Friday, 28 February 2014

Review: Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this novel; I had the luxury of reading the book before seeing
the film, which is a rarity for me these days. I've read very mixed reviews over on Goodreads so I was dubious, but once I'd started I couldn't put it down! The unique setting and the era immediately appealed to me; it was a lot darker than I was expecting but that just made it all the more engrossing.

The story follows Jacob Jankowski, a victim of circumstance who finds himself on a circus train.As a trained vet, he is immediately put to work in the menagerie, populated by a number of exotic creatures ranging from the cute to the terrifying. From the moment that Jacob sees Marlena the star performer he is in love with her, which is unfortunate considering she is married to the enigmatic and seemingly bipolar August, the head animal trainer. You know from the prologue that the circus ends in disaster, and this gives the novel an ominous air as the tension builds and tempers start to flare, just like a pot coming to the boil. The clever twist at the end I didn't see coming, and it just goes to show that humans and animals really aren't that different after all.

At first I wasn't comfortable with the whole 'old Jacob looking back on his life' set up; narratives framed in this way tend to make me feel morbid and ruin the story somewhat. As the novel progresses however it soon becomes clear that there is more to this than a frail old man recounting his life story, and the ending for him was perfect! My favourite character was obviously Rosie the elephant, although Bobo the chimp comes a very close second, to the point where I want a chimp to cuddle like Jacob while I'm wandering around doing chores! From Sarah's descriptions we come to love the animals as Jacob loved them, and this made August's cruelty towards them -although more inferred than directly described- difficult to read about.

Populated with a distinctive array of characters and descriptions so evocative that you feel as if you are there, Water for Elephants is a novel that I would recommend without hesitation. It's been a while since I have read a novel that is so unique and thought provoking; it's been almost a week since I finished it and I still have a 'book hangover.'

5/5 stars: As intoxicating as moonshine; not an easy read but a gripping tale of humans and animals living side by side on a circus train heading for tragedy.

(As I say, I've yet to see the film, but from what I know in terms of casting I can imagine that Christoph Waltz will be perfectly terrifying as August. Watch this space for the film review!)

Thursday, 27 February 2014

FREE Online Courses: How to Read a Mind / Shakespeare and his World.

Just in case anyone is interested, FutureLearn are running a couple of free online courses next month that are reading/literature related. I'm not being paid to promote them or anything, I'm taking the courses myself and would love some fellow bloggers to talk about them with!

For anyone who has never heard of FutureLearn, which I'm guessing is most of you, it is essentially a free Open University, open to everybody! There are no exams or formal assessments, just learning for free in your own time; and there's no obligation to complete the course if you don't like it or don't have the time. What's not to love?

(I didn't make this but it pretty much sums up the course, and my life!)
The course that I'm most excited about, How to Read a Mind, concerns 'the science of reading.' This may sound boring but it actually incredibly interesting; it investigates why we get so emotionally attached to the characters we read about and become invested in their stories.

As FutureLearn describe it:   
"This course offers an introduction to what has come to be known as cognitive poetics. Taking our best current knowledge of how our minds and language work, this course takes you through key questions of literature and reading: why do we feel anything for fictional characters? Why do we get angry, moved, irritated, annoyed or sentimental about imaginary people in imagined worlds? Why do the lives of imaginary minds living in fictional bodies seem to matter so much to readers? The answers to these questions are surprising and empowering."

Sounds fascinating right?
To find out more and sign up click here.

The second course is entitled Shakespeare and his World and starts next week; it's basically a whistle stop tour of Shakespeare's life and plays/poetry. Perfect as an introduction to Shakespeare or, in my case, a chance to learn more about the man behind the literature.

"William Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors of all time. 2014 marks the 450th anniversary of his birth. His words have inspired and moved people from around the globe for centuries. How much do we know about Shakespeare’s cultural background and influences and why his works have endured? To get a real sense of how the Bard’s world would have actually looked and felt, renowned Shakespearean academic Professor Jonathan Bate will be exploring the acclaimed collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Each week, Professor Bate will examine a particular play and a cultural theme alongside a selection of treasures from the Trust’s archives in Stratford-upon-Avon. Weekly learning material will be broken down into six video segments, each examining a variety of artefacts and play extracts. The course will open with an introduction to Shakespeare and his living and working environment, moving onto broader cultural themes and issues examined in his plays and ending with an exploration of his legacy."

To find out more and sign up click here.

Let me know if you decide to give either of the courses a go! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Liebster Blog Award

So a few days ago Katrina @ Chased By My Imagination nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award. The Award is designed as an opportunity for smaller blogs to get some love and recognition, and I was very happy to have been nominated!

Here are the rules:
  • List 11 facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by whoever nominated you.
  • Ask 11 new questions to 9 bloggers with less than 200 followers. You cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.
  • Go to their blog and tell them that they have been nominated!

11 Facts about Me
1) I love books, films and theatre. A career involving any of these, or all three would be my dream job.
2) I remember lyrics and quotes much more easily than facts- I even used to make up  songs to help me remember stuff for exams!
3) I'm ridiculously addicted to pistachio nuts.
4) I fall in love far too easily with fictional men.
5) I have always loved reading, one of my earliest memories is staying up way past my bedtime reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five books.
6) My favourite colour is red.
7)  I have a degree in my two favourite subjects: English and History. Blogging is a way for me to keep my mind sharp and gives me an excuse to ramble about what interests me most.
8) I live near the North Yorkshire Moors, to me the most beautiful place on earth!
9)  I get way too emotionally invested in TV shows.
10) My favourite film is, and forever will be, The Sound of Music.
11) I am a very untidy person. This is possibly why my blog is so simple- I need some kind of order in my life!

11 Questions from Katrina
1) If you could be a book character, who would you be?
I love this question! After a lot of thought the obvious answer to me is Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. I love the regency outfits, and who doesn't want their very own Mr Darcy? My sister is actually named after her too.

2) Which country would you most like to visit?
Definitely Italy! My dream is to one day do a road trip of the entire country; Venice, Tuscany, Naples, Verona... it's all so beautiful and Italian food is amazing!

3) What is your favourite food to eat?
Accidentally already answered this haha. Anything Italian, pasta, pizza, ice cream, it's all scrummy!

4) What about blogging do you find the most challenging?
A lot of the fancy html stuff is beyond me, but I like the simplicity of my blog so I'm not troubled by it.

5) Who is your favourite author?
This is a tricky question! In terms of historical fiction I love Elizabeth Chadwick's novels. Studying English has also given me a love for the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.

6) What is your proudest achievement?
My First Class degree in English and History :)

7) Do you have any pets? If not, would you ever want one?
We live on a farm and have way too many cats (but I adore them all)! We also have a gorgeous Border Collie dog. I couldn't live without animals.

8) What do you do in your spare time other than blogging?
Reading (obviously) and walking; living in the countryside gives me plenty of places to go! I'm also doing a couple of online courses with FutureLearn (anyone with time on your hands I'd advise you to check it out - it's free!)

9) What sort of films, if any, do you enjoy?
I LOVE films! My favourites include A Knight's Tale and Shakespeare in Love, but I also love a good rom-com and can pretty much talk along with Bridget Jones' Diary I've seen it so many times. I'm also a massive James Bond fan and I adore musicals so yeah my taste is pretty varied!

10) When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?
When I started blogging. I've always been really shy and protective of my writing (I hated people reading my uni work) but I'm so glad that I did it!

11) What is your current occupation?
A Farmer! Until I get that dream job working with books all day every day I'm a farm hand for my dad, and I love it :)

11 Questions from Me
1) What got you into blogging in the first place?
2) What's your favourite book and why?
3) What was the last film you saw at the cinema and what did you think of it?
4) Do you have a favourite song?
5) If you could live in any fictional world (i.e. Narnia) where would you choose?
6) Who would your dream fictional husband/wife be?
7) Do you have a favourite cartoon character?
8) Do you prefer eBooks or physical ones? Which do you read most often?
9) What's your favourite TV show?
10) Why did you choose your blog name? Is there a story behind it?
11) In the film of your life, who would play you? And what would you call it?

Nominated Blogs
1) May @ Ramblings of a Ruminating Reader
2) Tiffany @ Beneath the Jacket
3) Girl With Her Head in a Book
4) Hannah @ Hannah's Haven
5) Witless Fool @ Obsessive Compulsive Reader
6) Dylena @Past Time Book Lover
7) Geybie @ Geybie's Book Blog
8) Myra @ I'm Loving Books
9) Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

Over to you :)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Clean out your e-Reader Challenge

Because reading is better than real life
I've only been blogging for a few months, but have always been an avid reader. My kindle app is full of downloads from amazon's free bestsellers list to the point where I've had to ban myself from looking! (I used to check the list at least once a day to make sure I didn't miss any exciting new additions, I think I was genuinely addicted!)

Then I discovered NetGalley and the problem started all over again. I wasn't expecting to be accepted to review as many books as I have been, and my feedback to approval ratio is only 5.9%. 

The Clean out your e-Reader Challenge gives you the chance to read the books that have been sitting around for months waiting to be read.

Click on the picture above to sign up and take on the challenge with me :)

Goal: Spring Clean - 5 to 9 eBooks

I've looked through my lists, and here are some of the books that I'm hoping to get through: 

"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a missing Monet painting is worth millions in cold hard cash…
To clear her name, Zoe plunges into the shadowy world of art theft, teaming up with a former goth girl hacker, a persistent reporter, and a retired FBI agent turned cruise ship enthusiast.
Zoe’s hunt takes her from Paris to sun-drenched villas on the Mediterranean coast. As she finds her way through a maze of lies and deceit, Zoe discovers staying alive is a fine art."

"Between a meddling, narcissistic mother, a self-absorbed therapist and friends trying to send her to dating re-education camps, it seems that fake cheese is the only genuine thing left in the city.  Social ambition combats self-actualization in this biting tale of one woman’s search for certainty in a city full of mirages."

Reading Upside Down - Jo Platt (Amazon Kindle: free at time of purchase)

"Abandoned without explanation at the altar, 30 year-old Rosalind Shaw descends into the kind of depression which involves her watching too much daytime TV and not bothering to shower as regularly as her mother would like. After several inebriated, unwashed, months, Ros relocates from London to St Albans and begins a new life, as part-owner of an antiquarian bookshop, "Chapters". Here she finds herself working alongside the intellectual, and intensely private, Andrew; the kind-hearted, sartorially splendid, Georgina; and Joan, a free-spirited, loose cannon of a pensioner, with a penchant for amateur dramatics and outdoor nudity."

(Amazon Kindle: free at time of purchase)

"Seventeen year old Lady Guinevere holds the crown to an ancient kingdom. Without brothers to ascend the throne, marriage to her will assure any man the right to rule. Arthur Pendragon has won his power through battle. His legions have elected him their king and protector but he seeks to legitimize his claim to High King through marrying Guinevere.
Lancelot, a valiant knight with a broken past, is driven by his desire to protect those in need. He's joined Arthur's forces because he believes in Arthur's dream of peace for a war-torn country.
But Lancelot possesses something that Arthur can never win...Guinevere's heart."

If you decide to participate let me know!

Update: Since scheduling this post a month or so ago I allowed myself back on the kindle store. I now have at least another ten eBooks to get through. Oops.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

February Library Haul

From London With Love - Jemma Forte

"Everyone wants to be famous, don't they? Not Jessica Granger. Her father is the movie star who played the world's favourite James Bond and worse, her mother was voted sexiest-ever Bond Girl for her role as Heavenly Melons. Like it or not, fame is in her blood. But Jessica desperately wants to be someone in her own right. So she flees Hollywood for London, seeking independence in a city where nobody knows her name. But when she finds a job as a celebrity booker on a chat show she realises the more friends she makes, the harder it is to keep up the lies about who she is. And when Jessica falls for Paul, a writer on the show, her life as a double agent causes double trouble. As the truth about who she is becomes unavoidable, can Jessica convince Paul she's the real deal? Or will a sprinkle of the old 007 magic spice up her love life?"

 Players - Karen Swan

"Harry Hunter is the new golden boy of the literary scene. With his books selling by the millions, the paparazzi on his tail, and a supermodel on each arm, he seems to have the world at his feet. Women all over the globe adore him but few suspect that his angelic looks hide a darker side - a side that conceals a lifetime of lies and deceit. Tor, Cress and Kate have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Through all the challenges of marriage, raising children and maintaining their high-flying careers, they have stuck together as a powerful and loyal force to be reckoned with - living proof that twenty-first-century women can have it all, and do. It is only when the captivating Harry comes into their lives that things begin to get complicated, as the three friends are drawn into Harry's dangerous games."

Me and Mr Darcy - Alexandra Potter

"After a string of disastrous relationships, Emily Albright has had it with modern men. She'd rather curl up with Pride and Prejudice and step into a time where men were honourable and strode across fields in breeches, their damp shirts clinging to their chests. The men she meets are more into pleated trousers, two-timing and internet porn. So when her friend invites her to Mexico for a week of margaritas and manhunting, Emily books a guided tour of Jane Austen country instead.
There are no dream men here. The coach is full of pensioners, apart from one Spike Hargreaves, a foul-tempered journalist writing a piece on why most women would love to date Mr Darcy. But then she walks into a room and finds herself face-to-face with Darcy himself. And every woman's fantasy suddenly becomes one woman's reality..."

Chelsea Wives - Anna-Lou Weatherley

"They are the ultimate ladies who lunch: Imogen, the beautiful ex-model, Calgary, the glamorous, former fashion editor, and Yasmin, the feisty ex-party girl. But life isn't all champagne and canapes. Plagued by personal tragedy and united by failing marriages, they mastermind a shocking plan to turn the tables on their husbands. The Chelsea Wives are about to get their own back.

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Love Being A Blogger/Reader

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

Reading is something I have always adored. I'm pretty new to blogging, but I've quickly grown to love it. These are just a few of the reasons why I love being both a reader and a blogger.

1) The most important reason of all to me: it gives me an excuse to read all the time! I carry a book everywhere with me just in case, and to say that my Kindle app is overloaded is an understatement.

2) Being an English graduate reading critically comes easily to me, but since I've left university degree related work is hard to come by. Blogging helps me keep up my reading and writing skills, gives me something to show for my time spent at home, and makes me feel like I'm not wasting my degree.

3) Escapism. People often tell me I live with my head in the clouds, and I'm inclined to believe them. Reading to me is like magic; it can transport you to places beyond your wildest dreams, and when you return to the real world you can't help but feel a bit dazed and long for your next adventure.

4) I LOVE writing! Something people never used to understand about me at university was that I actually sort of enjoyed writing essays, minus the deadlines of course.

5) Blogging gives me an excuse to re-read old favourites and discover new books that I otherwise might not have heard of. A large proportion of my TBR list is made up of books that caught my eye on other people's blogs.

6) Very few of my friends in real life are readers, so it's nice to know that there is always a place here for me to discuss my favourite subject with like-minded book lovers.

7) ARCs! Knowing that you're reading a book before anyone else, sometimes even before it's been published, makes reading it all the more exciting.

8) I think it was Hemingway that said 'there is no friend as loyal as a book'. Day or night they are always there, and sometimes it's just nice to forget about your problems and read about someone else's!

9) Reading is endless. Unlike your favourite TV show, you will never, ever run out of things to read. For every film you like there'll be a hundred books similar in genre and theme; just look at all the fiction inspired by Downton and Gatsby. There is literally something for everyone, and there always will be.

10) Blogging has also got me back into reading more frequently. I lost enthusiasm for it a little at university, but now there's no deadlines and no set books to read I've learned to love it again. Writing about books that I've chosen makes a huge difference to my willingness to go to bed early and read.

How about you? What is it about reading and blogging that you love?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's Day Reads

In celebration of  the Feast of St. Valentine, I've trawled through my kindle and picked out a few titles to read and review that seemed appropriate for this time of year.

Love Finds a Way - Jenny Lane

"When Christy’s best friend breaks her ankle just before they are about to go on holiday together, she decides to brave the trip on her own. On the ferry to Holland she bumps into a handsome Dutchman called Piet van der Bijl. She is instantly attracted to him. But does he feel the same way about her? On her tour of Holland, she runs in Piet again, and sparks begin to fly, and Christy finds herself falling deeply for the Dutchman. But when he asks her to become a governess for his nephew, Theo, she fears that he only sees her as a teacher - and not as a woman. 'Love Finds A Way' is a moving romantic drama about finding love."

3/5 stars: Predictable romantic escapism, perfect for fans of the genre, but I didn't really warm to either of the main characters; Christy was passive in the extreme whilst Piet just didn't seem that interesting. That said, I read it in a day, and particularly enjoyed the chapters set in Holland. Given all the disapproval from the other characters about the prospect of Piet and Christina being together, I feel that the final chapter should have extended beyond the proposal (spoiler but it's pretty obvious!) to the reactions of their family and friends. A short straightforward read for Valentine's Day.

"She has been in a relationship with the successful and charming Simon Keegan, a financial consultant, for the past six months. People keep telling her that they make a good couple. Good, but not great. When Simon jets off to New York on business Sara spends the week on a publicity tour with the enigmatic Adam Cooper, a thriller writer and the ex-husband of Victoria Glass, the celebrity socialite. Being with Adam causes Sara to ask herself certain questions in regards to both her personal and professional life. How does she feel about Simon? And what will be her answer to the question he may pop when he gets back to London? And what of Adam? Is he too good to be true? Reports in the press from his ex-wife would suggest that he’s not all that he seems to be. Sara Sharpe needs to find out about how she feels - and tell him about it."

3.5/5 stars: Sara is the ideal heroine for a romantic novel: she works in publishing, spends all of her spare time reading and can quote Byron at the drop of a hat. Valentine's Day is all about declarations of love, and it is declarations, or lack thereof, that drive the plot of this novella. Dreading a proposal from her tiresome boyfriend, Sara falls in love with one of her authors, and he with her, but neither are willing to do anything about it. The novella also gives a very detailed insight into the cutthroat world of publishing - almost too detailed - and some of the scenes in the office were verging onto The Devil Wears Prada territory in terms of tense board meetings and a vindictive boss. A romantic read for book lovers everywhere.

The Viscount's Valentine - Donna Lea Simpson

"Viscount Blackthorne is better known as Blackheart, a notorious rogue with a reputation for seduction. Forced to flee London and a young woman’s irate father, he escapes to the wilds of Yorkshire hoping to rest, relax, and wait out the scandal. The last thing he expects to find in the country is the stunning beauty he first eyed twelve years ago, the one woman who captivated his heart and made him question his ways. The widow Honey Hockley has given up on romance and settled into the quiet simplicity of her small Yorkshire village. Before marrying her infirmed husband, she had one sparkling night of a London Season, a night she’ll hold on to forever. But Honey’s peaceful days are shattered when a handsome and mysterious stranger comes to town, forcing her to question her decision to accept a life alone. Upon meeting, attraction flares, and it’s only Honey’s fears and the Viscount’s reputation that keep them apart. So while Honey works to accept the possibility that life and love may yet hold some surprises for her, the Viscount works to clear his name and win over the one woman he believes can make him virtuous again."

4/5 stars: If historical romance is your thing then this is definitely the Valentine's novella for you. As sweet as Honey herself, this is a predictable but very enjoyable read. Blackthorne is your stereotypical dark and brooding hero, and I couldn't help but root for him to succeed. It loses a star for a few distracting typos but aside from that I would highly recommend it.

Have you got any Valentine's Day recommendations? Or are you a cynic when it comes to romance?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Review: A Hollywood Ending by Robyn Sisman

"Tinseltown. So much on the surface, so little underneath."

This novel is a story of two parts, not only in terms of structure but also in terms of writing. The first half of the book, set in L.A, I found myself struggling to get through. The main character, Hollywood actress Paige Carson, is purposely presented as self-righteous and arrogant, but it's exaggerated to the point where I had no sympathy whatsoever for her situation and almost gave up on the book altogether. The plot focuses on Paige as her picture perfect Hollywood life starts to crumble and she flees to tread the boards on an English stage in the hope of a fresh start. Given her bad attitude, I couldn't help but feel that she deserved everything that happened to her, and I was interested to see how, if at all, she would redeem herself.
The one thing that this section of the novel did achieve was that it made me wonder whether any actors in the business today act that way behind closed doors, whether anything we see of them is real or whether they are as manipulated and manufactured as the films that they star in.

The second half of the book felt to me like a completely different novel. The introduction of Ed Hawkshead, a documentary maker struggling to make a living in London, brought the novel to life, particularly the sections told through his eyes. I still found it difficult to empathise with Paige, but I loved Ed. The men in England are "less Hugh Grant and more Heathcliff" says the blurb, but Ed is definitely more of a Mr Darcy (or Mark Darcy, whichever you prefer), stereotypically standoffish until you get to know him - "a pompous idiot" as he refers to himself at one point. I also enjoyed the scenes set in Ed's home in the Lake District; it is a place close to my heart too and only made me like Ed even more. So Ed and Paige meet and the inevitable love story unfolds, culminating in a declaration of love straight out of a Richard Curtis film. The ending however left many questions unanswered: what would happen once Paige's theatre stint ended and she went back to America? And what about Ed's TV company? I'm a fan of the old fashioned 'happily ever after', but in this instance it felt like more of a 'happy for now.'

I picked up A Hollywood Ending as it looked like an easy read and an interesting story, and in this regard I was not disappointed. Looking at the novel as a whole, I would recommend it to fans of romantic fiction; just be prepared for a slow starter.

3.5 stars: 3 stars for the first half of the novel, 4 stars for the second. An engaging read that will please romantics and rom-com fans alike.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

This book has been on my to-read list for some time, so when I came across it in Poundland - I kid you not, they sell books there now too - I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

Lysander Rief, an actor, is visiting Vienna for psychological help with a problem of a personal nature. What else happens to him during his stay there no one could ever have predicted, and sets off a chain of events that are to change his life forever. Next thing he knows, "Lysander finds himself entangled in the dangerous world of wartime intelligence- a world of sex, scandal and spies that is slowly, steadily, permeating every corner of his life" (blurb).

The reluctant spy is a theme often covered in fiction, but the scene is set so well that you can't help but want Lysander to succeed. He may well be untrained, but Lysander's theatrical background comes in useful, and I liked his use of disguises. I also liked the effective use of diary sections to give an insight into Lysander's thoughts and character.

I read this alongside Boyd's James Bond Novel Solo, and I found this a lot more enjoyable. I loved the era and the choice of settings, and the characters, if not very appealing, were well developed. The only female character that I actually liked was Florence Duchesne, which is odd considering her actions in the novel. Hettie was irritating, Blanche was bland, and Lysander was little more than a womaniser once his 'problem' was sorted out; the only character deserving of praise was Lysander's uncle Hamo. But then you don't have to like the hero in a story - just look at James Bond.

The story takes a while to get going, but I never found myself bored, more curious as to where the plot was heading. It is easy to follow, gripping in parts, and I didn't predict the outcome, which is always a bonus in novels like this one.

The one thing that let this novel down was its ending; there were too many loose ends for my liking. The story may have been over as far as his intelligence career was concerned, but I wanted some closure on Lysander's personal life - did he get married? And what about Hettie and Lothar? I got the sense that it wasn't yet over, possibly because it wasn't. As Boyd's other novel Restless demonstrates, the life of a spy can never return to normal.

4/5 stars: a gripping tale of a man thrust into the world of espionage set against the backdrop of the First World War.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Review: Once Upon a Masquerade by Tamara Hughes

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

First of all, to state the obvious, the cover to this novel is stunning! It sold the book to me before I had even read the blurb:

"New York City, 1883 
A Prince Charming meets his match...

Self-made shipping magnate Christopher Black first spies Rebecca Bailey at a masquerade ball and is captivated by her refreshing naivete and sparkling beauty. She's a stark contrast to the hollow behavior of the ton and the guile of his former fiancee, but the closer he gets to her secrets, the further she pushes him away. 

A Cinderella with a secret...

Rebecca is drawn to the charismatic Christopher from the first, but she cannot risk him discovering that she is really a housemaid impersonating an heiress. Her father's life depends on it. A Happily Ever After that could never be...When Christopher's investigation of the murder of his best friend leads him straight to Rebecca, he fears his ingenue may be a femme fatale in disguise. Now he must decide if he can trust the woman he's come to love, or if her secrets will be his downfall."

Stories with multiple view points tend to grate on me, but in this instance it worked perfectly as it allowed Christopher and Rebecca to each tell their side of the story. Rebecca Bailey is a maid desperate for money to pay off her father's gambling debts, and in a moment of madness she decides to pose as an heiress in the hope of attracting a wealthy suitor. Christopher Black, a dashing shipping magnate who is both captivated and intrigued by Rebecca from the moment he sets eyes on her at the masquerade ball, seems the likeliest candidate, were it not for the fact that he might recognise her for who she really is.

I couldn't help but feel a little infuriated by Rebecca; I liked how she was capable of defending herself - far from your conventional damsel in distress- yet despite Christopher's honest intentions to help her, it takes her forever to muster up the courage to tell him the truth about her situation. As for Christopher, what can I say? Not quite the blue-blooded Prince Charming, but a perfect gentleman - even better in my opinion. I couldn't help but picture Matthew Goode as I was reading the descriptions of him, which only made him all the more lovable. All of the other characters are well written and distinctive, I especially liked the overly theatrical Spencer Henley. From ballrooms to vast country estates and run down side streets, the settings are so well depicted that you could picture the scenes as vividly as if you were watching a film.

The perfectly paced blend of action, mystery and romance had me gripped, and I finished the novel in a day. I predicted the ending, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the plot; I almost didn't want it to end.

5/5 stars: Cinderella with a twist; an enchanting read that will hold your attention from start to finish, perfect for lovers of fairytales and historical fiction, with enough action and adventure to appeal to the more cynical romantic.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: Melting the Snow on Hester Street by Daisy Waugh

'Rich. Beautiful. Damned.'

The obvious reference in the tagline to F.Scott Fitzgerald, and the glamourous setting of old Hollywood is what drew me to this novel; I have a current obsession with the 1920's and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Eleanor and Max Beecham are married Hollywood actors, fast becoming veterans of the business. Wall Street is teetering on the edge, as are their careers and their marriage.

Upon starting the novel I was disappointed, it took me a long time to get into it, and even then I would set it aside in favour of other books. So there it sat only a quarter read for weeks until I decided to dedicate a day to finishing it. I have to say that I'm glad I gave it another chance! From Chapter 12 we gradually begin to learn more of Max and Eleanor's past, and the more I learnt, the more I began to empathise with them. Matz, a socialist, and his girlfriend Elena who works on the sewing machines at Triangle Shirtwaist Company are a world away from the Hollywood icons that they have become, with their empty house and their emotionally empty lives.

The section detailing the fire in the Triangle factory provided a stark and grotesque contrast to the excesses of Hollywood; indeed the novel reads almost like two completely different stories intertwined, but that's the point. Matz and Elena have transformed their lives beyond recognition, yet it is debatable as to whether this change was for the better; their life before was primitive, squalid even, but at least it was real. Hollywood glamour is as fake as it's films, and to save their marriage Max and Eleanor must return to their past.

One thing I would advise with this novel is to completely disregard the blurb; the 'legendary house party' it advertises takes up little more than the final chapter of the book and it fails to mention what is perhaps the most interesting part of the book - the back story of Elena and Matz and how they worked their way up from the gutter to Hollywood stardom.

The English graduate in me is compelled to point out the many typos that ruined parts of the novel to the point where I am unsure if the final sentence of the novel is a subtle plot twist (you'd have to be paying attention to spot it) or a glaring error that should have been picked up on in editing. Another reviewer has also pointed out that the newspaper clipping included at the end of the novel has been misdated by eighteen years (the fire was in 1911 not 1929), and it is the details like this that should have been checked prior to publishing.

3/5 stars: Unexpectedly poignant, fans of the Jazz Age will not be disappointed by this tale of Hollywood's golden couple as they delve into the past, peeling away the layers of pretence and learning to love each other again.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review: Falling for Gatsby by Claire Dyer

As a lover of all things F. Scott Fitzgerald, the title of this novella had me hooked.

"What would it be like to love like Gatsby loved, to be in thrall to an ideal and to be so faithful to that ideal?' ponders Lucas as he sits in the cinema watching The Great Gatsby. A chance encounter as the film credits roll answers this question for him, and changes his life for good.

It is not entirely necessary to have seen/read The Great Gatsby before reading this, but it would help in order to appreciate the multitude of references to it.
Lucas isn't strictly Gatsby - he seems to me to be more of a Gatsby/Nick hybrid. Recently out of a failed long term relationship he is searching for something real in his life, someone to save, and that person is Martha. Following a ridiculously short courtship she married Adam oblivious to his controlling and abusive personality, and aside from her confidante Diane she has no escape - until she meets Lucas. The Great Gatsby is the cause of their meeting, and subsequently plays a part in all of their clandestine afternoons together, as they compare their personal story with Fitzgerald's masterpiece.

I only wish that this story was longer! It easily had the potential to be a full length novel, yet the short and sweet style worked well with the plot.

4/5 stars: fans of Gatsby will appreciate the references, whilst the gentle and tender love story will appeal to any romance fan.