Sunday, 28 December 2014

A year in books 2014

Blimey, my first full year here on Miss Chapter's Reviews and I didn't think I'd get through quite as many books as I have done.  I'm quite impressed that I've managed an average of more than one book a week, alongside everything else that I do.

Favourites for the year though?! Funnily last year it was obvious to me who the contenders were, and for the year before, but this year.....?  Let me think.

If I'm being totally honest here, I don't think there was any one particular title that did it for me this year but there were authors who did instead.

This year I discovered the works of Rachel Joyce which I loved, both in Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessy.  I've got Perfect lined up ready to read in 2015.

I also found Menna van Praag who writes wonderful magical stories but for some reason is published by an American publishing house and not a UK one which frankly is bonkers in my opinion. The House at the end of Hope Street is bloomin marvellous.

I also found the delights of the Cazalets through Elizabeth Jane Howard and now have the full set to read at my leisure - why didn't I discover these earlier?  The Light Years is a wonderful beginning to a family saga and if you haven't devoured them already, I urge you too.  (The Book People are selling all five books for a mere £7.99 so grab the whole lot while you can)!

Also a mention to Suzanne Palmeiri whose Witch of Little Italy book I've loved too.  Looking forward to the new release in 2015.

And finally, an author I discovered at the end of 2013 but read a few more of in 2014 and hope to continue doing so in 2015 is Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the end of the Lane is still a most fantastic read.

Next year I intend to try to read and blog just as much.  I want to try and add one non-fiction to the blog once a month if I can as I have lots here to read.  I think the fact that they take me a little longer to finish means that I usually choose a fictional title instead, but I'm determined to try to hold this resolution of sorts down.  I've already read January's non-fiction title and it's a weepy - can't say more than that, it's embargoed folks.

There's lots of lovely titles to look forward to next year - I've already read a couple of fab crime titles that come out in January, and there's a new Kate Atkinson to come - holding out in hope that it might swing by my way.  I also bought myself The Miniaturist as it's created such a storm I had to find out why!

Whilst 2014 marks a year in the life of Miss Chapter, I was reminded earlier this year that I have infact been reviewing books (albeit for other people) for about 7 years now which is quite an achievement I think.  I'd forgotten how long it has actually been.  Thanks to all the publishers who have graciously sent me titles this year, and who will, I hope, continue to do so next year too.  And a huge thank you to all of the authors who kindly took part In Conversation With too.

Happy New Year, and do tell, what are you looking forward to reading in 2015?

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 19 December 2014

Margot at War: Love and Betrayal at Downing Street 1912-1916

Margot at War: Love and Betrayal at Downing Street 1912-1916 by Anne de Courcy
Published by W&N
6th November 2014
Hardback Edition

Margot Asquith was perhaps the most daring and unconventional Prime Minister's wife in British history. Known for her wit, style and habit of speaking her mind, she transformed 10 Downing Street into a glittering social and intellectual salon. Yet her last five years at Number 10 were a period of intense emotional and political turmoil in her private and public life.

In 1912, when Anne de Courcy's book opens, rumblings of discontent and cries for social reform were encroaching on all sides - from suffragettes, striking workers and Irish nationalists. Against this background of a government beset with troubles, the Prime Minister fell desperately in love with his daughter's best friend, Venetia Stanley; to complicate matters, so did his Private Secretary. Margot's relationship with her husband was already bedevilled by her stepdaughter's jealous, almost incestuous adoration of her father. The outbreak of the First World War only heightened these swirling tensions within Downing Street.

Drawing on unpublished material from personal papers and diaries, Anne de Courcy vividly recreates this extraordinary time when the Prime Minister's residence was run like an English country house, with socialising taking precedence over politics, love letters written in the cabinet room and gossip and state secrets exchanged over the bridge table.

By 1916, when Asquith was forced out of office, everything had changed. For the country as a whole, for those in power, for a whole stratum of society, but especially for the Asquiths and their circle, it was the end of an era. Life inside Downing Street would never be the same again.

This is a fascinating insight to the running of British society at the start of the 1900s and during the period of the First World War.  Margot Asquith was no ordinary politician's wife, in fact she was the second wife of the Prime Minister Henry Asquith, and she changed the face of society and politics with her wit and glamour.

However behind the facade lay the infatuation of her husband with his daughter's best friend Venetia Stanley, also coupled with his extremely strong bond with his eldest daughter Violet from his first marriage.  She went everywhere with him, and his second marriage can surely be described as being at least that of a ménage à trois, if not with Violet then with Venetia.

This isn't just a political history, but the detail that Anne de Courcey provides as to the decisions and turmoil faced by Asquith at this time from all manner of society is fascinating.  It is also a book about social history and of the changing face of government as perceived by those outside of the cabinet.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, there was so much that I didn't know about this period that I learnt and never once was the detail dry or boring.  Henry Asquith and his family have certainly got to be one of, if not, the most scandalous family ever to live at number 10 Downing Street!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag
Published by Ballantine Books
30th December 2014
Hardback Edition

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

I first discovered Menna van Praag earlier this year when I read the delightful The House at the end of Hope Street which I reviewed here.  Her latest offering is out at the end of December and it's as equally wonderful.
The Dress Shop of Dreams centres around Etta, the shop owner, who sews a little bit of magic into every dress that is sold, her orphaned scientist granddaugher Cora, and the man who owns the bookshop further down the road Walt.  Cora loves Walt, and Walt loves Cora, but they don't know that yet and it's going to take a bit more than a sprinkling of magic to bring them together.  Coupled with this is the mystery of the fire that killed Cora's parents some twenty years ago, and the attractive, separated policeman Henry, who comes along to help work out what happened, as well as to add some drama into Cora's linear thinking life.

This book reminded me a little of The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin Mckean which isn't a bad thing as I enjoyed that too.  Despite being set in England though, in my head the characters were all American and living in the USA - albeit one that features Oxford University!

If you haven't discovered Menna van Praag yet, and you love a bit of magical realism in your life and in your stories, then I heartily recommend checking her out.  I raced though The Dress Shop of Dreams and closed it with a smile of happiness on my face and within.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mrs Hemingway

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood
Published by Picador
14th February 2014
Hardback Edition

In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France. They swim, play bridge and drink gin. But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife. Fife is Hadley’s best friend. She is also Ernest’s lover.

Hadley is the first Mrs. Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last. Over the ensuing decades, Ernest’s literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife…

Luminous and intoxicating, Mrs. Hemingway portrays real lives with rare intimacy and plumbs the depths of the human heart.

This is a fabulous book about the four very different Mrs Hemingway's by Naomi Wood.  Having already read an account of Hadley, Hemingway's first wife in The Paris Wife by Paula McLain I was interested to learn more about the other women in his life - and by all accounts there were many!
Naomi Wood has written a fantastic account of the lives of these women, and of their interactions with each other through the man that they love.  It was at times sad but fascinating to read of the way that Hemingway treated them, picking them up, and discarding them as and when he chose, yet they all stuck with him until they could take no more.

Initially the wife I felt most sympathy for was Hadley but as the book progressed I began to feel more towards Fife, who out of all of the wives never seemed to manage to let her love for Hemingway lessen.  He was cruel but she never stopped loving that man she met in Paris.

I don't think you need to be a fan of Ernest Hemingway's work to enjoy this book.  It is a wonderful tale of sultry summers and of passionate love affairs, coupled with seering heartbreak.  The paperback edition comes out on the 1st January 2015 and I heartily recommend it.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 12 December 2014

Dying for Christmas

Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen
Published by Black Swan
20th November 2014
Paperback Edition

I am missing.

 Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer.

 After that, there’ll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out …

 But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?

For the final Christmas themed read of the week, it's a thriller billed as a similar read to best-selling novels Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep, both of which I've already read, so I was interested to see how Dying for Christmas would fare in comparison.  It tells the story of Jessica, in a relationshiop but a bit bored with her boyfriend, Christmas shopping on her own.  Having stopped for a coffee, she is joined by Dominic, a good looking man who manages to tempt her to go back to his flat.  Only that's where Jessica's 'Christmas cheer' comes to an abrupt end, because Dominic can only be described as a psychopath intent on making this Christmas the final one for Jessica.  The question is, why did he choose her, and what does he have in store as the twelve days of Christmas are counted down one by one?

Initially I was sceptical, I mean, who in this day and age, goes off with an apparent stranger, to his flat, without telling anyone, and expects to be safe?  Actually, probably quite a few people, so maybe this isn't that extreme a scenario.  Dominic, from Jessica's written description of events, is a complete nutter, and it is clear from the outset that he does not intend to let Jessica leave the flat, ever.  As the days count down, her family and boyfriend have no idea where she is, but as the police investigate, it becomes obvious that there is also more to Jessica than initially meets the eye.

The book takes a dramatic twist in the middle that I wasn't expecting, as I did wonder at times where it could be leading with so much of the story left to read.  I wasn't disappointed and I would argue that it is every bit as good as those titles it is compared to.  Dying for Christmas would make a cracking film!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories

Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories by P.L.Travers
Published by Virago
6 November 2014
Hardback Edition

Friends come in many guises. In these autobiographical stories, three characters - an eccentric great aunt, a Chinese cook and a foul-mouthed ex-jockey - assert a lifelong influence on the narrator, as she looks back over her childhood. Much like Mary Poppins, each comes into the child's life just when she needs them most. And each, however unlikely, becomes a friend and a champion to the young girl.

Charming, tender and moving, these stories, which were given to the author's friends as Christmas gifts, contain all the hallmarks you'd expect from such a magical writer. They are also fascinating for anybody who, after watching Saving Mr Banks, wants to find out more about Travers' early life. And best of all, you will meet the woman who was the inspiration for Mary Poppins.

This is a collection of three stories written by P.L.Travers, who is probably best well known for her classic Mary Poppins.  These were stories that she wrote, and gave to her friends as gifts, and have finally been published together for the first time.  Three tales in all, they include an unlikely combination of a Chinese cook who chants threats at crying babies - not a recommended babysitter there then, Johnny Delaney who was a jockey with a foul mouth and temper to match, and Travers' own aunt Helen Morehead, known affectionately as Aunt Sass.

Having never read Mary Poppins, I can't say whether in terms of language that this is comparable, but I would say, that whilst the stories are for children in some respects, the language is such that it isn't overly accessible to the young, and even older children might need many of the words explaining to them.  In my opinion, I would argue that these are stories of childhood, but written for adults to reminisce and enjoy.

Aunt Sass was the inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins, and whilst I didn't picture her as Julie Andrews in my mind, I imagine that in the novel format, she is much more recognisable.  Many people watched and enjoyed the film Saving Mr Banks and I think that this collection of short stories can only add to the love and admiration of this author.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales

The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse
Published by Orion
23rd October 2014
Paperback Edition 

I hear someone coming.

It has happened before. I pause and listen but no longer hear anything. I sigh. As always, hope is snatched away before it can take root. And so then, as always, I am carried back to that first December so very long ago...

Rooted in the elemental landscapes of Sussex, Brittany and the Languedoc, here are tales of ghosts and spirits seeking revenge, grief-stricken women and haunted men coming to terms with their destiny.

This is the first of my Christmassy reviews this week.  To be honest, I am not a fan of the short story genre.  I don't know why, but they usually leave me feeling incomplete, like the story just ended, without having gone anywhere.  One exception to the rule for me though is the work of Katherine Mansfield, and now I can happily add Kate Mosse to this too as I loved the stories contained within The Mistletoe Bride.

There are 17 stories in all, each very different from the other, but long enough to have left me feeling satisfied that they all had a proper conclusion.  What I liked most about the book was that each story started with a title, time and place so that as a reader I knew where in history I was going before I had begun reading.  I liked that.  After each story, Kate Mosse then goes on to explain the history behind each story, what made her write it, or what folk legend it was based upon.  I liked that too.

My favourite of all the haunting tales was that of The Mistletoe Bride.

At length an old chest that had long lain hid
Was found in the castle; they raised the lid,
And a skeleton form lay mouldering there,
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair.

Based upon the ballad The Mistletoe Bough by Thomas Haynes Bayly published in 1844, Kate Mosse tells the story of a young bride who with her other female guests plays a game of hide-and-seek from her groom and the other gentlemen of the wedding party.  The only problem is that her hiding place is so great that she remains unfound.  This was particularly haunting, and I really believed the story.  If you love ghost tales then I really do recommend this, even if you aren't a fan of the short story - it converted me!  A perfect accompaniment for a winter's night.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

In Conversation with Daisy Goodwin

Today I am in conversation with the wonderful Daisy Goodwin, author of The Last Duchess and The Fortune Hunter.

Both My Last Duchess and The Fortune Hunter are historical novels.  What is your favourite period of history and why?
I am fascinated by the Victorian era.  It is a time that is close enough for us to imagine but life was so different then, especially for women.  I also love the clothes.  I would be perfectly happy in a corset and a crinoline.

Not everyone may know, but you are also an award-winning television producer.  What prompted the decision to write?
Television is all about collaboration and I spend a lot of my time as a producer keeping people happy, but writing is something I can do alone.  If you spend all day surrounded by people trying to make things work, there is something very alluring about the empty page.

How did your publishing deal come about?
I had an idea for my first book, wrote the first three chapters and my agent sold it to a publisher,  then it got picked up by a tv book club and that made a huge difference to sales.

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
You can’t be an author if you don’t do any writing.  The only way to become an author is to keep writing.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
It’s a mysterious thing.  I read a great deal and I go to a lot of art galleries.

What are you working on next?
My new book is set at the court of Queen Victoria.

 If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save? 
After my children and my dogs, probably my diary.  I just hope I have backed up my laptop.

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Jane Austen, Queen Victoria, Cary Grant, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan.

Thank you Daisy for taking part.  My review of The Fortune Hunter can be found here.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 1 December 2014

Life, Love and The Archers

Life, Love and The Archers: Recollections, reviews and other prose by Wendy Cope
Published by Two Roads Books
6th November 2014
Hardback Edition

Wendy Cope has long been one of the nation's best-loved poets, with her sharp eye for human foibles and wry sense of humour. For the first time, Life, Love and the Archers brings together the best of her prose - recollections, reviews and essays from the light-hearted to the serious, taken from a lifetime of published and unpublished work, and all with Cope's lightness of touch.

Here readers can meet the Enid-Blyton-obsessed schoolgirl, the ambivalent daughter, the amused teacher, the sensitive journalist, the cynical romantic and the sardonic television critic, as well as touching on books and writers who have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

Wendy Cope is a master of the one-liner as well as the couplet, the telling review as well as the sonnet, and Life, Love and the Archers gives us a wonderfully entertaining and unforgettable portrait of one of England's favourite writers.

A book for anyone who's ever fallen in love, tried to give up smoking, or consoled themselves that they'll never be quite as old as Mick Jagger.

I first discovered Wendy Cope in the mid '90s when studying for my A-level History exam and one of the women on the course had just bought her book Serious Concerns.  She read me some of the poems from it, and I was hooked.  I've loved Wendy Cope ever since. 

My favourite poem of hers is Two Cures for Love which goes like this:

Two Cures for Love

1.  Don't see him.  Don't phone or write a letter.

2.  The easy way: get to know him better.

This new book is an accumulation of articles and some previously unpublished poems that make up this fascinating writer.  It's a book to be dipped in and out of, and enjoyed at leisure, as we venture with Wendy into her childhood, and beyond.  I particularly like her recollection at meeting Billy Graham, the evangelist!

If you are looking for a poetry book, then this isn't what you will find here.  If you want to know more about Wendy herself, then this is an engaging read.  Having read it, I still love Wendy Cope, and maybe now, just a little bit more!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 28 November 2014


Wolf by Mo Hayder
Published by Bantam Press
24th April 2014
Paperback Edition

I believe, from what I can hear, that either my daughter or my wife has just been attacked. I don't know the outcome. The house is silent.

Fourteen years ago two teenage lovers were brutally murdered in a patch of remote woodland. The prime suspect confessed to the crimes and was imprisoned.

Now, one family is still trying to put the memory of the killings behind them. But at their isolated hilltop house . . . the nightmare is about to return.

So on the recurring animal theme for this week, not deliberate I assure you, is Mo Hayder's Wolf.  Similarly to Jodi Picoult, I haven't read a book by Mo Hayder is absolutely ages, but I do have two to review - this one and Poppet.  Thinking that this one came first, I started with this, only at the end to realise that I should really have read Poppet beforehand!  That said, her books are stand-alone novels, it is just that the main character (Jack Caffery) who is principally consistent throughout.

Wolf begins with a family returning to their holiday home.  Mr Anchor-Ferrers has just had a heart transplant and needs to rest, only fate has deemed that this is not to be the case.  This is a book where it could be so easy to put a spoiler in, whilst trying to write about the story itself, so this review won't be too detailed as I detest plot giveaways!  What you do already know is that fourteen years prior to the present day, a young couple were brutally murdered in woodland surrounding this house.  The killer though is safely behind bars - or is he?!

Mo Hayder writes a gripping thriller.  This is a total page-turner and I couldn't put it down.  There is a twist at the end that I wasn't expecting either which I really liked.  The books are written with shades of light and dark to them.  It's not just gritty drama that you are faced with, but real people, and emotions and I have to say that the characters in these books are certainly not two-dimensional.  You do see them as human beings, particularly Jack Caffery .  I'm looking forward to reading Poppet now!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Leaving Time

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
4th November 2014
Hardback Edition

Jenna Metcalf was with her mother the night she disappeared in tragic and mysterious circumstances, but she remembers nothing.

Over ten years have passed, and still Jenna reads and rereads her mother's journals, hoping to find some clue hidden there, in the meticulous recording of her scientific research with elephants.

Desperate for answers, Jenna uses all her savings to recruit the aid of a private detective - and a psychic.

Jenna knows her mother loved her. She knows she would not leave her. And she will not rest until she finds out what happened that night. In her most gripping mystery since House Rules, Jodi Picoult brings us a powerful story of a young girl's determination to uncover the truth, however shocking and life-changing it might be.

It's been a few years since I last read a Jodi Picoult book.  I have everything she has written; I just haven't actually read them all - yet!  Anyway, last month saw the release of another novel, and I thought, this time I'm not just going to buy it, but read it too!  And so I did!

Leaving Time is principally about elephants.  There is a story about people in amongst the pages too, but elephants dominate this book.  There were times when I sort of thought that Jodi Picoult was trying to make sure she mentioned everything about elephants that she had researched but stick with it, and the elephants then become the background when you get to the final chapters.

If you have never read a Jodi Picoult book before (and if you haven't, I recommend starting with My Sister's Keeper - the book, not the film) you won't be aware that there is always a twist to her stories.  I won't put spoilers out here, but you get to the final few chapters, and wham, bam, she puts in a twist that you didn't see and you are like, "Oh my goodness, what just happened here".  The same is for Leaving Time.  I knew there was a twist even before I got the book, because Twitter was going crazy and everyone was saying "I didn't see that coming", so on reading I thought, I know what it's going to be... and then, bam, it was all revealed and I was left thinking "nope, didn't see that coming!"

The story is thus, Jenna's mother disappeared when she was three years old.  She hasn't been seen or heard from in ten years.  Her father suffered a breakdown and is now in an institution, so Jenna lives with her grandmother, and the story of her mother's disappearance is strictly taboo.  However, Jenna has been saving up, and is determined to find out the truth, whatever it might be.  She hires Serenity, a once-famous psychic to find out more about the day her mother disappeared.  Alongside this, she tracks down the former detective who worked on the case, a now sad and lonely alcoholic.  But can a teenage girl, drunk detective and a psychic who has lost her abilities honestly find out what happened to Alice Metcalf?

If you can wade through the bits on elephant relationships, (which don't get me wrong are interesting, just drawn out), then this is a great read.  It had me hooked, and I read it in a couple of days.  In my opinion, Jodi Picoult hasn't lost her touch.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 24 November 2014

Waiting for Doggo

Waiting for Doggo by Mark Mills
            Published by Headline Review
20th November 2014
Hardback Edition

No-one ever called Dan a pushover. But then no-one ever called him fast-track either. He likes driving slowly, playing Sudoku on his iPhone, swapping one scruffy jumper for another. He's been with Clara for four years and he's been perfectly happy; but now she's left him, leaving nothing but a long letter filled with incriminations and a small, white, almost hairless dog, named Doggo.

So now Dan is single, a man without any kind of partner whether working or in love. He's just one reluctant dog owner. Find a new home for him, that's the plan. Come on...everyone knows the old adage about the best laid plans and besides, Doggo is one special kind of a four legged friend...and an inspiration.

Take one ugly dog (sorry Doggo) and one newly single male and you have the ingredients for this new novel by Mark Mills.  Dan has been dumped out of the blue by his girlfriend Clara.  Only she's taken all of her stuff, and gone away to a mysterious location, which sort of takes some planning, so maybe it wasn't out of the blue for her?  What she has left behind is Doggo, her dog, rescued from Battersea dogs home.  Dan is a working man, high up in the world of advertising, he doesn't have time to take care of a dog, therefore the only available option is to take him back to where they got him from.  Unfortunately for Dan (or fortunately if you are Doggo), Battersea will only take Doggo back when he has been castrated so now Dan is stuck with him unless he can bring himself to take Doggo to the vets - which he can't.  There is nothing for it but to take Doggo into work with him - causing issues all of it's own.  Add to the mix, Clara's flirty younger sister  and Dan's stunning colleague Edie, and you have all you need for Dan's life to suddenly become a lot more interesting.

Having previously written crime novels, this is a change of direction for Mark Mills which I think firmly puts him into the Nick Hornby genre.  Waiting for Doggo isn't a long book, it's not a taxing book, but it is an enjoyable read about man's best friend and the bonds he can create with those around him.  I read it in one afternoon, and it was very pleasurable too!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Downtown Abbey Rules for Household Staff

The Downtown Abbey Rules for Household Staff by Mr Carson
Published by Headline
9th October 2014
Hardback Edition

The household staff of Downton Abbey carry out their duties with effortless dignity, finesse and pride. Yet how do they know how exactly to lay the table, when to leave the room to give Lord and Lady Grantham their privacy, how to care for Lady Mary's furs and which uniform to wear when? This recently recovered and fascinating staff handbook answers all of these questions and more.

Covering all the main positions of the Downton household - footman, lady's maid, housekeeper, groundsman and more - and with a general introduction for new members of staff from Carson the Butler, this book tells you everything you need to know about working below stairs in the grand estate of Downton Abbey.

Carson, the esteemed butler of Downtown Abbey has written an indispensable guide to running your household with his book Rules for Household Staff.  Fans of the television show will love this fabulous companion to the programme which not only explains the roles that each member of staff should play, but also vital information such as how to clean your silver, the best way to store wine in your cellar.

This is a short book, but full of in-depth information that I found fascinating to learn. The complexity of who does what, and when, and why and how is immense.

If you are thinking of buying a stately home, or just want your household to run better, then turn to Carson and heed his advice.  The running of your household could not be in better hands.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit and other stories

The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit and other stories by Slyvia Plath
Published by Faber & Faber
6th November 2014
Paperback Edition

Better known for her writings for adults, Plath’s timeless collection of stories for younger children is filled with joy an wit.

In the eponymous The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, little Max Nix is on a quest to find the perfect suit he can go ice-fishing, cow-milking and town-walking in. Everyone else in his family thinks they want the suit, but they can’t help thinking of places they can’t wear the suit. There's magic and chaos afoot in Mrs Cherry's Kitchen as the kitchen utensils beg the resident elves to let them swap duties for the day. Finally, The Bed Book is a beautifully paced poem taking children through all the exciting alternatives to the bed they currently own.

Simple, sweet, and with illustrations from David Roberts, The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit and Other Stories is a perfect choice for emerging readers of 5 years and up.

So first impressions of this book would be, really, Sylvia Plath for children?! Having read much of her other works I was curious to see if she could indeed pull it off.  Written by Plath in 1959 before she had her own children, the title story wasn't published until 1996 when it was discovered in a manuscript of her work.  It tells the story of Max, the youngest of a family of boys who dreams of finding the perfect suit to wear for all manner of activities.  One day such a suit arrives, but everyone else in the family wants to try it first, before finding it unsuitable for them - but not for Max!  Mrs Cherry's Kitchen sees the kitchen utensils swap jobs as they all think they can do what each other does.  After trying it out, only then do they realise that the job they actually do, is the best thing for everyone.  My favourite was The Bed Book poem which describes just what you could go to sleep on instead of a bed!

There are lots of repeated sentences in The It-doesn't-matter Suit that young children will catch onto and be able to take part in the story, and Mrs Cherry's Kitchen will provide many smiles.  I think this book would make a fantastic stocking filler this Christmas, for readers young and old.  Sylvia Plath for children - this parent and reviewer says a resounding yes!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 17 November 2014

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Published by Picador
12th September 2014
Hardback Edition

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.
News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

Civilization has crumbled.

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.
But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan - warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world.

Let's be honest here, I am not a lover of science fiction.  However, I have to admit that it was purely word of mouth that persuaded me to pick up and read a copy of Station Eleven and actually, it's not a bad read.  I managed to read the whole book on a train journey to London and back, and not once was I bored or tempted to stop reading.  I think, for me, the reason why this book works is because it is set in the present day, and then moves forward in time, but not too far forward that things change, ie cars can fly etc, but that what people can do remains the same, it's just that America, as we know it now, is suddenly very different.

The story begins with a famous actor, Arthur Leadner, dying on stage.  A trainee doctor in the audience helps him in his last moments, watched by a young girl also taking part in that final production of King Lear.  What seems an awful, but relatively normal turn of events, leaves hospitals becoming full and people dying within days of something called Georgia Flu.  There are relatively few survivors, and one such group of these, are called the Travelling Symphony who move around America performing plays by Shakespeare at the towns they encounter.  Their lives are relatively simple, until they reach once such town, and the man who calls himself 'the prophet'.

The story moves back and forth, from before the pandemic, to the current day, but it is, of course, all intransically linked together.  The question is how and why.  Emily St John Mandel manages to tie all the threads together, building to a climax where you go 'of course' when you finally assemble the puzzle together. 

I really did enjoy this book.  I wouldn't necessarily bill this as a crime novel per se but I liked the way that it was written, and the different worlds that the main characters encompass.  If you were gripped by Justin Cronin's books The Passage and The Twelve, then I think Station Eleven will be right up your street!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

In Conversation With Suzanne Palmieri

Today I am in conversation with Suzanne Palmieri, author of among other books The Witch of Little Italy (my review of which is here) and The Witch of Belladonna Bay.
The Witch of Little Italy and The Witch of Belladonna Bay focus on magic - is there a lost witch in us all?
I truly think there is. But maybe not lost... wandering? I think, as we grow, we absorb so much of the chaos and the invisibility the world hands out, and take it on as our own truth. So, in that case, we are all somewhat lost inside ourselves. Magic is what happens when we let go and accept the fact that there is this amazing world all around us. Magic is everywhere.
You previously wrote novels under the name Suzanne Hayes - what prompted the change of direction to what you currently write, or do you think that there is still a link to your previous work?
Actually, I wrote the novels at the same time! The Palmieri books and the Hayes books published side by side in 2013 and 2014. I've always felt that my characters take the same sort of journey from lost to found in books by both names. The only real difference is that the Palmieri novels have "magic" in them and the "Hayes" books don't. Unless, of course, you think history and romance and family are magical (I do!) in which case there really is no difference! My witch books are under contract at Saint Martin's press and so there will be a book out each year. My Hayes novels will come out less frequently but I'm still writing those too. Always writing.
Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
YES! Write for you. Write for the joy of it... the sheer fun of it. Then, when you have something you can't stand to let sit on your computer, you send it into the world fearlessly. Be patient, professional, persistent, and there is no end to what you can accomplish in this industry.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Every. single. Moment. Of the day. People, places, car rides. Conversations, arguments, a late blooming rose. Everything.
What are you working on next?
The Witch of Bourbon Street will be on shelves in late May 2015. And the following year another "witch" book (currently titled Untitled Number 4) will be released. Right now I'm working on a Suzanne Hayes project about New England, Orchards, history, and a lovely woman named Marie St. John. It's completely consumed me!
If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
The wool blanket my mother gave me. Ugly and old.... it is my very favorite thing. I don't attach myself to possessions much. When you spend time having no real possessions, you learn how to let go of many, many things.
What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Abigail Adams, Sophia Loren, Jimmy Carter, Paul Newman and my grandmother Suzanne Hayes Cooper. (I never met her, she died young, but I'd love a hug)
Suzanne Palmieir is the author of The Witch of Belladonna Bay (out May 13th 2014) and The Witch of Little Italy and also the co-author of The Empire Girls (out May 27th 2014) and I'll be Seeing You (writing as Suzanne Hayes).   You can find out more about Suzanne by going to her website right here.

"I'm a Lost Witch. Are you a Lost Witch Too?"

Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Woman who Stole my Life

The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes
Published by Michael Joseph
6th November 2014
Hardback Edition

One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.

For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That's okay. She doesn't really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).

But in this meeting is born the seed of something which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.

Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad?

For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?

Marian Keyes is back with her newest book, and in my opinion, it's as fabulous as all of the others.  I discovered Marian's writing many moons ago with the publication of Lucy Sullivan is getting married which was the second of her books to be published, and for some unknown reason, the one least likely ever to be mentioned out of all of her publications.  Anyway, I loved that, instantly bought Watermelon, and have been buying them all immediately ever since.  The best bit about this book though, is the fact that for the first time in 5 years, Marian Keyes has agreed to step back into the limelight, beginning with an author session at Waterstones Piccadilly on November 5th - and I got a ticket to go along and see her!

If you haven't read any of her previous work, then I would recommend doing so.  Initially billed as 'chick-lit' when the term was first banded about in the '90s, Marian Keyes is much more than that.  Her books deal with some pretty hard issues, for example depression, alcoholism and domestic violence.  They are not just 'boy meets girl' books.  They are also incredibly witty, as is Marian herself.  One minute you can be crying, and the next laughing uncontrollably at what she has written, and as India Knight said when I saw them last week, Marian has a way of writing that continues to grow with you.  I loved her books twenty years ago, and they are still as relevant today. 
Her new novel The Woman who Stole my Life is about Stella, an ordinary Irish mother and wife.  One day she feels ill, which very quickly leads to her developing locked-in syndrome which leaves her only able to blink her eyes.  Finding herself in hospital, she develops a bond between her dishy, but married, neurologist Mannix.  Once she recovers, she writes a book about her experience and it becomes a best-seller, resulting in a move to America to conquer the market over there (and after reading that, you will never fancy becoming an author and experiencing an American book tour ever again)!

A year later, estranged husband Ryan, a bathroom designer to the stars, discovers he is not as famous as his former wife, and goes on a quest for fame himself, by giving away all of his possessions whilst recording it all online.  Stella's two children aren't wildly impressed with either of them, and then Mannix enters the scene again.  What exactly went on in America, and why has Stella had to return home?

For me, this is the most honest of  Keyes' work.  You can hear her voice throughout this book, and I think she is writing what she wants to write, rather than writing what the market thinks you should read.  Yes, this book is darker than some of the earlier works but it's fabulous nonetheless.  Stella's family are a barmy Irish bunch of characters, and the scenes where she goes home are terribly funny.  I love Marian Keyes, and I love The Woman who Stole my Life!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women Blog Tour

Welcome to my part in the Morgan McCarthy blog tour for the fabulous Strange Girls and Ordinary Women.  If you missed my review of it, you can find it here.

Where I Write

 I don't have a defined study or workspace at home - I have a laptop and I've written on the sofa, in the garden on sunny days, or in bed on lazy ones. Usually, though, I write at the table in the breakfast room. There are two main benefits to this. Firstly, I'm close to the fridge, which is very important. Secondly, the room has french windows overlooking the garden, and so I remember to actually look up from the screen and break the long periods of shortened eye focus. For this reason I always put out food for the birds, which keep me entertained. If I'm stuck or procrastinating, however, I find myself getting over-involved with their lives: keeping an eye on one that seems a bit lost and scraggy, or getting frustrated with the robin's relentless bullying. 

 Indoors, I like things to be visually harmonious, especially while I'm working. I don't like to write in a messy or cluttered space; I can't settle down as easily. (Though my need to tidy everything before I start could equally be more procrastination). For the same reason I don't listen to music as I write; either it itches away at my ears and makes everything too busy, or as soon as I become absorbed in my work I tune it out completely.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Tilted World

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
Published by Pan
31st July 2014
Paperback Edition 


 April 1927. After months of rain, the Mississippi River has reached dangerous levels and the little town of Hobnob is at threat. Residents fear the levee will either explode under the pressure of the water or be blown by saboteurs from New Orleans, who wish to save their own city.

But when an orphaned baby is found, the lives of Ingersoll, a blues-playing prohibition agent, and Dixie Clay, a bootlegger who is guarding a terrible secret, collide. They can little imagine how events are about to change them - and the great South - forever.

For in the dead of night, after thick, illusory fog, the levee will break . .

This is another book featured in the ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Club.  Now I have to admit, if I'd seen this on a shelf in a book store I would probably have passed it by, but after watching the programme, everyone seemed so enthusiastic and positive about it, that I thought I ought to give it a go, and I'm glad that I did.

Having read it, I wouldn't put it into the crime genre myself, I think there is more to it then just 'crime'.  There is a criminal element to it, as at the start of the book, we discover that two prohibition agents have gone missing, and partners Ham and Ingersoll have been sent by Herbert Hoover to find out what happened to them.  What we then get, are two dead agents, and an abandoned baby who needs a new home.  Ingersoll is charged with taking the baby to the orphanage, but along the way, in the town of Hobnob, he encounters Dixie Clay who has recently buried her baby son.  He presents her with the baby to bring up as her own, little knowing at the time that her husband Jesse is the man they need to bring in, and that Dixie Clay is the one making the moonshine.

Alongside the twists and turns of good and bad, right and wrong, you also have the story of the floods of 1927, when the Mississippi River burst it's banks on Good Friday and caused a wall of water one hundred feet high and with twice the force of Niagara Falls to come searing down across the South.  As an American Studies student myself, this is an event that I didn't know about, but it played an important part in the history of the southern states, and dramatically altered the lives and landscape of those who experienced it.  The continuing rain throughout the story, alongside the growing tension that the river banks will overflow, adds a dramatic element to the story itself.  You can feel the rain and the worry of the inhabitants of Hobnob, and all through the book you are waiting for that moment when you know the river is going to burst it's banks.

I think the best way to sum up this book is by actually quoting from the very end of the book:
This story is a story with murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge.  A ruthless husband, a troubled uncle, a dangerous flapper, a loyal partner. A woman, married to the wrong husband, who died a little every day.  A man who felt invisible.
     But most of all, this is a love story....

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x