Archive | September, 2011

Book review: Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

30 Sep

Eve Williams is about to discover just how the other half really live …

Yorkshire, 1904: Above stairs: Lord Hoyland keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It’s just as well the coal is of the highest quality as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall, his splendid estate on the outskirts of town, doesn’t come cheap. And that’s not to mention the cost of keeping his wife and daughters in the latest fashions– and keeping the heir to the Hoyland wealth, the charming but feckless Tobias, out of trouble.

Below stairs: Eve Williams, is the wife of one of Lord Hoyland’s most stalwart employees. When her ordered existence amid the terraced rows of the miners’ houses is brought crashing down by the twin arrivals of tragedy and charity, Eve must look to her own self-sufficiency, and talent, to provide for her three young children. And it’s then that ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ collide in truly dramatic fashion…

Netherwood is a thoroughly enjoyable historical saga and a fantastic debut from Jane Sanderson. I was completely drawn in to the world that Jane has created, loving both the historical detail and the variety and depth of characters that populate this book.

As the novel begins we find Eve Williams content with her life as mother to Seth, Eliza and Ellen and wife to her miner husband Arthur. The Williams family live in Netherwood town, part of the vast estate belonging to Lord Hoyland, Earl of Netherwood who resides at the impressive Netherwood Hall. As it begins, Netherwood is a novel of dramatic contrasts as details of Eve and Arthur’s working lives are recounted alongside those of the wealthy Hoyland family. Initially, there seems little in common between the two but a tragic accident brings Eve to the attention of the Hoylands and as their paths cross, the scene is set for a series of life changing events for Eve and her family.

Although narrated in the third person, Netherwood is very much Eve’s story and she was by far my favourite character. I loved that  Eve is a straight talking practical Yorkshire woman and as I hale from Yorkshire stock myself, I’m happy to say that Sanderson has created a true sense of attitude and culture. Netherwood feels like a very well researched novel; alongside the detail of day to day life which reminded me of the recollections that my own Nan used to tell me of her childhood, Sanderson brings in wider themes of the time such as unionisation and votes for women but in a very accessible and poignant way, weaving the historical fact into a believeble, heartfelt and often heartwarming story.

I’ve said before that I always enjoy books with strong female characters that triumph over adversity and Eve certainly does that but she isn’t the only strong female character in the novel; Henrietta, Lord Hoyland’s oldest daughter is a great supporting character sharing her fathers interest in industry and his estate but thwarted by the expectations and rules of succession and propriety that society imposes on her. Eve’s widowed lodger Anna is also an inspiring character, hailing from a wealthy Russian  family and having been transported to industrial Yorkshire by her marriage, she is taken in by Eve and the two form an instant alliance. It is Anna that catalyses Eve into taking control of her life and pushes her to expand her ambitions.

Henry and Anna are just two examples of characters that deserve strong storylines in future books in this series but Netherwood is populated by a whole host of interesting, lovable and not so lovable characters with numerous smaller story-lines that feed into the main story bringing elements of love, drama and humour. I loved how all of the small details came together to build a fascinating picture of a community at a certain point in time.

I’m pleased to see that there will be a sequel to Netherwood next year which follows on directly from the events of this book and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Eve and the rest of Netherwood next. Netherwood is a brilliant place to get lost in this Autumn and a must read for fans of period drama!

5/5

Netherwood is out now and I’d like to thank publisher Sphere for sending me a review copy.

You can find out more about Netherwood and Jane Sanderson on her website at: http://www.jane-sanderson.com/including the first three chapters of Ravenscliffe the sequel to Netherwood which will be released in September 2012.

(Un)like a Virgin Giveaway Winners!

29 Sep

The winners are …

Rachel, Kirstie, Laura, Amy and Rea

Congratulations! I have sent you all an email. Thanks to everyone who entered and for sharing your favourite songs. Look out for more giveaways coming soon!

Book review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

22 Sep

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

One of the things I love most about book blogging is the opportunity to discover books that would most probably have passed me by before I started blogging. Ready Player One is one of those books. On first impressions this book is very different from my usual reads but luckily for me, a publisher thought I might enjoy it and asked if I’d like a copy. I’m so glad they did as this is one of the most gripping and entertaining books I’ve read! Cline has created a brilliantly thought out and detailed future dystopian world; combined it with a fantastic virtual reality treasure hunt based on music, film and gaming nostalgia from the 1980’s and underlined it all with (the biggest surprise for me as I read) a really sweet coming of age love story.

This book will automatically appeal to the gamers and the geeks but please don’t dismiss it on that basis because there is so much more to the story! The basic plot is deceptively simple; on his death, James Halliday, the founder of the OASIS set a challenge to complete a series of quests and inherit his fortune and control of the OASIS. The novel is split into three parts covering the search for the three keys that will lead to the final prize and is narrated by lead character Wade Watts (known online as Parzival) as he tells the story of how he found the first key and what happened next. The attention to detail and complexity of the world Cline had created are amazing – he really does seem to have thought of everything and as a reader I was completely pulled into both the future world that Wade inhabits and the virtual world that is his playground.

Cline’s writing style is easy to read and Wade’s story had me gripped from the start. It was refreshing to read a book narrated from a male perspective and Cline has the mindset of his eighteen year old hero spot on. There are five other key characters who are on the one hand Wade’s key competitors for the ultimate prize and on the other his allies and friends as the book progresses. These are characters known for the majority of the novel via their online persona’s – virtual beings that may or may not be reflections of their true selves which adds an interesting dimension to Wade’s interactions with them and the book as a whole as I was kept guessing until the end as to who Wade’s fellow gamers really were.

Right from the prologue with its references to the film Heathers the book is packed full of references to 1980’s pop culture and actually made me nostalgic for a time before Twitter, X-boxes and anything with an ‘i’ in front of it. I’ll be honest; some of the references went over my head but it didn’t matter as Wade explains the important ones and the underlying storyline is so strong that it wouldn’t matter if you’d never played a video game in your life. I was so engrossed in the world that Cline has created that I found myself Googling some of the films, TV and music to find out more for myself (once a librarian always a librarian) and there aren’t many books that I can say that about!

As is to be expected in a novel based on a giant game, the plot includes plenty of surprises and twists to keep readers on their toes. Ready Player One is a very visual book and should make a fantastic film, the rights for which have already been optioned by Warner Brothers. This is a novel that appeals on many different levels; I found it a fun and addictive read and I loved the underlying morale to the story. In fact I enjoyed this book so much that I’d really like to read more like it – suggestions in the box below please!

5/5

You can find out more about Ernest Cline and Ready Player One at: http://www.ernestcline.com/

I’d like to thank Ruth at Random House for sending me a review copy.

Watching Willow Watts giveaway winners!

19 Sep

The winners are …

Carol Wyer and Amy

Congratulations! I have sent you both emails. Thanks to everyone who entered and don’t forget to enter the (Un)like a Virgin Giveaway that is currently running. Look out for more giveaways coming soon!

Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes giveaway winner!

19 Sep

The winner is …

Carol

Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered and don’t forget to enter the (Un)like a Virgin Giveaway that is currently running.

Book news: The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

19 Sep

I’m a big fan of Alma Katsu’s debut novel The Taker which came out earlier this year and have been eagerly awaiting news of the second part of the trilogy so I was very excited to find that the cover has been released for The Reckoning. I have it on good authority that the cover will be silver and embossed like that of the UK Taker cover. I’m so pleased that the covers will match! Having loved the black page edges of The Taker I wonder if The Reckoning will have coloured page edges too?

There isn’t a synopsis available yet but The Reckoning will be released early in 2012 and I can’t wait!

Giveaway! Unlike a Virgin by Lucy-Anne Holmes

16 Sep

Thanks to lovely publisher Sphere I have five copies of this brilliant book to give away to lucky readers. I really loved this one as you can see from my review but don’t take my word for it – enter this giveaway and find out for yourselves!

To enter just leave a comment in the box below saying what your favourite song is and I’ll draw five winners using random.org after the closing date.

UK entries only please. Entries will close at midnight on Thursday 22nd September. Good luck!

Is Gracie in love for the very first time? You know that bit in The X Factor, when the singer tells everyone about the rocky road they travelled to pursue their dream? Well, that’s Gracie Flowers’ story.

Gracie is very focused for a woman of almost twenty-six. Her favourite book is ‘The 5-Year Plan: Making the Most of Your Life’. And her five-year plan is going very well. That is, until she is usurped from her big promotion by a handsome, posh idiot; she is dumped by her boyfriend; and discovers her loopy mother is facing bankruptcy.

Hormones awry and ice cream over-ordered, a dream Gracie thought she’d buried ten years ago starts to resurface. A dream that reminds her of the girl she used to be and everything she wanted to become.

Book review: (Un)like a Virgin by Lucy-Anne Holmes

15 Sep

Is Gracie in love for the very first time? You know that bit in The X Factor, when the singer tells everyone about the rocky road they travelled to pursue their dream? Well, that’s Gracie Flowers’ story.

Gracie is very focused for a woman of almost twenty-six. Her favourite book is ‘The 5-Year Plan: Making the Most of Your Life’. And her five-year plan is going very well. That is, until she is usurped from her big promotion by a handsome, posh idiot; she is dumped by her boyfriend; and discovers her loopy mother is facing bankruptcy.

Hormones awry and ice cream over-ordered, a dream Gracie thought she’d buried ten years ago starts to resurface. A dream that reminds her of the girl she used to be and everything she wanted to become.

I absolutely loved this book! It made me laugh and it made me cry and lead character Gracie Flowers rocks :-) The story is told from Gracie’s point of view and she had me smiling from the first page with her wry observations on her job, her boyfriend, friends and family.

As a child, Gracie was a talented singer but since her Dad passed away when she was sixteen she hasn’t sung in public. We meet Gracie ten years later working as a successful Estate Agent. Her life is going according to her carefully plotted Five Year Plan but things soon begin to go wrong. As her plans for the future fall flat one by one she finds herself drawing on the strength her Dad provided and the songs they used to sing together.

Unlike a Virgin is one hundred percent Gracie’s story and Lucy Ann Holmes has perfectly captured her thoughts and feelings in a chatty and easy to read style. The story isn’t all laughs though and touches on some heartbreaking issues, particularly bereavement and loss. I don’t want to give out any spoilers but I thought Lucy-Anne Holmes dealt with the difficult situations that Gracie finds herself in in a refreshingly honest and open way and there is a lot that readers will be able to relate to in this book.

Gracie is supported by a fun and varied cast of characters all of whom are just as well written as our leading lady.  My personal favourites were Gracie’s builder friend and ‘ Bob’ and pub owner Anton but the banter between Gracie and her new boss and her best friend Paula was also fantastic and really had me chuckling. I was really impressed with the mix of characters included in this novel.

Despite everything in Gracie’s plans going awry, this is a really feelgood novel and one of my favourites of the year so far. As Gracie faces her fears and decides what she really wants from the future Unlike a Virgin has a lovely message about following your dreams and being true to your heart. The romantic in me absolutely loved the ending and with three possible love interests for Gracie, I was gripped for the whole book!

Gracie is definitely up there with my favourite leading ladies and I really hope that Lucy-Anne decides to bring her and her friends back for back for future novels.

5/5

Unlike a Virgin is released today and I’d like to thank publishers Sphere for sending me a copy to review.

To celebrate publication the publishers are running a fab competition to win a PlayStation 3 and Singstar package. Check out: http://www.littlebrownbooks.net/britainsings/ for the full details!

You can find out more about Lucy and her books at: http://www.lucyanneholmes.co.uk/

Giveaway! Watching Willow Watts by Talli Roland

14 Sep

Earlier today I posted my review of Talli Roland’s fab second novel Watching Willow Watts. Talli is kindly providing two ebook copies of her novel for me to give away. This giveaway is open worldwide and will close at midnight (UK) on Sunday 18th September.

Today marked the official launch of Watching Willow Watts as an ebook and to celebrate Talli Roland organised an If I Could Be Anyone, I’d Be…’ online launch party! So to enter this giveaway just leave a comment in the box at the end of this post that completes the sentence, saying who you would be if you could be anyone for a day. I’ll draw two winners using random.org following the closing date. Good luck everyone!

For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father’s antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain’s Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow’s epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn’s ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow’s town is overrun with fans flocking to see the ‘new Marilyn’. Egged on by the villagers — whose shops and businesses are cashing in — Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn’s legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village’s newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?


Book review – Watching Willow Watts by Talli Roland

14 Sep

For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father’s antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain’s Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow’s epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn’s ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow’s town is overrun with fans flocking to see the ‘new Marilyn’. Egged on by the villagers — whose shops and businesses are cashing in — Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn’s legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village’s newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

Having loved Talli Roland’s reality TV based debut, The Hating Game I’ve been eagerly anticipating the publication of Watching Willow Watts and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. Talli has once again tapped into a very modern media phenomenon – in this case the power of YouTube – to pen a fun but heartfelt novel that looks at the lure of celebrity and the true price of fame.

Willow Watts is an unassuming twenty-something girl living in the less than inspiring Cotswolds village of Belcherton. Willow has given up a burgeoning career as a florist in London to return home to look after her Father and his ailing antiques business following the death of her Mother. I liked Willow straight away – we meet her as she attends the village fair and it’s clear from the start that she wants to make people happy even if it is at the expense of her own desires.

As her best friend Paula talks her into donning a Marilyn Monroe costume at the ‘Be a Star’ stall, little does Willow know how much her life is about to change. In a strange but amusingly believable twist of fate, the video of Willow’s Marilyn impression is uploaded to YouTube and becomes an instant hit as Marilyn fans worldwide believe they see the image of their idol’s ghost endorsing Willow as the next big thing!

Willow is quickly pulled into the frenzy and as fans and the media descend on the village wanting to meet her she realises that being the new Marilyn might be the answer to all of her problems and a real boost for the village. It’s at this point that the story takes a turn for the more sinister as Willow falls for the promises of fame and fortune (not to mention the romantic attentions) of unscrupulous ‘agent’ Jay Bellamy. Jay is a fantastic villain and a character that readers will love to hate – I truly was wishing him the worst as I read! Thankfully there are some fab supporting characters to help keep Willow on track – her quirky best friend Paula and American Marilyn fanatic Betts were two of my favourites and I loved the sub-slot involving Betts as she makes her own life-changing decisions.

As with Talli’s previous novel, there are several romantic stories running under the main ‘celebrity’ plot and as Willow’s ex-boyfriend Alex comes back into the picture she has to decide who she really wants to be and what she wants from her future. Watching Willow Watts is a quick and engrossing read and I loved the ending to the story. Talli has definitely found her niche in writing chick lit with an edge that is fun, modern and romantic and I’m already looking forward to her next book!

4/5

Watching Willow Watts is out now in ebook format and the paperback version will be available on November 30th. I’d like to thank Talli for sending me a review copy.

You can find out more about Talli and her books at: http://www.talliroland.com/