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!)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

When is a book like a biscuit? ... let me explain

There is something very comforting about having favourite authors who are still writing, because we can buy their latest creation and feel confident that we have an inkling of the type of book we are getting into and that we will enjoy it (like selecting one of your preferred packets of biscuits : oat & raisin cookie or type of ice cream : white chocolate Magnum).  This is not to say you only ever go for this author/biscuit/ice cream - but you can depend on really enjoying what you are "devouring" when you select it!

Sophie Kinsella is one such author for me - from the the first novel I read by her "Can You Keep a Secret?" I loved it! So swiftly moved onto the Shopaholic series and have since enjoyed her standalone novels, I feel her writing has matured and her style developed  with "Twenties Girl" and "Finding Audrey" - which I read 2 months ago and was captivated by her perception of the troubled teen psyche.  The one I read this week was I've Got Your Number.  This may be an earlier novel, as the style reverts to that of Shopaholic or "The Undomestic Goddess" - some of the sticky situations our heroine Poppy gets into had my heart racing - SK has quite a distinctive knack - she gets you panicking in sympathy with her heroines.

Poppy has been swept up in a whirlwind romance, but there seem to be 'red flags' in the relationship: she is terrified of his high-profile, academic parents, her wedding planner is a disorganized friend of her fiance's family, and her colleague cant forgive her for snagging the eligible bachelor who should have been her client.  Mixed in with this is a comedy of errors where she loses her engagement ring & her mobile phone in the space of one afternoon, but a twist of fate provides a replacement phone from an unusual source, and suddenly the dynamics of Poppy's life are totally changed.

Another 'Favorite' author of mine is Janet Evanovitch - who writes her sassy Bounty Hunter series following the crime fighting antics of Stephanie Plum and her oddball collection of family & friends.  Because I am such a fan of these novels my attention was grabbed when I saw Innocent in Las Vegas: A Humorous Tiffany Black Mystery  by  A R Winters being described as a rival for Stephanie's fans, I had to give this first book a 'spin'.  I was delighted!  The story was gripping from the start, the narrative was fast paced and amusing, Tiffany's family were quirky and she was constantly in and out of danger (which she dealt with in unorthodox ways) so I was equally enthralled and amused.  I shall definitely be downloading her next adventure onto my kindle - why don't you check the books out too?  Tiffany's Grandmother looks likely to give 'Grandma Mazur' a run for her money - she loves to gamble and is a bit of a grifter!.