Archive | February, 2016

Reading Round Up – February

29 Feb

With this post I’ve blogged every day for two whole months!! Including this post, I’ve written and published 61 blog posts since the start of the year and I’ve really enjoyed getting back into blogging.

February has been much tougher than January to keep the momentum of posting up, especially when I came down with a nasty cold this weekend and could barely think straight let alone write reviews!

But I managed to blog something and here I am on the last day of the month wondering if I can keep it going. Lets just see … March is a really busy month in my day job and I’ve got loads of family stuff going on too so just watch this space!

So, onto the books. My Goodreads challenge is telling me I read twelve books this month. I should admit that three of these were shorter reads – two from the new Quick Reads releases and I discovered part one of Cressida McLaughlin’s lovely new serialised novel, The Canal Boat Cafe.

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In February I read:

  • two books with magical or fantasy elements
  • 1 young adult and 11 adult fiction
  • one short story collection, one short story and one part of a serialisation.
  • two historical fiction
  • 5  contemporary romance/dramas
  • one thriller

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I also did a little bit of book shopping …

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My book of the month for February is:

You And Me, Always

You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell

Coming in March

My ‘to read’ pile for March is full of treats again and I’m looking forward to reading new novels from Debbie Macomber, Jane Costello, Rae Rivers and the start of a new serialised novel from Cathy Bramley. I’ve got an exciting blogger event to attend mid-month and I’m taking part in some exciting blog tours including one to celebrate Erica James’s 20th novel! Look out for my March ‘hot picks’ tomorrow for more books to look out for next month.

Book review: The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies

28 Feb

silk merchant1952, French Indochina. Since her mother’s death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. For the first time, Nicole is awakened to the corruption of colonial rule – and her own family’s involvement shocks her to the core…

Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she’s always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is a captivating tale of dark secrets, sisterly rivalry and love against the odds, enchantingly set in colonial era Vietnam.

I was absolutely captivated by Dinah Jefferies’ latest historical novel, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Right from the opening pages, Dinah takes the reader on a wonderful sensory journey back to 1950’s Hanoi. Vitenam is a country that I would dearly love to visit one day but Dinah has gone one better than a modern day visit and managed to transport me to an earlier time in the history of the country. Sights, sounds, smells and experiences are vividly depicted in this novel and it satisfied both my wanderlust and love of engrossing historical fiction with a strong female lead.

The novel’s lead, Nicole is a very interesting figure and I enjoyed her development through the story. As the book opens, Nicole, who is of mixed race, having a Vietnamese Mother and French Father, is just eighteen and lives with her Father and sister Sylvie in the wealthy French quarter of Hanoi. Sylvie and Nicole’s relationship is immediately interesting and the undercurrents and rivalries of their relationship constantly present. Sylvie looks more French and, at least on the surface, appears to be the perfect older sister. Nicole has inherited her Mother’s looks and can easily pass for Vietnamese if she chooses too. The sisters represent the divisions in Vietnam at the time well and Nicole’s struggle to reconcile the two sides of her life brings the wider political situation into stark and relatable reality.

I love novels that teach me something alongside a great story and Dinah has certainly done her research for this book. I learnt and understood more from this novel than from any of the history books on the subject. The story starts in 1952 and builds against the backdrop of a growing threat of militant action against French rule in Vietnam. As Nicole is given a silk shop to run by her father as part of the family business she experiences firsthand both French and Vietnamese reactions to the building tension. I had so much sympathy for Nicole as a character as the ground kept moving under her feet and she just didn’t know who to trust.

It was heartbreaking to see Nicole put her faith in those around her time and time again and seemingly have the rug pulled out from under her feet. Sylvie is a wonderfully complex character and I loved how Dinah wove the story of the sisters into the complex history of Vietnam. The romantic element of the book is also dramatic and both of Nicole’s love interests; American silk trader Mark and Vietnamese activist Tran cause twists and turns to the story that I hadn’t expected.

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter brought together themes of family, survival and love with mystery, danger and impossible choices to create an engrossing story of a family at war. I can’t wait to read more from Dinah.

5/5

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is out now in Hardback and ebook formats from Penguin.

Find out more about Dinah and her writing at: http://www.dinahjefferies.com/

 

Giveaway Winner! Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Cate Woods

27 Feb

just havent met you yet

The winner is …

Nikki Hilton

Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered. Look out for a new giveaway next week!

Book news: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by Cathy Bramley

26 Feb

Check out the gorgeous covers for Cathy Bramley’s new four-part novel, The Plumberry School of Comfort Food. Part one will be released next week and I can’t wait!

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Verity Bloom hasn’t been interested in cooking anything more complicated than the perfect fish finger sandwich, ever since she lost her best friend and baking companion two years ago.

But an opportunity to help a friend is about to land her right back in the heart of the kitchen! The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is due to open in a few weeks’ time and has rather gone off the boil. It needs the kind of great ideas that only Verity could cook up . . .

But as Verity tries to balance stirring up publicity, keeping their top chef sweet and soothing her aching heart, will her move to Plumberry prove to be a sheer delight . . . or a recipe for disaster?

The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is an irresistibly charming novel told in four parts – following the adventures of Verity Bloom in love, friendship and cooking. This is the first part.

Look out for parts two, three and four coming soon!

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Find out more about Cathy and her writing at: http://www.cathybramley.co.uk/

Audio Book News: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Narrated by Scarlett Johansson

25 Feb

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image001 (5)Audible.co.uk has just released a fab new version of the classic Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The new release is performed by Golden Globe nominee and Tony Award-Winning actress Scarlett Johansson who you may know for her roles in films such as Lost in Translation, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Scarlett was joined in the recording studio by her sister, actress and accomplished audiobook narrator Vanessa Johansson, who served as director of this production. Vanessa has narrated dozens of audiobooks in her own right, and brought her own experience and unique perspective on the art form to the recording process.

“It was a great pleasure to work alongside my sister, Vanessa, to read aloud the great works of Lewis Carroll,” said Scarlett.  “Having grown up loving the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and reading many books aloud with Vanessa, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share my love for Alice with an audience. I hope that this recording is enjoyed by not only those who are existing fans of the material, but also by new and curious readers, who may just be discovering Carroll’s work for the first time.”

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is such a deliciously whimsical and curious story,” added Vanessa, whose audiobook credits span a variety of categories including children’s books, history, fantasy, biography, fiction, self-development and more. “We had such a blast dialoguing during the recording process, thinking about the characters, and creating an audio world for this book. I hope the joy that we experienced together comes across to listener.”

Find out more and download your copy at: http://www.audible.co.uk/alice

Book news: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

24 Feb

I’ve heard nothing but high praise for this book; a story of love, friendship, growing up, grief and jellyfish! I’ll be reading and reviewing this book soon but I just wanted to share the beautiful cover with you and show you what you have to look forward to next month!

the thing about jellyfish

 

Suzy is 12 when her best friend, Franny, drowns one summer at the beach. It takes two days for the news to reach Suzy, and it’s not something that she can accept: Franny has always been a strong swimmer, from the day they met in swim class when they were just 5. How can someone all of a sudden, just no longer be there?

Suzy realizes that they must have got it wrong: Franny didn’t just drown – she was stung by a poisonous jellyfish. This makes a lot more sense to Suzy’s logical mind than a random drowning – cause: a jellyfish sting; effect: death.

Suzy’s journey to acceptance is quiet – she resolves to either say something important, or say nothing at all. But it’s also bursting with bittersweet humour, heart-breaking honesty, big ideas and small details.

The Thing About Jellyfish is released by Pan Macmillan on 10th March.

You can find out more about this book and author Ali Benjamin at: http://alibenjamin.com/site/

Guest post: My Amazing Research Trip To Vietnam by Dinah Jefferies

23 Feb

Today I’m very excited to welcome back Sunday Times number one bestselling author Dinah Jefferies to One More Page. Dinah was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, lived in a commune and exhibited work as an artist. She is a contributor to the Guardia nand other newspapers and lives in Gloucestershire with her husband. Dinah’s third novel, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is out on Thursday and is a brilliant read that really transported me to 1950s Vietnam and today Dinah shares her research trip for the book with us. Welcome Dinah.

Dinah Jefferies 001After I went to Vietnam (to research the 1950s French colonial days when the French were still hanging on to Indo-China, before they lost it for ever) I began writing The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. It was a hard task. The history is complex and modern Vietnam has sprawled and crawled over the past. I had to use my imagination and read heaps of very confusing history books! But I still wanted my readers to feel that they are sitting on the shoulder of the main protagonist, in this case Nicole Duval. I wanted them to find themselves walking the streets she walked and I wanted to walk them too.

But Hanoi was not what I expected. Firstly, Vietnam is a communist country and, although that isn’t especially evident from day to day, you do see the Russian influence in some of the rather grim buildings. The French lost their war with the Vietminh in 1954 and at first sight it seemed as if the French buildings had been destroyed. In fact that wasn’t the case and the most fascinating part of my research trip was gradually uncovering the history. I discovered that some beautiful architecture had been lost, some had been partly built over, but there were a few streets where it was completely intact. When our driver took us down a leafy avenue of gorgeous French villas I asked him to stop so that we could take photos. He told us we were neither allowed to stop, nor take pictures, because these were the homes of the top Communist Governmental party members and leaders. I did get the feeling that big brother was watching me as I rolled down the window and took a sneaky shot on my phone as we sped by.

We stayed in Silk Street, fabulous for me as my character Nicole’s shop is situated there and I loved experiencing the kind of flavours and aromas that she would have done in this atmospheric part of town. The ancient quarter is known for its street food and it was wonderful to sit and watch the preparation and cooking take place on the pavements. While we were there we discovered egg coffee (also one of Nicole’s favourites). Although it sounds awful – coffee with an egg in it – in fact it was gorgeous, a bit like drinking liquid caramel. The worst thing about Hanoi was the traffic. I found it too scary to cross some of the streets – even the narrow streets of the ancient quarter which figure prominently in my novel – and because they were so hectic I had to search for images of those same streets in the 1950s. They are absolutely jam-packed now, with people riding scooters and motorbikes in both directions. We were advised to simply step out and walk steadily across and the scooters would just go round us. I just couldn’t. In the end I gazed at the ground and clung on to the guide’s arm, or only went to places where I didn’t have to cross the street.

Luckily we later went to a place called Hue, a town that has grown up either side of the Perfume River. We stayed in a beautifully restored hotel: once the French Governor’s residence. It was there I felt a real sense of the past. I loved Hue. It was a bit more tranquil than Hanoi, so I chose this as the place where Nicole and her sister Sylvie were born. We met a wonderful Frenchman who owned an elegant fusion restaurant and he told us he’d married a Vietnamese woman and they had two children. This was fascinating for me as my story is all about the mixed-race Duval sisters and, especially for Nicole, the search for identity – a theme I often return to.

In Hue I spotted a fabulous French villa by the river, abandoned and peeling, but still beautiful, and perfesilk merchantct to imagine as the home of the Duval family. I climbed the high railings so that I could lean over and achieve a better picture but I dropped my phone on the wrong side of the railing. My husband had to surreptitiously remove a branch from a nearby tree in order to hook it out, while I stood guard. Sadly when I got home I found all my Vietnamese photos were corrupted! Luckily I still had my husband’s.

While we were there we went out to visit small fishing villages, rural silk villages and various other villages where different crafts were made and we saw some of the extraordinarily beautiful countryside. It was so peaceful that I found it hard to believe that during the American war with Vietnam the US dropped more tonnage of bombs than were dropped in Europe in the whole of World War Two. The people are amazingly strong and resilient and we witnessed that everywhere we went, so I tried to get a feeling of that into my book and I also tried to explore both the French point of view and the Vietnamese point of view through my character Nicole.

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is released on 25th February by Viking Books in hardback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Dinah and her writing at: www.dinahjefferies.com

Follow Dinah on Twitter @DinahJefferies

Giveaway: Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Cate Woods

22 Feb

What better way to start the week than with a lovely giveaway?! Read on to be in with a chance of winning a copy of fab rom-com with a twist, Just Haven’t Met You Yet.

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Percy James has everything a girl could want: a comfy flat, a steady relationship and a truly lovely group of friends. Then she is approached by Eros Tech. Eros is ‘the future of love’ – an agency that brings together soulmates using phone data. Percy has been identified as a match for one of Eros’s super wealthy clients. The only problem is she already has a boyfriend . . . but what if this is *destiny*? Would you – could you – pass up a chance to meet your one true love?

Cate’s publisher Quercus is kindly providing one paperback copy of Just Haven’t Met You Yet for me to give away to a lucky reader.

To enter this giveaway just leave comment in the box below and I’ll draw a winner using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Friday 26th February.

Good Luck!

Book review: 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

21 Feb

13 minutesI was dead for 13 minutes.

I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart. My friends love me, I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to kill me. Does it?

13 Minutes is Sarah Pinborough’s first foray into writing for a young adult market but the book shouldn’t be dismissed by those not in that age bracket – I’m an old(er) adult an I couldn’t put it down! This is a chilling look at schools, the pressures faced by teenagers today, social media and the cult of the queen bee.

It’s an age old story; every school has that girl and group of girls that everyone either wants to be, or wants to be friends with; even those who don’t, know who they are and what they are up to. In this novel, Jenny, Hayley and Natasha are The Barbies; all blonde, beautiful and confident – they rule the school.

Becca used to be friends with two of the Barbies and is now on the outside. She was best friends with Natasha  and 13 minutes is as much an examination of the dynamics of female friendships as it is a chilling psychological thriller. The dark and twisted characteristics of Sarah’s other novels are firmly present in this book as she sets up a complex web of friendship and deception seen through the eyes of several narrators. By the end of the novel I was questioning everything and feeling distinctly shaken – this is a story that you will not put down easily and will linger with you when you do.

The novel opens with Natasha’s near death experience. Technically, she was dead for thirteen minutes, pulled from a frozen river in the early hours of the morning. As Natasha awakens in hospital she has no memory of the events leading to her being found in the river.  The narration of the book from different points of view adds to its complexity. Short narrative chapters are interspersed with extracts from newspapers, text messages, diary extracts and police reports. My mind was working overtime as I tried to work out what was really going on and one of the reasons’s I enjoyed this book so much is that every time I thought I’d worked it out, Sarah turned the tables!

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing for a while now but this is my favourite of her books that I’ve read so far. 13 Minutes is a gripping and tense psychological thriller that will keep you up turning the pages long into the night and then have you sleepless as you try to get to grips with the frightening premise!

5/5

13 Minutes is out now in hardback and ebook formats from Gollancz.

Find out more about Sarah and her writing at: http://www.gollancz.co.uk/sarah-pinborough/

Book review: The Glittering Art of Falling Apart by Ilana Fox

20 Feb

glittering art of falling apart1980s Soho is electric. For Eliza, the heady pull of its nightclubs and free-spirited people leads her into the life she has craved – all glamour, late nights and excitement. But it comes at a heavy cost.

Cassie is fascinated by her family’s history and the abandoned Beaufont Hall. Why won’t her mother talk about it? Offered the chance to restore Beaufont to its former glory, Cassie jumps at the opportunity to learn more about her past.

Separated by a generation, but linked by a forgotten diary, these two women have more in common than they know . . .

It was the fab title that initially drew me to Ilana Fox’s latest novel and as soon as I started reading I was caught! The Glittering Art of Falling Apart begins in 1960 as Lillie Tempest escapes the confines of Beaufont Hall to attend her first party in London. Little could Lillie know that attending that party would have repercussions right through the decades to the present day.

In the present we meet Cassie Cooke. Despite her London upbringing and the fact that the Tempest name has been consigned to the history books, Cassie is curious about her ancestors and feels a strong affinity with the now ramshackle Beaufont Hall. As Cassie is given the chance to visit Beaufont at last she discovers a set of diaries that begin to unlock the past and the mysterious Beaufont women.

The diaries tell the story of Eliza, Lillie’s daughter as she comes of age in the late 70s and early 80s. I loved the flash backs to Eliza’s story and really enjoyed this aspect of the book. Like a moth to a flame, seventeen year old Eliza is drawn to the glitz and glamour of 80s Soho but what price will Eliza pay for her freedom? I thought Ilana captured the hedonism and the dark side of 80s Soho perfectly and I could easily imagine Eliza and her friends lives. The story is all the more realistic for using clubs and locations that really existed and with the inclusion of music and famous names of the time, The Glittering Art of Falling Apart feels like an insider look behind the scenes of a key time in Soho history.

Despite the ups and downs of Eliza’s life and her sometimes sad choices as the story progressed I had a lot of sympathy for her character and Ilana did an excellent job of making me as a reader understand why she chose her path. I was captivated by Eliza as a character and really hoping for her to have a happy ending.

Cassie too is caught up in finding out what happened to Eliza, how she is linked to her family and why her diaries were at Beaufont. I liked Cassie as a character too even though on the surface she’s the absolute opposite of the hedonistic Eliza. Cassie works in an antiquarian book shop and books play an important part in her life and the novel too.  I admired Cassie’s determination and strength to fight for the family home that she feels such affinity with and the descriptions of Beaufont are wonderful.

Ilana crafts a clever and complex story of a family of strong independent women who are all willing to fight for what they believe in. As the novel came to a close I felt sadness and loss but was also surprised by the turns that the story had taken. With glamour, mystery, drama and intrigue, this is an excellent book to curl up and lose yourself in – ideal weekend reading!

4/5

The Glittering Art of Falling Apart is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Orion.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Ilana Fox and her writing at: http://www.ilanafox.com/