Monday, 29 May 2017

Bank Holiday Reading

I have really indulged myself this bank holiday (and the lead up to it)  the weather has been mostly sunny and warm and I have selected three wonderful books to 'enhance' my enjoyment.

The Woman Who Upped and Left ~ Fiona Gibson

As I began this book I wasn't hopeful, the cover was uninspiring and I felt that it might turn into a 'flavour of the moment' story as there are books out there with similar titles.  But I shouldn't have judged a book by its cover!

The central character is called Audrey Hepburn, so she's spent much of her life striving to live-up-to or run away from the expectations of that famous icon's name.  A single parent with an 18 year old son who lazes about rather than looking for a career, she often feels in the way at home because her son & his girlfriend are forever snuggled up, in the living room, in the bedroom, with undies scattered all over the house, which really gets on Audrey's nerves!

Audrey has 2 jobs, a dinner lady and a elderly person's carer, then she wins a prize!  She's voted best dinner lady & can take money or attend a cookery course.   As funds are tight she almost takes option 1 but then she has a 'what the hell' moment & takes the course.  She stays in a plush hotel, others on the course are upper crust types she wouldn't normally meet.  The rather florid celebrity chef takes a shine to her ...  funny and embarrassing escapades ensue.  At this point I thought I knew where the story was headed:  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Complications come in the form of Audrey's young lover, who she regularly 'liaises'  with at motels.  He seems exciting, he makes her feel desirable and attractive, but is he what he seems?  Next minute, her son is in the middle of a drama and her job as a carer is at risk because the old lady's daughter plans to sell up and put her mother in a home.  Audrey's mid-life crises are humorously dealt with.

Does Audrey find love?  does she change her vocation?  does her son become gainfully employed? I wouldn't want to include spoilers, but suffice it to say that Audrey no sooner solves one problem than another rears its ugly head, but she has loyal friends and an ex ready to encourage, support and fortify her as she struggles to find solutions.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book to find  for myself.  Pop this one in your beach bag, it makes a great frothy summer read.

One Hot Summer ~ Kat French

Possibly my favourite chick-lit of 2017: I truly could not bear to put this book down!  The characters were so fabulously eccentric, the heroine - Alice McBride - was a wonderful mixture of fragility and strength, and the love interest (US country singer Robinson Duff) was such a romantic, dependable hunk I was half in love with him myself!

I really couldn't begin to describe the plot and do it justice, but the English village setting during a heatwave instantly makes it a great summer read.  The story starts with double heartbreak and follows Alice and Robinson's efforts to get their lives back on track.  I adored Stewie who was a 70s porn star - with his many  wigs and outrageous outfits the mynah bird owned by the local 'white witch' is also a great source of humor and secret-spilling.

Robinson is as gentle and thoughtful as one could wish from a gallant southern boy, but his attempts to forget all about Nashville and his stellar career are fairly unsuccessful.  Alice is enchantingly loyal to her home, Bourne Manor and is driven to be its custodian for years to come, no matter what sacrifices she must make.  The pair vow that this will be a HOT holiday romance and that they won't get involved - but we've all heard that before haven't we?

Gloss ~ Marilyn Kaye

GLOSS By Marilyn KayeThis novel is set in 1963 and is about a group of girls who have won places as interns at Gloss - a magazine aimed at teenagers.  The plot follows four of the interns as they experience moving to New York from other states in America, and the most interesting feature of the novel is its exposure of each girl's previous concepts of life and social structures and how they are required to adjust these as they mix with different ages, backgrounds and cultures during this one summer.

Marilyn often writes for a YA readership so its no surprise that this book has a coming of age feel.  The girls must deal with sexual advances, pregnancy, sexism in the workplace, adultery - all this while finding their feet, keeping secrets while not being sure who to trust as they are all newcomers to the big apple and working life.

The story has a lot of pace, the girls want to experience as much as possible in a short time as each only expects to be in New York for this one summer.  Lovers of Hairspray and Grease will find several points of reference in the book and, as a big fan of Ugly Betty, it was great to cross reference with how the wheels of a magazine turned back in the 60s.

Definitely a chick-lit novel which is not run of the mill;  again, great poolside reading.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Spring Update!

I have begun writing fiction dear friends! I have joined the community at Wattpad & am writing as Bella-Talk. My first story is a spooky tale aimed at young teenagers, in the vein of the Goosebumps series if you remember that? Please take a look and, if you like it, follow me so that you can get an up-date whenever I post another installment.
Don't Let Him In

My other exciting venture is also on Wattpad, I have decided to up-load a novel which my mother wrote but was never published. She began writing this story when I was still at primary school, but had several re-writes and revisions before the version I'm sharing now, which was completed in 1995. Her profile is Pamela_Cleaver and the novel is entitled Enchanted Valley - its genre is a romantic novel with a time-slip / enchanted theme, so some of it is set in the 13th century. I'll be delighted if I can expose her writing to interested readers (she died almost 10 years ago and forums such as Wattpad didn't exist back then!)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

This massive, romantic, thrilling book starts in 1946, Claire has been a nurse in WWII and now she’s reconnecting with her husband Frank after, they’re staying in Scotland tracing his family roots.  Claire is used to the world of academia, having been brought up by her uncle, living and working on archaeological digs.  The couple witness a druid ceremony, but when Claire returns to the standing stones to get a closer look, she is unexpectedly transported back in time to 1743.

Claire adjusts pretty quickly to this change of time and outlook and she journeys through Scotland with a fierce band of highland Scots, who are on the run from the British soldiers.  At first they are wary of Claire, believing her to be a spy but slowly she proves her worth, firstly with her knowledge of first aid and primitive medicine and soon it’s fairly obvious that her loyalties lie better with these wild outlaws, one of whom she’s fallen in love with, than with the occupying British.

Claire constantly arouses suspicion, being so different from the women of this time, not only in her speech and attitudes, which gets her into several scrapes, but almost invariably Jamie Fraser comes to her rescue, and soon she owes him her life.

Her time spent with him in the eighteenth century is a rollercoaster of travelling, building family ties, danger of discovery, punishment and death.  She daren’t share the secret of where she’s from and each time Claire cures people she worries about changing history irreparably, will she ever be able to return to her previous life in the twentieth century? what will she find there? and is the cost of leaving too great?

The story is interwoven with historical facts, myths and superstitions the people lived by, they jump off the page rather than preaching at you, and no less believable are the concepts of time travel and druid magic.  The battles and hardships are well described and gritty in their detail, the scottish dialect is gently interwoven but the strongest element is the love and passion between Claire and Jamie!  It is powerful and magnetic and for me that was what had me powering through the saga, and now it’s making me want to read the second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber.

Outlander Series:  Which Entertainment weekly terms  “A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”

  1. Outlander
  2. Dragonfly in Amber
  3. Voyager
  4. The Scottish Prisoner
  5. Drums of Autumn
  6. The Fiery Cross
  7. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  8. An Echo in the Bone

Diana has also written novellas which add to the story (The Lord John series for instance) and she has spin offs which follow characters which you’ll meet reading the main novels, so there’s plenty of reading material to get your teeth into!  Diana is currently working on a ninth novel, but is not sure if that will be the final book.
The Outlander books are being televised, Series 1 and 2 have  already aired (by Sony Pictures Television) following books 1 & 2 and an announcement was made this February that Series 3 is being filmed and will be shown in September 2017.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Does Fame Inhibit Creativity?

The Muse : Jessie Burton

I imagine that having huge success, especially with the first thing you create, is very daunting.  It might prevent you creating anything again, as nothing feels as if it measures up to your stellar first effort.

Jessie Burton had international acclaim with her first novel The Miniaturist.  In her second venture into the literary world the author explores this challenge:  Odelle Bastien, with her dreams of becoming an author and Olive Schloss, who longs to be an artist and earn her art dealer father's recognition, both girls struggle with the challenge of creating for an audience which already has high expectations of their capability.

The voice and story of Odelle, who's made her way to cold, unforgiving British shores from Trinidad, is rich and colourful.  The passages of the novel which revolve around Odelle are rich and lively, with humour and mystery.  She takes prejudice in her stride, but is at her most relaxed alongside her best friend Cynthia who travelled with her from the West Indies.

Time spent in Spain with Olive and her parents seems less up-beat, partly because her parents' lives are fractured and because Olive feels so invisible.   The country is on the brink of war, but revolution is on the family's doorstep because Isaac & his sister Teresa, who help around the property are embroiled in right-wing activities.

Due to a misunderstanding (which starts as a mistake, but is soon purposefully encouraged)  Olive's vibrant, and unusual painting gets launched with Isaac as the front man, making a big noise in the art world.  Years later, at the Gallery in London where Odelle works, a painting surfaces which appears to be by Isaac - but in order to feature in an exhibition there must be an investigation into its provenance (remind you of The Girl You Left Behind?) and this mystery was, for me was the power that drove the novel forward.

I really enjoyed this book, perhaps the storyline around Odelle and the gallery more than Olive's development as an artist.  I can't deny being slightly disappointed by the speed at which the book was wrapped up.  It had surprises, it tied up loose ends, but it felt slightly rushed, in comparison with the languid speed at which the rest of the novel unfolded.

Elvis has Not left the Building : J R Rain

This book has a lot of comedy! I love the concept of Elvis Presley being alive and well, making a living as a Private Investigator. Aaron King has re-invented himself since he spectacularly faked his death in the 70s. He reinvented himself with plastic surgery, he has therapist, an on again/off again girlfriend (who is gossipy) a friend who's an attorney (and knows his true identity) - his life is full of conflict about what he can say and do around people. He also has huge guilt over abandoning his daughter, a yearning to perform again, while the battle with alcohol and prescription drugs is ever-present.

Mr King has is a PI specializing in finding missing persons (usually children). In this adventure he's tasked with locating a beautiful young starlet; A case which both the Police and other abandoned when the trail went cold.

I was first introduced to Aaron King in the Samantha Moon series, where the detective is a young mother, forced to work at night since being turned into a vampire. In American Vampire King is enlisted to track down a little girl who has been abducted by a very bad man, he and Samantha must follow a trail to 'Sin City' to rescue her before the unthinkable happens. I loved the elder statesman JR Rain created, trying to keep under the radar yet is still imbued with a big attractive personality and unmistakable southern charm. I resolved to read more about him, and this book did not disappoint!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Get Loved up for Valentines Day!  

Romantic Reads

Real life fellas have a lot to live up to if their partner is a bibliophile!  We may constantly compare them with the love-interests in the novels we read.  I have a full blown crush on Eric Northman (the sexy vampire who is Sookie Stackhouse's on/off boyfriend in Charlaine Harris' vampire novels), but I also nominate these page-turning hotties:  Try my favourite high-brow & dignified heroes like Fitzwilliam Darcy, Will Traynor, Jay Gatsby or some gritty action heroes who show no fear, like Jack Reacher, Matthew Clairmont or Ranger - it's no wonder our poor guys fall short.

Here's a list of some of the most romantic books I've read:

  • Eleanor & Park :  Rainbow Rowell
  • The Girl you Left Behind : Jojo Moyes
  • The One You Really Want : Jill Mansell
  • Sense & Sensibility : Jane Austen
  • Twilight : Stephanie Meyer
  • Love, Rosie (Where Rainbows End) : Celia Ahern
  • Beautiful Creatures : Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
  • Some Girls Do : Clodagh Murphy
  • Shiver : Maggie Stiefvater
  • Welcome to Temptation : Jennifer Crusie
Happy reading guys.  Let me know what you think of my suggestions, and any new romantic heroes that I ought to be looking up!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Books for Beaches, Pools & Gardens .... 

More Summer Reading Recommendations

Day Shift (Midnight Texas #2) : Charlaine Harris 

I am a big fan of Charlaine Harris' writing - I was devoted to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, [perhaps you have watched the True Blood series? this was loosely based on these books]  and I was desolate once I had read them all.  

Happily CH is a prolific writer!  So I began to read about Harper Connolly  (she can tell where dead bodies are, and the cause of their death).  Here again, the central character is an outcast due to her 'gift', but when she is hired in by someone to uncover the truth, it seems unjustified that pretty soon
the townsfolk   are treating her as if she's the threat -  because Harper always uncovers more than they are bargaining for;  and the folk in these small southern towns seem very wary of what her 'powers' really stem from.

Liking to jump about between book series, I'm also  reading the Midnight Texas novels, which start with Midnight Crossing - this is very different from the Sookie Stackhouse series, it introduces the inhabitants of the tiny town of Midnight  gradually, without spelling out 'what' they are other than the front they show the world.  It is a book of secrets very slowly revealed, so far I have encountered a witch,  a vampire and a psychic but there are 'other natured' inhabitants who I still can't 'label', and this is beguiling.  

Day Shift  (book #2)begins with the redevelopment of a long-closed hotel, bringing new inhabitants to the town, something it seems the original residents of Midnight want to avoid at all costs.  When this is followed by a client's death, suddenly Manfred, the psychic, is a suspect for murder and jewel theft, and needs a high-class lawyer.  There is plenty of danger and suspense interspersed with moments of humour as the tale plays out, and (for Sookie fans) there are a couple of cross-over characters taking cameo roles. By the end of this novel I know the nature and a little background for some more of Midnight's residents, but they don't all know about each other and I'm intrigued to fill the gaps - guess I'm going to need to read  Night Shift book #3!

Fangirl : Rainbow Rowell   
I was blown away by this book - not totally unexpected (having earmarked Eleanor & Park by the same author as a favourite book because I found it the most touching love story I've read so far).

I was a bit of a "newbie" to the arena of fan fiction, which is a major topic in this  story of socially-anxious teenager Cath, in her first year at college. Her sister Wren is attending the same college but, is determined to break away from the twin mould - so Cath is on her own for the first time ever.  Cath's family life is fairly troubled and her relationship with her father and her sister pull her in different directions, she is also inexperienced with boys, so making friends and partnering guys for her writing class are hurdles she must learn to navigate.

What Cath has no doubts about is her ability to be a Fan - O yes she aces this!  She is devoted to Simon Snow fiction (a set of teenage wizarding books - think SS as  Harry Potter), but to increase her fan status, she writes very popular Simon Snow fan fiction and has an internet following which holds its collective breath for every up-date of Cath's imagining of how the story would pan out if Simon (the hero) allowed himself to fall in love with his arch-nemesis!

Can Cath balance the demands and deadlines imposed by:  her classes, regularly up-dating the fan fiction blog, watching over her sister's dating & drinking antics, getting along with her grouchy room mate and room-mate's ever present boyfriend (who is as friendly as the room mate is prickly) and keeping her Dad from getting too manic?

The book deals with the issues of growing up, social awkwardness, first love and family loyalty.  The characters are beautifully drawn and the dialogue has great humour (fans of TV programme Gilmore Girls will definitely hear an 'echo' back to their banter).  The book also contains many of the 'fan fiction' posts written by Cath, and some exerpts from the fictional books themselves - which are fabulous in their own right, and made me wish I could read more of them too (being an HP fan myself!)  I totally recommend this book - Rainbow Rowell is a new favourite author of mine.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Reading is Ice Cream for the Soul

Do you agree? I find reading a great consolation or distraction for tough times (when I choose something easy so I can escape); at the other end of the scale, to reading enhances a good time/mood e.g. on holiday as I am now, so somehow that good book becomes woven into the fabric of the pleasant memories, making it vitally important to select quality reading matter!  So chickens, here are some suggestions for your holiday reading matter.

You & Me Always : Jill Mansell

Feelgood plot (Tick)
Laugh out loud moments (Tick)
Believable / Likable characters (Tick)
Drama / Plot twists (Tick)
Summery setting (Tick) this one's a bit personal, but I don't really like reading christmassy books or those with a cold backdrop when I am lazing in the sun!

The plot of this book is told from 6 different viewpoints – the main players in the story – so it is easy to understand their 'motivation' for actions they take, whilst being able to feel like an on-looker when there are misunderstandings, as there often are. The setting is a close knit village, where any new arrival is a 'big deal' and can change the dynamic.

A motherless girl looks for her real father, whilst hoping to find love; A hairdresser whose biological clock is ticking so loudly that she endures a horrible string of Internet dates; A widow and successful businesswoman thinks her life is complete – but is it? A local playboy nurses a potentially explosive secret; An A-list actor needs to keep a low profile while a property developer finds his past catching up with him.

If you have read 'The One You Really Want' also by JM, or watched Notting Hill (starring Hugh Grant) you might see some similarities, but you will enjoy this novel nonetheless. Jill Mansell is a solid writer of very enjoyable chick lit. Pick any one from her list of books, you wont be disappointed.

Paper Aeroplanes : Dawn O'Porter

This is a completely different style of book, it follows 2 teenage girls living on Guernsey Island in the 90s. Both girls struggle to survive in the dog eat dog world of school (in the lead up to their exams) and dating, despite both coming from 'broken' home backgrounds which offer their own challenges.

Renee is being brought up by her grandparents, her mother has recently died of cancer and her father escaped to live in Spain – nobody in her family can talk about their feelings surrounding the bereavement so Renee hides behind the persona of class clown who loves to break rules. She has burgeoning sex appeal which she struggles to understand, while her younger sister is filled with anger and may be developing an eating disorder.

Flo lives at home with her mother, brother and pre-schooler sister – for whom she provides primary care while her mother works. Flo's brother is the local Lothario and her father lives in squalor, having become depressed after the separation. Flo's troubles are increased by the very controlling Sally – who maintains she is her best friend –but uses Flo as a tool to make herself look cleverer, prettier, richer while taking every opportunity to attract the attention of Flo's brother.

What these girls need is understanding, support and most of all a 'guide' to help them through the shark-infested waters of growing up, understanding their bodies, their emotions and how to deal with boys and the pressures of life. Is it possible they could help each other? Or are they too broken?

This book is very well observed and grounded, there are real shots of humour and D O'P definitely writes from the heart – I would happily read other books she has written.

If you like this - you may also find this enjoyable : Hurry Up and Wait (recognise the Blondie lyrics?)  Isabel Ashdown's story unfolds around three 15 year old girls who are similarly blind-sided by exams, dysfunctional families and their sexual awakening, but this one is set in the 80s and the truth comes back in flashes at a school reunion.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Holiday Reading - what's going in your luggage?

Lots of  people like Jilly Cooper for beach/poolside reading, I know I do!  One of my happiest 'holiday' memories is the time I took The Man who Made Husbands Jealous on holiday, and once I finished it (having laughed & cried and felt hot under the collar)  I lent it to Husby, who also read most of it and we then spent the rest of our holiday 'spotting' people (fellow holiday makers) who reminded us of characters in the book!  We so wanted to see a 'Rannaldini' but I guess he doesn't do package holidays!!

If you like JC then you will probably also enjoy Fiona Walker.  I have read several by her and they are lovely and gossipy, with likeable heroines and slightly exaggerated characters who surround her as she stumbles about through a particularly chaotic episode in her life until things turn out for the best : the end.  I am not making light of this genre, because it is a very successful formula, and it's what lots of us want to read on holiday - nothing too angsty or angry or dangerous, and I particularly love the way she analyses the 'psyche' of several key players along the way.  If I lived in a village, I would definitely want to live in a village imagined by FW or JC - the local pub is always friendly and people know you, there's usually intrigue and bed hopping going on, there are lots of lovely dogs and horses and the inhabitants look out for each other.

The FW novel I have just finished was The Love Letter which follows Allegra (Legs) North from her high powered city job, where she's having a torrid affair with her publisher boss, back to her Devon roots, where her hippy-ish mother is staying in a cottage on a naked painting holiday whilst involved in a 'tryst' with a rich neighbour.  The complications increase because Legs' best friend has become married to her ex-brother in law (Legs lives with her sister, who is very bitter about being made a single parent) and her mother's new 'amor' is the father of Leg's fiance - who she ditched in order to start the affair with her boss.

If that isn't intrigue enough for you, Legs has also been entrusted to keep her publishing house's top selling author sweet - he seems an eccentric, obsessive chap whose books feature a magical soothsayer (did I hear anyone say Harry Potter?)  Legs is suitably 'Bridget Jones' to be entertaining (her first weekend in Devon she has nothing to wear but her nephew's football strip because their bags have become muddled, on another occasion Legs attends a party wearing a turban, a 'flapper' gown and toe curling satin shoes - she's certainly no femme fatale, and yet the men swarm round her like moths to a flame! if only it were so easy!

To change the pace a little, how about a detective novel where the heroine is also an exotic dancer?  Diva Las Vegas by Stephanie Caffrey is just that, and it is a fun, fast paced mystery that really delivered humour and tension.  The gambling world provides plenty of real danger and people who our feisty heroine Raven should not get on the wrong side of, as well as beautiful women, charming men and seedy locations.  There are more books in the Raven McShane series, and I shall definitely be investigating them (pardon the pun!)

If this is still not 'dangerous' enough for you, because you love a gripping thriller and you like the body count high - then let me recommend Closer than You Think by Karen Rose.  The heroine of this book is Dr Faith Corcoran, who works with victims of assault - until she becomes one herself. On the run, she has changed her identity and returned to the house left empty when her Grandmother died, what Faith doesn't suspect is that the house has become the HQ for a very depraved killer, and he doesn't want his spree interrupted.

 Also newly arrived in Cincinnati is Deacon Novak - an FBI agent who has made a name for himself investigating some very high profile cases, but has returned home to a lot of 'baggage' - a tearaway brother who needs guidance & support, his old fashioned Aunt and Uncle to whom he is beholden for keeping the family 'glued' together and now the intriguing, but furtive, redhead he meets on his first case - injured by the roadside but not behaving at all like a victim.  Does this whet your appetite?

And remember - if you use a Kindle or other e-reader (because hey, they are ideal for packing light, and very user friendly in bright sunlight) don't forget your charger, and don't worry - your device does not need to be switched off during take-off (my brother-in-law who's a pilot has assured me of this!)