Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans

*Thanks to Bookbridgr and Quercus for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

 London 1945. A young war widow steps aboard a train in search of a new life. Clutching the key to a mysterious inheritance, Vanessa Kingcourt can no longer resist the pull of the old Farren Theatre - an enchanted place seeped in memories of her actor father.

Now owned by troubled former captain Alistair Redenhall, The Farren is in need of a Wardrobe Mistress and a new lease of life. With no experience and no budget for supplies, Vanessa must use her intuition to create beautiful costumes from whatever scraps of silk and thread survived the blitz. It's a seemingly impossible task, but a welcome distraction as she struggles to resist her blossoming feelings for Alistair.

What Vanessa discovers could unravel family secrets sewn deep into the very fabric of the London theatre scene . . . but will she repeat the same terrible mistakes her father made? And can she dare to love a man who will never be hers?

I love historical fiction, and I love theatre (I actually work part time in one), so I was always going to love this book. They're something so enticing and mysterious about the theatrical world, and the 1940s setting only adds to the mystique as the theatre and its staff, are tasked with the road to recovery from the Second World War. The Farren theatre is a character in itself, with its dodgy lift, creaky corridors and supposedly haunted auditorium. I always find backstage fascinating, and the details of what goes on behind the scenes and during rehearsals really brought the theatre to life. The cast and crew of a production work so closely together that they become like family, a close knit team of characters striving to pull off the performance of the decade. Some I liked, others not so much, but they all had their part to play both on and off stage. One character that certainly deserves a mention is Macduff who is just wonderful. I'll say no more so as not to spoil the surprise but he stole every scene he was in, and brought out a different side to Alistair.

As for Commander Alistair Redenhall. What can I say? The man is honour and propriety personified. Once a respected naval commander he runs a tight ship at The Farren, and cuts a real Captain Von Trapp esque figure (minus the band of children). He's tormented by his past, and to a degree his present too. As his initial distrust of Vanessa slowly (and reluctantly) blossoms into an entirely different sentiment I became as frustrated with him as she was at his refusal to acknowledge his feelings. The two have chemistry from their very first meeting, you get the feeling that they were fated to meet, and I hoped against hope that their story would have a happy ending.

But this is more than just a love story. At the centre of the novel lies a mystery, the secret of who Vanessa Kingcourt really is. The ornament around her neck is literally the key to unlocking her past and future, and we are kept guessing until the final chapters about just what the big secret is. I guessed one of the twists relatively early on, but that doesn't make the reveal any less dramatic.

The Wardrobe Mistress is easily one of my favourite reads of 2017. It is an immersive story set in the shadowy world of post-war London and I didn't want it to end. I'll certainly be on the lookout for more novels by Natalie Meg Evans.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Blog Tour: Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future by Melissa Pimentel

Jenny Sparrow can tell you her future:

1. Meet soulmate at 25 
2. Move in with him
3. Marry him this year . . . 

According to the plan Jenny made at thirteen, it's time for her to get married. But when her boyfriend proposes a break instead of a wedding, a girls' weekend in Vegas is the only solution . . . until she wakes up in a stranger's bed, and discovers that this is the year she gets married - to the wrong man.

Jenny wants a quick divorce and her old boyfriend back.

But what if her accidental husband has other ideas?

If you're looking for a quick, fun summer read then Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future is the book for you. I raced through it in a single day and am already on the lookout for more Melissa Pimentel novels!

The plot of Jenny Sparrow is a classic one.. girl wakes up in Vegas married to the wrong guy. Or is he the wrong guy? Jenny is an avid list maker. Obsessed by a life plan she made when she was thirteen she's one proposal away from hitting her next target - get married at thirty one. Suddenly Jenny finds herself in a situation she didn't envisage, With two men now in her life Jenny must choose between sticking to her plan or taking a chance on the unknown.

Jenny Sparrow is cosy chick-lit at it's best. Give or take a few little twists you know where the story is headed, so you can curl up and enjoy the ride. The descriptions of the settings, London in particular, are really well done and bring the story to life. I'm very interested to know whether the restaurants and bars Jenny and Jackson visited actually exist!

Christopher and Jackson are two very different men, but equally loveable, and whilst I knew who I wanted Jenny to end up with I didn't want the other guy to get hurt. Jenny's best friend Isla is a whirlwind deserving of a novel of her own. Crazy and reckless, yet talented and intelligent, she's the sort of friend everyone wishes they had in their lives.

Jenny herself is a woman who has been damaged by her past. As the story progresses we learn more about her upbringing, and discover just why it is that she's so obsessed with order and control. As she is pushed further out of her comfort zone we see a braver side of her character come out, and as a result she changes for the better.

Full of humour and heart Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future a quirky, witty modern romance.

**Thanks to Olivia Thomas at Penguin Random House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review as part of a blog tour!**

Friday, 14 July 2017

Blog Tour: Summer's Lease by Carrie Elks

Cesca Shakespeare has hit rock bottom. Six years after the play she wrote bombed at the box office, she’s unable to hold down a job, keep an apartment, and worst of all her family have no idea how far she’s fallen. So when her fairy Godfather offers her the use of his friend’s Italian villa for the summer, she grudgingly agrees to try writing a new play. That’s before she finds out the house belongs to her arch-nemesis, Sam Carlton. 

When Hollywood heart-throb Sam Carlton sees his name splashed across a gossip rag, all he wants to do is hide. That’s how he finds himself travelling to Italy, deciding to spend the summer in his family’s empty villa on Lake Como. Except when he arrives it isn’t as empty as he’d hoped.Over the course of the hot Italian summer, Cesca and Sam have to come to terms with their pasts. What begins as a tentative friendship quickly grows into an intense attraction – and then a scorching fling. But they can’t hide from reality forever . . . as their different worlds collide, Sam and Cesca face a choice: is this just a summer romance, or could their love weather even the coldest winds?

Hate-to-love romances are definitely my weakness, and Summer's Lease is no exception. Down-on-her-luck Cesca is a character that I really rooted for. Despondent and disillusioned, she deserved a break, and I willed her to turn her life around. Sam, true to form as a romantic lead, has the looks, wit and charisma to melt even the coldest of hearts. He and Cesca had explosive chemistry from the off, and it was clear from relatively early on, in spite of their intense dislike for each other, just how their story was going to end. But this is so much more than just a love story. Over the course of the summer under the Italian sun Cesca rediscovers herself, and her talent for writing. She realises that a change really can do you good, and that it's never too late to chase your dreams.

If had any criticism it would only be that I wanted to see more of Italy. The majority of the action takes place in and around the villa, and whilst Sam was essentially housebound in avoiding the paparazzi, a little exploration of the local area and culture from Cesca would have made for interesting reading. The novel also treads a very fine line between contemporary romance and erotic fiction - those steamier scenes hit me from nowhere, and whilst I'm not complaining, up until that point I was planning on letting my mum read this book after me! 

That being said, nothing can detract from what was in essence a great story. Heartwarming, escapist and fun, Summer's Lease is the perfect summer read, no matter where you're bound! 
Be sure to follow the blog tour for more on Summer's Lease!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Review: The Captain's Girl by Nicola Pryce

I had previously read, and really enjoyed, Nicola Pryce's previous novel Pengelly's Daughter, so I jumped at the chance to read The Captain's Girl. Thanks to Readers First for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review!

Cornwall 1793 - As the French Revolution threatens the stability of England, so too is discontent brewing in the heart of Celia Cavendish. Promised to the brutal Viscount Vallenforth, she must find a way to break free from the bounds of a life stifled by convention and cruelty.

Inspired by her cousin Arbella, who just a few months earlier followed her heart and eloped with the man she loved, she vows to escape her impending marriage and take her destiny back into her own hands. She enlists her neighbours, Sir James and Lady Polcarrow, who have themselves made a dangerous enemy of Celia's father, in the hope of making a new life for herself.

But can the Polcarrows' mysterious friend Arnaud, captain of the cutter L'Aigrette, protect Celia from a man who will let nothing stand in the way of his greed? And will Arnaud himself prove to be friend... or foe?

I was delighted to discover that Nicola's second novel is set in the same fictional world as her first, full of familiar faces and characters that I wanted to find out more about. If I really liked Pengelly's Daughter then I loved The Captain's Girl. The drama is taken up a notch to the point where I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened, and the temptation to read ahead was overwhelming. Packed with twists and turns, I didn't know which characters, if any, I could trust - right up until the final chapter when the truth is finally revealed. Dashing sea captains, conspiracy and intrigue, forbidden love - all of the components are there for cracking historical fiction that transports you to a world that you won't want to leave.

The setting of this novel, particularly with the backdrop of the French Revolution, tallies perfectly with the latest series of Poldark currently airing on the BBC.  The Captain's Girl is clearly aimed at fans of the show, and is perfect for whiling away the week between episodes. From the rugged Cornish coast, to the backstreets of Bodmin, to sailing the open sea in the starlight, the settings are so well described that I could picture them vividly. Arnaud's cutter L'Aigrette is beautifully depicted and quickly becomes a character in herself - the fastest boat in the channel, beloved by those who have sailed her.

Captain Arnaud was every inch the gentleman, always there for Celia whether she wanted him to be or not. Celia was a woman imprisoned by her status, willing to break free from the bounds of convention and propriety and escape. She gets a whole lot more than she ever bargained for, and she and Arnaud become quite the team. Another character that I loved was Charity. Although partially sighted, she doesn't let her disability impede her in any way, and her attitude to life was inspiring.

As I said in my review of the previous book, this world and these characters still have plenty of scope for more stories, and I hope that there is at least one more novel set in this particular corner of Cornwall!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Review: One Summer in Tuscany by Domenica De Rosa

Love, rivalry, and writing in a Tuscan paradise . . . Welcome to the Castello de Luna

High on a hill in the Tuscan countryside stands a castle of golden stone, home to Patricia O’Hara’s writers’ retreat – a serene hideaway where you can polish your prose by the pool, gain inspiration from your peers and eat the best melanzane in Italy, courtesy of chef Aldo. But, while the splendour of their surroundings never fails to wow the guests, huge maintenance bills and bad news from the bank threaten to close Patricia down. It’s make or break time for the Castello de Luna.

This August each of her seven aspiring authors arrives with emotional baggage alongside their manuscripts. But something is different. It may be just the prosecco, but soon lifelong spinster Mary is riding on the back of Aldo’s Vespa, and smouldering odd-job man Fabio has set more than one heart racing.

As temperatures rise, the writers gossip, flirt and gently polish their prose by the pool. But with some unexpected visitors to contend with, one thing’s for sure: neither the Castello, nor Patricia, has ever seen a summer like this. 

Any book set in Italy is an instant must-read for me, so I was thrilled when I was invited to be a part of the blog tour for One Summer in Tuscany! From the blurb I was expecting a nice easy summer read, but what I got was so much more than that.  

To keep the Castello afloat, Patricia O'Hara runs writers retreats, opening her doors to a select number of guests. Sightseeing, sunbathing and sampling the local cuisine are all on the agenda, as well as what the guests hope will be quality writing time. I was initially overwhelmed when they all arrived at the Castello, with so many names and back stories to keep track of. I suspect that this is deliberate though - like our hostess Patricia we are thrown in at the deep end quickly trying to make sense of who's who. I soon got it sussed , and really liked the fact that the story was told from the perspective of almost all of the characters at some point. We got an insight into all of their personal lives, not just through narration but through diary entries and emails too. This gave real depth to the novel, and made me empathise with even the initially unlikeable characters.

The age range and vastly different backgrounds of all of the characters made for an interesting dynamic; they are a group of people thrown together on a writing course who almost certainly would not have been friends in the 'real world'. From course tutor Jeremy Bullen, an author still riding on the coat tails of his bestselling novel from twenty years ago, to Mary McMahon, a  retired civil servant with an unpublished manuscript she's been working on for three decades, each character has much more to them than meets the eye. Aldo was my favourite character by far. He may be a stereotypical Italian chef on the surface, but he had a heart of gold - and his food sounded amazing! Through him we saw a different side to Italy, the side the tourists don't often see, which again added another dimension to the story.

The Castello is a world away from reality, a romantic crumbling Gothic fantasy complete with its own ghost story. It is a refuge from life's problems - or at least that's what the paying guests like to think. It takes on a life of its own, becoming a character in itself. Tuscany too is depicted beautifully, from the dusty roads to the historic vineyards, and it certainly made me want to visit it for myself. The food, the landscapes, it is all so well described that I could picture it vividly. As luck would have it, I read this book during a rare UK heatwave, so I could almost pretend I was there with the guests. Almost. The heat, at times languid, at other times oppressive, builds a sense of tension that slowly intensifies as the summer wears on. I knew something was going to happen, but I had no idea what. It was this that made this novel so addictive, with short chapters that made it even easier to read.  

One Summer in Tuscany is the perfect holiday read, no matter where you're heading this summer.

Follow the blog tour for more reviews of this brilliant book!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman

As someone who has never read/seen anything Wonder Woman related I went into this not knowing at all what to expect. The trailer instantly sold it to me, mainly I have to admit because of the prospect of Chris Pine in First World War period costume, but also because I wanted to know the back story behind who is perhaps the greatest of all female superheroes. I wasn't disappointed. In short, I loved it, so much so that I've seen it twice! I'm a sucker for films set in the past, so it's no surprise that this film is up there for me alongside the first Captain America: The First Avenger film as my favourite super hero movie. In fact I think it may actually surpass it! There are a lot of similarities between the two films (especially the ending but I won't talk about that here), and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

Gal Gadot is perfect casting for Diana. She is beyond beautiful inside and out, making her turn as Wonder Woman, a hero firmly on the side of 'good', entirely believable. The scene of her crossing No Man's Land is already well on it's way to becoming iconic (it's insanely well shot and gives me goosebumps everytime), and she even pulls off the comedy elements convincingly. I honestly don't believe any one could have done it better. Chris Pine too is spot on as Steve Trevor, and he and Gal made a perfect team. I've loved Chris right from his early acting days in Princess Diaries 2, and have enjoyed watching his star rise over the years. He's always been a dab hand at comedic roles, and his turn as Captain Kirk in Star Trek actually managed to make me interested in the franchise. In Steve Trevor he creates a character who I absolutely adored, and the way in which he let Diana take the lead was so endearing. Not that he would have had much choice had he tried to stop her! They each had their own battles to fight, yet also had each other's backs.

Having watched Batman vs. Superman for the first time recently I can say with some certainty that DC have learnt from their mistakes with Wonder Woman. Granted I watched the extended cut of BvS, but it felt like it was never going to end! Weird dream sequences, endless fights and a confusing plot left me bored. Wonder Woman in contrast has a straightforward storyline and plenty of humour and banter between the characters, something more recent superhero films have been lacking. It is a perfect combination of the war context and camaraderie of Captain America, coupled with the 'fish out of water' idea explored in Thor, as Diana struggles to understand and adjust to her new surroundings. I only hope the inevitable second solo film can follow up on this. I'd love another historical one, 1920s or 40s maybe, but I strongly suspect it'll be back in the present day which is a shame.

Now I'm off to spend a fortune on Wonder Woman merchandise. Dare I say I've been converted from Marvel to DC? I think I just might have.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Crimson and Bone by Marina Fiorato

Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her previous novel, Kit, is among my all time top reads, and so it was with high expectations and much excitement that I picked up Crimson and Bone. I wasn't disappointed.

London, 1853. Annie Stride has nothing left to live for. She is a penniless prostitute, newly evicted from her home and pregnant. On the night she plans to cast herself from Waterloo Bridge into the icy waters of the Thames, her life is saved by Francis Maybrick Gill, a talented Pre-Raphaelite Painter - and her world is changed forever.

Francis takes Annie as his artist's muse, elevating her from fallen woman to society's darling. With her otherworldly beauty now the toast of London, her dark past is left far behind.

But Annie's lavish new life is not all it seems - and there are some who won't let her forget where she came from...

I've always loved the Pre-Raphaelite era (a love cultivated by Aiden Turner's turn as Dante Gabriel Rosetti in BBC's Desperate Romantics series - if you haven't seen it check it out), and Marina captures the essence of the time effortlessly.

Weeks after her only friend Mary Jane met a watery end Annie Stride is standing on Waterloo Bridge preparing to jump. Passing by is promising artist Francis Maybrick Gill, who steps in and saves her life. He makes Annie an offer she can't refuse, and she can't believe her luck. What starts out initially as a kind of Pygmalion retelling slowly descends into something more dark and sinister. There's a sense of tension and unease underpinning the entire novel, that slowly builds as it goes on. I had my suspicions about what had happened to Annie's friend but the details are kept vague until the dramatic final chapters when the truth is revealed in all its macabre glory.

The final third of the novel I read in one sitting - I'd only intended reading for five minutes before bed and before I knew it two hours had passed. By the end I felt like I had taken a journey with Annie, from the lowest echelons of society to its dizzying heights. Wherever life took her her past was never far away, and I genuinely didn't know how things would turn out for her.

The visual imagery in this novel is striking - the red and the white, the crimson and the bone. Annie's golden hair, Francis' grey eyes. It is a world of colour, as vivid as a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The settings too are wonderfully depicted. From the dark underbelly of Victorian London to the beauty of Venice Marina created a world that I looked forward to immersing myself in as often as I could. She says in her acknowledgements that she hopes there is beauty to be found amidst the darkness, and there is. It is the combination and contrast of the two that creates such an richly compelling atmosphere that draws you in and keeps you reading.

Dark, enthralling, and opulent Crimson and Bone is a novel of love, life and obsession.

***Thanks to Bookbridgr for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review!***

Monday, 15 May 2017

Review: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker

*Thanks to Regan Walker for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for a review*

England and France 1784

Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.

As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted. 

Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.

Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet?

Regan Walker has to be one of my favourite authors in the historical fiction genre. Her writing takes you to another time and place, with beautiful settings and characters that capture the imagination.

From fearsome Medieval warriors with hearts of gold to dashing Georgian pirates, Regan excels in creating memorable fictional heroes. Jean Donet may well be her best yet - or at least my personal favourite. Part sea captain part nobleman, he's the perfect gentleman with an intense and dangerous streak. Ruthless with those who cross him he has a reputation across the continent, yet he has a passionate soul and would protect those he loves with his life.

Then of course there are the unconventional female characters. Always feisty and independent, Regan's women are a force to be reckoned with. On the first page of Echo in the Wind we are introduced to Lady Joanna West, a high born lady moonlighting as a male smuggler! Unbeknownst to her, the dark and mysterious captain providing the goods is none other than Jean Donet, who sees right through her disguise.

Joanna is reluctant to marry into the ton, fearing a life of boredom and an unfaithful husband. She is perfectly content to remain a spinster smuggler, until Donet turns her world upside down. The two characters were wonderfully matched - they had chemistry from their very first meeting and I loved how the story was told from both of their perspectives. As in Regan's other works, even the secondary characters in this story are well-defined, making the fictional world they inhabit all the more three dimensional. I particularly liked Jean's quartermaster Emile and would love to find out more about him.

The historical details in this novel have been impeccably researched. It was a time of uncertainty, and with the chapters set in Paris you can almost feel the undercurrent of the impending French revolution. Regan says in her author's notes that she hopes readers will feel as if they have travelled back in time while reading Echo in the Wind, and I most certainly did. From the rugged English coast to the opulence of Versailles I was transported utterly into Jean and Joanna's world, and I didn't want to leave. I was very pleased to read therefore, that there will be another novel in the Donet series - the story of Jean's ward Zoe. I can only hope and assume that Joanna and Jean will make an appearance, as there is certainly more to come from them!

Full of passion, danger and adventure Echo in the Wind is a novel of seizing life, and love, and following your heart.