Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

Oh, this is lovely. A ghost story told so beautifully, so evocatively, and with just a perfect touch that it is something very special indeed.

“This morning I found a strange boy in the sheds. He frightened me , Cyn, but I want to see him again. You’d tell me not to, you’d tell me he wasn’t right, I know you would, but there’s no one else to play with. He didn’t speak to me, but I know he’s be my friend. Sas and Ma don’t believe in him, but you would. I am making it my mission to find out about him ….”

Dieter was just a boy, but he was that master of Sugar Hall, a grand country house in the Welsh borders that had been home to his ancestors for many, many generations.

His family had never visited that house while his grandfather was alive, but when he died his German-born widowed mother, Lilia, and his elder half-sister, Lilia, to make their home there.

20660874The house was big and grand, but it was terribly dilapidated, dirty and neglected. Lilia tries to put things to rights, with the support of her general factotum, John, and her neighbour, Juniper, but it is not easy to fit a modern family into the long-established pattern of an old house. And she had her own history, her own ghosts that she had to come to terms with.

And so Dieter was left to wander through rooms, to gaze at family portraits, to examine the collections displayed in glass cases, and to be drawn into the thrall of the silent boy who wore a silver collar.

He didn’t know, his mother didn’t know, that they had been caught, pulled into a story that had been playing out at Sugar Hall for years and years.

The arc of the story is simple, but the execution makes it special.

‘Sugar Hall’ illuminates the time when the war was over but the consequences were still being felt, and the post-war world hadn’t quite begun. It explores the consequences of old sins and the reverberations they send into the future. It considers the importance of the home, the consequences of leaving, the importance of having a place in the world.

And it does that with the lightest of touches, so that the stories of lives and the story of the ghost can live and breathe.

There’s room for lovely imagery, there’s room for lovely details, there’s room for letters, pictures, documents, lists …. and still there is space to think, to wonder, to catch your breath.

Tiffany Murray’s prose is gorgeous; evocative, spooky, light as air; and her storytelling is spellbinding.

I suspect that there is much more here than I could take in, but I was captivated by the people, the time, the place and the story.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time. And I suspect that it will pull me back to read again one day.


It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Bookish Thoughts on Boxing Day

In our house, Boxing Day is a day for fun, relaxing, and a little contemplation.

And I’ve had a little fun contemplating this year’s reading, with the help of a set of questions that I borrowed from Verity, who borrowed from Stacy, who found it at The Perpetual Page Turner …

Best Book of 2010

I read many wonderful books this year, but if I have to pick out just one it must be Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley. Daphne du Maurier wrote an introduction to her friend’s book, and she can convey its charms much better than I ever could:

“”‘Love in the Sun’ will make other writers feel ashamed. And, curiously enough, old-fashioned too. It is a revelation in the art of writing and may be one of the pioneers in a new renaissance which shall and must take place in our time if the novel is to survive at all. While we struggle to produce our complicated plots, all sex and psychology, fondly imagining we are drawing modern life while really we are as démodé as jazz and mah jong, Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

Worst Book of 2010

Luckily I didn’t read anything this year that was bad enough for me to give it the label “worst book.”

Most Disappointing Book of 2010

There were a few that I didn’t finish, but their names escape me now. The most disappointing book that I did finish was Trespass by Rose Tremain. Not a bad book by any means, but it didn’t live up to its potential or to the high expectations that Rose Tremain’s earlier work created.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010

The cover of Diamond Star Halo was eye-catching, but it really didn’t look like my sort of book. That title rang a bell though, a tune lodged in my head, and the next line just wouldn’t come. I only picked it up to look for an answer, but the synopsis grabbed me, I remembered that I had really liked Tiffany Murray’s previous novel, and so the book came home. It proved to be a gem.

Book Recommended Most in 2010

I was a little disappointed when I saw The Winds of Heaven listed as one of the new Persephone Books for autumn. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Monica Dickens, but I already had The Winds of Heaven and many of her other books on my shelves , and I had hoped to discover a new author or two. I read The Winds of Heaven on holiday, loved it, and saw that it fitted into the Persephone list perfectly. And I’ve been saying that ever since!

Best Series You Discovered in 2010

I met Gussie just a few weeks ago when I read The Burying Beetle, and I fell in love with the gravely ill but wonderfully alive twelve-year-old, who so loved books, films, the whole world around her. I am so pleased that Ann Kelley continues her story in three more books, and the next one has already found its way home from the library.

Favourite New Authors in 2010

It has to be a writer from the first half of the century who is only new in that she if new to me: Sheila Kaye-Smith. I read Joanna Godden in the summer, and it pushed her creator on to the “I must find all of her books” list.

Most Hilarious Read in 2010

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there are one or two authors who combine wit with intelligence and warmth who I love dearly. L C Tyler is one of them and his most recent book, The Herring in the Library, was a delight.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2010

Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati, an Italian graphic novel that retold the classical story of Orpheus and Euridyce, was unsettling and utterly compelling. I read it in a single sitting.

Book Most Anticipated in 2010

Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore was the Holy Grail for knitters for a long time. Copies were so scarce and changed hands for ridiculous sums. I could only dream of finding a copy and being able to knot some wonderful designs that had been in my Ravelry queue since day one. But then a reissue was announced and I am pleased to be able to report that I now own the new, updated edition, with wonderful patterns and so much information about Aran knitting, and that it every bit as wonderful as I had expected.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2010

I was completely captivated by the cover of The Still Point by Amy Sackville as soon as it caught my eye. Now I just have to get past that cover and read the book!

Most Memorable Character in 2010

There are a few contenders, but I think it has to be Martha. I met her in The Eye of Love a couple of years ago and I read more of her story in Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George this year. Martha is both ordinary and extraordinary, and completely her own woman. And the incomparable Margery Sharp tells her story with such warmth and wit that it is quite impossible to not be charmed.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2010

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson was just perfect.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi still makes me catch my breath whenever I think about it.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2010 to Read

I fell in love with Colette’s writing years ago and read everything of hers I could lay my hands on. How did Gigi slip through the net? Why did I wait until this year to meet her? I really have no idea!

Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray

Diamond Star Halo. 

 Now where did that come from? I spotted the book, face up on a table and those words buzzed around in my head throughout the visit. What was the next line? Where did it come from?

The answer just wouldn’t come, so I picked up the book on the way out of the library to see if that would help. It didn’t, but I recalled Tiffany Murray’s first novel, Happy Accidents, which I enjoyed. I very much liked what I read on the jacket too, and so the book came home.

And once I had read it I acquired a copy of my own to keep. Yes, that good.

So what was it like?

Well,  if it was a recipe it would read like this:

“Take  the following ingredients:

  • a large handful of I Capture the Castle
  • a dash of Wuthering Heights
  • a teaspoon of Cold Comfort Farm
  • a teaspoon of Cider With Rosie
  • a pinch of fairy dust

Mix together gently and then leave your mixture in the Welsh countryside until the 1970s. Just let it take in the air, and it will take on a new character, entirely its own.”

Yes, Diamond Star Halo is one of those books that recognises its influences, loves them, respects them, and then goes forward into completely different territory.

Halo Llewelyn lives at RockFarm, a recording studio set in the Welsh countryside.

” For the first two years of my life I was “Baby” then mum decided on “Halo”. “Diamond Star Halo to be exact, because she loved Marc Bolan and T Rex, and because I learned to walk to “Get It On” and Mum said I was dirty sweet and I was her girl.”


Halo’s mother was the heart of her family, a homemaker in the best sense of the word. And her father was a music producer, explaining where they lived.

Then there was her cross-dressing brother Vince and her little sister Molly, who was in quite a hurry to be grown up. And Nana, a countrywoman with a saying and an answer for everything.

Halo really does bring her family and their world to life.  There’s a wonderful mix of the magical and the humdrum!

You really can’t help but love them all. Halo especially.

In the summer an American band, Tequila, arrives at the studio. Halo is captivated by Jennie, their heavily pregnant singer. Jennie warms to the child too, and a lovely bond develops between them.

But suddenly everything changes. Jennie’s child is born at the height of the summer, and then Jennie dies. Tequila leave, but baby Fred stay behind to grow up at RockFarm.

And he grows up to be a rock star, just like his Mum …

There is a special bond between Halo and Fred. But is he her brother? Or is he something else?

And that’s as much as I’m going to say. This is one of those stories that has to unwind gently and draw you in as you read.

There’s a wonderful mix of so many characters, so many emotions, and Tiffany Murray handles them all beautifully.

Light and dark are perfectly balanced.

And this is a story packed full of lovely details. Much whimsy and much music.

Held together by a family, and by love.

What more could you ask for?

Library Loot

Eva is coordinating Library Loot this week.

I’m still trying to be moderate. My own books are calling. Loudly. But three very different books had to come home this week.

First there was the award winning crime novel:

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

” It is bitter mid-winter on the Swedish island of Oland, and Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children to the boarded-up manor house at Eel Point. But their remote idyll is soon shattered when Katrine is found drowned off the rocks nearby. As Joakim struggles to keep his sanity in the wake of the tragedy, the old house begins to exert a strange hold over him. Joakim has never been in the least superstitious, but from where are those whispering noises coming? To whom does his daughter call out in the night? And why is the barn door for ever ajar? As the end of the year approaches, and the infamous winter storm moves in across Oland, Joakim begins to fear that the most spine-chilling story he’s heard about Eel Point might indeed be true: that every Christmas the dead return….”

I’m enjoying my journey through the Orange Prize longlist but I wanted a change, to bring home something completely different. And this one caught my eye. Winner of the Glass Key Award for the Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year. Now there are a lot of great Nordic crime novels around at the moment, so surely to win this must have been pretty good.

Then there was the book of the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers that I just had to order:

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

“As Zimbabwe breaks free of British colonial rule, young Lindiwe Bishop encounters violence at close hand when her white neighbour is murdered. But this is a domestic crime, apparently committed by the woman’s stepson, Ian, although he is released from prison surprisingly quickly. Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious boy next door, until he abruptly departs for South Africa. Years later, Ian returns to find Lindiwe has been hiding her own secret. It is to bring them closer together, but also test a relationship already contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe’s mother. And as their country slides towards chaos, the couple’s grip on happiness becomes ever more precarious.”

I was curious when I saw this on the shortlist and so I ordered a copy. I’ve only read one chapter in but I’m impressed – Lindiwe is an engaging narrator and the story looks very promising.

And, finally, there’s the book that caught my eye on the new books shelf:

Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray

“Halo Llewelyn’s prayers begin, Dear God and Otis Redding, because she lives at Rockfarm, a rural recording studio where the sound of tractors and Stratocasters battle. One midsummer night an American band called Tequila arrives in a beautiful silver bus, and when they and that summer are gone, they leave behind an equally beautiful baby boy; they leave Fred. Fred is everybody’s favourite, a golden child, and Halo adores him. By seventeen his ambition has propelled him out into the word and into the stardom that was always his destiny. Yet up on stage, being screamed at by hundred of teenage girls and boys, Fred will always turn his spotlight on Halo in the crowd. That’s the problem with falling in love with your charismatic almost-brother: it can never be a secret. In the end, the whole world has to know.”

This looked so different that, although I wasn’t sure it was going to be my sort of book, I had to pick it up. I’m still not sure but when I saw the quote “Cider With Rosie with an impeccable soundtrack” from Mark Radcliffe on the cover I knew that I had to give it a try. And it’s published by Portobello Books, which is a very good sign.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?