gordon – A Night In Tunisia

* Lester Young – A Foggy Day In London Town

* George Shearing – How High The Moon

* Art Tatum – I Got Rhythm

* Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child

* Thelonious Monk – Round About Midnight


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