Archive | March, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: Sealed with a Kiss by Fiona Walker

30 Mar

Allegra North’s second thoughts about splitting with childhood sweetheart Francis need a first-class stamp. But with her unfinished letter to him still in her handbag, she can’t find the right words to express her regrets. Invited to a big movie premiere through her work, she resolves to put all thoughts of her ex fiancé out of her mind; then she loses her handbag in the foyer. Francis meanwhile is determined to win Allegra back. Convinced that they should never have parted, he intends to declare his feelings in front of crowds of press and film fans that evening, unaware that his meticulous plans are about to be hijacked by his hired accomplice, a movie stuntman with a thirst for publicity . . . By the time the closing credits roll, the crowds will be baying for a kiss. Can a letter right wrongs, or do actions speak louder than words?

Fiona Walker’s new novel The Love Letter is out on 3rd May but as a prequel to the release of the new book Fiona has released an exclusive ebook short story today. I was lucky enough to get a preview of Sealed with a Kiss and it’s certainly an attention grabber. I haven’t read any of Fiona’s books before but I will definitely be reading The Love Letter now as I need to know what happens next!

Sealed with a Kiss is set twelve months before The Love Letter and introduces us to Allegra ‘Legs’ North who has recently split up with her first love and childhood sweetheart, Francis. The reason for the split is revealed in the short story and straight away, wasn’t what I was expecting!

Allegra works for a literary agency and is due to attend the movie premier for the most anticipated movie release of the year (think The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter). I enjoyed the London premier setting and the movie star cast add lots of A-list glamour to the story.

Despite this only being a short story, Fiona Walker sets up a number of plot lines straight away and as I was reading I felt like I’d jumped straight into the action. The main thread focuses on Allegra and the love letter that she is writing to Francis but throw in an A List actress with a last minute wardrobe malfunction, a runaway horse and carriage and a priceless emerald necklace and the plot really takes off.

With a large cast of likeable and interesting characters that I hope we’ll see more of in The Love Letter, Sealed with a Kiss is an excellent introduction to the forthcoming book and Fiona Walker’s style. I liked Allegra straight away and her sense of humour made me smile.I’m already looking forward to getting to know her better in the new novel and I’m very intrigued to find out what happens to her love letter next.

I love that more authors are releasing stories like this which give new readers like me the opportunity to sample their writing and get a feel for a story. Sealed with a Kiss is a quick fun read and a good length for a short story, It is released today and is available as an audio edition as well as an ebook. You can find out more, hear an extract of Sealed with a Kiss and read the first chapter of The Love Letter on Fiona’s website at: http://www.fionawalker.com/

Author interview: Gill Paul

29 Mar

Gill Paul’s historical fiction novel Women and Children First is released today. The book is based around the stories of a number of Titanic survivors. It’s an excellent read and I reviewed it earlier this week so I was delighted when Gill agreed to be interviewed on One More Page. Welcome Gill!

Women and Children First focuses on the survivors of the Titanic. What inspired you to write this story?

Most Titanic books and films finish at the point when the lifeboats reached the Carpathia but I was always fascinated by what happened to survivors after that. They had sat in lifeboats listening to 1,500 people dying in the water around them, and I couldn’t imagine how you would ever get that sound out of your head. There’s clear evidence that many survivors experienced different forms of post-traumatic stress disorder in an era when very little was understood about it, and I wanted to explore what that was like.

You’ve also written a non- fiction book about the Titanic; what drew you to the subject and why do you think the Titanic story continues to fascinate people?

I grew up knowing about the Titanic because both my grandfathers worked in shipbuilding, and my dad was a steam obsessive. The story really got under my skin when I saw the film A Night to Remember as a teenager. It’s a part of our cultural memory now, mainly because of the controversial elements: the fact that the ship was speeding through ‘Iceberg Alley’ in April; the loading of the lifeboats was erratic, with many going off half-full; the rich were prioritized over the poor; and there’s a strong possibility that the Californian was just a few miles away and could have saved everyone. Catastrophe could so easily have been avoided.

Women and Children First is packed with wonderful historical detail. How did you go about your research for the book?

I read dozens and dozens of books on the subject; in fact, for the last three years I’ve hardly read a book that wasn’t about the Titanic. There are also some great websites, such as www.encyclopedia-titanica.org. My non-fiction book is about the honeymoon couples on the Titanic, and I researched them in newspaper archives and local history libraries. In some cases I managed to contact relatives and friends of survivors.

What was the most interesting fact about Titanic that you found during your research?

There are so many. One thing I found fascinating was that the lowest survival rate for any single group was for the men in second class, where only 8 per cent lived. They fared worse than men in third class, who had much further to come to get to the lifeboats yet 16 per cent of them made it, and significantly worse than crew (of whom 22 per cent survived). Second class was predominantly British, and they were professional types – teachers, ministers, farmers – emigrating to the US. It seems that they stood back, like ‘gentlemen’, and let other people board the lifeboats first. They didn’t presume to step forward to the first-class areas where boats were going off half-full. They were victims of their conditioning in the British class system and ‘knew their place’.

The novel focuses on the lives of a number of fictional characters before and after the Titanic sank; who was your favourite character to create and why?

I have enormous fondness for my main character, Reg, because he is so young and vulnerable. There’s no one else looking out for him and he makes some morally flawed decisions, although he is fundamentally a good person. I enjoyed writing from a male character’s point of view, which I hadn’t tried before.

Reg is a young First Class steward; why did you choose to focus on him?

The story of what happened to the crew isn’t told as often as that of the passengers, and choosing a crew member allowed me to go behind the scenes and look at the working of the ship. I was lucky enough to meet an elderly man who used to work on transatlantic liners a couple of decades after the Titanic and he was able to give me a lot of inside information.

14th April marks the Centenary of the sinking; do you have any special plans to mark the day?

I’m doing a book signing that afternoon and a couple of press interviews, then I plan to come back and watch any Titanic programmes that are on television (I’m sure there will be lots).

What do you like to read when you’re not writing and researching?

I read novels: Barbara Kingsolver, Rose Tremain, John Banville, Andrew Miller… I’ve got stacks of novels under my bed waiting to be read once I am not researching the Titanic any more.

And finally, what can we expect next from Gill Paul?

I have another historical novel being published in May 2013. This one is set in the 1960s and has a Mad Men vibe!

I’m looking forward to that already! Many thanks Gill.

You can find out more about Gill Paul and her work on her website at: http://www.gillpaul.com/


Book news: Dream a Little Dream by Sue Moorcroft

28 Mar

I really enjoyed Sue Moorcroft’s last novel, Love and Freedom so I was very excited to see her new cover over on her blog yesterday. Isn’t it lovely? Dream a Little Dream will be published by Choc Lit in November and I can’t wait to read it!

Daughters Giveaway Winner

27 Mar

The winner is …

Claire

Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered. Look out for more giveaways coming soon!

Book review: Women and Children First by Gill Paul

26 Mar

The Titanic was the most magnificent ship ever built, offering every possible luxury to her passengers – yet on the night on the 14th of April, 1912, she sank in the North Atlantic, leaving the lucky ones floating in wooden rowing boats, and the rest struggling for their lives in the icy water.

This novel follows the fortunes of Reg, a handsome young steward who works in the first-class dining room; Annie, a gifted Irishwoman who is travelling to America with her four children; Juliette, a titled English lady who is pregnant and unmarried; an American millionaire and his wife who are trapped in a poisoned marriage; and a mystery passenger who never shows her face in public.

The sinking of the Titanic not only steals lives but blows apart the futures of those who survive. Coming to terms with the shocking events, survivors form new attachments, make decisions with tragic consequences, and watch all their old certainties crumble. How can life ever be the same again when you have heard 1,500 people dying in the water around you?

I think we all know the story of the Titanic; the ‘unsinkable’ luxury ocean liner that tragically hit an iceburg and sank on 15th April 1912. Of over 2000 people on board only 711 survived. As the 100th anniversary of the sinking approaches, Gill Paul’s historical novel Women and Children First explores the impact of the tragedy on those who survived. Although Women and Children First is historical fiction, it is very firmly based upon fact; Gill Paul’s descriptions of the ship clearly show the depth of her research and although all of the characters are fictional, they and their stories are very believable which makes the novel an absolutely gripping read.

Women and Children First is a novel of two parts; the first tracking the characters as they set sail on the Titanic and following events to the point where the survivors reach New York and the second part following their lives in the months after the sinking. The ‘before and after’ scenario is very well done and despite the fact that I already knew the events leading up to the sinking, Gill quickly establishes a wonderfully varied cast of characters which had me wishing I could change the course of history and praying that they and their friends and families all survived which made this novel a real page turner. Gill’s descriptions of the ship and the sinking are vivid and made for heartbreaking reading and having established the hopes and dreams of her passengers, I found the second part of the novel equally as absorbing as the first as the survivors attempt to come to terms with what has happened to them.

Although the novel follows a number of individuals and families, it is First Class steward Reg Parton who is the lead character and a uniting link between the set of characters. Reg is an excellent lead and his position on the ship means that he can move easily between the different classes which really ties the individual stories together nicely. I liked Reg a lot and was rooting for him from the beginning and I thought Gill Paul did an excellent job of showing the impact of such shocking events on a young man with everything to live for. But of all the individual stories explored in the novel it was mum of four Annie whose story got to me the most – you’ll have to read the book to find out why but make sure you have a tissue handy when you do.

Despite the sad events that the book is based around, Women and Children First isn’t a depressing read. There are numerous strands to the stories of the survivors which include a lot of drama without the sinking; infidelity, a secret pregnancy and mysterious passenger who doesn’t seem to come out in public. It was interesting to see the impact of the sinking on the story lines that had been established and I enjoyed the way that the author placed the characters and events into historical context.

Women and Children First is packed with wonderful historical detail and I loved the descriptions of New York society and the fabled ‘400’ and the contrast with English upper class society embodied by the First Class residents of the ship. I found the stories of Reg, Annie and the other less privileged passengers equally interesting and the book became evem more poignant when I read that Gill Paul took inspiration for her characters from people that were actually on the Titanic; Reg being inspired by a photograph of a handsome first class steward that she found during her research. The book ends with a section of facts and photographs of the Titanic which illustrates further how closely Gill Paul has stuck to the accepted truths about the sinking of the Titanic. Highly recommended!

5/5

Women and Children First is released in paperback and ebook on 29th March and I’d like to thank Gill and her publisher, Avon (Harper Collins) for sending me a review copy.

Please stop by on Thursday when I’ll be interviewing Gill to celebrate the launch of Women and Children First.

You can find out more about Gill Paul and her work on her website at: http://www.gillpaul.com/

Book review: Advent by James Treadwell

21 Mar

For centuries it has been locked away.
Lost beneath the sea.
Warded from earth, air, water, fire, spirits, thought and sight.

But now magic is rising to the world once more.

And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train, alone, to Cornwall.

No one will be there to meet him.

It’s been a while since I read anything in the fantasy genre so when I got an email offering a review copy of James Treadwell’s debut novel, Advent, I jumped at the chance. Advent is the first book in a trilogy about the return of magic to the world as we know it. It’s an ambitious and detailed debut based around the Faust legend and certainly made a change from my recent reading being the first book by a male author and featuring a male lead that I’ve read this year!

Advent is a dark and complex fantasy novel that had me quite spooked on a number of occasions as I read. As regular readers will know, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary books so fantasy lovers will probably laugh at me but Treadwell’s fantastic line in cliffhanger chapter endings and chilling turns of events had me nervous to turn the page at times and if I’d been watching Advent as a film, I’d have probably been hidden behind a cushion for a large part of it. With a cast that includes witches, warlocks, spirits, mermaids and some horrifying animals set against the backdrop of an out of the way corner of Cornwall, I thought the imagery of the book was impressive and I loved the way Treadwell used the forces of nature to show the impact of the magic coming back to the world.

Advent follows fifteen year old Gavin as he heads to Cornwall to spend time with his Aunt Gwen while his parents are abroad. It’s soon clear that Gav isn’t the average teenager although he desperately wishes he was. Gav has a companion that only he can see. He’s named her Mrs Grey and has learned not to mention her for fear of making his strained relationship with his parents worse. Advent is very much a journey of self discovery for Gav as he finds himself at the centre of an epic adventure when his Aunt fails to meet him at the station and he ends up alone in her cottage on the mysterious Pendurra estate.

The first half of the novel switches between Gav’s days in Cornwall in the present and the story of ‘the greatest Magus in the World’ set in the 1500’s. The two separate story strands run for the first half of the novel and the historical narrative works backwards from a December night in 1537 to explain the Magus’s quest for magical power. This part of the book raises more questions than it gives answers and at times I found myself a little lost as I was reading, wondering what was going on. Treadwell has clearly done his research into magical legends and the detail of the Magus’s work is excellent but I didn’t understand all of the references to legend and folklore.

Despite being over 400 pages long, the action in Advent all takes place in a very short time period of just days and the story in the present really picks up in the second half of the novel with a lot of pace and apocalyptic events. Although we get to know Gav best as the central character, there are two other teenage characters that caught my interest. Marina is the daughter of the owner of Pendurra and as we meet her has led a completely sheltered life, never leaving the estate and not really knowing anything of the outside world. As with Gav, it’s clear from the beginning that Marina is ‘different’ and I was drawn to her story; I hope we see more of her in the next book. Likewise, Marina’s friend Horace, who played a much bigger part in the story than I expected and looks set to have a strong role in future.

As I read Advent I found myself wondering where the trilogy would go after book one but I would never have guessed the ending which introduces a whole new set of characters and really opens up the story; a very clever move by Mr Treadwell which has left me very eager to get my hands on book two!

4/5

Advent is out now in hardback and as an ebook. I’d like to thank Katy from Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a review copy.

You can find out more about James Treadwell and his writing on his website at: http://www.jamestreadwell.com/

You can read the first chapter of Advent on the Hodder & Stoughton website

Book review and giveaway: Daughters by Elizabeth Buchan

13 Mar

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all mothers want to see their daughters happily settled.

But for Lara, mother to Maudie and stepmother to Jasmine and Eve, realizing this ambition has not been easy.

With an ex-husband embarking on a new marriage, and the surprising and late blooming developments in her own love life to contend with, Lara has enough to worry about, especially with Eve’s upcoming wedding.

And when she begins to fear that Eve is marrying a man who will only make her unhappy, and Maudie reveals something that shocks the entire family, Lara faces the ultimate dilemma. Does she step in and risk the wrath of her daughters? Or does she stand by and watch them both make what she fears will be the biggest mistakes of their lives?

Daughters is a novel about relationships, particularly family relationships and their varied complexities. Although primarily the story of Lara and her three daughters; Eve, Jasmine and Maudie, Daughters also examines issues surrounding marriage, divorce, loss, grief, infidelity and complex blended families. Buchan narrates in the third person and I loved her writing style which combines elements of mystery with drama and real character depth resulting in a novel that will really make you think.

Lara is the lynch pin of the novel and her story and relationships are far more complex than I had imagined reading the blurb on the back of the novel. Lara is ‘mum’ to Jasmine, Eve and Maudie, having cared for all of them from when they were babies but she is actually step-mum to Jasmine and Eve whose mother died giving birth to Eve. As the story progresses, the dramas and often fraught relationships of the present are punctuated with flashbacks to events of the past, hinting at secrets that Lara has kept from the girls and slowly revealing the actions that brought about her divorce from their father and their repercussions as the girls grew up.

I love the cover for this novel and the matryoshka dolls image really captures the relationships of Lara and her daughters. The novel opens with Eve’s wedding announcement and the wedding acts as a catalyst for a lot of the action and drama of the novel as the wedding preparations show the three daughters’ true personalities well. Eve is super organised and efficient and outwardly her personality is very contained. She came across as quite highly strung at times and I didn’t really take to her for much of the novel; I thought her treatment of Lara at times was awful. Jasmine, Eve’s sister is a highly successful business woman and is often the one smoothing the waters in one way or another. Maudie, the youngest of the group and just finishing her A levels was my favourite of the sisters; I really admired her independence. The sisters’ lives make for interesting reading on their own and there are a number of sub-plots, particularly relating to their own relationships that kept me turning the pages! Their relationships with Lara are brilliantly captured and certainly made me think about my own relationship with my mum and how I am (and hope to be) seen as a mum myself.

By far the most complicated and to me, heartbreaking, relationship of the novel is between Lara and her ex-husband, Bill. I found it fascinating to see how the events of the past had a continuing effect on the present and had a lot of sympathy for them both as the full truth was revealed. Given the intricacies of the plot, I thought the ending to Daughters was very well done and tied up a lot of loose ends nicely. Elizabeth Buchan has really got to the heart of her characters and to many of the issues facing mums, dads and families today. Highly recommended to readers looking for a believable and thought provoking read.

4/5

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

You can find out more about Elizabeth Buchan and her novels at: http://www.elizabethbuchan.com/

Giveaway!

Thanks to lovely publisher Penguin I have one copy of Daughters to give away to a lucky reader. To enter this giveaway just leave a ‘pick me’ comment in the box below and I’ll use random.org to choose a winner after the closing date. This giveaway is open until midnight on Friday 16th March. UK entries only please. Good luck!

A little break …

3 Mar

… I’m moving house this weekend so will be taking a little blogging break to arrange my books on their new shelves and catch up with some reading. With a bit of luck I’ll have an Internet connection again on 9th March so look out for lots of reviews then!

Book review – The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

1 Mar

It’s 1956 and Samuel Lake, a handsome preacher, is voted out of his ministry by yet another congregation, disappointed by his relentless pleas for them to live more charitable lives. Out of options and out of pocket, Samuel and his family are forced to move in with their Arkansas in-laws, the rambunctious Moses clan.

At first they thrive in the unruly sea of relatives – Willa, Samuel’s wife, runs the bar for Grandma Calla, while the boys, Noble and Bienville, run riot through the surrounding countryside. But when Swan, their formidable but loveable 11-year-old tomboy, crosses the path of neighbour Ras Ballenger, things take a turn for the worse.

Ras Ballenger, horse trainer, is a man who rules both his family and his animals through terror. Used to instant obedience, he is insulted when Swan leaps to his son’s defence, an act that sets a whole chain of unexpected and terrible events into motion…

I read the hardback of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake in August last year just before my little boy was born and it was one of my books of the year for 2011. I’ve been meaning to find time to review it ever since so with the paperback version (with this lovely cover) being released today, I thought it the perfect moment to tell you more about this wonderful book.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is a captivating story of family, love, faith and hope which I found shockingly heartbreaking and upliftingly heartwarming at the same time, with events and particularly characters that have stayed with me long after I reached the final page. Beautifully written, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake tells the story of the Lake and Moses families set in Arkansas in 1956. As Samuel becomes a preacher without a pulpit he and his family return to his wife’s family home to live with Calla Moses and the rest of the clan and the novel follows them as they all try to adjust to their new lives.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake has some of the best character names I’ve ever encountered; with protagonists including Swan Lake, Blade Ballinger and Toy Moses (Swan’s 6ft 4 army hero uncle) the characters were bound to stick in my mind but it is the depth and feeling that Jenny Wingfield has captured in all of her characters that makes them absolutely believable and unforgettable. I thought Swan was amazing; despite only being eleven years old, she is a force to be reckoned with and as her thoughts and actions spill onto the page I couldn’t help but love her. Swan is often the ringleader; a fearless and adventurous tomboy but also compassionate and loving so when she finds a young boy hiding out in the middle of the night who follows her home she cannot help but take him under her wing.

There are many threads to the story; Samuel’s struggle to find fulfillment as a preacher and to come to terms with his new role in life being a key plot line but for me it was the story of Swan and Blade’s developing friendship and the repercussions of that friendship that made the novel outstanding. Blade’s father, Ras’s actions throughout the novel make for hard reading and there are some truly shocking episodes at his hands but despite the sickening nature of his behaviour throughout the book, I found The Homecoming of Samuel Lake a very uplifting read with a strong message about hope and standing strong in the face of adversity.

Jenny Wingfield has a wonderful way with words and I loved the way the story was written. The novel gave me a very strong sense of time and place and I could clearly visualise the Deep South rural 1950’s setting with the family shop run on trust and ‘Never Closes’ bar. The story builds to a shocking series of events which tie all of the characters and strands together and concludes by looking at the aftermath for all involved. A truly memorable read and I can’t wait to see what Jenny Wingfield produces next.

5/5

I’d like to thank the publisher, Harper Collins, for sending me a review copy of this book.