Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #7

Firstly, another plug for my giveaway – if you’d like to win a signed first edition copy of Philip Pullman’s new story The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ then please click here to visit my post on Pullman’s appearance at the Oxford Lit Fest, and leave a comment telling me which creature your ‘daemon’ would be. The comp closes at noon GMT on Good Friday and my daughter will pick a winner from the slips in the hat.

Just in case you haven’t seen the clip of his answer to the last question, here a link to it Click here.  On the BBC news on Sunday night, they played an extended version and I could see myself in the audience, which was fairly horrifying – it put pounds on me, but exciting at the same time.    I haven’t been on telly since I was in a quiz show called Connections on Granada with Richard Madeley back in the late 1980s – now that was an experience!

Staying on me for a moment, Kimbofo who blogs at Reading Matters invited me amongst other bloggers to join in a new guest feature called ‘Triple Choice Tuesday’, in which guests choose three books to recommend: a favourite, one that changed your life, and a book that deserves a wider audience. Little did I know that I’d be first up in this spot and you can see my three choices here, please do comment!


Now I’d like to link to a wonderful blog post by Simon Savidge – click here to see it. Simon raises the topic of bookblogging ethics in terms of where we get the books that we write about. With bookbloggers being increasingly targeted by publishers to help spread the word of mouth, it is a timely piece. Thank you Simon.

You can see my blogging guidelines under my ‘Info and Stuff’ tab at the top of the page, but to summarise, I will always say if a book is a freebie and how I got it – Maybe I should say if I bought a book too…  Also, I am affiliated to Amazon. All the title links do go there, and I may earn a small commission if you then buy after clicking through – although in a year and a half of blogging, I’ve yet to earn enough to trigger a single payment from them – so it’s pocketmoney stuff only.


  • And finally as usual here are a few of the latest titles to arrive at Gaskell Towers:
    The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, about a young girl chess player in an orphanage.
  • Looking for Enid: The Mysterious and Inventive Life of Enid Blyton by Duncan McLaren. Having seen the BBC’s rather good film Enid again the other night, I pounced on this unconventional biography while browsing in Oxford’s £2 bookshop waiting for the park and ride bus on Sunday.
  • The Moldavian Pimp by Edgardo Cozarinsky. Apart from the wonderful title, the blurb on the back of this short novel says  ‘Imagine a mixture or Borges, Thomas Pynchon, South American tango and Yiddish musicals and you begin to get the flavour of this extraordinary book’. – For £2 again, I was hooked!

Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang

When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.

Nanny McPhee (“small c, big P”) again comes to the aid of a family who can’t cope.  This time the action is updated to during World War II. The setting is a small farm where Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is struggling to make ends meet while her husband is away fighting. Her three children are boisterous but look after the farm while she helps out in the village shop run by Mrs Docherty (Maggie Smith).  Then everything is turned on its head when the rich city cousins are due to come and stay. They arrive a day early to discover a farm yard covered in poo, of all varieties, and all hell breaks loose between town and country. Enter Nanny McPhee to start sorting it out with her five lessons, telling Mrs Green that the Army sent her. Meanwhile, Isabel’s shifty brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) is in big trouble and is trying to persuade her to sell her half of the farm…

I won’t tell you any more of the story, but if you’ve seen the first film you’ll expect some animal antics – this time involving gorgeous little piglets, a baby elephant, and a crow. There is less out and out slapstick in this film, but there are plenty of brilliant funny moments, some great cameos from Bill Bailey, Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor, plus Sam Kelly as a sort of combination of ARP Warden Hodges and Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army.

Emma Thompson wrote the script and co-produced alongside her acting duties, and she obviously loves the character. She is also not afraid to tug at your heartstrings – there were several times where I was tempted to bawl like a babe (in both sorrow and happiness). The shadow of war hangs over the film and gives it both gravitas and an excuse for some silliness; the big bang of the title referring to bombs.

My daughter and I both enjoyed it hugely; she particularly liked the animals, I liked the spivvy Ifans and put-upon Maggie G. Highly recommended for all ages – if you need a excuse to go and see it at the cinema, borrow a niece or nephew, but don’t forget a hanky!

Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival

It was Palm Sunday today and off I went to the hallows of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford to see the first full talk by Philip Pullman on his new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which is published tomorrow.  It’s the latest volume in the Canongate Myths series, but tackles one of the most controversial stories there is in the life of Jesus.

The press have been ‘bigging up’ this appearance by Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival, so I arrived at the Sheldonian expecting protestors, even egg-throwers – but in the event there were none.  He did have a security guard though, who sat in the corner with his earpiece and didn’t exactly seem to be scanning the audience.  Unfortunately all these shenanigans also meant no signing afterwards, and no chance of a photo either without being ejected.   But pre-signed copies were on sale, and I snaffled two.  One for me and one for one of you – more on that story at the end of the post.

The Sunday Times’ Literary Editor Peter Kemp joined Pullman in the discussion.  First he asked how Pullman came to write the book.  Pullman explained that while growing up with his clergyman grandfather, all the bible stories became “greatly ingrained” in him, but that he’d grown up to treat them as myth not scripture.  In a previous platform discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams had asked him why there was no mention of Jesus in His Dark Materials?  Pullman replied that he’d do it in a later book, and when the opportunity came to join in the Myths series he decided the time was right.

He was then asked about his research.  Pullman told us that we’re used to hearing little bits and pieces from the Gospels, and that we rarely read them all the way through as books, and in doing this he was shown how different John is compared to Matthew, Luke and Mark.  He read some of the apocrypha, but most of them are not very good, compared with the Gospels and Paul’s letters.  He said he’d not read many theological texts in support, sticking to the main story itself.  Asked about the writing process, he said that finding a voice to tell the story was the critical thing – equivalent to a film director saying ‘Where do I put the camera?’ He didn’t want to produce a ‘fake gospel’.  He wanted spareness and clarity in the scenesetting and he quoted the first verses of the old ballad Sir Patrick Spens as near perfect …

The King sits in Dunfermline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine;
“O where shall I get a skeely skipper
To sail this ship or mine?”

Then up and spake an eldern knight,
Sat at the King’s right knee:
“Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever sailed the sea.”

He also told us how he decided not to be overdescriptive in landscape and weather etc, wanting to be as neutral and uninflected as possible. However he wanted to make clear the political situation of a colonised space with a puppet King under Roman rule. He told us that he’d write sixteen first chapters of Northern Lights before he discovered that Lyra had a daemon and that gave him the way in. In the new book, the basic way in occurs in the very first sentence …

This is the story of Jesus and his brother Christ, of how they were born, of how they lived and of how one of them died.

Pullman had been very struck that in the Gospels, Jesus is Jesus, but in Paul’s letters he is mostly called Christ. This gave him the idea of having twins, “the visionary teacher healer Jesus” and the “thoughtful and self-conscious” Christ; Jesus being a real man, and Christ his mythical shadow self, always an observer. There is much tension between the brothers and Jesus starts out as a goody-goody and Christ is more of a devil’s advocate egging him on, however things do change. Pullman said that in writing their story “I came to like Christ a great deal and dislike Jesus more than I thought I did.” The novel’s title shows a more stark contrast between the characters than the book suggests, but you have to attract attention somehow he quipped. The conversation then turned towards the miracles and the resurrection. Pullman said it wasn’t too hard to find explanations that worked both ways for the miracles, however the resurrection was much harder. He appreciated the subtle way that the gospels left much open space in their narrative for speculation.

Then there was time for Q&A. Pullman was asked whether the writing of the book had changed his atheist views. He said he saw no evidence of any divine power and still called himself an atheist, although strictly that stance is agnostic. In response to another question, he replied that “it was an unspeakable pity that Jesus didn’t live longer to perhaps write something”, as we only have re-tellings of Jesus’ words in the parables and Beatitudes. The only note of real discord came with the final question when an elderly gentleman politely upbraded him for writing the book. Pullman replied with forceful eloquence that it was his right to write it and it is your right to choose not to read it!

The hour went all too quickly. I hung around outside for a bit in case I could get a shot of him leaving, but the press photographers all went back into the building – presumably for the full press release, so I toddled off home. Not having seen Pullman before I was very impressed and was also glad that he had a good sense of humour. After dinner, I shall be starting to read the book.

Now to my Giveaway… To be included in a draw for a signed first edition copy with the white DJ as above (it’s also available in black, but they only had the white), tell me which creature your daemon would be in a comment. The draw will be made at noon GMT on Good Friday. Good luck.

Lit Lists #2 – 5 brilliant books set in Venice

In Feb I started a new feature – Lit Lists – for a bit of fun with books.

* Pick a keyword and then find a number, 5 or 10 say, of books that link to it in any way – e.g. they are either about or feature that word, or have it or a variant in their titles;
* List and introduce the books.
* That’s all there is to it apart from having fun. If you want to have a go, feel free!

My first list was of Monkey Books. For my second list, my keyword this time is …


…which gives me masses of scope, as it’s a city I loved when we visited in 2005 and a location that I adore in books.   The picture, left, was drawn by my daughter (who had just turned five), after experiencing crossing the canal on a traghetto ferry gondola.  For a five year old she nailed the perspective didn’t she!

1. The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato, which I reviewed here. This was Marina’s first novel and follows the story of a newly single artist going to Venice to learn the skills of her ancestors, and in a historical strand we hear the ancestor’s story of how he escaped the guilds to go an make the mirrors at Versailles. It was a great read and Marina herself is a real character as she’s been to Abingdon twice now with her books – the third must be due soon I hope.

2. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. This is the first of nineteen novels (at current count) featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti who has to solve the murder of a Maestro at Venice’s opera house. I always get the feeling that life in Italy’s cities is full of bureaucracy and petty battles between all involved in government. You either embrace it or try to ignore it – Brunetti does the latter and it is his ambivalence and refusal to join in office politics rather than kicking against the system that makes him such a refreshing maverick detective!

3. Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers, in which a spinster, Miss Garnet goes to Venice on an extended holiday after the death of a friend. There she falls in love with an angel in a Raphael painting, and undergoes a series of epiphanies, discovering a new side to herself as she encounters an Italian art historian Carlo … Alongside Miss Garnet’s awakening, Vickers tells the story behind the painting which is a scene from the Book of Tobit which has many parallels with Miss Garnet’s situation.  It’s a subtle novel, and I really enjoyed it.

4. The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick, which I reviewed here. Sedgwick is possibly my favourite YA author and this was the first book I read by him. It’s set at the end of the 18thC during Carnevale (approaching Lent) and features proper vampires – the real monstrous ones of Eastern European tradition. It’s a great adventure, and the dankness of Venice in winter really comes through.

5. The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson.  Twists and more twists, this literary page-turner starts off innocently, when young Adam takes a job in Venice as assistant to a reclusive writer. However, he’s drawn in by his employer, wanting to uncover his life-story and there the plot thickens!The reader is wrong-footed at every turn and the result is a literary mystery of the highest order which is reminiscent of both the play/film Sleuth and the novels of Patricia Highsmith. In fact, Wilson has written a well-received biography of Highsmith called Beautiful Shadow which is in my TBR pile somewhere.

Rather than stretch the list to ten, I decided to stick with 5 books that I’d read and enjoyed, but there are many others set in Venice including the following in my TBR piles:

Can you recommend any more?

Heatwaves can be murder!

August Heat by Andrea Camilleri (trans Stephen Sartarelli)

This is the third of Camilleri’s novels that I’ve read, the tenth in the popular series featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano, and it was the most enjoyable yet.

It’s nearing the middle of August and the heat in Sicily is getting unbearable.  Montalbano’s girlfriend Livia is arriving soon with friends to stay in a villa he’s found for them.  Salvo is looking forward to some quality time with Livia.  The villa looks perfect, but they are plagued by cockroaches and mice, then Bruno, Livia’s friend’s son goes missing.  He is discovered down in an illegal basement buried below the house – empty for years – except for a trunk – with a body in it!

Livia and her friends flee back home, leaving Salvo to suffer in the searing heat and conduct a murder investigation without a fan in his office.  Added to that, the builders are obviously crooked and covering up for each other.  The normally dapper and gourmet inspector can hardly bear to do anything, it’s so hot.  Eating hot food is out, and he’s spending half his time in the shower or sitting in his office in his underpants and missing Livia – this story is suffused with heat, humidity and sweat!  But we know that Salvo will get his man, loyally supported by the ever trusty Fazio, even though he nearly gets distracted by a pretty girl on this case…

I love Montalbano, the fifty-something batchelor with his long-distance girlfriend. Like all the best literary detectives, he has a healthy dose of disrespect for bureaucracy and his deskbound superiors and is not afraid to tear up the rulebook when needed.   The Italian way of doing things and Mediterranean location make for interesting plots.  There is a good dose of humour in these novels too, giving light and enjoyable reads.  I remember when I read the first in the series (The Shape of Water), I found the translation rather cool and dry, but like the heat in this novel, Sartarelli’s translation is thoroughly warmed up by now! He adds some useful pages of notes about various Italianisms and background stories at the end too which are better than footnotes.  (Book requested from the Amazon Vine programme, 8/10)

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #6

Today is Ada Lovelace Day – a day of blogging about and celebrating women in science. I used to be a proper working scientist and am now a school one, but I confess I was totally unaware of the day, and Ada Lovelace herself. It turns out she was Byron’s daughter, and was a programmer for Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

The pic to the right shows Rosalind Franklin who did much of the work on DNA, but didn’t get on the Nobel ticket.  Several other bloggers have written great posts on women in science today, so I’m going to direct you to them… 


Only a few days until I get to see Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival.  I read in the paper that there’ll be security guards at the Sheldonian.  Although I paid for a good ticket, the seats are still unreserved which is irritating.  How early should I get there?  Will he be signing afterwards given that there may be some fundamentalist agitators around?  I’ll have to cross fingers and see and I’ll report back to you.


Lastly, incoming…

  • The Concert Ticket by Olga Grushin. I couldn’t resist this novel – It’s Russian for a start! It features a family who are all desperate to get a ticket to a ‘For One Night Only’ concert by an exiled composer. Going to the concert would mean different things to each of them …
  • Direct Red: A Surgeon’s Story by Gabriel Weston. This surgeon’s autobiography has been on my radar ever since it came out, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy the hardback – but now the paperback is here. I’ve read many reviews and everyone has really rated it.
  • A Madman Dreams Of Turing Machines by Janna Levin. A faction novel about the lives of scientists Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel written by a young physicist.

A Science Fiction Noir Classic from 1942

Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak

When I was writing my post the other week about my reading history I tried to remember my favourite Science Fiction books from my teens. John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids was one, Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage was another, but my absolute favourite from back then was Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak.  This made me desperate to read it again; it’s out of print, but I ordered an old paperback and devoured its 160 pages as soon as it arrived.

Siodmak was born in Germany, of Polish Jewish descent, leaving Germany before WWII and settling in the USA. A mathematician, he became a successful screenwriter getting his big break with The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney in 1941.  At first glance, Donovan’s brain has all the trappings of a pulp sci-fi novel – the melodramatic story of a mad scientist who keeps a brain alive and then the brain takes over him.  However, it’s not that at all!   In fact, it’s rather serious, and alongside the SF with a horror slant is a novel that’s pure noir.

Patrick Cory is a middle-aged doctor who experiments in his lab at keeping animal brains alive funded by his wife Janice. One night he’s called out to a plane crash and rescues a dying man.  He harvests the brain before the body finally dies and connects it up in a tank.  It turns out the man was a rich industrialist, W H Donovan,  who was dying of kidney disease anyway.  Cory manages to keep the brain alive successfully, recording the brain waves, but can’t work out a way of  communicating with it.  The brain starts to grow, and then one night, Cory falls asleep after tapping Morse Code on the brain’s container. He wakes up to find some names written on the pad.  This is the start of the brain’s telepathy with Cory.  The elderly Dr Schratt, his sometime alcoholic assistant, begs him not to take it further…

“… You are killing faith! I’m glad only a few men like you exist! Your researches have made you more and more rational, until you refuse to recognize a single fact cannot be proved in the laboratory. I’m frightened, Patrick! You’re creating a mechanical soul that will destroy the world.”
I listened patiently. Schratt obviously had thought deeply about all this, and saying it seemed to make him feel better.
“Great mathematicians and physiologists,” I said quietly, “inevitably arrive at a point where their minds meet something beyond human comprehension, something divine. They can only face it by believing in God. Most scientists become religious when they reach that stage of research.”

Schratt looked at me astonished. Those might have been his own words. When he saw I had not spoken with irony, he nodded, but doubtfully, still mistrusting me as a convert to his philosophy.

Cory of course can’t let go, he’s already ensnared by the brain, and as the days go on the brain gets stronger, and then it takes his body over, and also adopts the mannerisms, gait and penchant for cigars of its dead owner. Donovan sends Cory to LA to sort out unfinished business, and this is where the novel turns into a noir detective story. Cory cannot resist the brain except when asleep, and finds himself signing cheques, and carrying out the dying man’s last plans to get his own back on those whom he believes have wronged him in business. Cory is finally scared …

I recalled the stages I had passed through during this experiment with Donovan’s brain. At first I had concentrated on Donovan’s orders, forcing myself to understand him. During the second phase I easily interpreted commands, and acted accordingly. Finally I had permitted the brain to direct my body.
Until now I was unable to resist. I had lost control completely!
The brain could walk my body in front of a car, throw it out of the window, put  a bullet through my head with my own hands. I could only cry out from the despair of my imprisonment, but even the words my mouth formed were those the brain wanted to hear.
A wave of terror engulfed me as I realized I was like a man fastened in a machine which moves his hands and feet against his will.

Donovan’s Brain may not have the best writing, but it does have a philosophical side that explores ethics and other scientific dilemmas amongst the many other moral issues raised by the story. It’s also written as journal entries by Cory which help give that first person authentic noir narrative. So, some thirty plus years after I previously read it, how was it on re-reading? I think you can guess – I still love it! I want to track down the film too. (10/10)

Love and Landscape

Corrag by Susan Fletcher

I was always for places. I was made for the places where people did not go – like forests, or the soft marshy ground where feet sank down and to walk there made a suck suck sound. Me as a child was often in bogs. I watched frogs, or listened to how rushes were in breezes and I like that – how they sounded. Which is how I knew what I was.

So speaks Corrag; a young woman in prison accused of witchcraft and aiding members of the MacDonald clan to escape the massacre at Glencoe in 1692. In shackles and awaiting her death at the stake, she tells her story to a visitor to her cell.  How she grew up in Northumberland and had to flee into Scotland when her mother was accused of being a witch …

She shook her head. ‘You are going alone. You are leaving me now, and you must not come back. Be careful. Be brave. Never be sorry for what you are, Corrag – but do not love people. Love is too sore and makes life hard to bear …’
I nodded. I heard her, and knew.
She fastened her cloak on me. She smoothed my hair, put up the cloak’s hood.
‘Be good to every living thing,’ she whispered.
‘Listen to the voice in you.
I will never be far away from you. And I will see you again – one day.’

Corrag is Susan Fletcher’s third novel, which ultimately tells the story of the mass murder of the Jacobite MacDonald clan by soldiers under orders from King William. Corrag herself was probably real, but her visitor, Charles Leslie certainly was. He was a Stuart supporter and came from Ireland to investigate the massacre. He urges Corrag to tell what happened, but first she wants to tell him how a Sassenach girl came to live in the Highlands. Every night after listening to Corrag, he writes home to his wife, telling her all about the witch, her odd lonesome ways, her expertise with herbs, her love of the winter. He starts to become entranced by the storytelling of this illiterate little woman.

Having flown England, and survived encounters with reivers and soldiers in the border country, she discovers the glens of the Highlands, and in Glencoe Corrag finds ‘home’. She forages and filches the odd egg from the hamlets before she meets the scions of the MacIain, chief of the MacDonald clan, who give her permission to live there. Then one day she’s taken to treat the wounded MacIain and she becomes almost an honorary member of the clan. She’s attracted to the younger son Alasdair, but he’s taken – however they do have an empathy for each other, and Corrag the loner feels love. We finally get to the awful night of the 13th February 1693, and Corrag has her part to play in saving the lives of many of the MacDonalds. Leslie gets not only what he came for, but realises that he is a changed man through listening to Corrag.

Susan Fletcher manages to convey the hard life of an outsider convincingly. Corrag is wise beyond her years, and totally in tune with nature – qualities which had she not found a haven with the MacDonalds would have seen her branded a witch instantly. The descriptions of the landscape are beautiful as Corrag gets to know every nook and cranny. The lyrical prose does make for a slow burning novel though, which takes its time to get to the main event. While I did enjoy the story, I was longing for a little bit more plot and history, some background to the clan wars, the Jacobite cause, and the other characters – not least her inquisitor turned entralled audience. It was not quite what I expected; it was slightly long and dragged a little in places, but the author’s turn of phrase was a pleasure to read. (Book supplied by the publisher, 7/10)

Also reviewed by Teresa at Shelflove, and The Book Whisperer who also has an interview with Susan Fletcher.

LOTR Readalong Month 3 – Midway through the Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers Vol 2 by JRR Tolkien

It’s month 3 of the LOTR Readalong in which we’re reading vol 2 – The Two Towers. This month the readalong is hosted by Teresa at Shelf Love and she has posed some questions for us …

Where are you in your reading? Are you finding it slow going or is it a quick read? It’s convenient that Tolkein splits the Two Towers into two books which are 3 & 4 of the trilogy. I finished book 3 soon after the start of the month – I’m starting book four imminently. I found it a steady read, neither fast nor slow.

If you’re a rereader, how does this reading compare to past readings? If you’re a first-time reader, how has The Two Towers met—or not met—your expectations? What has surprised you most in your reading?   I really can’t remember my previous read much. TTTs feels like a middle novel though. I also thought I’d miss Frodo and Sam, but was surprised that I was enjoying the others’ adventures so much.

In Book 3, we visit lots of new places and meet lots of new characters. There’s Fangorn and the Ents, the riders of Rohan, Saruman at Isengard. Which are your favorites? Least favorites?   I’m not a big fan of the Ents – can’t put my finger on why – I think it’s to do with cartoonish visions of trees with faces, I can’t take them seriously. I do like the Riders of Rohan – Theoden is a great leader, and Eowyn will come into her own.

And the obligatory movie question: If you’ve seen the movie, has it affected your perception of The Two Towers? If so, how?   One of the scenes I thought they did well in the film was Theoden’s reawakening, becoming himself again. This was rather quickly dealt with in the book, but it was nice to see Bernard Hill get his time to come to.

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #5

Despite living just ten miles outside the centre of Oxford, I’ve never been to any event in the Oxford Literary Festival.  This year I shall cure that.  I’ve booked a ticket to see Philip Pullman talk about his new book in the Canongate Myths series – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ on the 28th March – the day before publication. This is his first talk about the book, which is bound to be a controversial title. While I can’t claim to be a believer, I’ve always enjoyed bible stories, so I’ll be fascinated to see his take on Jesus. If he signs copies at the event, I’ll buy two – one for me, one for the blog …


Now to tell you about a few new arrivals at Gaskell Towers …

  • No and Me by Delphine de Vigan is one of those crossover books that is being released in different covers for different markets – I’ve shown you the young adult edition. It is the story of Lou, a girl with a very high IQ who loves to do nothing more than visit the Gare d’Austerlitz to see the emotions on the faces of people coming and going. There she meets a homeless girl called No, and this is their story. Apparently it has been a radio 4 book at bedtime.  Nicki at Mostly Books thinks this one will be talked about lots.
  • The Old Joke by Reina James.  This is a novel about a fading film star who agrees to take on a unglamorous role to sustain her career.  This reminded me of the late Diana Dors – the British Blonde Bombshell who was happy to play unglamorous parts especially later on – I remember her in a Hammer House of Horror episode as a creepy old lady.  That and a quote from Maureen Lipman on the cover makes it sound a good laugh.
  • Dancing Backwards by Sally Vickers.  The story of a lady of a certain age who takes a transatlantic cruise where she meets many different people who help her understand her past, including the dancing instructor Dino.  Looking forward to this one.