Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

Paperback: 472 pages
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2014
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: She was a scrappy wisp of a girl who lived with forty-three other children in a large ugly house on the edge of a country town.
Review Quote: The Paris of both ages is beautifully drawn and the women's stories are skilfully interwoven, resulting in a richly emotional story, suspenseful and romantic, but unflinching in its portrayal of the dreadful reality and legacy of war. --Deirdre O'Brien, Sunday Mirror
My Opinion: This novel disappointed me.

I have a number of other titles on my bookshelves by this author but this is only the second one I have actually picked up and read. They obviously do not jump out at me when choosing something to read, this latest one was borrowed from the local library. Not even sure what attracted me to pick this one up, a very average read.  I am struggling to pinpoint exactly why this novel disappointed me, as it is visually and historically readable, it was the storyline that felt flat, somewhat predictable, plus the title somehow does not work for me either! 

The story of two women interwoven with Paris as the backdrop. Fay Knox was born in 1945 on the day war was declared and she has very little memory of her early childhood. As a young woman of twenty one in 1961 she visits Paris, on tour with the orchestra she plays in. This is just her second visit to the city, the last time being whilst she was still at school, strange feelings upset her on that first trip and this time events back home in the UK have sent her to Paris thinking she may have been there as a child. Does she discover the truth?

Interspersed with Fay's story is that of her mother Kitty Travers back in 1937 when she met and fell in love with an American doctor, whilst studying piano in Paris. Trapped their by the Nazi occupation of the city and the difficulties of survival in such a situation. Events of the time have traumatic repercussions not only for themselves but also the next generation.

Although I have admitted disappointment with this one, it will not stop me reading the other titles I have by this author as I feel this may have just been a blip. 
In conclusion as her historical detail creates the atmosphere and makes up for the weakness in the characterisations, I would still recommend to her many fans and to those that enjoy novels set in WWII or Paris. 

Author Profile

Rachel Hore was born in Epsom, Surrey. As an adult she worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, Norfolk.

The author of 7 novels, most recently A Week in Paris in 2014. Her previous novels are
The Dream House (2006), The Memory Garden (2007), The Glass Painter's Daughter (2009), which was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association Novel of the Year 2010, A Place of Secrets (2010), which was a Richard and Judy Bookclub pick, and A Gathering Storm (2011), which was a Sunday Times Top 5 bestseller and short listed for the RNA Historical Novel of the year, 2012 and The Silent Tide 2013. 

She now  teaches publishing and creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

In her own words.......
An early childhood photograph shows me puzzling away at a Ladybird learn-to-read book. I was an early starter on the reading front but didn’t become a writer until I was a mum with three growing children. Indeed, if anyone had told the very young me that one day I’d be a published author I’d never have believed them.
My reading addiction got properly under way when I was five and our family moved from Surrey, England, where I was born, to live in Hong Kong because of my father’s job. I loved Hong Kong, but I also missed home, and one of the great excitements was receiving parcels of books from relatives in the UK. When the tropical heat got to me, which it often did, being red-haired with fair skin, I’d lie on my bed and lose myself in Enid Blyton, Black Beauty or the Chronicles of Narnia.
Back in an English primary school, aged eight, I was fortunate to have a teacher who read to the class every day, especially books by historical authors like Cynthia Harnett, Hilda Lewis and Rosemary Sutcliff. In this way my love for tales about the past was born.
During my early teenage years I perused Jackie magazine and longed for romance, but instead fell in love with English literature. I tried Jane Austen and the Brontës, raided my grandfather’s bookshelf for Dickens and my local library for Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and Wilkie Collins. I owe a huge debt to the public library system and believe passionately that we should maintain it for future generations.
History is full of fascinating stories of how we came to be, and that’s why I chose it to study at Oxford University. After I graduated I had a brief flirtation with museum work, but eventually books won out again. I took a secretarial course and landed a junior position at Cassells Publishers in Westminster and knew at once I’d found a career where I felt totally at home. Three years of enjoyable dogsbodying later I emerged as a fledgling editor. It was then I landed my dream job: assistant editor at HarperCollins Publishers in the Fiction department! I worked there for many wonderful years, eventually becoming a senior editorial director and looking after my own stable of well-known names. As an editor I learned a great deal from my authors – about the craft of storytelling, how to develop strong characters and write good dialogue, all sorts of writerly tricks. I observed with admiration the huge amount of work that my authors put into their novels and, above all, I learned the discipline of editing and re-editing work, which even the best writers need to do.
My life, however, was about to change. During my time at Harper Collins I’d met and married one of my authors, D.J. Taylor (David), and in due course we had three lovely sons. In 2001 I gave up my job and we all moved from London to Norwich, my husband’s birth place. Here it was that I finally gave in to the desire to write. I started with a short story, but it went on growing and became The Dream House. It was thrilling, but also nerve-wracking, to send it out into the world to find a publisher.
The above is reproduced from the  Author Official Website - Rachel Hore 

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Just Add Spice by Carol Wyer

Ebook:  Kindle Edition 577KB  (Paperback 184 pages)
Genre:  Humorous Contemporary Fiction
 Safkhet Publishing.  July 2013
Source: The author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review
First Sentence: The windows in the old golf GTI were almost completely steamed up, thanks to the activities of the middle-aged woman and the young man inside it.
My Opinion: Hilarious and highly entertaining.

It is just over two years since I read and reviewed Carol Wyer's début novel Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines and I have followed her career and rise to fame as a humorous novelist ever since. My thoughts at that time were that here was a novelist who knows how to make you laugh and take you away from the cares of the world for a few hours. She has gone on to prove this in a big way over the last few years. Unfortunately her rise to fame coincided with what turned out to be a very bad period in my own life and suddenly I did not feel like reading her particular brand of humour. Life has moved on, now I am stronger and once again able to laugh at things that just last year I would not have been able to find amusing! Carol has very kindly given me the opportunity to catch up with her writing, so I was fortunate to have ' Just Add Spice' to read on my Kindle on a recent flight.  I do not normally enjoy reading books that are so short, under 200 pages, but as it happens this was perfect for the journey. It was a good laugh and actually I do not feel it would not have worked had it been longer! 

As well as being very funny the storyline is very touching, with two female protagonists, although the second Cinnamon Knight is just in the imagination of the real heroine Dawn Ellis. Dawn is bored with her life, finding her life dull and with the spark gone from her marriage, she decides to take up a new interest in the form of a writing group. It is thanks to this class that Dawn creates the character Cinnamon, for the novel she plans to write. Dawn takes her writing very seriously and the further into the story one gets the more the characters of Cinnamon and Dawn seem to blend into each other. Is Cinnamon Dawn's, alter ego? It certainly becomes difficult to distinguish between their life's but that is all part of this cleverly constructed novel. Hilarious and highly entertaining is as much as I am going to say, no spoilers. 

There are going to be many readers that are going to enjoy this story as it is full of comments and characters that they are going to be able to relate to. Highly recommended to all those women of a certain age that are finding life a little mundane, as well of course those that are happy with their lot, but will appreciate the humour! 

 My earlier reviews   Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines     Surfing in Stilettos

The video trailer is a humorous look at ' Just Add Spice' and does not contain any spoilers.

                      Just Add Spice (Spicy) Book Trailer

Author Profile

Somehow Carol has so far managed to keep her age a secret from the media and there is no autobiographical about her birth that I could find online!
Author Biography is in her own words and reproduced from her website

Well, what can I tell you about myself? Like many people I have worn many different hats over the years. I actually began my working life abroad, in Casablanca, Morocco, where I taught English in an American language school. It was soon discovered that I could speak French rather well, and so I became a translator and teacher to large organisations and companies such as ‘Regie de Tabac’, Morocco’s largest cigarette company, and the Mediterranean Shipping Company. I’d race around the streets on a clapped out VéloSoleX  bike, avoiding donkeys and other clapped out bikes, to get to the jobs on time. I had one run in with a donkey at a set of traffic lights which caused me to fall off my bike – but that’s another story.

After a few years, I returned to the UK to teach and run the English as a Foreign Language department of a private school. (Imagine Hogwarts without the wizardry.)

Although I enjoyed wearing a gown and a mortar board and being called a mistress, I left the school to set up a language company and ventured out on my own.

A recurrence of spinal difficulties that began when I was a teenager, forced me to give up teaching. In order to deal with my health problems, I attended a fitness course, took the qualifications to become a fitness instructor and became a personal trainer. I even appeared in a major fitness magazine
as a ‘success story’. Those were the hedonistic days when I
could actually touch my toes with my hands rather than my knees with my stomach!

I have always written stories. My early stories were for children and sported silly titles like Humphrey and the Dustbin Cats, Hurrah for Hugo! and Noir and Blanc - Two Naughty Cats. They taught French language to younger children and were accompanied by a tape of French songs, mercifully not sung by me.

I began writing for adults after my son left home. I converted his old bedroom into an office and set about writing humorous novels largely aimed at women of a certain age.

The rest is history. Following much media success with Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines, I signed the Amanda Wilson novels with Thornberry Publishing. In 2012, I was lucky enough to be offered a three book deal with Safkhet Publishing. They have published How Not to Murder Your Grumpy and Just Add Spice, and Grumpy Old Menopause, the sister book to How Not to Murder Your Grumpy.

I now write full-time. When I am not working on a novel, I'll be writing articles for magazines such as Woman’s Weekly, or blog posts for The Huffington Post and Indies Unlimited. More recently, I decided to take up another challenge and did my first comedy stand-up gig. It went so well that I'm going to be doing a few more. Called Smile While You Still Have Teeth, look out for one near you.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads Author Profile   Carol E Wyer - Author - Facebook Page   Twitter - Carol E Wyer

Amazon Author Page      Offical Website - Carol Wyer     YouTube -Carol E. Wyer

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L.James

eBook:  Equivalent of 1237 pages.
Genre: Provocative Romance (words used by Author on her website).
Publisher: Vintage 2012 Trilogy Edition.
Source: Amazon Purchase.
First Sentence: I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.

Review Quote: "Revolutionised the genre of erotic fiction." (Observer)
My Opinion: Be ready to accept the fact the author was just writing a love story with a twist.

The much hyped trilogy has been sitting on my Kindle since publication. My daughter had giggled her way through them whilst staying with us in Italy. Her impressions though were not enough to encourage me to want to read at the time. However whilst on holiday myself this Christmas and with the film released this week, I decided it was time to give it a go! Reading with not very high expectations and determined not to take it too seriously. If one did so I can now understand why many people have become upset and angry about the Dominant/Submissive aspects, which unfortunately in real life can of course be part of a very abusive relationship. If you are going to read this novel you should be ready to accept the fact that the author was just writing a love story with a twist.

Volume One is dominated, sorry for the pun, with sex and not much of a storyline, however with volume Two and then Three this does improve slightly. I actually became interested enough in the characters of Christian and Anastasia to want to keep reading and laughing, which surprised me somewhat. Basically curiosity got the better of me, how was this romance going to pan out?

Thanks to the media most of us even vaguely interested in reading 'Fifty Shades of Grey' probably know a good deal about the 'story' so no need to go into any more detail. 

Those of you that are remotely curious will either be picking up the novels or taking yourself off to the cinema. If you do decide to take either option you should also be aware and probably are that if you think you are going to be offended by the 'theme' and content then you are wasting your time. Remember these novels may not be great literature, but they are to a degree entertaining! The question is now, will I or won't I go to see the film?

For those of you that may be interested I am including a précis taken from Official Website

Volume One - Fifty Shades of Grey
When literature student Anastasia Steel goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Volume Two - Fifty Shades Darker
Daunted by the singular tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house.
But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Anastasia cannot resist. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Anastasia learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven and demanding Fifty Shades.
While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her, and make the most important decision of her life.

Volume Three - Fifty Shades Freed
When unworldly student Anastasia Steele first encountered the driven and dazzling young entrepreneur Christian Grey it sparked a sensual affair that changed both of their lives irrevocably. Shocked, intrigued, and, ultimately, repelled by Christian’s singular erotic tastes, Ana demands a deeper commitment. Determined to keep her, Christian agrees.
Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.
Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to make Ana’s deepest fears turn to reality.

Video Trailer from Author Website

Author Profile

E.L. James was born Erika Mitchell on March 7th 1963 in London to a Chilean mother and a Scottish father. She studied at Wycombe High School and The University of Kent. Before her success as an author she worked as a television executive. She lives in London with her husband Niall Leonard and their two teenage sons.

Biography taken from website
I'm a former TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in the leafy suburbs of West London. Since January 2012 my life has taken an extraordinary turn with the runaway success of the Fifty Shades Trilogy. From an early age I had always dreamt of writing stories that readers would fall in love with – and my dreams have come true, thanks to you guys. Now that life seems to have settled down a little, I want to crack on and write my next novel – another adult, provocative romance. I do hope you will enjoy that too.

Thank you for all your support. It has meant the world to me. If any one were to ask me for my thoughts about this whole experience, I would say: life is not a dress rehearsal – seize the day and follow your dreams. I wish you the best of luck.

The biographical information photo and video used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads - Author Profile         Erika James on Instagram     E.L.James - YouTube Channel

Twitter Profile    YouTube - Trailer    Facebook - E.L.James - Author   E.L.James - Wikipedia

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy 1) by Amitav Ghosh

Hardback: 533 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: John Murray 2008
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast.
Review Quote: 'Sea of Poppies Boasts a varied collection of characters to love and hate, and provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of opium production ... utterly involving and piles on tension until the very last page' -- Peter Parker, Sunday Times
Favourite Quote: “How was it that no one had ever told her that it was not love itself, but its treacherous gatekeepers which made the greatest demands on your courage: the panic of acknowledging it; the terror of declaring it; the fear of being rebuffed? Why had no one told her that love's twin was not hate but cowardice?” 

I enjoy travelling the world via the pages of the novels I read but sadly Amitav  Ghosh failed to capture my full attention with this one. Having just joined another Book Group I was delighted to find that '
Sea of Poppies was the selection for my first meeting. It had been a long time since I read 'The Glass Palace' back in 2006 which I absolutely loved, though as this was before I started writing a blog, no review to refer you to.  
With a diverse cast of characters and great descriptions the readable chapters were fascinating but unfortunately for me that was only about 50% of the novel.  The rest was spoilt by what felt like an overuse of Hindu and Bengali words, there was not even an appendix of translated words in the edition I read, which would have helped tremendously.  As for the many characters the majority of them remained faceless. In fact the only two characters I felt I got to know were Deetie, the widow of an Opium Factory Worker and Paulette the daughter of a French botanist, even with these two protagonists it took me sometime to fix their storyline in place.

At the centre of this immense saga which starts in 1838 and spans the poppy fields in India across the Indian Ocean to the back streets of China, is a sailing ship the Ibis, carrying a diverse collection of passengers from Calcutta to the island of Mauritius. The period is one of colonial upheaval, old family ties are broken and new unlikely dynasties are born that will cross the seas, continents, races and generations. 

In conclusion Sea of Poppies was disappointing and no more than an ok read, that I doubt I would have got very far with had it not been selected for my book club. Having said that I rarely give up once I have started a book, but as this title was published in 2008 and I have not read until I was asked to I think says it all!  I still had no connection with the characters by the time I finished the novel, so therefore doubt I will be picking up the rest of the trilogy. Maybe this is a mistake as the historical background about the Opium Wars was fascinating, so this trilogy will surely appeal to readers that are interested in this period of history.

Author Profile

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta, India on July 11, 1956

He is is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. Sea Poppies, His most recent novel, River of Smoke, is the second volume of the Ibis Trilogy, published in 2010.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexandria and Oxford and his first job was at the Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi. He earned a doctorate at Oxford before he wrote his first novel, which was published in 1986.

The Circle of Reason won the Prix Medicis Etranger, one of France's top literary awards, and The Shadow Lines won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 1997 and The Glass Palace won the Grand Prize for Fiction at the Frankfurt International e-Book Awards in 2001. The Hungry Tide won the Hutch Crossword Book Prize in 2006. In 2007 Amitav Ghosh was awarded the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Turin, Italy. Amitav Ghosh has written for many publications, including the Hindu, The New Yorker and Granta, and he has served on the juries of several international film festivals, including Locarno and Venice. He has taught at many universities in India and the USA, including Delhi University, Columbia, the City University of New York and Harvard. He no longer teaches and is currently writing the next volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

He is married to the writer, Deborah Baker, and has two children, Lila and Nayan. He divides his time between Kolkata, Goa and Brooklyn.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.