A History of Reading – Part 1

Or should that say – A history of MY reading part 1 – 2008? During my writing course I have made a conscious effort to read as widely as possible and to include books that I would not normally consider. This strategy has enabled me to gain a lot of insight into how the writers below achieve their settings and characterisation. I was very aware that whilst working through the course I looked at plots and techniques in these books in a very different way, trying to analyse how they had achieved their purpose. I give each book I read a rating for a) Plot and characters and b) Writing and technique. Please feel free to add your own comments.
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Daughter, Headline Book Publishing, 1991, ISBN: 0747236135
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Dream, Headline Book Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0747237247
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Glory, Myriad Books, 2001, ISBN: 1904154182
The above three books form a trilogy about families in the carpet weaving town of Kidderminster (which I live close to). Donna’s story is very interesting with lots of historical details and twists and turns of plot. Unfortunately, she tends to repeat the initial incident in Book one with great regularity (almost in every chapter) and this tended to annoy and distract me when I was reading the books. I think I learned quite a lot about what not to do in any future novel of my own from these books and thus reading them was valuable.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique *
Binchy Maeve – This Year Will Be Different, Orion 2007, ISBN: 0752876287
This is a collection of short stories about Christmas and the relationship problems which can surface at this time. I admire Maeve Binchy’s style and the way she weaves stories together to make a novel out of an otherwise disparate group of tales.
            Plot and characters *** Writing and technique ****
Binchy, Maeve – Nights of Rain and Stars, Orion 2005, ISBN: 0752865366
I would go as far as saying that this is my favourite Maeve Binchy to date. Thoroughly enjoyed the setting and the way the main characters moved on during the story.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****
Binchy, Maeve – Whitethorn Woods, Orion 2007, ISBN: 0752881477
This is the usual Maeve Binchy format of interwoven short stories, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition. I admire this style greatly and am trying to learn how to achieve it. However, it did take me two attempts to finish this book as I lost interest part way through.
            Plot and characters *** Writing and technique ****
Binchy, Maeve – The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club, Orion 2008, ISBN: 0752883070
The book, in the form of Maeve Binchy’s letters and short essays from other experts in the world of writing, provides clear advice on the business of being a writer. It is written in a motivational and inspirational style which is helpful. As I admire Maeve Binchy’s style it was useful to have her opinions on writing.
            Writing and technique ****
Erskine, Barbara – The Warrior’s Princess, HarperCollins 2008, ISBN: 0007174284
I love Barbara Erskine and have read the majority of her books. This one was bought whilst still in hardback edition as I couldn’t wait. The book takes place in two settings, the past and the present and these stories become increasingly interwoven until all of the characters are influencing the present. I am full of admiration for this style and would aspire to write in this way.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****
Gaskell, Elizabeth – North and South, Penguin Classics 2003, ISBN: 0140434240
When her father leaves the Church, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially she hates the industrial town of Milton, but becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers. Simmering under the surface in these quite repressed times is the attraction between the hero and heroine. I was impressed by the fact that this did not feel old fashioned in any way and was as interesting and gripping as if it has been written recently.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****
Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat, Pray, Love, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2007, ISBN: 0747585660 This book is fantastic. It is a story and also a self-help book, as it makes you think about your own life as you are reading it. It tells the story of a newly divorced woman on a journey to find herself by spending time in Italy, India and Indonesia. Again a style I would aspire to.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique *****
Harris, Joanne – Chocolat, Black Swan 2000, ISBN: 0552998486
A mysterious woman arrives with her daughter in a small, French village. She opens a chocolate shop and is soon tempting residents during Lent. This leads to conflict with the church. The book explores various prejudices. I found the writing style refreshing as it is written from the point of view of two people.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****
Harris, Joanne – The Lollipop Shoes, Black Swan 2008, ISBN: 0552773158
This is the sequel to Chocolat above. It is written in an even more complicated way from the point of view of three people. I found this style very difficult to get used to as you constantly had to ask yourself who was speaking. The characters and story are very good.
            Plot and Characters **** Writing and technique **
Hore, Rachel – The Memory Garden, Pocket Books 2007, ISBN: 1416511008
This book alternates between two characters, one in the present and the other in the past. Although born a century apart they face the same challenges to their happiness.
            Plot and Characters **** Writing and technique ****
Johnson, Jane – Crossed Bones, Viking 2008, ISBN: 0670917311
I had read about this book in a magazine and thought the subject matter sounded interesting. It is about the abduction of almost a whole Cornish village by Barbary Pirates. However, I found certain aspects of the plot implausible and some of the coincidences unrealistic. It is a good read if you don’t take it seriously and ignore the imperfections.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and technique **
Long, James – Ferney, Viking, 2008, ISBN: 0670917311
This is a re-print of a book I read many years ago. I was curious to read it again to see if it held the same appeal now that I know a little about writing. Thoroughly enjoyed it again, although I could see some holes in the story line. It explores re-incarnation and the two souls in the book have mistimed their re-entry so that one is old and the other young. Fascinating but with my writer’s hat on a bit overdone.
            Plot and Characters *** Writing and technique ***
Moriarty, Sinead – The Baby Trail, Penguin 2004, ISBN: 1844880400
Moriarty, Sinead – A Perfect Match, Penguin 2005, ISBN: 1844880419
The above two books are in a totally different style to those I normally read. They are very fast paced books using modern language and are written in the first person. The first is about a woman trying to get pregnant and the second about the same person going through the adoption process. A very quick read and although I admire the way they have been done I cannot see myself writing like this.
            Plot and Characters *** Writing and technique **
Townend, Carol – The Novice Bride, Harlequin Mills & Boon 2008, ISBN: 0263862496
I wanted to see what all the hype about Mills and Boon writing was all about. (Little did I imagine I’d be entering the New Voices Competition in 2010!) This is set just after the Norman invasion and the Saxon heroine Cecily has no choice but to marry the invader. Although it was a bit of a light read for my taste, I did admire how the author gets you gripped from the start and created interest in the characters.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and technique ***
Young, Elizabeth – Asking For Trouble, Arrow Books Ltd; April 2004, ISBN: 0099463377
I was particularly interested to read this novel as it is the basis for one of my favourite films “The Wedding Date”. I wanted to see how the book had been translated into a script for the screen. I was very surprised at how little of the book appears in the film. The main concept is there but the plot of the book was completely different to that of the film. I found this fascinating. An author obviously can’t be too precious about content if they sell the film rights.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and Technique **

I will record 2009 and 2010 reading in further blogs. .

By Morton S. Gray

Author of romantic suspense novels. http://mortonsgray.com


  1. A fascinating insight into what you think makes a book a good read. I have to confess to only having read one of them – the Barbara Erskine book. I'm a big fan of her books and would also love to be able to write timeslip novels. However, I'm always terrified that I'll get historical detail wrong so stick to contemporary.


  2. Hi,
    Thank you for the comment. I had such a problem with the formatting on blogger and when I'd finally managed to make this post look half decent, I suddenly wondered if it was a terribly boring post. Watch out for 2009 and 2010 reading shortly. Mx


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