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.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Benedict Cumberbatch owns the films rights to this, and it hasn't even been published yet. Are you sold? Due to hype alone I'm expecting How to Stop Time to be HUGE this summer, and thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books, I'm one of the lucky few to read it before everyone else!

'I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.'

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover - working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he'd never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn't do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

This book wasn't what I was expecting, but then I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. The narrative flits between Tom's present life as a London schoolteacher and his past, his lifetime of memories working for William Shakespeare, sailing with Captain Cook and drinking with F. Scott Fitzgerald. But Tom has suffered more than his fair share of tragedy and trauma as a result of his condition, and piece by piece and time by time we discover the events, and people who have shaped his life. It almost feels as if this book was written for the big screen - sci fi storyline, famous historical figures, a star-crossed love story, a vindictive villain, need I go on!? - and I'm not surprised at all by how quickly the rights were snapped up. I'm only assuming and hoping that Mr Cumberbatch has himself in mind to play the leading man.

I had visions of Tom's schoolteacher persona straying into 'Carpe Diem' Dead Poet's Society territory - not that that would have been a bad thing - and while the message is similar, it is conveyed in an entirely different fashion. Matt Haig is an incredibly talented writer, and one who understands and taps into the human psyche. The only other book of his that I have read so far is his autobiographical Reasons to Stay Alive detailing his battle with anxiety and depression, and it is a work that still resonates with me. How to Stop Time, although fictional, has a similar effect. It makes you consider your own life and mortality, what you have achieved and want to achieve - what you want, not what society dictates you should want - and how you want to live your life. Science fiction aside, the idea at the heart of this book is the importance of seizing every moment you get, of living your life in the present. Us mere mortals, the 'mayflies', have but a fleeting time on this earth and we should make the most of it. Dwelling in the past or worrying about the future will do us no good in the long run. Enjoy the now, do what you want to do, and be happy doing it. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things that Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

It's been too long since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday! Apologies for not being more active on here, time is in short supply at the moment. I am however a lot more present over on Instagram! If you have an account over there, my username is @readinginwellies. Expect to see lots of pictures of books with the occasional insight into country living.

Anywho, back to Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Today's theme is ten things that will make me want to read a book. I like to think that I'm quite open minded when it comes to books, but at the same time I know what I like and am consequently drawn to what fits the bill. If a book has one, or preferably several, of the following then it is a must-read for me:

1) Pretty covers. We all know the saying 'never judge a book by it's cover', but who are we trying to kid? Of course we judge by the cover! Or at least I do. The more eye-catching a book is, the more likely I am to pick it up. Simples.

2) Set in the past. Medieval? Plantagenet? Tudor? Victorian? Doesn't matter. If it's historical fiction I'm interested. Reading is escapism for me, and historical fiction is perhaps the closest we'll ever get to a time machine!

3) Strong female characters. I'm not a feminist per se, but no one wants to read about a spineless heroine. This may be why I'm not all that keen on Austen.

4) Strong male characters. Who doesn't love an alpha. Preferably in period costume. Sorry not sorry.

5) Hate-to-Love Romance. It may be clichΓ© but you can't beat it. From Pride and Prejudice to The Hating Game hate-to-love is a age-old romance trope that I just can't resist.

6) Road trips. Two people stuck with each other on an epic journey? Especially if they hate each other. Yes please.

7) Pirates, Highwaymen, Musketeers, Knights, Outlaws etc. Yes please.

8) Anything to do with Peter Pan, Retellings, new editons, non-fiction. I'm well aware that I have a Peter Pan complex. I refuse to grow up, and while everyone else is awaiting their letter from Hogwarts, I'm still waiting for Peter Pan to show up at  my window and spirit me away to Neverland.

 9) Royalty. From ancient Kings and Queens to 21st century playboy Princes. I love it all and will read it all.

10) Author. Obvious answer is obvious. My favourites include Elizabeth Chadwick, Anthony Horowitz, Marina Fiorato and Tracy Rees, amongst many, many others, and I'm counting down the days until their next releases.