Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Crimson and Bone by Marina Fiorato

Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her previous novel, Kit, is among my all time top reads, and so it was with high expectations and much excitement that I picked up Crimson and Bone. I wasn't disappointed.

London, 1853. Annie Stride has nothing left to live for. She is a penniless prostitute, newly evicted from her home and pregnant. On the night she plans to cast herself from Waterloo Bridge into the icy waters of the Thames, her life is saved by Francis Maybrick Gill, a talented Pre-Raphaelite Painter - and her world is changed forever.

Francis takes Annie as his artist's muse, elevating her from fallen woman to society's darling. With her otherworldly beauty now the toast of London, her dark past is left far behind.

But Annie's lavish new life is not all it seems - and there are some who won't let her forget where she came from...

REVIEW
I've always loved the Pre-Raphaelite era (a love cultivated by Aiden Turner's turn as Dante Gabriel Rosetti in BBC's Desperate Romantics series - if you haven't seen it check it out), and Marina captures the essence of the time effortlessly.

Weeks after her only friend Mary Jane met a watery end Annie Stride is standing on Waterloo Bridge preparing to jump. Passing by is promising artist Francis Maybrick Gill, who steps in and saves her life. He makes Annie an offer she can't refuse, and she can't believe her luck. What starts out initially as a kind of Pygmalion retelling slowly descends into something more dark and sinister. There's a sense of tension and unease underpinning the entire novel, that slowly builds as it goes on. I had my suspicions about what had happened to Annie's friend but the details are kept vague until the dramatic final chapters when the truth is revealed in all its macabre glory.

The final third of the novel I read in one sitting - I'd only intended reading for five minutes before bed and before I knew it two hours had passed. By the end I felt like I had taken a journey with Annie, from the lowest echelons of society to its dizzying heights. Wherever life took her her past was never far away, and I genuinely didn't know how things would turn out for her.

The visual imagery in this novel is striking - the red and the white, the crimson and the bone. Annie's golden hair, Francis' grey eyes. It is a world of colour, as vivid as a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The settings too are wonderfully depicted. From the dark underbelly of Victorian London to the beauty of Venice Marina created a world that I looked forward to immersing myself in as often as I could. She says in her acknowledgements that she hopes there is beauty to be found amidst the darkness, and there is. It is the combination and contrast of the two that creates such an richly compelling atmosphere that draws you in and keeps you reading.

Dark, enthralling, and opulent Crimson and Bone is a novel of love, life and obsession.

***Thanks to Bookbridgr for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review!***

Monday, 15 May 2017

Review: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker

*Thanks to Regan Walker for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for a review*

England and France 1784

Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.

As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted. 

Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.

Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet?

REVIEW
Regan Walker has to be one of my favourite authors in the historical fiction genre. Her writing takes you to another time and place, with beautiful settings and characters that capture the imagination.

From fearsome Medieval warriors with hearts of gold to dashing Georgian pirates, Regan excels in creating memorable fictional heroes. Jean Donet may well be her best yet - or at least my personal favourite. Part sea captain part nobleman, he's the perfect gentleman with an intense and dangerous streak. Ruthless with those who cross him he has a reputation across the continent, yet he has a passionate soul and would protect those he loves with his life.

Then of course there are the unconventional female characters. Always feisty and independent, Regan's women are a force to be reckoned with. On the first page of Echo in the Wind we are introduced to Lady Joanna West, a high born lady moonlighting as a male smuggler! Unbeknownst to her, the dark and mysterious captain providing the goods is none other than Jean Donet, who sees right through her disguise.

Joanna is reluctant to marry into the ton, fearing a life of boredom and an unfaithful husband. She is perfectly content to remain a spinster smuggler, until Donet turns her world upside down. The two characters were wonderfully matched - they had chemistry from their very first meeting and I loved how the story was told from both of their perspectives. As in Regan's other works, even the secondary characters in this story are well-defined, making the fictional world they inhabit all the more three dimensional. I particularly liked Jean's quartermaster Emile and would love to find out more about him.

The historical details in this novel have been impeccably researched. It was a time of uncertainty, and with the chapters set in Paris you can almost feel the undercurrent of the impending French revolution. Regan says in her author's notes that she hopes readers will feel as if they have travelled back in time while reading Echo in the Wind, and I most certainly did. From the rugged English coast to the opulence of Versailles I was transported utterly into Jean and Joanna's world, and I didn't want to leave. I was very pleased to read therefore, that there will be another novel in the Donet series - the story of Jean's ward Zoe. I can only hope and assume that Joanna and Jean will make an appearance, as there is certainly more to come from them!

Full of passion, danger and adventure Echo in the Wind is a novel of seizing life, and love, and following your heart.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Benedict Cumberbatch owns the films rights to this, and it hasn't even been published yet. Are you sold? Due to hype alone I'm expecting How to Stop Time to be HUGE this summer, and thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books, I'm one of the lucky few to read it before everyone else!

'I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.'

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover - working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he'd never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn't do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.


REVIEW
This book wasn't what I was expecting, but then I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. The narrative flits between Tom's present life as a London schoolteacher and his past, his lifetime of memories working for William Shakespeare, sailing with Captain Cook and drinking with F. Scott Fitzgerald. But Tom has suffered more than his fair share of tragedy and trauma as a result of his condition, and piece by piece and time by time we discover the events, and people who have shaped his life. It almost feels as if this book was written for the big screen - sci fi storyline, famous historical figures, a star-crossed love story, a vindictive villain, need I go on!? - and I'm not surprised at all by how quickly the rights were snapped up. I'm only assuming and hoping that Mr Cumberbatch has himself in mind to play the leading man.

I had visions of Tom's schoolteacher persona straying into 'Carpe Diem' Dead Poet's Society territory - not that that would have been a bad thing - and while the message is similar, it is conveyed in an entirely different fashion. Matt Haig is an incredibly talented writer, and one who understands and taps into the human psyche. The only other book of his that I have read so far is his autobiographical Reasons to Stay Alive detailing his battle with anxiety and depression, and it is a work that still resonates with me. How to Stop Time, although fictional, has a similar effect. It makes you consider your own life and mortality, what you have achieved and want to achieve - what you want, not what society dictates you should want - and how you want to live your life. Science fiction aside, the idea at the heart of this book is the importance of seizing every moment you get, of living your life in the present. Us mere mortals, the 'mayflies', have but a fleeting time on this earth and we should make the most of it. Dwelling in the past or worrying about the future will do us no good in the long run. Enjoy the now, do what you want to do, and be happy doing it. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things that Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

It's been too long since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday! Apologies for not being more active on here, time is in short supply at the moment. I am however a lot more present over on Instagram! If you have an account over there, my username is @readinginwellies. Expect to see lots of pictures of books with the occasional insight into country living.

Anywho, back to Top Ten Tuesday!

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


Today's theme is ten things that will make me want to read a book. I like to think that I'm quite open minded when it comes to books, but at the same time I know what I like and am consequently drawn to what fits the bill. If a book has one, or preferably several, of the following then it is a must-read for me:

1) Pretty covers. We all know the saying 'never judge a book by it's cover', but who are we trying to kid? Of course we judge by the cover! Or at least I do. The more eye-catching a book is, the more likely I am to pick it up. Simples.


2) Set in the past. Medieval? Plantagenet? Tudor? Victorian? Doesn't matter. If it's historical fiction I'm interested. Reading is escapism for me, and historical fiction is perhaps the closest we'll ever get to a time machine!

3) Strong female characters. I'm not a feminist per se, but no one wants to read about a spineless heroine. This may be why I'm not all that keen on Austen.


4) Strong male characters. Who doesn't love an alpha. Preferably in period costume. Sorry not sorry.


5) Hate-to-Love Romance. It may be cliché but you can't beat it. From Pride and Prejudice to The Hating Game hate-to-love is a age-old romance trope that I just can't resist.


6) Road trips. Two people stuck with each other on an epic journey? Especially if they hate each other. Yes please.

7) Pirates, Highwaymen, Musketeers, Knights, Outlaws etc. Yes please.


8) Anything to do with Peter Pan, Retellings, new editons, non-fiction. I'm well aware that I have a Peter Pan complex. I refuse to grow up, and while everyone else is awaiting their letter from Hogwarts, I'm still waiting for Peter Pan to show up at  my window and spirit me away to Neverland.


 9) Royalty. From ancient Kings and Queens to 21st century playboy Princes. I love it all and will read it all.

10) Author. Obvious answer is obvious. My favourites include Elizabeth Chadwick, Anthony Horowitz, Marina Fiorato and Tracy Rees, amongst many, many others, and I'm counting down the days until their next releases.




Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: This Love by Dani Atkins

**Thanks to Jessica Barratt and Books and the City for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review!**
 
Sophie Winter lives in a self-imposed cocoon - she's a single, thirty-one year old translator who works from home in her one bedroom flat. This isn’t really the life she dreamed of, but then Sophie stopped believing in happy endings a very long time ago, when she was fifteen years old and tragedy struck her family. Her grief has left her scared of commitment and completely risk averse, so she plays it safe and keeps everyone at arm’s length. Sophie understands she has a problem, but recognising it and knowing how to fix it are two entirely different things.

One night a serious fire breaks out in the flat below hers. Sophie is trapped in the burning building until a random passer-by, Ben, luckily happens to spot and rescue her. Suddenly her cocoon is shattered - what will be the consequences of this second life-changing event?

Review
Spoilers aside, had I known the subject matter of this book I would have passed on it. But I am so glad that I went into it with an open mind, because I really, really loved it. It's good, cathartic even, to indulge your emotions occasionally, and this novel has emotion in spades.

Scarred by a family tragedy of her youth, Sophie Winter shuts herself away from the world, blocking  out emotion and refusing to let people get close to her. Until one night, and one more brush with tragedy, changes everything. Now Ben Stevens is part of her life, and he has no intention of leaving.

This is my first novel by Dani Atkins but it certainly won't be my last. This Love is beautifully written and I was captivated from the very start. I have to admit that I fell in love with Ben almost as soon as we met him. A literal hero and the perfect gentleman, what's not to love?

There's so much I want to say about this book, but daren't for fear of giving anything away. I soon picked up on the hints as to where the plot was heading, and knew that this was no straightforward love story. The message of this book is clear - that life is there to be embraced. You can't shut yourself off from the world, and this is something that, thanks to Ben and his friends, Sophie slowly begins to accept.

It's a story that certainly packs an emotional punch, yet it is surprisingly uplifting in its poignancy. The final chapter is one of the most beautiful that I think I have ever read, and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, This Love is a novel about facing your fears and falling in love.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have been looking forward to this film for so long. No surprise then that I booked tickets for the very first screening at my local cinema yesterday morning. I wasn't disappointed, if anything it was actually better than I was expecting! It's been a long while since I saw the original cartoon of Beauty and the Beast, so I can't do a direct comparison, but in my mind this live action adaptation surpasses it. When you want to watch a film again immediately after the credits have rolled you know it's a good one.

Let me just start out by praising the musical god that is Alan Menken. At least 50% of my musical soundtrack Spotify playlist is accredited to him, and if he could score every movie for the rest of my life I would be a very happy girl. He scored the original Beauty and the Beast, so it would have been rude, and foolish, not to invite him back for the remake. This time acround the soundtrack is even more breathtakingly beautiful and enchanting, and together with the original lyricist Tim Rice, Alan has even added new songs into the mix. These new songs, Evermore in particular (I'm currently obsessed with that song), fit seamlessly into the film, and feel as if they've always been a part of the story.



Emma Watson pleasantly surprised me as Belle - the trailers really don't do her justice! Almost instantly I forgot I was watching Hermione Grainger, and her singing voice isn't half bad either. Dan Stevens is a great choice for the Beast too, in the transformation scene I don't think there's any other actor who looks as like the cartoon prince as he does. There's a really interesting article here on how they made Dan into the Beast - including motion picture and CGI of course, but also stilts and a muscle suit. Yes he learnt to waltz on stilts. Give that man an award right now.

Much as I adore Emma Thompson (and I really do), she did fall a little short as Mrs Potts for me. I think this is largely down to the fact that Angela Lansbury's rendition of Beauty and the Beast during the ballroom scene is so iconic that no one could ever come close. I wasn't at all keen on the new design of the character in teapot form either. But I did love Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen as Lumiere and Cogsworth. Ewan doesn't sing enough in films for my liking (I fell in love with his voice in Moulin Rouge), and dodgy French accent aside he did a great job on Be Our Guest.

If there's one man who was born to play his role though, it's Luke Evans as Gaston. He is FANTASTIC. His West End experience shines through as he absolutely owns every scene he is in, and his singing voice really packs a punch. He made Gaston a villain that I really loved to hate, and loved to love a bit too.

The settings are stunning and almost characters in themselves, from the quaint country village to the freezing forest teeming with danger. Then there's the castle. It's a full on crumbling Gothic fantasy, a romantic's dream. Don't even get me started on that incredible library. I felt Belle's squeals of delight when the Beast gifted it to her, I'd be exactly the same!

If you're planning on seeing Beauty and the Beast in the cinema, which I highly recommend that you do, I would suggest bringing food supplies, and maybe even a blanket. At over two hours long it is a film you can truly immerse yourself in, but at the same time it feels overlong. The flashbacks to the Beast's youth for example, and he and Belle's excursion to Paris feel entirely unnecessary and cast a bit of a sombre shadow over the story.

That aside I loved every minute of this film. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen I was still laughing at the Beast's gruff manners and jokes, crying when the last petal fell, and on the edge of my seat during the final fight with Gaston. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about it - Josh Gad does a brilliant turn as an openly gay Le Fou but even this is subtle. Critics will no doubt go to town on how traditional it has remained, but I'm completely fine with this. All I wanted was to be enchanted by the film, to enjoy it for what it is, and in this regard it is absolutely a success.

Whether reliving your childhood or experiencing Beauty and the Beast for the first time, either way you're in for a treat.



Check out my other film reviews, including the live action remake of Cinderella, here!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review: The Last Piece of my heart by Paige Toon

***Firstly, massive thanks to Simon and Schuster and Books and the City for surprising me with a proof of this novel - and for the adorable jigsaw that accompanied it!***

Meet Bridget, a successful travel journalist with ambitions to turn her quirky relationship blog into a novel. But, after numerous rejections from publishers, she accepts an alternative proposition: Nicole Dupre died leaving behind a bestselling novel and an incomplete sequel, and the family need someone to finish it. Bridget is just thankful to have her foot in the publishing door. But as she gets to know Nicole’s grieving family, and the woman behind the writing, Bridget’s priorities begin to change …

As a rule, I don't like chick-lit and I don't much like children. Imagine my surprise then when I really loved this book! Maybe my tastes are changing now that I've hit my mid-twenties...

The premise is simple - if every person you've ever loved has taken a piece of your heart, can you ever love someone wholeheartedly? Travel writer Bridget aims to find out. She's visiting her exes one by one and compiling a popular blog from her experiences. As a result of her success, she is drafted in to ghostwrite the sequel to The Secret Life of Us, a bestselling novel written by Nicole 'Nicki' Dupre, an author who died tragically young. Six weeks living in a caravan in Cornwall whilst working from Nicki's home is no mean feat, especially when you take into account the grieving family Nicki left behind - her widow, Charlie, and their baby daughter April.

I was so, SO in love with Charlie by the end of this book. Not only was he gorgeous both inside and out, but he was also the most adorable dad. The pain he was going through was clear to see, and it broke my heart in places. Bridget herself was a lovely character too. She wasn't afraid to go after what she wanted, to chase her dreams and risk her heart in the process. It has to be said that April stole the show though. She was so sweet and such an integral part of the story.

The plot is fairly predictable, but this is by no means a bad thing - knowing vaguely what's going to happen takes the stress out of reading so you can just sit back and enjoy. The settings are beautiful and make you long for a holiday yourself; Cornwall and Thailand are like characters in themselves. I'm so grateful that we got an epilogue too - so many writers forgo them and I hate unfinished business - and the last few sentences in particular were just the perfect way to end it all.

Another thing I loved about this book was Paige's use of music. I love novels that have a soundtrack to them, and Bridget's eclectic taste in songs and artists is great! Including a tracklist at the end of the novel was a brilliant touch; I had actually intended to flip back through the pages to make a note of some of the unfamiliar songs anyway so I'll definitely be checking them out!

My one criticism would be that the cover really doesn't do this novel justice! I almost certainly would have passed this by in a library or bookshop - even though I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

This is my first book by Paige Toon, but it certainly won't be my last. The Last Piece of My Heart is a heartwarming novel of love and loss that will leave you with a big smile on your face.


Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.


Review

Contemporary romance isn't a genre that I delve into that often, but once in a while something catches my attention. I have seen a LOT of hype for this book on Instagram and Goodreads, so I decided to give it a go. From the cover I wasn't expecting to be that taken with it, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Two very late nights later and I'm besotted!

That Hating Game made me laugh out loud, smile a lot, hug my e-reader and cry actual happy tears, something which never, ever happens to me! It's funny, cute, and jam packed with brilliant banter and crackling chemistry between the two lead characters. It's romantic without being cheesy, sexy without being explicit, chick-lit without the cringe. In short, it's perfect.

On the face of it it's a light read, but it is very much dialogue driven which I think is why I fell for the characters so much. Lucy reminded me a little of myself, although she is a lot more feisty. And as as for Josh.. where do I find myself a Joshua Templeman?? The guy is all kinds of perfect, and as I've already said he's one of the few fictional men with the ability to make me cry. I adored every second of Josh and Lucy's story and would have loved a few more chapters at the end to find out what happened next.

I need a physical copy of this book urgently so I can highlight all my favourite bits and keep it forever.