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  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Sue Eckstein

    Tue, 04 Aug 2009 00:01

    Sue Eckstein was born in Turkey in 1959. She studied English Literature at Durham University and then went on to work in overseas development for many years, firstly as a teacher in Sri Lanka and then as VSO programme manager in the UK and The Gambia. She is now a lecturer in Clinical and Biomedical Ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. She is the author of The Cloths of Heaven, of the play The Tuesday Group, and three radio plays for BBC Radio 4.

    Here is Sue's Tuesday Top Ten:

    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    My very favourite book as a child -- I had an edition with beautiful Arthur Rackham illustrations. A wonderful story of redemption, with a feisty and not always likeable heroine whom I greatly admired.

    Middlemarch by George Eliot

    I love the complexity and the density of this book and the wonderful characterisation. And I love the big historical and sociological themes that Eliot tackles.

    Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

    I re-read all the novels in this series every few years when I need cheering up. I think the tone and structure of my own novel was very much influenced by them. I love the books' humour and pathos and the way the characters come in and out of the novels.

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    A deeply sad, but perfectly crafted, novel where you care so much for some of the characters that the ending is almost unbearable. It is also hugely informative about a particular period in Indian history.

    The Future Homemakers of America by Laurie Graham

    A funny, moving, upbeat novel about friendship between a group of US Air force wives and a Norfolk villager they encounter on their first posting. Another book I re-read when times get tough.

    Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

    A magical book which I loved as a child and which first made me realise that old people were once young and could quite possibly have lead interesting lives.

    My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan

    Written by an Afrikaaner journalist it is about much more than apartheid -- it's about brutality and madness and race and reportage.

    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    An epic novel set in the Congo. An extraordinary evocation of place -- even more extraordinary given that Barbara Kingsolver wrote it from memory and research.

    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

    The story of the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre. You can never think of Mr Rochester in the same way once you've read this book.

    A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

    I love this book so much that I had to leave a reading group after a couple of people said they didn't really like it. John Irving at his very best.

  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Pauline Rowson

    Tue, 30 Jun 2009 00:21

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    Adventure, mystery and heroes have always fascinated and thrilled Pauline Rowson. That and her love of the sea has led her to create a completely new genre of crime fiction -- the marine mystery. Her family of tough South Welsh miners and her fire-fighting husband and his Portsmouth watch, have all been influential in creating brave earthy characters like the ruggedly seductive detective, Inspector Andy Horton whose patch is Portsmouth CID, and who were the inspiration behind Pauline's fast-paced, controversial thriller, In Cold Daylight.

    "What are my top ten favourite books? Blimey, where do I start? I have so many favourites, some of which are sadly no longer in print, but many, I am pleased to say, are very much alive and kicking. Here is a tiny fragment of them."

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    A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

    I first discovered Reginald Hill in 1979. My husband bought me this book when I was ill and boy am I grateful for that illness. A Clubbable Woman was Hill's first crime novel to introduce the ill-matched pair of Dalziel and Pascoe. This book is shorter than Hill's later ones but it remains one of my favourites, along with many of his early crime and thriller novels.

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    Sight Unseen by Robert Goddard

    Goddard was recommended to me by a client when I was running my marketing company and now I can't get enough of him -- Goddard that is not the former client. Sight Unseen, like all Goddard novels, is fast-paced, action-packed and full of amazing twists.

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    Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

    A classic, hilarious, off-the-wall and enduringly entertaining book. This novel was recommended to me by a former boss who was a bit of a maverick himself. The fact that he had never read a book in his life except this one, and sang its praises whenever he could, made me extremely curious to know what was so special about it and why he kept saying, "I saw something nasty in the woodshed."

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    Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

    I am a huge fan of the golden age of crime novels. I discovered this book through watching the film adaptation of it starring the marvellous Alastair Sim who played Inspector Cockrill. The book was first published in 1945 and is set in London's war time blitz. A patient is murdered and the theatre staff are all suspected. Soon the whole hospital seethes with mystery. It's packed with clues, red herrings and marvellous characters and I defy you to guess whodunit and how.

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    The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

    I love quotations and dipping into this wonderful book not only provides a writer with ideas for plots, titles, characters even, but gives hours of amusing and thought-provoking entertainment. It contains memorable quotes from politicians and poets, actors and advertisers, with some great slogans of the past and a section on famous misquotes: "Crisis? What crisis?"

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    The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

    I'm back in the golden age of crime for which I make no apology. First published in 1931, this Penguin Red Classic was reissued in 2006 and despite the progress of the years Simenon still weaves his magic, for me at least. His sentences are razor sharp, and his descriptions are so moulded into the narrative that you don't read them you feel them. The Yellow Dog is an eerie murder story set against the atmospheric backdrop of a French harbour.

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    South Riding by Winifred Holtby

    Written in 1936 and posthumously published after her tragic death at the age of thirty-seven from kidney disease this is deemed to be her greatest work. Set in the 1930s, it has a strong cast of characters full of ideals, hopes, ambitions and jealousies. It tells of their tragedies and joys, and highlights the poverty and the social injustices of 1930s England.

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    Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

    Not everyone is grateful to their A level English reading list, but I am for introducing me to this novel so evocative of a lost era. Flora Thompson's autobiographical volumes, Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green were reissued in this one volume in 1945 two years before she died. It is a thoughtful, precise and endearing record of country life at the end of the nineteenth century. A picture of a fast dissolving England, beautifully told and very moving.

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    Bright Day by J.B. Priestley

    This is one of Priestley's shorter novels. First published in 1946 it's about a disillusioned Hollywood scriptwriter who, while struggling to find inspiration in a Cornish Hotel, meets a former acquaintance there. The encounter takes him back to the days of his youth before the First World War. As with all Priestley novels the characters are larger than life and the narrative engrossing.

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    A Killing Frost by R.D. Wingfield

    And finally, another detective novel. The late R.D. Wingfield is reputed not to have liked the television adaptation of his Frost novels starring David Jason, and although he said he had nothing against Jason playing Frost, he just wasn't his Frost, but I think he was perfick! This is his sixth and last Frost novel and like the others it is coarse, fast-moving, full of black humour and lots of scene changes. Reading Wingfield is like watching an episode of The Bill only much, much better.

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    Rachel Billington was born in Oxford in 1942 and worked in television in London and New York before taking up full-time writing in 1968. Her parents were Frank and Elizabeth Pakenham, who later became the Earl and Countess of Longford. Rachel was educated at day school convents in London and Sussex and is a BA in English Literature from London University. She has written nineteen adult novels, four childrens' novels, five religious books for children and three non-fiction books including The Great Umbilical, about mothers and daughters. Rachel's latest book is Lies and Loyalties.

    Rachel says:

    Novels are my real passion -- that's why I write them. Sometimes I like reading old favourites -- over and over again in the case of Anna Karenina. Other times I go for a book that takes me right outside my world so I've picked several of those. Also a biography that I've particularly enjoyed -- about one of my favourite novelists.

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    The most searing love story ever written, combining great romanticism with social realism, an extremely difficult feat.

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the 1920s -- the Jazz Age as Fitzgerald dubbed it -- the mysterious character of Gatsby dominates this story of riches, ambition and love.

    The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

    Isabel Archer is one of the great heroines of literature. Confident and courageous, the archetype of the American abroad, she is ensnared by wily Europeans.

    The Bell by Iris Murdoch

    A brilliant novel, published in the 1050s, carrying lightly the weight of philosopher Murdoch's understanding of human nature as she personifies the fight between sex and religion.

    Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

    A great read... and now it has been televised. Apposite for its witty and savage commentary on the greed of mercantile society.

    Emma by Jane Austen

    Everyone's favourite -- especially mine since I wrote a sequel of it called Perfect Happiness. I disliked Emma when I started and loved her by the end.

    Animal's People by Indra Sinha

    2007 Booker shortlisted. Takes us to an Indian town (standing in for Bhopal) and the terrifying fall-out after a chemical works explodes. Seen through the eyes of a man so disabled as to seem like an animal. Surprisingly upbeat and enjoyable.

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

    A US Pulitzer winner. Cuts between New York and the Domenican republic. Life is difficult in the city and terrifying in the republic, particularly when the grossly overweight Oscar Wao falls for a ganster's girlfriend. Horror and humour fairly well balanced.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Afghanistan produces its own brand of death and destruction for Laila and Mariam but also a story of love and hope. By the author of The Kite Runner.

    Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin

    I live in Dorset, mainly because I love Hardy's take on the melodrama of human lives and his passionate descriptions of the countryside. One merges into the other.

  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Veronica Henry

    Tue, 16 Jun 2009 02:17

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    Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Heartbeat and Holby City amongst many others, before turning to fiction. Her fourth novel, An Eligible Bachelor, was shortlisted for the RNA Novel of the Year Award 2006. Veronica lives with her husband and three sons in a village in North Devon.

    Here is Veronica's list of her top ten heroines:

    "All great commercial women's fiction needs strong heroines, and my childhood reading habits certainly helped influence my female leads when I later came to writing novels. No Elizabeth Bennett for me -- I like my heroines with a bit of an edge, definitely flawed, not always conventionally beautiful but definitely compelling."

    Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

    Emma Bovary: the original shopaholic adulteress -- needy, superficial, tragic, selfish, and deeply flawed. She always makes me feel better about myself.

    Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

    Neely O'Hara: poor drunken, drug-crazed Neely, a self-absorbed monster, the archetypal car-crash. With friends like these...?

    Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queaneau

    Zazie: feisty, precocious and foul-mouthed pre-teen Zazie goes to stay with her homosexual uncle in Paris -- hilarious.

    Carrie by Stephen King

    Carrie: misunderstood misfit, telepathic Carrie unleashes her satanic retribution on her schoolmates. The ultimate revenge story.

    Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

    Flora Poste: down-to-earth Flora isn't phased by even the most eccentric of her long lost cousins, the Starkadders, when she goes to stay at Cold Comfort Farm.

    Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

    Fuchsia Groan: if I had a daughter I would name her after this ultimate Goth chick who roams the attics at Gormenghast Castle, amidst the infighting of her dysfunctional family.

    The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

    Eustacia Vye: a tempestuous young woman who yearns for passion and freedom from her confines -- don't we all?

    A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Sara Crewe: kind, generous and imaginative, these qualities help Sara to survive when she loses her fortune and is banished to the attic at her boarding school to become a servant girl.

    The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

    Kate and Baba: funny, touching, moving, shocking -- two girls grown up in rural Ireland in the 50s then go off for sex in Dublin's fair city.

    Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufmann

    Bettina Balser: the book that spawned a thousand imitations -- the original and the best mid-life crisis novel ever. If you're ever contemplating an affair, read this first. Her husband and her lover are equally obnoxious.

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    Richie Unterberger is the author of numerous rock history books. His latest, White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day, is the most thorough book on the band ever written.

    Richie lives in San Francisco and here is a list of his Top Ten Music Books:

    Always Magic in the Air by Ken Emerson

    A sweeping overview of the Brill Building New York pop-rock factory of the early 1960s. It balances critical insight with loads of entertaining anecdotes about great songwriting teams like Carole King-Gerry Goffin, Ellie Greenwich-Jeff Barry, Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman, Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach-Hal David, and Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil.

    Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher

    Not just a mammoth biography of the greatest rock drummer, this also serves as a good story of the Who themselves. It's also a tragicomic document of the most excessive rock'n'roll lifestyle bar none.

    Follow the Music by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws

    One of the greatest oral histories of twentieth century popular music details the rise of Holzman's Elektra Records, the most creative American independent record label. It's the tale not just of a company, but also of the trail blazed by the US music counterculture from the folk boom through the psychedelic rock of the Doors, Elektra's most celebrated act.

    Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller

    The fascinating personal lives behind major women singer-songwriters Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. The volume dishes out plenty of compelling gossip, but isn't short of intelligent observations about their music and how they both reflected and paved the way for feminist breakthroughs.

    High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

    It's not exactly an obscure nomination for the best fictional treatment of record collector/music fan geeks. But it remains the most accurate and funniest one by a mile.

    The Byrds: Timeless Flight -- The Sequel by Johnny Rogan

    Heroically exhaustive, but always highly readable, biography of one of the greatest rock bands of the 1960s.

    Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic by Jim DeRogatis

    The intriguing, often funny, and often sad life of a man who lived out the on-the-edge rock'n'roll ethos just as fiercely as the wildest artists he wrote about.

    Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now by Barry Miles

    Somewhat overlooked after the appearance of the in-their-own-words The Beatles Anthology, this earlier combination biography/oral history has tons of long quotes from McCartney about the greatest group of all, and inside stories about the writing of virtually all of the Lennon-McCartney songs. In some ways, Paul's comments here seem more honest or at least no-holds-barred than his more diplomatic observations in other sources.

    There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of 60s Counter-culture by Peter Doggett

    The first major history of the complicated relationship between rock music and radical politics from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. It succeeds because it pays equal attention to both the politics and the music, illustrating their admirable altruistic ambitions, but also the na

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