Friday, 26 July 2013

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard

The story begins with a seventeen year old girl skulking around a wake at the pink hotel. She has flown from London to Los Angeles to crash the funeral of the mother she never knew. 

She steals a suitcase full of letters, photographs and clothes that belonged to her mum, Lily, and spends her summer exploring the contents of the case and tracking down the people who knew her. As she finds out more about Lily she also discovers things about herself and her own identity. 

This is one of those novels that hook you in because it seems so personal. It’s almost like a confession or a fictionalised diary; we are given such intimate insights into the girl’s life and also into Lily’s life, both of which are varied and interesting. There is a small cast of characters that assist the girl on her journey but each one is important and well defined. 

The LA setting was the perfect backdrop for this tale; a glamorous, sunny veneer of a place that conceals the imperfect citizens that inhabit the beaches, board walk and bars. I didn't much like the girl at first as I couldn't understand some of her actions but she grew on me throughout and I liked her fully by the end. 

Anna Stothard has this poignant way of writing that is wonderfully descriptive and melancholy at times, that keeps you completely engaged in the story. I already enjoyed her third novel The Art of Leaving, but I think I liked this one even more. 

The Pink Hotel is a compelling and stylish novel about discovery, love and identity that wholly deserves it’s already plentiful praise.  

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

I jumped at the chance to review this book after enjoying Bitter Greens so much. The Wild Girl tells of young Dortchen Wild who falls in love with one of the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm. 

She lives in a houseful of sisters, a rebel older brother, a weak mother and her abusive father. Her life seems to be endless work for her father’s apothecary and household chores, so she often seeks solace in the woods or the garden.

She tries to spend as much time as she can with her best friend Lotte Grimm and is practically family to the Grimm brood who live next door. When Dortchen learns the brothers are collecting old stories and folk tales she strives to help them, forging a bond between her and Wilhelm that ties them together throughout this wonderful story.

Set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s rampage through Europe, Dortchen and her friends and family must battle through poverty, war and politics as well as her family issues, but through the collected and shared stories over the years, Dortchen learns love and life. 

The Wild Girl is not just Dortchen’s story but also a glimpse into the lesser known lives of the Grimm family, as well as the potential origins for our best loved fairytales. Once again Kate Forsyth has woven together a beautiful blend of history, romance and of course fairytales with her lovable characters and enchanting descriptions.

I adored the character of Dortchen and overall this book totally blew me away. I was engrossed and enchanted and couldn't put it down. The afterword at the end provides further fascinating insight into this time of fairytales in history and puts the whole book into context. This is a stunning book inside and out to truly be treasured.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Executioner's Heart by George Mann

In this clever yet macabre story, a terrible killer is plaguing London in the time of Queen Victoria’s sinister, somewhat mechanised reign. The murderer, known as The Executioner, brutalises the victim’s bodies and steals the heart. 

Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard soon finds himself with bodies piling up and rooms filled with blood with no leads as to the perpetrator and motive. So he sends for supernatural specialist Sir Maurice Newbury and his earnest assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes. Not only must they find the killer quickly but they have a multitude of other problems that crop up to scupper their progress.

I was a bit saddened to notice that this isn't the first Newbury & Hobbes book, as there are many references to some of their adventures, all of which sound very interesting! I really enjoyed this book so I will have to go back and read them. 

Newbury & Hobbes are great central characters; a brilliant yet reckless gentleman detective and a strong willed, tender hearted female sidekick with an underlying love story between the two. The steampunk inclusions were highly imaginative with fantastical creatures and mind boggling machines, and I also liked the references to the occult and the supernatural. The detail in the story was very good; gruesome and gory without being vulgar and with some excerpts delving into The Executioner’s viewpoint, it all painted a fuller picture. 

There is something for everyone as this book is a great mix of crime, history, steampunk and supernatural, bound together with a riveting storyline. If you like any or all of the above then this is definitely worth the read. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Introverted antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly moves from America to the quiet English countryside after the tragic death of his wife Amanda. Having shut himself off from family, friends and his career for so long, he hopes he can reconnect with life by collecting and restoring rare books once again. 

One day when he opens an old book on Shakespearian forgeries, he finds a Victorian portrait that looks startlingly similar to his late wife, along with the initials of an unknown artist. 

He becomes obsessed with finding out the identity of the elusive artist and follows a trail back through time to the days of Shakespeare where he uncovers the truth of his own past and also a book that could prove that William Shakespeare was the author of his legendary plays. 

This story is a skilful weave of love, history, obsession and mystery. The author gives us glimpses of centuries past, as well as Peter’s humble beginnings as a student and his nervous courtship of the love of his life. The story is quite complex, especially in terms of the historical figures and their relationship to the modern day players but very expertly written. 

Not only is it clever but as Peter becomes enraptured in the puzzle, the story becomes dangerous and exciting. Peter’s tale is heartbreaking but also inspiring as he is forced to grow as a person after losing his great love and facing his hardships alone. The Bookman’s Tale is so wonderfully descriptive you can almost smell the leather and ink. It’s an elegant tale that will fascinate, excite and tug at your heart strings right through until the end. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain

First off, I would like to say how much I like the cover of this book; a vintage style painting of a sultry, dangerous looking waitress sets the tone perfectly for this sexy thriller.

In this story we meet Joan Medford, who after burying her first husband – in whose sudden death she is implicated in – she meets two very different yet important men. Earl K. White the Third is older than her but very wealthy and Joan sees him as the way out of all her problems. Then there is the young Tom Barclay, handsome schemer, a man Joan lusts after but someone who can’t possibly be good for her. 

As a turbulent love triangle ensues, Joan finds herself caught up in a tangle of lust and betrayal that looks set far from having a happy ending. 

I really liked the character of Joan; strong willed and clever, a woman with assets who knows how to use them. This is my first foray into vintage crime fiction and I loved the style of writing. The whole feel of the book was classy and the setting of the cocktail bar was well suited to Joan and the other characters to indulge in the sins that make up this engrossing story. 

James M. Cain is considered one of the big names in old school crime fiction after he began publishing books in the 30s and 40s onwards. The Cocktail Waitress was his final novel, written in 1975. I thought this was a great example of classic American crime writing; slick and stylish, no holds barred, and I will certainly be reading more books from this author. Alluring and original, I really recommend The Cocktail Waitress to all crime readers.  

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The State We're In by Adele Parks

I have to admit that I'm rather late to the party in terms of reading Adele Parks. I read Whatever It Takes before I went to the Glamour Book Club Live and really enjoyed it; I actually can’t believe I haven’t read her sooner! This book has been hailed as her greatest yet and then after meeting the fabulous woman herself I couldn't not get involved. 

The State We’re In is the story of two complete strangers who happen to sit next to each other on a plane. Hopeless romantic Jo Russell always seems to fall for the wrong guy, and as everyone around her settles down into marriage and parenthood, she decides to take drastic action for the sake of her own happily-ever-after. 

Dean Taylor seems to have it all; disarming good looks, charms, a high flying career, and yet he has his own personal demons that keep him getting to close to others. 

Their interlinking stories take us on a moving journey of love and life that is skilfully written in Adele Parks’ truthful and engaging style. The rumours were certainly true about Dean; he’s one of those hot fantasy characters that is easy to fall for and I loved his interactions with Jo. I liked how the story was told from a number of viewpoints; it left you hanging at the right moments as the character changed and kept you turning pages. 

I won’t say any more because I don’t want to give too much away (#keepthesecret) but I really can’t praise this book enough. This is a must read for newbie Adele readers and hardcore Parks fans alike. Funny, heartfelt and thought provoking, this is a fantastic novel and Adele Parks is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. 

Glamour Book Club Live Event

On Wednesday 3rd of July I attended the first ever Glamour Magazine Book Club in London. The sold event promised an evening of champagne and book chat featuring popular authors Jessica Ruston and Adele Parks, and it totally delivered.

It was held at The Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design which was a stylish venue to say the least. There was champagne and canapés set out in an open white room where people were already mingling when I arrived.

Almost straight away I met BookMinx who runs the Books and the City website, and also Georgina Moore, Publicity Director at Headline publishing, both of whom were lovely. I also got to meet the vivacious Adele Parks who wasn't at all shy at introducing herself and chatting away as if we knew each other. We were then ushered into another stylish room to begin the event. The panel consisted of Adele Park, Jessica Ruston and also Jo Elvin, Glamour Editor and Natasha Poliszczuk, Glamour Assistant Editor.

Both authors talked about their new books. Jessica Ruston’s latest novel The Lies You Told Me is a gripping, psychological study of the secrets we keep and the lies we tell the people we love. Adele Parks’ newest book The State We’re In is a powerful story about the interlinking lives of two complete strangers.

Both authors discussed their influences, their writing styles and how their books come to being. They also discussed their views on female writers and how often any book written by a woman is automatically dubbed “chick-lit” when actually it is not and that the overused term actually encompasses a varied spectrum of literature that could be labelled differently. I found this stem of the discussion particularly interesting and the many aspects of commercial women’s fiction; including labels and stereotypes is definitely something I would love to explore further another time.

The discussion was articulate, fun and engaging. Afterwards the two fab authors stayed on to sign books as the goodie bags were handed out. The goodie bags were amazing; including books from both authors and a host of lovely treats. This was a hugely enjoyable event and I can’t wait until the next Glamour Book Club!

Glamour Book Club Goodie Bag

Monday, 8 July 2013

Once Upon a Time Reawakened by Odette Beane

I was very excited to review this book because I had already enjoyed the hit Channel 5 TV series upon which this book is based. For those that didn't see the show; it is the story of Emma Swan, whose life is turned upside down when the son she gave up for adoption, Henry, tracks her down on her twenty-eighth birthday. 

He takes her back to his home town of Storybrooke, where he insists that everyone there are actually fairytale characters who are stuck in the town with no memories of their true identities and that it is Emma’s job to save them. Emma is sceptical at first but as she spends more time in the town with her estranged son and his all-knowing book of fairytales, all the stories begin to reveal themselves. 

This book is very much a reading copy of the first season of the show. I had thought it would be slightly different but it is almost the TV show word for word with a few bits cuts out. Not that this was such a negative; there was less visual description and more dialogue so you could imprint your own imagination on the stories. I always enjoyed how the show and now the book put a cool, modern twist in the classic fairytale stories featured. 

My favourite character is the nefarious Rumpelstiltskin who is clever, devious and yet strangely charming (played by the talented Robert Carlyle in the show). Does anyone else have a favourite character from the Once Upon a Time franchise? 

Overall this is cleverly plotted and fun to read, whether you've seen the TV show or not. There are also more books to come in the series to keep your fairytale thirst fuelled!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Not of Our Sky by Sharon Sant

Not of Our Sky is the last book in Sharon Sant’s brilliant YA Sky Song trilogy. In Sky Song, Jacob Lightfoot learns he is far from a normal teenage boy and discovers his powers and his otherworldly birthright. Then in The Young Moon he travels to America to find a long lost sibling he had never known existed, to save her from the clutches of his old nemesis. 

Now, in Not of Our Sky, Jacob lies in a coma of sorts after saving his father’s life. His family and trusty friends Ellen and Luca all do the best to care for him, even as strange occurrences happen around him. Unbeknownst to the others, Ellen has been having dreams of a battle yet to come, on a stormy day in the shadow of a lighthouse and the prophecy that may come to pass, if Jacob ever wakes up that is. 

Having read the trilogy from the start – which I really recommend you do – I've come to love all of the characters. Ellen is still my favourite; caring, strong and determined although everyone plays their part in the events upon which the mystical world of Astrae depends.  I liked the sense of family and banter between the three friends, even in less than happy times. I enjoyed the portrayals of light and dark and all the shades in between in this engaging YA adventure. 

I think that the second book was my favourite of all three so if you've read these books I would love to know your thoughts. Overall I thought this was enthralling from start to finish and I loved how it all ended. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bleak Expectations by Mark Evans

As I’m sure most of you will gather this is a parody version of Great Expectations. It is the hilariously narrated account of the life of Pip Bin whose father’s disappearance and mental decline of his mother sets in motion a crazy and often grim chain of events. 

The unfortunate Pip is sent to the nastiest, most fatal boarding school for boys, St Bastards, by his evil guardian Mr Gently Benevolent, who is plotting to marry Pip’s mother and get his hands on the family money. 

Poor Pip later suffers a number of misfortunes including a stint in the workhouse, prison, poverty and the deaths of friends and foe. Will Pip overcome his problems and save the day? This is certainly worth the read to find out. 

Bleak Expectations is truly laugh out loud funny. It’s a crazy story with barmy characters, amusingly eloquent prose and frequent alliteration. I really liked the main characters; Pip Bin is a noble hero with a kind heart but poor judgement and scatterbrain acquaintances that often land him in trouble. 

There is a radio adaptation of Bleak Expectations which I have heard is just as funny. But be warned, do not read/listen in public, lest you attract stares and disapproving looks and be carted off to an asylum a la Mother Bin. I found this out on the bus, minus the asylum part! This has to be one of the funniest books I’ve read this year, if ever. 

If clever comedy and shameless parody are your thing, then read this book now or forever be a wally-chops!