Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Greatcoat

In the early 1950s, young Isabel moves to a small town in Yorkshire with her husband Philip, who is a doctor. As he spends most of time out on call, she has to learn how to run a house and make the most of the rationed food and is engaged in a private battle with their landlady who lives above them. As she becomes more isolated, she finds an old greatcoat at the back of a cupboard in their flat and sleeps with it over her to keep her warm. From then on she is visited by a young RAF pilot called Alec, who looks familiar, but is it her own memory that makes her think this?

The Greatcoat is quite a sinister tale and fans of World War II fiction will find it very interesting. It is a short book at less than 200 pages, but packs a lot in. I won't give too much away, but you will be willing for Isabel to destroy the coat! A creepy, atmospheric and poignant tale, although I wouldn't describe is as scary!

The Things We Never Said

The Things We Never Said is the debut novel from Susan Elliot Wright. It tells the story of a young girl called Maggie who wakes to find herself in a mental health hospital during the 1960s with no recollection of why she is there. In the present day, a teacher called Jonathan is dealing with the death of his father and being suspended from his job, when a detective turns up to ask questions about some crimes committed long ago, which may be linked to his father...

The book starts promising with the terrifying descriptions of Maggie's time in hospital where the girls are treated horrifically by the nurses and have to endure electric shock treatment. That comes to an abrupt end when Maggie suddenly remembers and we go back further in time to when she moves away on her own when her parents die. Slowly we learn what drove her to severe depression.

Jonathan's story also starts promising and I really feel for him when he loses his temper as a result of constant bad behaviour from his class and he is suspended. But from then on, only bad things happen and it gets to a point when I was almost laughing as yet another tragic incident happened to him. I think two or three of the plot lines would have been enough for readers to feel sympathy towards him.

The detective character, who notices a link in Jonathan's DNA when he is arrested to some closed cases, is very annoying and seems to feel no sympathy towards any of the characters including visiting Jonathan's mum to question her when she has just lost her husband. 

Despite losing its way around half-way through and having a predictable ending, I think this would be a suitable choice for book groups as there is plenty to talk about and lots of characters to dissect. I would have rather read more about Maggie's time in hospital, how she came to be released and find her own way in life. I would be interested to hear what other's think...

Life of Pi

I bought a copy of Life of Pi a couple of years ago from a charity shop and am ashamed to say I have only decided to read it now because of the forthcoming film. It is a brilliant story of adventure with a dark twist with a brave and unforgettable protagonist.

Pi is a young boy growing up in his father's zoo in India. The story begins with some facts about zoology which are really interesting and his father has some novel ways of warning Pi about the dangers of the animals in captivity. Pi also humorously decides to become a Muslim, a Hindu and a Christian and can't understand why family and tutors are saying that he has to choose one religion!

But his faith keeps him alive when the ship he is travelling on with his family towards a new life in Canada is destroyed. He is the only survivor along with some familiar faces from the zoo - a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a hyena and a huge tiger called Richard Parker.

Eventually, Pi and Richard Parker are the sole survivors and they learn how to share a small lifeboat together and earn each other's respect. What follows is a magical tale of adventure...

I loved this book and the delicate relationship between Pi and the tiger. The imagery of the sea is beautiful, but the reality of being stranded is devastating. There are some gory moments which some readers may not enjoy!

The Ang Lee film film seems to have followed the magical adventure part of the story which I wished to believe, so I am really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. I have seen one clip when Pi first encounters flying fish, which is exactly the same as the book, so I have high hopes!

The Mystery of Mercy Close

The Mystery of Mercy Close is the latest Marian Keyes novel centred around a member of the infamous Walsh Family. I have enjoyed previous novels about the different sisters and this time its the turn of Helen Walsh - a private investigator.

Although Helen has lost her job and her flat and is forced to live back home with 'Mammy Walsh' and to take a job from her ex-boyfriend Jay Parker. The job is to track down a member of a boyband who has gone AWOL just days before a huge reunion concert...

I have loved some of Marian Keyes' latest novels and have found them very funny, with a dark edge. But this one just felt like reading some of the ones before. The latest books now seem to feature depression too heavily and there isn't enough humour - not even from Mammy Walsh.

I felt like this book was much longer than it needed to be, I didn't feel anything for the missing Wayne as we didn't know much about him and it was obvious where he was 'hiding'.

If you haven't read a Marian Keyes yet, I would suggest going for the brilliant This Charming Man, Anybody Out There, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married or Last Chance Saloon.

The House of Silk

I have been wanting to read the 'new' Sherlock Holmes novel for a while, but was afraid that it would not live up to the original stories. I was so wrong! This book is clever, thrilling and captures the characters of Holmes and Watson perfectly!

My initial thought was, 'why would a Holmes case only come to light now?', but this is explained really well in the book and all makes sense with the final revelation. This particular story is locked away in a vault for one hundred years at Watson's request and when the shocking truth emerges at the end of the book, you can see why Watson would have had to have kept this story secret and also the fact that Victorian London would not have been ready to deal with such a vile case.

A gentleman arrives at 221B Baker Street to see Holmes with reports of being stalked by an American man who he has previous history with on business in America. His house is soon burgled and Holmes and Watson are sent on a trial across London from hotels, prison, seedy inns and an all boy's school for the homeless to a circus. There are lots of set-pieces which feel familiar from the original Holmes novels and of course all the usual characters are present.

Holmes is missing from the action for a large chunk of the action and we see Watson shine. He is forever saying that Holmes would have seen something different and learnt more from him, but we see what a great partner he really is and how much Holmes means to him.

This novel twists and turns and is very cleverly written. I really had no idea what was going to happen. There is page-turning action, humour, great new characters, a gripping mystery and a real sense of Victorian London. I really hope that Anthony Horowitz comes up with some more forgotten tales of the gentleman detective.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Vanishing Act

A magical, mystical tale for fans of The Night Circus or The Snow Child. Written in the style of a traditional European folk story, The Vanishing Act is narrated by a young girl called Minou who lives on a bleak, isolated island. She is coming to terms with the sudden disappearance of her mother and as she tells her story, we find out more about the events leading up that fateful day.

The story begins with Minou and her father finding the body of a young boy and Minou becomes fascinated with him, telling him her stories of the island. There is a very small cast featured in this book, but they are all interesting characters. Minou and her father share their island with Priest, Boxman and a scarf-wearing dog called No Name. They are Minou's family and her relationships with them all are very interesting.

This is a story full of mystery about Minou's mother as we guess whether she was involved in an accident, or left the island by choice. A perfect, relatively short story to curl up with on a winter's evening...

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

This book has been intriguing me for a long time and I finally received it as a birthday present. The synopsis on the back of the book is quite vague and this book's narrative was a lot more than I thought it would be.

Retired Harold receives a letter out of the blue from a old work colleague who reveals that she is dying from cancer at the opposite end of the country. He quickly writes back and walks off to the post box to send his reply, but he gets into his head that if he keeps on walking from his Devon home towards her, she will keep on living. And so begins his 80 plus day journey, encountering all sorts of people and becoming the centre of a media storm.

As Harold walks, we find out more about his complex relationship with his wife and son, the mistakes he has made throughout his life and how he is trying to atone for them with his walk.

I enjoyed reading about Harold's journey, which is so much more than just covering distance. He has lived quite an isolated existance, not quite understanding the rest of the world and has an element of innocence and misunderstanding which is most evident when he finally reaches his destination. Although it sounds like an old-fashioned style of pilgrimage, the author updates this traditional kind of tale with media interest and social networkingm, which is really effective in showing the contrast between Harold's life and the modern world. This is a warm and poignant read, which is made all the more real with locations that all readers across Britian will recognise. Recommended!

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Archipelago follows the journey between Gavin, his young daughter Ocean and their dog Suzy as they travel across the Caribbean to come to the terms with the tragic flood which destroyed their home, killed Gavin's son and left his wife with severe depression.

Gavin is not coping with everyday life, gong to work and caring for Ocean who has bad nightmares and a terrible fear of rain. He suddenly decides to take Ocean and Suzy on a voyage with his old boat Romany and they go on a journey full of surprises, meeting new and different people, seeing new sights and encountering the challenges and beauty of nature.

This book is almost like a travel guide, describing each location in detail as Gavin and Ocean take part in tourist activities and explore their new surroundings. You can tell that the author spent time visiting each place and experienced everything the characters do. There is lots of animal imagery, with Gavin and Ocean encountering iguanas, dolphins, a whale and many other creatures on their journey. As an animal lover, I enjoyed these peaceful descriptions, although there are also some violent and upsetting images which I thought were unnecessary, but obviously used as metaphors for the dangers and tragedies of life.

There are some very odd parts of the book, which I won't go into detail to reveal spoilers, but there are parts of the book I quite liked and others that I didn't. It wouldn't necessarily
encourage me to read the author's other work. I found the last chapter very disappointing and an anti-climax.

For me there were hints of The Descendants - father on a journey with a child while the mother is absent - and also Jamrach's Menagerie with the travel, nature and survival themes. This is a book about coming to terms with pain and heart break and and no matter how far you get away from home and your problems, you will always go back.

Lady of The Rivers / The Kingmaker's Daughter

I read both of these Philippa Gregory books in quick succession, so thought I would include them in the same review. They are both part of the Cousin's War series, a group of novels telling the story of the War of the Roses - the houses of York and Lancaster - with each book being narrated by a different female character.

The Lady of the Rivers is told from the viewpoint of Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth Woodville who married Kind Edward IV. Jacquetta was the daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and was married to John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI at a young age. Although not in love, John looks after Jacquetta, in return for her scrying for him - looking to the future to predict outcomes of war. She falls in love with one of her husband's trusted men, Richard Woodville and when John dies, she takes the huge risk of marrying below her status.

Jacquetta waits upon Queen Margaret of Anjou and they soon become close friends, although Margaret's behaviour becomes more reckless as claims for the throne arise while her husband Henry VI 'sleeps' for months at a time. Jacquetta has many children over the years and her oldest daughter Elizabeth Woodville meets rival King Edward IV and he falls in love and marries her - with cries of witchcraft from certain groups.

The Kingmaker's Daughter follows Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the 'kingmaker'. Anne and her sister Isabel, are used as pawns in the game to win the throne of England and it follows Anne's journey from childhood to her marriage to Edward Prince of Wales and her relationship with his mother Margaret of Anjou, to her second to marriage to Richard Duke of York, later Richard III.  As a lady in waiting to Elizabeth Woodville, her life becomes in danger and during her tragic life she loses her father, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and son to the war between the two houses.

The Cousin's War series has provided Gregory's best books, with such strong imagery and story-telling in each of these stories. With rumours of witchcraft from Jacquetta and Elizabeth with them 'blowing up storms', cursing and love spells to some truly sad and violent images. The scene of the Earl of Warwick's loyal horse Midnight being slaughtered and Isabel Neville's truly horrific childbirth at sea during a storm, will both stay with me for a long time.

Both protagonists in these books, although at the mercy of powerful men, shape history and are able to make their own choices in life. Both swap sides between York and Lancaster to save their own and their families lives and they are loyal to those they love.

I cannot recommend this books enough, along with previous novels in the series, The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville) and The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort) and I cannot wait to read The White Princess which is released next year. The books are also being adapted for a major BBC series which is currently being filmed. is a great website with lots of content about all of her books and research.

Three Maids For A Crown

I was very impressed with The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase and soon read her second Tudor novel Three Maids For A Crown. It tells the often ignored story of the three Grey sisters - Jane, Katherine and Mary. They are all pawns in plans to take the throne of England and as a result of their parents' ambition, their lives are at stake.

The chapters shift from sister to sister, with each Grey girl telling her view of the story. This is a very effective way of story-tellling, as we see how each one is in danger without them realising it themselves.

Henry VIII's only son, the sickly Edward VI is on the throne and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland hatches a plan with the Grey girls' parents to use their Tudor blood to their advantage.

Fifteen year old Jane is married off to Guilford Dudley and suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself Queen of England when Edward's suspicious death is announced. Of course, her reign only lasts for nine days as Mary Tudor's claim is successful and she is forced to behead her cousin.

Meanwhile Kat is married to Henry Herbert and they are a young couple wildly in love. However, he abandons her once Mary is Queen. Mary, a dwarf with a twisted spine, sees her sisters in danger and does all she can to help them and protect them,but is often pushed away and ignored. 

The novel follows the sisters' childhood relationships with Mary Tudor and how Kat and Mary become ladies in waiting to the woman who ordered their sisters' death,finally find love and have to deal with the punishments. At times very sad, this book shows the brutality of the Tudor court and how nobody could be fully trusted.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Land of Decoration

From reading previous reviews of The Land of Decoration, I was expecting an uplifting and magical read, but unfortunately this book was not at all like how I expected it to be.

10 year old Judith lives with her very religious father and is an outsider at school and in ordinary, everyday life. She is bullied and spends her time making her own Land of Decoration out of rubbish in her bedroom. One day, she makes it snow over her imaginery world and the next day, she wakes up to thick snow outside her house. She believes she is capable of miracles and her future actions impact heavily on the real world.

I enjoyed the descriptions and innocence of Judith's narration, but we never get to know when or where this book is set, which at times I found hard to engage with. There are parts of the book which are very frustrating to read as Judith and her father are not honest with each other. Ultimately I found this an incredibly sad book and also a little bit odd and slightly disturbing at the end.

Twelfth Night at The Globe

Twelfth Night is no doubt one of the theatre highlights of 2012. I love to see shows at The Globe (as a ‘groundling’ no less!) and the chance to see an authentic male-only production with such a talented cast was one I could not miss at just £5 for a ticket. Twelfth Night sees the return of one of the greatest living stage actors, Mark Rylance, once more in the role of Olivia. He is joined by household names Stephen Fry as Malvolio and Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger from Only Fools And Horses!) as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

The play begins with a young lady called Viola being washed up to shore as a result of a shipwreck. She has become stranded from her twin brother Sebastian and disguises herself has a young man named Cesario and finds shelter at the house of Duke Orsino. The Duke is in love with an eccentric, wealthy woman called Olivia whose father has recently died and she has promised not to marry for seven years. Orsino requests Cesario to to visit Olivia to pass on his request of marriage, but Olivia instead falls for Cesario / Viola believing her to be a man. Meanwhile, Olivia's Uncle Sir Toby Belch and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plot their revenge on Olivia's pompous steward Malvolio by making him believe that she is in love with him.

What follows is a chaotic story of romance, mistaken identity and naughty tricks. The cast are all clearly having a ball, playing up to the audiences laughter. One of the funniest scenes includes Belch, Aguecheek and Feste spying on Malvolio, hideen in a hedge. The male-only cast adds extra humour to the play and is of course how it would have been performed in Shakespeare’s day. It is easy to see how the brother and sister can be mistaken for each other by fellow characters with their pale make-up and wigs – at times it took me a couple of seconds to work out which one was entering the stage.

Being a groundling is great fun, as you are so close to the action and it is a great authentic experience, but with Shakespeare’s long plays it can be a trial to keep on enjoying the show while standing and not be counting down the scenes in the second act. Next time I may upgrade to a more comfortable sounding wooden bench!

The Globe’s season is completely sold-out with some tickets being available for purchase on the day if you’re lucky. Twelfth Night is then transferring to the warmer Apollo for the winter, so I highly recommend trying to get tickets for those performances!

For more informationon Twelth Night see

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Olympic Discovery Trail

STROLL: Discovery Trails

Today I finally had time to have a wonder around London and find some of the Olympic Mascot statues which can be found in various tourist hot spots and some of the more hidden parts of London. There are six trails in total with numerous statues of Wenlock and Mandeville decorated in various ways associated with the city's history. I took part in four of the trails and will highlight the statues with literary links below:

Big Ben Wenlock

Red Trail (Lambeth / Westminster area)
No statues with real literary links here, but my favourite ones included Big Ben Wenlock (with the real Big Ben in the background making a stunning photo), Underwater Wenlock (outside the London Aquarium) and the very pretty Garden Wenlock.

Novel Wenlock

Pink Trail (Victoria Embankment / Covent Garden / Leicester Square area)
Near the strand is the stunning Novel Wenlock with beautiful black and white depictions of various stories. I also loved the Filmstar Wenlock near the popular film premiere location in Leicester Square and Spotlight Mandeville, hidden in the midst of theatre land.

Afternoon Tea Wenlock
Purple Trail (Piccadilly / Mayfair area)
Here you get to explore a more extravagant part of London, passing expensive hotels, restaurants, patisseries, chocolatiers and fashion houses. My favourites here are Afternoon Tea Wenlock, Cycling Mandeville and Dog Walker Wenlock. I was expecting Tyger Tyger Mandeville to be designed as a tribute to William Blake's poem about the Industrial Revolution, but it instead depicts colourful butterflies.

Green Trail (Regent's Park)
This trail has the most statues dedicated to literature. It begins with a brilliant design of Sherlock Wenlock, close to the Baker Street entrance and also features Midsummer Night's Dream Wenlock, which I found rather disappointing. Fans of Austen romance will enjoy having their photos taken with the dashing Regency Mandeville!

Sherlock Wenlock
Blue Trail (London Bridge / Bank area)
Unfortunately we ran out of time to do this one, but it features Sonnet Wenlock near St Paul's Cathedral and the Pirate Wenlock and Beefeater Wenlock also look like great fun!

Yellow Trail (Aldgate area)
We were also unable to complete this one, but I would have liked to have seen Dickens Wenlock as well as Punk Wenlock and Cockney Wenlock!

The Stroll Discovery trails are a great way to explore London and discover places you may not have walked through before. I learnt lots about the city and took my time to enjoy all the sights and see London through a tourist's eyes. The Red Trail in particular made me appreciate how stunning my home city is.

The trails will be in place until this weekend - 8th and 9th September, so if you have time, do make a effort to do at least a couple of these walks. The statues are also open to bids to raise money for charity!

More information and downloadable maps can be found at

Monday, 3 September 2012

Beautiful Lies review

As a huge fan of historical fiction, I was looking forward to reading Beautiful Lies with the promise of an insight into Victorian London, Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations and the politics of the era. Unfortunately I found it hard to get in to right at the beginning with many names being mentioned without introduction and the protagonist Maribel being described very vaguely.

There are lots of different plot lines, which do not seem to link together very well and we never truly know Maribel’s past or her real character. The descriptions of historical events such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations and ‘Bloody Sunday’ are covered very fleetingly and feel very detached. The vibe that I personally got from the book was more 1920s than Victorian.  

The novel follows Maribel throughout and it may have been interesting to find out more about some of the other characters. There were some passages that were more interesting and would grab my attention, but unfortunately these would fade away again and the story would carry on plodding away with over long descriptions and pointless activities, for example a sudden trip to a Spanish mine. The author’s notes at the end were very interesting and I felt that the character of Maribel is wasted and could have been explored so much more.

From reading other reviews, which have described the book as 'gripping', 'juicy' and 'compelling', it may be that I just didn't 'click' with this book,however this is not one that I would be recommending to friends.

The Virgin Queen's Daughter review

As you may have seen from previous blog posts, I have read many historical novels set in the Tudor era, in particular about the 'people's Queen' Elizabeth I. This novel focuses on the rumour that Elizabeth had a child before she became Queen and a series of events means that the Queen and her daughter's fates are linked together.

The usual cast of Eizabeth's court are featured including Robert Dudley, Lettice Knolleys and Mary Gray, but the two main characters - Elinor (Nell) de Lacey and Sir Gabriel Wyatt are fictional.

Nell comes across Elizabeth as a young child, when she accidentally comes across the princess while she is imprisoned in the Tower of London. She boldly offers the 'pretty princess' a key to escape, not realising how dangerous this could be to her whole family. Elizabeth admires the young girl's courage and when she becomes Queen, invites Nell to court. Nell defies her mother's wishes and moves to London, but she soon realises that her mother's tales of lies, deceit and danger are all true and she has to learn how to survive, not knowing who to trust along the way.

Robert Dudley's closest friend Sir Gabriel Wyatt shows a particular interest in Nell and gradually, rumours and revelations reveal the 'truth' about Nell's parentage and her life is in danger...

I loved the characters of Nell and Gabriel (who I had a bit of a book crush on!) and found parts of the book really exciting and thrilling to read as the Court whispers about secrets and lies. However I did find the ending a little weak and odd compared to the rest of the book.

I really like Ella March Chase's style of writing and her research into Tudor history is obviously very thorough and I was surprised to learn that she is American. I will definately be reading more of her work.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall

This was my first Paul Torday read and I'm sorry to say that it will probably be my last...
Ed Hartlepool returns to his family home to face up to his responsibilities after years of being abroad in tax exile. To his shock, there are many debts and the only way out to his sell the property for redevelopment. There is also the matter of the 'mysterious' Lady Alice who has suddenly started living at the house and his old friend Annabel, who is stuck living with her grumpy old father.
Although the book is easy to read, the dialogue is terrible and the characters are all unlikeable and unrealistic. They are caricatures of wealthy stereotypes who have no idea about the real world and I wonder if the author does too. I couldn't work out if it was supposed to be a comedy or a study of the upper classes, either way it did not make me laugh and there were some hugely frustrating parts of the story, for example Annabel's reaction to a major event in her life.
The only part of the book I warmed to, was the description of Hartlepool Hall itself, but unfortunately the main parts of the story did not seem to have any resolution. A very strange and frustrating read.

The Beach Cafe

Yes, this is one of those books, that you know exactly what is going to happen after the first few pages, but sometimes this is just the type of book you need to read, especially while relaxing holiday. I read this while sitting by the sea in Devon (sometimes on the patio of a real beach cafe!) although I think it would have made me feel 'holiday-ish' even if I didn't have the sound of the waves and seagulls. 

Evie is the odd one out in her family and has never made a big success of her life. She inherits a cafe in Cornwall after her beloved Aunt dies and takes the big decision to leave her boring life in Oxford and manage the cafe. Of course, there are a few disasters along the way, plus unwelcoming locals and a romance along the way, but by the end I guarantee that you will be wanting Evie's new life too!

Yes its predictable, some of the descriptions and dialogue are a little cringey, but the help that Evie receives to make her dreams come true can't help but make you smile! 

A Humble Companion

I had never heard of Laurie Graham before I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of this book. I became so engrossed in this story of a young girl, selected to keep a princess entertained, that I read it in two days, while on holiday in May.

Nellie Welche, a young girl with a distinct facial mark, is chosen to be Princess Sophia's 'humble companion'. Sophia is the twelfth child of King George III and over the years of their relationship, Nellie has an insight in to the life of the royal children and glimpses of the King's madness. The girls grow up together, with Nellie visiting Sofy and her sisters at their cold houses, returning home to work and look after her family. There is an interesting juxtaposition between Nellie's freedom and Sofy's dependence and innocence of the world. 

Nellie eventually has to marry a confectioner called Jack, who she grows to become fond of, while Sofy watches as her older siblings try to find suitable matches and has her own huge secret to keep... Based on the long-running rumour of a illegitimate child, A Humble Companion also focuses on how two young ladies in very different circumstances try to find their way in life and build their own friendships and extended families with a mixture of fictional and real-life characters.   

I really enjoyed this book, in particular the realistic relationships Nellie has with her husband Jack and the real love of her life Major General Thomas Garth. Graham gives a very amusing voice to Princess Sofy, particularly in her letters to Nell and this gives a fascinating insight into what may have happened during the royal family in this era. Witty, real and poignant, I look forward to discovering the author's other work. 

Nellie can be followed on Twitter @nelliebuzzard 

Darcy and Fitzwilliam

As you may know from previous posts, my favourite book is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.I have read many adaptations and 'sequel's and this is the first one to focus on the close relationship between cousins Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam (yes the names do get confusing at times!)

The book is split into two parts, the first concentrating on the married life of Darcy and Elizabeth. They still tease each other, with the author keeping up the couple's playful and cheeky dialogue, and Darcy can still be as grumpy and aloof as ever. Elizabeth sighs that she thought he had moved past this after banter between the two cousins turns more serious. As Elizabeth learns that she expecting her first child, there is the bombshell that Darcy once had a brief relationship with the sly Caroline Bingley and she is up to her tricks once more as she lures him to her brother's house to seduce him once more...

The second part is set in London, with Fitzwilliam falling in love with an American widow called Amanda. There is a problem though, Amanda has a son, and they are both under the control of her fierce mother-in-law. Fitzwilliam is undeterred and follows her around the city convincing her of his love. 

This is one of the best Pride and Prejudice follow-ons I have read, as it keeps the tone of Austen's wit, is cheeky and funny and stays true to most of the characters. It was interesting to see Lady Catherine de Burgh's personality expanded and becoming an ally to Elizabeth!

I would recommend this to all fans of Darcy and regency romance!  

Saturday, 30 June 2012

I'm Back Online!

Hurrah! After a couple of months absence from the blogging world, when I have been combating broken computers, long working hours, busy weekends and watching the Euros,  I finally have a chance this weekend to share my views on the books I have read over the last few weeks. This weekend I am hoping to add my reviews for the following:

Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski
A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham
The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond
Saving Izzy by Jon Katz
The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall by Paul Torday
The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase
Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Phew, that is going to be a lot of typing! I am also going to make a decision on our book group reads for the next few months, so members watch this space! I'm off to do some research and make some notes now armed with coffee...  

Sunday, 22 April 2012

World Book Night

After visiting previous World Book Night events and being very lucky to receive the free books given out, this year I am very excited to be a book giver - handing out free copies of my favourite ever novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen! I can't wait to share this brilliant story to non-readers and hope to encourage a lifetime love of literature. I have excitedly written the unique identification numbers into each book and can't wait to see how far each one travels. If you do receive a book this World Book Night, please do read it and pass it on!

On the eve of this special event, which shares the birthday and day of death of William Shakespeare, I thought I would share the list of ten books which I submitted to the WBN organisers many months ago. This list has probably changed now as I have read so many wonderful books since then, and my favourite books differ depending on what kind of mood I'm in, but these are the books that came into my mind on that particular day:

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
In my opinion the perfect novel full of colourful characters, drama, romance and of course the famous Austen wit! Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and for Lizzie, Darcy, Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins et al will stay in your memory forever!

2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The story of a young orphan, with a terrible childhood growing up in her horrible Aunt's house, being sent to boarding school and finally becoming a governess to the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. Dark, brooding and mysterious, this Gothic novel has one of the most emotional endings I have ever read.

3) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The tragic tale of Tess Durbeyfield is a beautiful and heart-breaking story. The descriptions of the Dorset landscape are stunning and Hardy gives a masterclass in his writing technique.
4) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The tale of two very different magicians in an epic battle. Clarke creates a magical world, which takes a while to get into, but once there, you will never want to leave. Bold, exciting and unlike anything else I have ever read, the footnotes throughout add to this unique story.

5) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I read this for my English Lit A Level and have never been able to forget it. Faulks writes about the horror and pain of World War One like no one else. A book that everyone should read.

6) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Another book set during the war, this time WWII. A young German girl and her foster parents hide and protect a Jewish fist-fighter during the height of Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, this is a book full of emotion.

7) Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
I love Kate Mosse's books and writing style and this is my favourite one so far. Full of well researched historical detail and is genuinely spooky.

8) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A house and family full of secrets and Gothic suspense. Hints of Jane Eyre, The Woman In Black and The Turn Of The Screw all blended together.

9) The House At Riverton by Kate Morton
Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors with all of her books being equally good, but I decided to go with her debut. An elderly woman remembers her time working in the household of Riverton and her part in the family's secrets and ultimately its tragedy.

10) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K Rowling
Such an amazing series of books, this one is possibly my favourite and the most magical as it first transports us to the magical world of Hogwarts and we learn words such as muggle, quidditch and Gryffindor.

I would highly recommend reading all of the above books, if you have done, or if you do in the future, I would love to know what you think of them! Plus, let me know which books you think everyone should read...

And if there was ever a short film to celebrate books and a love of reading, then this is it...

Happy World Book Night!

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Street Cat Named Bob

As a huge cat lover, it will come as no surprise that the most inspirational and affecting book I have read so far this year is A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen. I first heard of James and Bob via their Twitter feed and couldn't wait to read their story, although I did have to wait as my local Waterstones had sold out within a few days of it being released!

James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London when he first met the injured ginger cat. He nursed him back to health and when he was fully fit again, he tried to encourage him to go back on the streets believing him to be a stray. Bob refused and was soon following James onto the bus and across London to James' job busking in Covent Garden. Since then the pair have been insperable and the best of friends and have appeared in newspapers and magazines and on news programmes across the globe.

I have read many stories about cats, but this is by far by favourite. Not only is Bob lovable, clever and a bit fiesty, James comes across as an incredibly warm and clever man, with a real knowledge about cats and the perfect owner for Bob. Their story is funny, emotional and uplifting and reminds you that all you need is a best friend to help you get through life. There are some great pieces of information about cats and I was also surprised to learn exactly how the Big Issue works, something that I didn't quite understand before.

Although there are some horrible tales of some unkind and ignorant Londoners, the lengths of other people's kindness towards James and Bob really restores your faith in human nature and the work of the RSPCA and the Blue Cross is fantastic.

I have a feeling I shall be buying this as a present for my cat fan friends a lot this year and I find myself recommending it to anyone who will listen. Please do read this book, you will not be disappionted!

Watch the trailer to A Street Cat Named Bob below and follow James and Bob on Twitter at @streetcatbob

The Gallows Curse

I had found Karen Maitland's previous two novels The Company of Liars and The Owl Killers to be equally enjoyable and fascinating and was very eager to read her third book, The Gallows Curse. It continues with her usual themes of Medieval England's dark beliefs and fears and follows a small group of characters who lives and fates are intertwined.

Maitland usually uses an unusual and unique narrative style. In The Company of Liars, we do not truly discover who the narrator really is until the end of the book and The Owl Killers switches between five very different narrators resulting in various viewpoints of the story. The Gallows Curse is strangely narrated by a mandrake (a legendary plant with a body attached to the roots, which screams when ripped from the ground.) To be honest, I felt this didn't work very well as we are only reminded of the narrator a few times throughout the book and it doesn't feel like a true 'character'.

The mandrake has a curse to fulfil and is passed on to an innocent young villein called Elena. Unfortunately as well as the mandrake to contend with, she also unwittingly takes on her dead Lord Gerard's sins in the ancient art of 'sin-eating' (eating salt and bread above his dead body). The novel is set during the time of the Interdict - when England was ex-communicated from the church by the Pope, thanks to King John. Therefore nobody was able to confess sin or receive the sacrament, with the people believing they were going straight to hell to endure eternal torture.

Elena begins to dream awful visions and believes herself capable of being a murderess, so when her baby is born, she gives him away to keep him safe. The villagers have heard of her dreams and believe she has killed him, so she is sentenced to death. Raffe, Gerard's steward and best friend, feels responsible and saves her life, but the only 'safe' place he can think to take her is a brothel in Norwich, ran by a vicious dwarf called Mother Margot. There she must stay away from the new lord of the manor who wants her dead and has many people out looking for her.

I did like the characters of Elena and Raffe, but not as much as some of the characters in Maitland's previous novels. There are some controversial subjects covered and as usual do not be expecting a happy ending! Be warned - there are some disturbing and grotesque scenes, certainly not for the faint-hearted!

The Gallows Curse is full of colourful characters and violent deeds, plus an insight in to Medieval beliefs. Each chapter begins with an extract from 'The Mandrake's Herbal' with an explanation of the meaning of various ingredients from cabbage to mistletoe. The exclusive Waterstones edition I have also has an extra section at the end which reveals more behind the dark tales with information on pregnancy, holy relics, wolves and werewolves and corpses at crossroads. There are references to all of Maitland's novels so I definitely recommend this edition if you would like to know more. There is also an extract from her new novel Falcons of Fire and Ice which is released later this summer...

Watch Karen Maitland talking about The Gallow's Curse below and for more information about her books and Medieval myth and magic log on to

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

Last week I went to see the new Aardman film The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! I had recently read the very silly, but very amusing book by Gideon Defoe and was looking forward to seeing how it would translate on the big screen. The story is slightly different and based on all of Defoe's books about the hapless pirate crew, although some elements of the Scientists tale remain, including the involvement of Charles Darwin and his almost human-like monkey.

The film feels like a celebration of British humour, beginning with a rousing Rule Britannia and a tantrum by the scary Queen Victoria. We are soon introduced to the pirate crew including Albino Pirate, Pirate with Gout, Pirate with Scarf and Surprisngly Curvaceous Pirate headed by the Pirate Captain. All the Pirate Captain wants is to win the Pirate of the Year Award and he sets off to find as much treasure as possible to be able to enter. After many failed attempts at attacking ships, he finally ends up interrupting Charles Darwin who is very excited to meet the Pirate Captain's parrot, Polly, who is in fact a Dodo! The pirate crew are tricked by Darwin to enter a science competition back in London, where Queen Victoria rules and is very ruthless to anyone she suspects as being a pirate.

Aardman's stop-motion animation is impressive as usual and there is so much detail in each scene, I think it will take several viewings before I notice every joke in the form of posters, street signs and background characters. Jokes come think and fast with the main running joke throughout the film and books being the pirates love of ham, which to them is the best thing about being a pirate! The very British soundtrack features songs by The Clash and Supergrass and several British historical figures make cameos including Jane Austen and the Elephant Man, although Darwin and Queen Victoria are not portrayed favourably!

This was a very enjoyable trip to the cinema and the 3D added to the film. Suitable for all ages, with jokes for everyone, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is out in cinemas now in 2D and 3D. Watch the trailer here:

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes

Recently I have become a little bit obsessed with the character of Sherlock Holmes as a result of finally getting round to watching the Guy Ritchie films and the hugely popular BBC television series. I vaguely remember watching some adaptations as a child, which focused more on supernatural stories and I had previously read The Hound of the Baskervilles at some point, but a few weeks ago I found myself searching through Foyles and Waterstones for the full collection of stories and eventually found a 1,400 page tome full of The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes for a bargain £6.99 in Waterstones on Oxford Street!

So far I have read the first two books A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. As I had very recently caught up on series one of Sherlock I was surprised and impressed to see that the initial A Study in Pink episode was very heavily based on this first story and much of the plot is used. The dialogue between Holmes and Watson on their first meeting is very similar and has been expertly updated.

I am glad that these recent adaptations have made Sherlock Holmes into a ‘cool’ and clever character once more. Previous series have come across as a little boring and I think that Robert Downey Jnr and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayals of the detective, although both very different, work really well and I can see glimpses of both interpretations in Canon Doyle’s writing (as well as Jude Law and Martin Freeman’s excellent depictions of John Watson). I wouldn’t have necessarily been persuaded to read these stories without these big and small screen representations and I am very happy that they have increased sales in the books to a new audience.

From just reading these couple of books I have realised how funny and intelligent Arthur Canan Doyle’s writing is, how action-packed and dangerous the stories are and what a lovely tribute to London Doyle has written, with the city captured brilliantly on each page. I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the stories alongside watching series two of Sherlock!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Harry Potter Studio Tour Review

Last weekend I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to visit the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, Hertfordshire on one of their preview days. I have been a Harry Potter fan for fifteen years, ever since I was drawn into the magical world of Hogwarts while reading the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It did take me a while to get used to the films, as I had my own visions of Diagon Alley and all the characters, but as each big-screen adaptation got bigger, bolder and darker, I really started to enjoy the film versions and now when reading the books I find myself imagining the sets and actor from the films and cannot see anyone else playing the roles of Harry, Snape et al.

Ever since I heard about the studio tour plans, I have been so excited about being able to explore the working film sets and the attraction delivers even more than I thought it would. Leavesden Studios is formerly Leavesden Aerodrome with an airfield and factory and has been home to the HP films for the last ten years. It is very well sign-posted from the M25 and the drive in is spectacular, with iconic images from the film emblazoned on the side of the studios. There are even three of the huge ‘Wizard’s Chess’ figures to greet you near the entrance. The staff cannot be more friendly or helpful and the atrium is amazing, with huge images of cast members on all of the surrounding walls and props from the films including Mr Weasley’s flying car. There is a great CafĂ© to wait until your tour starts and the shop is very well stocked, if a little expensive.

The tour begins with a short introduction in a holding room with various film posters flashing on the screens on the wall and a short film about the popularity of the boy wizard. We were then ushered into the most comfortable cinema I have ever been in, to watch a lovely film with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint talking about their experiences growing up at the studios over a period of ten years. There is then a fantastic surprise reveal of the doors to the Great Hall which resulted in applause and cheers.

The Great Hall is truly stunning and such an iconic film set. The floor is made from real York stone to provide a solid base for ten years of filming and it really does feel like an old building full of history. You can almost hear the sounds of the students and see Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron floating around! The long tables are on either side, ready for a banquet and we are greeted at the end of the hall by all of the teachers, with Dumbledore at the centre with his owl lecturn which is made of real gold and covered in years worth of candle wax. Here we are given another short talk by the impressive fireplace displaying each house symbol. We are then free to explore the rest of the studios!

The first part is some sights associated with the Great Hall – the floating candles and the Yule Ball and Chocolate Feast props, which really do look real! There are also costumes and a big display of impressive wigs. There is just too much on display to be able to mention – so many props and costumes and all of the most memorable sets. I ended up taking hundreds of photos, but these are the main highlights:

Gryffindor Boys’ Dormitory – home for Harry, Ron, Neville and Seamus. There are initialled trunks under each bed and so much attention to detail including posters for West Ham United and the Chudley Cannons! This set looks much smaller than it does on screen.

Gryffindor Common Room – a very cosy room full of comfortable sofas and chairs and the walls draped in tapestries. Look out for the portrait of a young Prof. McGonagall and cat!

Dumbledore’s Office – a very impressive space full of hundreds of books, which are actually phone books covered in leather! There are 48 portraits of headmasters looking down on us and some of the most memorable props on display including the Sorting Hat, Sword of Gryffindor and Penseive, complete with memory cabinet featuring 800 vials with hand-written labels!

Potions Classroom – hundreds of glass jars full of ingredients protected by the forms of Snape and Slughorn. It really feels like a dark, hidden dungeon in the castle. Look out for the self-stirring cauldron and bezoar on the desks!

Hagrid’s Hut – this oddly enough smelt of animals and mud. The pumpkin patch is outside and Fang is by his master’s side. Here there is also a very interesting display and short film about the animals trained to play the roles of Hedwig, Scabbers, Fang, Crookshanks and Mrs Norris.

The Burrow – there are lots of special effects on display here including knitting needles, a knife and iron which all appear to be working on their own, with Mrs Weasley keeping watch. Here we also see the famous Weasley family clock.

Green Screen area – a very impressive area where we can see the Gringott’s cart, Hagrid’s motorbike and brooksticks in action. There is also a very big surprise where visitors can actually act in two scenes – driving Mr Weasley’s flying car and riding a broomstick through the busy streets of London and over Hogwarts. You can watch the action on the screen in front of you and buy photos of your experience as a very special souvenir! This was great fun a a real highlight of the day!

Ministry of Magic – we are greeted by sinister the Magic is Might statue and get a peep at Delores Umbridge’s very pink office decorated with cat plates. We also see the huge office towers and green fireplaces. Before going out into the sunshine on the Backlot, we meet the Death Eaters and He Who Must Not Be Named and see an amazing cabinet full of paper props which really show how detailed the films were, even if we don’t see everything on screen. Here we see letters, exam papers, exercise books – all characters have their own style of writing and this really bought of the characters to life for me! There are also examples of The Daily Prophet, The Quibbler, Maurader’s Map and lots of Weasley Wizard Wheezes packaging!

Its then out to the Backlot where we can explore Privet Drive, the Knight Bus and the Hogwarts Bridge, which was last seen in flames in the Deathly Hallows Part 2. This is also the chance to finally taste Butterbeer! Its delicious, kind of like cream soda with a caramel syrup. I think this kiosk could be made to feel more like the Hogs Head though…

After passing more Wizards Chess pieces, we enter the Creature Workshop which is fascinating. Here we see how goblins, hippogriffs, house elves and dragons were bought to life and see some life-like models. I loved meeting Dobby and Buckbeak!

From here, we enter Diagon Alley which is breathtaking! All the famous shop fronts are here from Gringotts to Ollivanders and Eyelops Owl Emporium to Flourish and Blotts Bookshop – full of Lockhart books of course! Plus the latest addition to the street Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes which is huge! It is genuinely exciting to walk up and down the cobbled pavement.

The climax to the tour is the jawdropping scale model of Hogwarts Castle, which was used for the aerial scenes. There is so much attention to detail and it is beautiful to look at, with the lights going from day to night every four minutes. We spent ages walking around to see the castle from every angle.

Before you exit into the gift shop, we are taken through Ollivander’s Wand Shop which has a wand labelled with the name of every person who has worked on the films. There are over 4,000 and it really makes you realise the scale of the project and how much work went into them. All of these people were very lucky to be part of something so amazing. A very fitting and poignant end to the day.
Overall the tour was stunning, everything I expected and so much more. Fans of Harry Potter and films in general are in for a real treat.  There were parts when I found myself thinking I was in a museum and started believing that the whole story was in fact real! One of the staff showed me Lily Potter’s letter to Sirius which is a big part of the final book, but not shown in the film and I was really excited, realising a few seconds later that it is in fact fictional!

What I have mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg, there are literally thousands of props and small details to discover and lots of surprises along the way! There have been some negative comments in the press about the entry price, but I disagree and think it is really good value. The money and time spent on the attraction is obvious and there are hours of entertainment to be enjoyed. I could have spent much longer there. Compared to prices of theme parks, I think its reasonable and I would have been happy if I had paid to go in. In fact I am already planning a return visit to take other HP fans!

I have not stopped raving about my visit over the last week and am now reading all the books and watching all the films once again! It is great to see that with Pottermore and this attraction these amazing stories will keep evolving and living on and on. Mischief Managed.

The Harry Potter Studio Tour opens this weekend and tickets must be booked in advance at