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Liz de Jager’s Banished: Book launch and review

Last Thursday, Squizz and I boarded our trusty steed, megabus, and headed to London for our first book launch of 2014.

It was for Liz de Jager’s debut YA novel, Banished, the first book in The Blackhart Legacy trilogy, and was held at one of our favourite bookshops, Foyles, on Charing Cross Road. I took full advantage of that and had a thorough browse before heading to the cafe to meet up with our favourite launch buddy, JayneFerst.

The launch itself was held in Foyles’ Gallery and by the time we arrived, it was packed full of people and there was a great buzz. We said hi to Liz, who took Squizzey’s photo, which he loved, and then we left the lovely lady author to meet and greet while we sampled the delicious wine on offer and some of the launch booty. And, as you can see from the picture above, there were some terrific Blackhart (the fae-fighting heroine’s family) cookies and different flavours of popcorn to satisfy even the weirdest most discerning of palates.

It was a terrific evening, full of friendly faces and there was a whole lot of warmth and love for Liz in the room. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll know that she deserved nothing less than every bit of that to see her first novel, Banished, launched out into the book world. I wish it and Liz every success.

And now to the book itself. Here’s what I made of Banished: Read more

Book review: The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons

One of the best things about reading novels is how they can take you into new worlds. The world of any book is, of course, always its author’s creation, whether it be rooted in truth, or based on a skewed version of the world we know, or one entirely of the author’s own imagining but what I mean here is that some of the books I enjoy the most are the ones that introduce me to a world I either know nothing or very little about. And so it is with Natasha Solomons’ third novel, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. 

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is set in two very different and often conflicting worlds: the conservative Jewish community in which the main character, Juliet Montague, is brought up and the art world of 1960s London which she falls into but then manages to carve out a role for herself. Read more

Book review: Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës

Any poem by Simon Armitage gets my attention (note to publishers?) and one opens this new short story collection. And what a wonderful poem about Emily Brontë it is, right from its opening lines of

Too much rain
in the blood, Too much
cloud in the lungs

to how, after having read Wuthering Heights for the first time, I had always pictured her high up on the moor above Haworth parsonage

pegged to the skyline
green dress in a wild dance
hair flying east

It’s chilling, wild, full of vivid, if uncomfortable imagery, not unlike the Brontës’ work and is a perfect way to open this excellent new collection of writing inspired by the sisters and intended to help raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust and their plans for Thornton, Bradford – the village where all three sisters were born. Read more

Book review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

If books generally are hard to resist for this book squirrel, then you can only begin to imagine how excited I get about books featuring those treasure troves called bookshops (or bookstores, if you’re from across the Atlantic). I mean, what book lover doesn’t spend a lot of their time in them, browsing, and yes, okay, buying, when they’re not wishing they just lived in one or owned one?

So, it’ll come as no great surprise that Deborah Meyler’s The Bookstore caught my eye on my one of my first forays onto NetGalley this summer. (It’s embarrassing to admit how I totally screwed up getting the review copy downloaded from the site before it was archived. But, because I do sometimes learn from my mistakes, I now have it sussed for future downloads!) However, I hadn’t just gone on the site for freebies, I’d wanted to see what titles were coming out and whether the site was something I could use in finding new reads that I might not have found elsewhere. And I knew that I wanted to read The Bookstore, so I ordered a copy. Read more

Book review: Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

After having enjoyed Jane Odiwe’s Searching for Captain Wentworth, I jumped at the chance to read Project Darcy even before knowing anything more about it other than the title and that the cover promised further Time Travels with Jane Austen.

Happily, Project Darcy isn’t about the search for a present-day Darcy or the transformation of a modern-day man into someone’s romantic ideal of Darcy. Instead, it’s the codename of an archaeological dig that aims to unearth the site of the old rectory at Steventon where Jane Austen lived the first twenty-five years of her life. This dig brings together an interesting mix of people and it’s fun matching up those resembling Jane Austen’s own circle or her characters. For example, there’s our heroine, Ellie, and her university friends, Jess, Martha, Liberty and Cara, five girls with initials matching those of the five Bennet sisters. You’ll have to read the book to discover if that’s all they share in common.

Read more

The dark side of Twitter Towers

One of the most popular blog posts I’ve written to date was a post I wrote in 2010 asking Does Twitter sell books?  I posted a picture of my Twitter Towers (all the books I’d heard about through the social networking site) and categorised them, and generally thought that Twitter was pretty good at selling books. To me, at any rate!

Three years on and I am still getting book recommendations through the social networking site, while also sharing my own favourite reads and joining in conversations about books I’ve read, am reading or want to read. Some of the discussions I enjoy the most are those where Twitter or a book blogger gets excited about a book.

But by its very nature, social networking wouldn’t be social if all I did was scour Twitter for book recommendations and run away to read them. You follow people and they follow you and you chat and connect. Sometimes you even become friends and not just people chatting on virtual coffee-breaks in 140 characters. And because some of those people on Twitter are authors, you may get friendly with one or more of them and want to read one of their books or they might even ask you to read one.

And this is where I run the risk of crossing over to what I see as the dark side of those lovely Twitter Towers and entering Bookish Mordor. Read more

Book review: The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick

When my family moved back to the UK from Germany, shortly before my baby brother was born, my Welsh father and Scottish mother couldn’t agree where to live, so they looked to England as a compromise solution. And (for any English people reading this) a very fine compromise it was, too! Dad had always loved Cornwall and would have loved to have lived there but he didn’t quite make it. He was offered a job in North Devon, which he accepted happily enough because it put us close enough to the Cornish border to make forays over it at weekends and during the school holidays. And so, my childhood was filled with places such as Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! and Clovelly, the ‘Lorna Doone’ country of nearby Exmoor and trips over the border to King Arthur’s reputed birthplace at Tintagel and Daphne du Maurier’s Fowey. And growing up in a small fishing village, with cobbled streets and narrow alleys that seemed to echo with the ghosts of smugglers and seafaring men, it’s little wonder that I devoured books filled with the stories and legends inspired by the country around me.

I think that’s why place is still every bit as important to me in books as are the characters. The best books are the ones where the place a story is set is just as much of a character. I want to feel wholly immersed in the world the writer’s created, to the extent where I could be sitting in the same room as the characters or walking along a step or two behind them. So opening a book like Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House and having not only Cornwall but Trevenen, the house of the title, so effectively realised was wonderful. It felt like coming home. Every time I opened the book, I was sucked in and that, in turn, made me feel more involved with the lives of the main characters Maddie, an artist, and her step-daughter Hannah. Read more

Book review: Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown

On the day that Isabel Ashdown’s third and latest novel launched, London enjoyed the first real heat of the year. For a lot of people at the event, it seemed as if the weather had been specially ordered. There we all were, sweltering away, while celebrating the launch of Summer of ’76, a book set in the summer of record high temperatures and a severe drought that brought with it water rationing and standpipes and heat that made Brits and their gardens wilt.

Until that week, I think most people in Britain would have said that it hadn’t been a good year for weather, unless you’re the sort of person who likes every kind of weather on the same day and is fit enough to carry all the accompanying wardrobe changes that might necessitate. All of which leads me to think that there is perhaps some wizardry at work when Isabel Ashdown takes up her keyboard – or pen, if she still writes her first drafts longhand. The release of her novel about the summer of a famous heatwave seems to have heralded in another one, just when Brits were beginning to despair that this summer might turn out to be another washout like last year.

I believe it entirely possible that Isabel Ashdown is capable of conjuring up a heatwave. She does just that within the pages of Summer of ’76. Met Office reports at the start of every chapter give us the raw temperatures but its her deft prose that really makes you feel the heat of that long hot summer and how everything and everyone suffered, browned and some others even unravelled under it. I think I drank more (water!) while reading this book than I’ve ever drunk for any other book. And Summer of ’76 made me thirsty in other ways. I found it almost impossible to put the book down once I started it and managed to read it in what was an incredibly busy weekend for me. Read more

Book review: Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma by Kerry Hudson

As unusual book titles go, Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma is right up there. Team that with a distinctive cover showing the silhouette of a jumping girl holding a red balloon on a blue background and I knew I wanted to read this debut novel even before its author, Kerry Hudson, dropped by here last year as part of her blog tour for the book’s publication.

Given all that ‘new book from a new author’ excitement, I can’t really explain why it then took me almost a year until I finally got around to reading it. Part of me is still kicking myself for the delay and that lost time in which I could have been getting to know such a captivating character as the narrator of Tony Hogan.

You see, as great as the title and cover are, it’s only when you start reading Tony Hogan that the real magic happens.

Every so often you come across a distinctive new voice in a novel. There’s something about it that really speaks to you: you can hear it even when you put the book down for a break, so you re-run snatches of dialogue, quips and anecdotes and laugh or wince at them again. That voice grabs your attention and, once it has you, you’ll pretty much follow it anywhere it wants to take you. Even if that’s to somewhere unfamiliar or uncomfortable, worse than anywhere you’ve ever known or are used to, places you may never have been to in real life or those you might well want to shy away from, even when they’re safely contained within the pages of a novel. Read more

Book review: Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

One of the fun things about being a reader today is sometimes getting the opportunity to meet a favourite author at a book event or getting to chat to them on their blog or through social networking sites. But if they’ve been dead for almost 200 years, this is sadly  – and clearly! – no longer an option. You can only imagine what such a meeting or conversation would have been like… OR you can let someone else do that for you. Someone like Jane Odiwe, for example, as she’s now done for Jane Austen admirers everywhere in the excellent Searching for Captain Wentworth. Here’s a little about what happens in the book:

When aspiring writer, Sophie Elliot, receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it’s an invitation she can’t turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world, and that of her ancestor who befriends Jane Austen and her fascinating brother Charles, Sophie’s story travels two hundred years across time, and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together, the tale of Jane Austen’s own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.

The prospect of an encounter with Captain Wentworth was enough to make me want to read Searching for Captain Wentworth. (I think I might have mentioned before that Persuasion is my favourite of all Jane Austen’s novels and the passionate sea-faring Captain Wentworth my favourite hero of hers.) However, there was even more to recommend this particular book to me: it has an aspiring writer as the heroine, and not only does she get to live in Bath (one of my favourite cities, even if it wasn’t ever one of Jane Austen’s) but this is also a time slip novel. Which means that Sophie, the aspiring writer, gets to visit not one, but TWO versions of Bath, and travels back from the modern-day city to that of Jane Austen’s time. Oh, and once there, she promptly meets one of its most famous residents – Jane Austen herself! And if it that wasn’t enough there was also a hint that the book would contain some real romance between Jane Austen and the man who might have provided the inspiration for Captain Wentworth. And let’s face it, who doesn’t sometimes want the hero of a book to actually come alive or to have been a real person? So, with all of this in the mix, Searching for Captain Wentworth could have been written with me in mind as its ideal reader. Read more

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