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.