Friday, 24 April 2015

Blog Tour / Giveaway: The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour by David Ebsworth

Today on the blog I'm featuring The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour. This book sounds really interesting, with a strong and independent female lead character. I can't wait to read it! Read on to find out more, and don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a copy!

1815 - On the bloody fields of Waterloo, a battle-weary canteen mistress of Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard battalions must fight to free her daughter from all the perils that war will hurl against them – before this last campaign can kill them both.

“Superb! David Ebsworth has really brought these dramatic events to life. His description of the fighting is particularly vivid and compelling.”  (Andrew W. Field, author of Waterloo: The French Perspective and its companion volume, Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras)

A novel of action and intrigue based on the real-life exploits of two women who fought, in their own right, within Napoleon’s army.

Includes a Battlefield Tour Guide for those wanting to follow the route taken by the story’s main characters or to visit the sites of the 1815 Waterloo Campaign.

Purchase links: Amazon UK    Amazon US    Silverwood Books  Kobo

About the Author
David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator and Regional Secretary for Britain's Transport & General Workers’ Union. He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. Following his retirement, Dave began to write seriously in 2009.

Author links: Twitter    Facebook    Goodreads    YouTube
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Wicked UK Tour

I have no words to describe how much I love Wicked. Well, I have words, otherwise this would be a very short review, but words cannot do justice to the emotion I feel just listening to the songs or even seeing a poster of the show, let alone actually watching it in a theatre. Fangirling gibberish would I suppose be the best way to sum up my reaction!
Obligatory map photo from our seats in Sunderland!

The first time I saw the show was in Edinburgh, just before Christmas. I knew a few of the songs, but knew nothing of the story or the cast. For once, doing no research beforehand proved to be a positive thing and I was completely blown away, so much so that I went to Sunderland to see it again last week! We managed to get tickets three rows from the front of the stalls this time too which was just amazing!

The first thing I noticed, and LOVED, was that the cast do the show in British accents! This might not seem like a big thing, but for one thing fake American accents grate on me, and for another it really suited the show - giving Glinda and Fiyero posh public school accents just worked perfectly! It just made the whole thing more real somehow and I haven't been able to listen to the original American soundtrack since!

I was surprised how much the story tied in with The Wizard of Oz, I had always assumed it to be a sort of prequel. I don't even really like The Wizard of Oz -which is why I didn't expect to love Wicked as much as I did- but even I managed to pick up on the majority of references, and thought the ending especially, without giving anything away, was really clever. I suppose this praise is directed at the novel as much as the musical, which as a book blogger I'm ashamed to say I haven't actually read yet!

Don't even get me started on the songs! The songs alone are enough to make this my all time favourite musical, they're just so packed with emotion, clever lyrics, and incredible riffs that I could listen to them forever - I pretty much do! It's impossible not to dramatically lip sync along, or attempt those ridiculous notes when you're in the shower - the echo on the tiles makes you sound marginally less vocally inadequate.

What really sold Wicked to me though was the cast. Emily Tierney is just delightful as Glinda. Her voice is beautiful, her face is beautiful (I know beauty isn't everything but she's gorgeous!), and her comic timing is spot on! She's completely believable as the spoilt and selfish Ga-linda who gradually evolves into the slightly more moralistic Glinda. I just adored her. Sam Edwards' Fiyero is great too -and he wore the white jodhpurs very well I have to say!

Emily Tierney as Glinda in her bubble.
Samuel Edwards and Fiyero with Ashleigh Gray's Elphaba.

Then there's the wonder that is Asheleigh Gray. Before I saw her in Edinburgh I'll admit I hadn't heard of her, and now she's all I talk about! The second time we saw the show in Sunderland we thought we had the standby Elphaba - they hadn't changed the cast board outside from the afternoon's matinee - so we were thrilled to discover that Ashleigh was actually going to be performing. This is by no means a slight on the understudy Jackie Hughes, I've looked her up on YouTube and she's amazing, but as soon as Ashleigh walked out on stage I realised that she was the reason  I was there. Her voice is just incredible; I've never heard anyone else end Defying Gravity with as much style as her, and her Fiyero riff hit me like a punch to the gut when I first heard it - I hadn't even listened to No Good Deed before so I had no idea it was coming! Most importantly though, aside from the phenomenal voice, you really believe she IS Elphaha, just as Emily IS Glinda. I genuinely can't imagine anyone else playing them now. Some Elphabas I've seen/heard play the 'Wicked'/No Good Deed side of her really well, whilst others play the naive student side of her better. Ashleigh is completely convincing as both, and plays it in such a way that you just love her from the start.

I saw Wicked for the first time because I wanted to see Wicked. I saw it the second time because I wanted to see  Ashleigh and Emily again. The two of them work fantastically well together, in terms of both acting and singing, and you can just tell that they get on well off stage too.
Asheleigh Gray as Elphaba and Emily Tierney as Glinda.

If you haven't had chance to catch this amazing show yet, please do! Of course, it's running in the West End too, but I honestly think that the tour cast is the best Wicked ensemble I've ever heard, but then maybe I'm biased. The tour heads to Aberdeen next before it's final stint in Salford so see it while you can!

Have you seen Wicked? And, with rumours rife of an impending film, who would be your dream cast? My jury is still out on Elphie and Glinda (unless it's Ashleigh and Emily of course), but Aaron Tveit HAS to be Fiyero, and Meryl Streep would make an excellent Madame Morrible in my opinion!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna was a good wife, mostly...

Anna Benz lives in comfort and affluence with her husband and three young children in Dietlikion, a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich. Anna, an American expat, has chosen this life far from home; but, despite its tranquility and order, inside she is falling apart. 

Feeling adrift and unable to connect with her husband or his family; with the fellow expatriates who try to befriend her; or even, increasingly, her own thoughts and emotions, Anna attempts to assert her agency in the only way that makes sense to her: by engaging in short-lived but intense sexual affairs.

But adultery, too, has its own morality, and when Anna finds herself crossing a line, she will set off a terrible chain of events ending in unspeakable tragedy. As her life crashes down around her, Anna must then discover where one must go when there is no going back...

I have to admit that this is something I would never have picked up had I not been offered a review copy, but it's good to step out of your bookish comfort zone every once in a while, and I'm so glad that I did! For a debut novel this is stunning. Essbaum is primarily a poet and this much is clear in her prose. The language is poetic, translucent, and just flows - perfectly reflecting Anna's dreamlike state as she drifts almost semi-consciously through her life.

Grazia described Hausfrau as 'A racy mix of Gone Girl and Fifty Shades.' I'm in the minority that has yet to read Gone Girl so I can't comment on that, but in my opinion if you're looking for your next Christian and Ana fix this isn't the book for you. The sex scenes are cold and loveless, and this Anna is far from a naive twenty-something. She is a married woman jaded by her life, and looking for something, anything, to fill it.

I didn't like Anna - I don't think the reader is supposed to - she's so emotionally adrift that even I felt cut off from her. She is a severely troubled woman full of self loathing, and her efforts to better herself - taking German classes for example - serve only to make her situation worse. I didn't really feel anything towards any of the other characters either, but I suspect that this is because Anna is disconnected from them to the point where she only sees their worst qualities. Mary is perhaps the only truly likeable character. She is good, kind - almost unbearably so - but she is also everything that Anna isn't, everything she has lost. Recently moved to Switzerland Mary is still full of enthusiasm for the place, but as the story wears on small cracks begin to show and you can't help but wonder whether she too will end up adrift.

Switzerland is almost a character in itself - breathtaking to look at yet simultaneously oppressive and isolating. The clockwork precision and peace for which it is famous contrasts directly with Anna's raging inner turmoil. The street names, the train stops, all are painstakingly described. Anna is governed by them whether she likes it or not.

The narrative constantly flits between Anna's past, her present, and her therapy sessions with Doktor Messerli. Yet it is surprisingly easy to follow as we gradually learn the whole of Anna's story, building towards what we know can only be a tragic ending. I guessed what was going to happen at the end but it was very subtly done, and very apt.

4/5 stars: Although not to my usual taste, Hausfrau is compelling, disturbing, and beautifully written. I can't wait to read more from this author!

*Thanks to Sam Eades at Pan Macmillan for sending me a review copy of this book!*

Friday, 10 April 2015

Review: The Miss Mirren Mission by Jenny Holiday

Loving her would be his downfall…

To society, the Earl of Blackstone cuts a mysterious figure. He is eligible, withdrawn, and endlessly fascinating. Yet as an integral part of London’s underground spy ring intent on defeating Napoleon, Blackstone has no mistress but the cause.

Miss Emily Mirren is considered “unbiddable” by the ton. She wields a fierce intellect, which she channels into her own secret cause—writing an abolitionist newspaper column under a male pseudonym.

When Emily’s aims clash with Blackstone’s, they stray into a dangerous game of attraction and subterfuge, and secrets are the going currency. And in order to complete the most important mission of his career, Blackstone must thwart Emily, even if it breaks both their hearts.

Eric is a man haunted by the ghosts of his past, He has thrown himself into his spy work to distract himself. His only focus is the mission which he must complete at any cost.

Emily Mirren has a mission of her own, and when her path crosses with Eric's they are immediately drawn to each other. They've both had a troubled past, and with Emily adamant that she will never marry and Eric determined to be the last of his bloodline a marriage between them seems impossible. As both their missions near their end Emily and Eric must work together despite their misgivings. Can they find a way to live happily ever after?

I loved Eric. Aside from the war injury he is very much the stereotypical aloof regency hero, but as his softer side emerged, particularly with Emily, I couldn't help but fall for him. Eric and Emily's illicit late night library encounters and moonlight swims may be cliché but they made me smile, as did the banter between them as their relationship grew.

Emily is clever, quick-witted and very kind-hearted. A 'bluestocking' reformer, she has no shame in voicing her opinions and campaigning for a better world - a world with freedom for the slaves. Emily and Eric have chemistry in spades, and it's clear from the start how their story is going to end. The getting there, though, is packed full of romance, intrigue, and twists that I didn't see coming. The secondary characters are all great too, and I would love to see some of them get stories of their own. The story of how Catharine met her husband, for example is one that I would be really interested to read.

4/5 stars: Part romance novel, part spy thriller, The Miss Mirren Mission is historical romance with a difference.

*Thanks to Entangled Publishing for granting me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Film Review: Cinderella

So yesterday I finally got around to going to see Cinderella at the cinema. I'm actually not all that fond of the cartoon version, shocking I know. I think it's because the stepmother terrified me as a child - though I did love Gus Gus! My favourite ever adaptation of the Cinderella story is actually The Slipper and the Rose, so I was interested to see how this one would measure up. We all know the story by now, but just in case you don't, there are spoilers ahead.

First thing I have to comment on, of course, is the casting. Lily James is the perfect Cinderella - I've been racking my brains and genuinely can't think of anyone else who could possibly have played her. Richard Madden I initially thought an odd choice to play the Prince, but I was pleasantly surprised and found that he and Lily made an adorable couple with palpable chemistry. Helena Bonham Carter was an obvious choice for the Fairy Godmother, but this is no criticism as she was fabulous as always. Cate Blanchett definitely deserves a mention for her brilliant portrayal as the wicked stepmother, and it was lovely to see Lily's Downton co-star Sophie McShera give a turn as one of the ugly sisters. There were a few other familiar faces that cropped up unexpectedly - I won't name names in case you haven't seen it - but altogether I'd say that the casting was pretty much spot on.

I can't write a review without mentioning the dress. For those who are interested there's an article over on the Daily Mail website about how it was made, and more importantly how Cinderella's waist was NOT photoshopped - the skirts are just so big that it looks that way! It's absolutely stunning, the ultimate princess dress - but it must have weighed a tonne!

Another thing I liked about this film is the way they dealt with the animals. The mice, geese and lizards didn't speak - aside from when they were human of course - but Cinderella spoke to them the way we - or at least I - speak to my pets. It was really cleverly done and very cute. Although clearly still a fairytale, this version seems more realistic somehow; Cinderella meets 'Kit' Charming before the ball so it isn't entirely love at first sight, and Cinders herself is less a damsel in distress and more a strong moral heroine. The reason she stays with her stepmother is because she loathes to leave the house that her parents loved, not because she isn't allowed to leave. Lady Tremaine herself is a more ambiguous character too, she is desperate for money and jealous of Ella's beauty and kindness - hence her 'wicked' actions. If I had any criticism it would only be that the film's central message 'have courage and be kind' was pushed a little too much for my liking, but then of course I'm not the target audience and I'm sure many parents will be hoping that their little princesses take heed of the moral.

If you're expecting a frame for frame real-life copy of the original cartoon then you'll be disappointed, especially as it isn't a musical. However the film's soundtrack does feature Lily James singing 'A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' and Helena Bonham Carter's version of 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo' which made for a lovely surprise when I looked it up on Spotify. The rest of the soundtrack is beautiful too - music isn't always the first thing you notice when watching a film but a few scores, particularly when Cinderella first enters the ballroom, are truly enchanting and really add to the fairytale atmosphere of the film. There's been a tendency to explore the darker side of fairytales in film recently - just look at Maleficent and Into the Woods - but this one stays on the lighter side of things, which to me is a welcome relief. It's not entirely sugar coated -the death of both of Cinderella's parents and her subsequent grief are given a lot more attention than in the cartoon - but it won't give you nightmares either. To me it's balanced just right.

5/5 stars: Visually stunning and true to the spirit of the original, Cinderella is an enchanting film for all the family. I'll be watching this instead of the cartoon from now on.

And if you needed any more convincing to go and see this film don't forget there's also the brilliant new short Frozen Fever to enjoy before the main event! I had completely forgotten about it until it started and it made my day!