Friday, 31 October 2014

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark
Published by Two Roads Books
9th October 2014
Paperback Edition

Elizabeth Pringle lived all her long life on the Scottish island of Arran. But did anyone really know her? In her will she leaves her beloved house, Holmlea, to a stranger - a young mother she'd seen pushing a pram down the road over thirty years ago.
It now falls to Martha, once the baby in that pram, to answer the question: why?

A captivating story of the richness behind so-called ordinary lives and the secrets and threads that hold women together.

Martha is living her life in London without any worries, apart from the health of her mother who is suffering from dementia.  One day she receives a letter from a solicitor advising her that an unknown woman, Elizabeth Pringle, has left her a house on the Isle of Arran in Scotland.  It turns out that while on holiday on Arran, over thirty years ago, Martha's mother Anna, had written to Elizabeth asking that if ever she decided to move from her house, that she would consider selling it to her.  Elizabeth Pringle never did move, but now that she is dying, she has decided to leave the house to the young woman that she once saw pushing her baby in a pram past her front door.

Martha accepts the bequest and moves over to the island to renovate the property before introducing Anna to the island.  There she meets the residents of Arran, Catriona who runs the (empty) b&b, her brother Niall, and Buddhist monk Saul, all who knew Elizabeth.  From these two men, Martha tries to learn more about the woman whose home she now calls her own.

The book is told in two distinct chapters, that of Martha, but also that of Elizabeth, as we learn of her life, her loves and her loss on Arran, and most importantly, why it was that she never left her home to venture to pastures new, even when she had the opportunity, as is revealed in a dramatic climax at the end of the book. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  My ancestors used to live on Skye so I love to read about the Hebrides and the islands surrounding them.   As with many books at the moment, the place itself is a central character to the plot, and Kirsty Wark certainly brings the island to life, both in Elizabeth's time and the present day.  The characters are a good mix, especially rogue monk Saul, and this is a love story as well as an historical journey into one person's life.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

What's your scariest read?

I'm not a mass horror fan, though I do love my crime fiction (which if you follow this blog, is pretty apparent)! we are approaching Hallowe'en, I thought I'd ask what's the scariest book you've ever read?

I recently read James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall but that was okay, it didn't terrify me.

I've read some Stephen King, and been okay with that too (but it has been selective choosing) but the book that has scared me the most wasn't one that I actually thought would.

A few years ago (okay in 2000) when I was living on my own doing my PGCE, I picked up a copy of House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.  The blurb says:

Johnny Truant wild and troubled sometime employee in a LA tattoo parlour, finds a notebook kept by Zampano, a reclusive old man found dead in a cluttered apartment. Herein is the heavily annotated story of the Navidson Report.

Will Navidson, a photojournalist, and his family move into a new house. What happens next is recorded on videotapes and in interviews. Now the Navidsons are household names. Zampano, writing on loose sheets, stained napkins, crammed notebooks, has compiled what must be the definitive work on the events on Ash Tree Lane.

But Johnny Truant has never heard of the Navidson Record. Nor has anyone else he knows. And the more he reads about Will Navidson's house, the more frightened he becomes. Paranoia besets him. The worst part is that he can't just dismiss the notebook as the ramblings of a crazy old man. He's starting to notice things changing around him . . .

Immensely imaginative. Impossible to put down. Impossible to forget. House of Leaves is thrilling, terrifying and unlike anything you have ever read before.

I was intrigued.  I'd watched The Blair Witch Project and this was being billed as the book equivalent so I fancied giving it a go. It's a huge book, over 700 pages in total, but not all of them have anything written on them, some have a quirky layout, it's not your 'usual' book.

I got less than a third of the way through before the book gave me nightmares and was instantly banished to the bookshelf, where it still remains to this day, albeit on a different shelf, in a different house; but the outcome is still the same: it's the scariest book I've read and I can't open it again.  Having said that, I also haven't given it away either so does this mean I'm psychologically planning on reading it again?!

So what's the scariest book you've ever read - or not managed to read?

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Published by Doubleday
9th October 2014
Hardback Edition


When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait?
A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past. As the volunteer points out, ‘Even though you’ve done your travelling, you’re starting a new journey too.’

Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was the beginning.

Told in simple, emotionally-honest prose, with a mischievous bite, this is a novel about the journey we all must take to learn who we are; it is about loving and letting go. And most of all it is about finding joy in unexpected places and at times we least expect.

Welcome to the final part of the Queenie Hennessy blog tour.  I feel very privileged to be a part of it, particularly as this book is so magnificent.  This book is a companion novel to Rachel Joyce's first work The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which I reviewed here.  It is not a follow on, but sits alongside the first book, rather like Queenie sits alongside Harold when he drives her round the breweries when they work together.  You don't need to have read one to enjoy the other, but I would urge you to do so, as both are beautiful books on their own, but together they complete the circle - you cannot imagine one without the other.

So... this is Queenie's story.  You may think, if you have read Harold Fry that there is nothing new to discover, but you would be very wrong in this assumption.  This is Queenie's tale, from her nursing home in Berwick-upon-Tweed, waiting for Harold to arrive, just as he has instructed.  We meet the characters who reside, and work, in the home and there are some fabulous moments to be had there.  We also learn more about Queenie, how she came to meet Harold in the first instance, in the stationary cupboard, and of her relationship, unbeknown to Harold, with his troubled son David.

Although we know that Queenie is dying, as are the others at the hospice, this is not an altogether sad tale, though there are moments that genuinely choke you up, but a tale of living your life right to the very end, in whichever way that you can.  It truly is a wonderful and remarkable novel, and if you loved Harold Fry, I suspect you've already rushed out to buy this already.  If you haven't read either, do so, immediately.  I don't think you will regret it for one instance. 

Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Six Stories and an Essay

Six Stories and an Essay by Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
23rd October 2014
Hardback Edition


"None of my books is just about race," Levy has said. "They're about people and history." Her novels have triumphantly given voice to the people and stories that might have slipped through the cracks in history. From Jamaican slave society in the nineteenth century, through post-war immigration into Britain, to the children of migrants growing up in '60s London, her books are acclaimed for skilful storytelling and vivid characters. And her unique voice, unflinching but filled with humour, compassion and wisdom, has made her one of the most significant and exciting contemporary authors.

This collection opens with an essay about how writing has helped Andrea Levy to explore and understand her heritage. She explains the context of each piece within the chronology of her career and finishes with a new story, written to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. As with her novels, these stories are at once moving and honest, deft and humane, filled with insight, anger at injustice and her trademark lightness of touch.

I have to admit, I'm not a huge short story fan but as I loved Small Island I thought the very least I could do was to give Six Stories a shot.  It is a tiny book - a mere 144 pages long but it's powerful.  The stories all have a recurring theme, principally of race and fitting in, and of society and the way that people behave. 
These stories are hard hitting, not warm and fuzzy.  They make you shudder, and think, and question.  They can make you ashamed to be human, to be a part of such a society.  They left me saddened, and angry.  Yet despite this, I wanted more.  Andrea Levy writes with honesty.  More should do the same.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 20 October 2014

Our Zoo

Our Zoo by June Mottershead
Published by Headline
9th October 2014
Hardback Edition

When George Mottershead moved to the village of Upton-by-Chester in 1930 to realise his dream of opening a zoo without bars, his four-year-old daughter June had no idea how extraordinary her life would become. Soon her best friend was a chimpanzee called Mary, lion cubs and parrots were vying for her attention in the kitchen, and finding a bear tucked up in bed was no more unusual than talking to a tapir about granny's lemon curd. Pelican, penguin or polar bear - for June, they were simply family.

The early years were not without their obstacles for the Mottersheads. They were shunned by the local community, bankruptcy threatened and then World War Two began. Nightly bombing raids turned the dream into a nightmare and finding food for the animals became a constant challenge. Yet George's resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity eventually paid off. Now over 80 years since June first set foot in the echoing house, Chester Zoo has achieved worldwide renown.

Here, in her enthralling memoir, June Mottershead chronicles the heartbreak, the humour, the trials and triumphs, above all the characters, both human and animal, who shaped her childhood.

I recently saw the BBC1 drama of Our Zoo and totally loved it.  It focuses on the dream of one man, George Mottershead, to build a zoo without bars, initially starting it in his back garden, before buying Oakfield Manor in Upton, near Cheshire, to start what is now known as Chester Zoo. 

Chester Zoo is also our local zoo, and Shavington, where the Mottershead family initally began the zoo, is just down the road from us, so we have always been fascinated by this story.  If you did see the drama, don't be put off reading the book, as it covers much more than where the television programme left off, and besides, allowing for filming discrepancies, you'll find much more to discover than was shown.

The book is written by June Mottershead, now in her eighties, who was just four when her father started his zoo collection.  Growing up among bears and monkeys was the norm for June and her sister Muriel, who became the zoo's first animal keeper, but convincing the people of Upton that this was a project that would only enhance the village was no mean feat in itself.  In addition to this, no sooner had the zoo started to draw in customers than the Second World War broke out, bringing with it the heartbreaking decision of whether the zoo could continue during this period of time.

This is a wonderful book about the how the ideas of one man have turned into one of the best-loved zoos in the country.  The book is full of the joys and heartbreaks of working with animals during the most turbulent time possible.  Now I've finished it, my husband is reading it for himself, and already planning on starting his own zoo!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 17 October 2014

Entry Island

Entry Island by Peter May
Published by Quercus
14th August 2014
Paperback Edition

When Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate a murder on the remote Entry Island, 850 miles from the Canadian mainland, he leaves behind him a life of sleeplessness and regret.

But what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim's wife, and is convinced that he knows her - even though they have never met.

And when his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant Scottish past in another century, this murder in the Gulf of St. Lawrence leads him down a path he could never have foreseen, forcing him to face a conflict between his professional duty and his personal destiny.

This is another featured title from the Specsavers CrimeThriller Book Club on ITV 3 that I saw and had to read - I think you might see a theme appearing here, as I've already reviewed one title from the series so far (Before We Met), and now have all the others to read too!!!!  This title is set on two fronts, on Entry Island off of the coast of Canada in the present day, and also in the Scottish Highlands, primarily the Isle of Lewis in the 1800s.

Sime Mackenzie is the detective charged with going to Entry Island to investigate the murder of a businessman - the main, and only suspect, is his wife, who claims it was a burglar who killed him.  The odd thing is that Sime thinks he knows Kirsty but can't figure out how their paths could have crossed before.

Suffering from insomnia, Sime drifts off to a time when the Hebrides were being cleared by the lairds and the Scottish farm workers were forcibly shipped off to the far-reaching climes of North America, or murdered on the land they used to maintain.  He recalls the stories his grandmother used to tell him about his ancestors on the island, and this is where his connection to Kirsty lies.

I have to say, I enjoyed this book.  It flits back and forth but the two tales are very different.  My ancestors came to Skye on Viking ships so the history of the Scottish Hebrides is one I'm interested in and I was fascinated reading about the clearings and how destructive they were, that landowners would choose sheep over people!  The story on Entry Island worked equally as well, with a close community of people who are suspicious of outsiders, but knowing that there is a murderer among them.  Of course, the detective also has to have his own issues, and added to Sime's insomnia is that the forensic pathologist is also his estranged ex-wife, which makes for some heated arguments at best!  This is a crime novel with the benefit of a historical backdrop, and I loved being transported amongst the hills and the heather of Scotland, as well as the rocky island off of Canada, as the settings are also part of the characters too.


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Oksa Pollock: The Heart of Two Worlds Blog Tour

Oksa Pollock: The Heart of Two Worlds
Published by Pushkin Children's Books
9th October 2014
Hardback Edition

The third book in the Oksa Pollock series has just been released, and I'm part of the blog tour!  In this book, the love triangle between Gus, Tugdual and Oksa really develops.  Here's a little more about them both:

Name: Gustave Bellanger
Age: 14

Favourite film: The Star Wars films

Favourite music: Arctic Monkeys, Linkin Park, Bastille, pop rock

Favourite food: Cheese and bacon

Favourite TV series: Skins

Favourite sport/hobbie: Karate, rollerblading, playing guitar, video games, manga comics

Favourite subject at school: Maths and science

If you could have one magical power, what would it be? Vertiflying

If you were on a desert island with only one thing, what would it be? A Swiss army knife

Why is Oksa so special to you? She has everything that I don’t.

Do you think it is possible that you and Tugdual will ever be friends? Never!

Where do you call home? Anywhere!

If you could change one thing in your life right now - what would it be? My paralyzing fear

What was your last dream? It was more of a nightmare than a dream. I finally crossed this passage to go to Edefia and I realized that nothing was as I imagined it: there was no goodness in people, my parents, Oksa, all the people I knew were monsters with no kindness or love... And I felt like an intruder.


Name: Tugdual Knut

Age: 16

Favourite film: The Dark Knight

Favourite music: Placebo, Pantha Du Prince, The Soft Moon, Massive Attack

Favourite food: Lasagna

Favourite TV series: Dexter, American Horror Story

Favourite sport/hobby listening to music, reading, thinking

Favourite subject at school: English literature (Literature? English?)

If you could have only one of your magical powers, what would it be? Knock-Bong, so that I can repulse all the people I don’t want to see on my way.

If you were on a desert island with only one thing, what would it be? My ipod with an unlimited battery

Why is Oksa special to you? She’s the most powerful.

Do you think there is a chance you and Gus could ever be friends? No...

Where do you call home? Nowhere…

If you could change one thing in your life right now - what would it be? The blindness of people when they look at me.
What was your last dream? I was on a desert island, there were boats and planes all around, I tried to catch their attention, people were looking in my direction but it was like they couldn’t see me. Then, I swam to the other islands: they were as deserted as the first one. I was condemned to be alone in a world full of life.

My review will of The Heart of Two Worlds will be on the blog shortly.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 13 October 2014

The It's about time you read it Challenge

Miss Chapter's It's about time you read it Reading Challenge

I know, I know, I only posted an hour ago and here I am posting again, twice in one day! I've been a-thinking, about books.  I have lots here, the tbr pile is no longer a pile, but a bookcase in its own entirety and that doesn't just include my review books, but all those books I've purchased over the years planning on reading and yet never getting around to.  Who are these people who only ever have one book on the go?  I have at least two books being read at any one time. Am I odd?!

Anyway, I digress somewhat.  I'm thinking that if I set myself a sort-of reading challenge on here, then I would have to keep it, or it would be pretty poor if on my own blog I can't keep my own promises.  So...along with my book club read (this month it's a dire choice that I might not even open), and with my Pretty Nostalgic book club coming up in December, plus obviously all the books I've got to review on here,  I was thinking of choosing a book to read that's been sitting on the shelves, or virtually (on the kindle), unread and all alone.

Now obviously, the dilemma is what to choose as there are so many titles here it's unbelievable (and most of my books are still in storage).  I've thought, and thought (and thought some more) and decided that as I keep saying I ought to read a Dickens novel, I'm going to challenge myself to read Great Expectations.  I have already started, but not completed it, so now is my chance - and if you fancy doing so too, please join in!

I'm setting myself a deadline of Friday 14th November to come back and blog about it so I guess I had better get a wiggle on!

If you fancy joining in, do let me know!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published by Transworld
2nd January 2013
Paperback Edition


When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.

All he knows is that he must keep walking.

 To save someone else's life.

Now when this book came out last year there was a lot of publicity about it, and how great it was.  However, I didn't rush out and get a copy.  I don't know why, I just didn't.  Then a few months ago I found a hardback copy in a charity shop and thought to myself that it was about time I read this book.  Now I have I can't believe that I didn't read it earlier, for it is fantastic!

One day, no different from any other, Harold Fry receives a letter from an old work colleague Queenie Hennessey.  She is writing from a hospice in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to tell him that she is dying.  Harold is shocked, it has been many years since he last set eyes on Queenie, so he decides to reply straight away.  He leaves the house to post the letter, and what begins next is the unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry - he decides that he will walk from his house in Kingsbridge, to Berwick to see Queenie - all she has to do is to wait for him.

The book is about his journey, covering 627 miles in 87 days to reach Queenie Hennessey.  Along the way he meets a whole host of characters, some who decide to join him on his pilgrimage too.  We learn more about Harold, and his wife Maureen, and of what she intends to do once she learns from her husband that he isn't returning from posting his letter, at least not until he has reached Berwick, and we learn about Queenie and their relationship.

This is truly a beautiful story.  It is, at times, both heart-breaking and funny but at it's core is that there is goodness to be found in everybody and everything.  From the wildlife and scenery that Harold describes as he walks the A roads to Berwick, to the people who listen to his story and help him on his way by offering him food, a bed for the night, or a stamp so he can write to Queenie and tell her where he is now.  Alongside this are the illustrations that accompany each chapter which are gorgeous, making the whole package very special.

As a reader, all you can do is wait and turn the pages hoping that indeed, Queenie will survive long enough for Harold to reach his destination and of what their reunion will be like after all this time apart.  Read it, I urge you.
And once you have read it, Rachel Joyce has written a companion novel to this one.  The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey was published on the 9th October and I am taking part on the blog tour so you can find out what I think of the second book next week!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 10 October 2014


Her by Harriet Lane
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
12th June 2014
Hardback Edition

Two women; two different worlds.

Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold.

Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control.

When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . .

But what exactly does Nina want from her?

And how far will she go in pursuit of it?

This is the latest novel from Harriet Lane, following hot on the heels of her debut novel Alys, Always.  This is a book that gets into your system, you turn the pages, wanting to know more... you want to know what Emma did that has upset Nina so much, you want to know if Emma will recognise Nina before things get out of hand, you want to know just what it is that Nina intends to do....

The book starts innocently enough.  You lose your purse whilst out shopping, and it is found by another woman who offers to bring it round for you.  She seems nice, you chat a little, you offer her tea, she invites you to her art exhibition, you think you will probably never see her again.  Sometime later your child goes missing whilst playing in the park.  You are frantic, you don't know where he is.  Then the good news comes, he is at the police station, he was found by a woman sitting on her doorstep - the odd thing is that this woman is the same one who found your purse.  Do you question this, or just accept it as a wild coincidence?  If you are Emma, with a toddler and newborn baby to look after, struggling to manage the everyday chores of life, you put it down to coincidence and carry on with what becomes a newly found 'friendship.'  The thing is, if you are Emma, you should be worried, very, very worried.

Nina has met Emma before, but she doesn't remember that.  And now Nina has the perfect opportunity to wreck the revenge she has been harbouring inside for years.  Emma isn't going to know what hit her.

Harriet Lane writes disorganised, frustrated, struggling parent extremely well.  I don't think that there is any parent who reads this novel who won't recognise some element of Emma's life, and remember having been there.  Nina is cold, organised and controlled and this comes across in eveything that she does in the book.  Should Emma have been so naive you could argue?  She's young, lonely and looking for friendship, she doesn't question whether the older, more sophisticated Nina has an ulterior motive - but believe me, she does!

I loved this book.  It's pacey, and gripping, and you won't want to put it down until you get to the terrifying climax.  I'm never trusting another stranger again.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

In Conversation With - Jane Casey

Today I am in conversation with Jane Casey, author of the fabulous Maeve Kerrigan novels, and also the great new YA series featuring Jess Tennant.

Did you always want to write crime novels? Where did Maeve Kerrigan spring from?
I always wanted to write, and I always read crime novels – my first ‘grown-up’ reading was Agatha Christie. It took a surprisingly long time for me to make a connection between the two! I had the idea for my first book in my head for a long, long time, and I would think about it and develop the story whenever I had a few spare minutes. But writing is hard work – you have to need to do it, even if that need is just to prove to yourself that you can write a whole book. And that was all I wanted to do when I wrote The Missing. It became the first in a two-book deal and my editor asked if I could come up with a series character for the second book. I like writing about young women – women have interesting choices to make that men don’t seem to worry about. And I like writing about police officers because I think it’s a hugely vocational job, a life more than a career. There is something intrinsically fascinating about people who make sacrifices because it’s the right thing to do. But Maeve is all of these things and more. I’m very fond of Maeve – I love spending time with her.

Do you really like Josh Derwent and what's next for him and Maeve?
He is such a divisive character! This is why I like writing from Maeve’s perspective – her opinion of him changes with every book, so the reader gets a slightly different view of him. I think that’s more realistic than establishing him as likable or not from the beginning. He’s not a good person but he’s capable of tremendous kindness and empathy. He’s not an evil person but he can behave extraordinarily badly. I love writing about him. I’d hate to work with him.

The next thing for him and Maeve is an investigation into a fire in a tower block. Maeve has been looking out for Derwent in the last couple of books – now it’s time for him to help her, whether she likes it or not. (Spoiler: she does not.)

How did you become an author?  How did you land your publishing deal?
I wrote my first book by getting up an hour or two before I had to get ready for work, every day. I became truly obsessed with it! I decided to finish it, even though I faltered a few times along the way. Then I wanted to use the finished book to get an agent, but I didn’t think anyone would want to publish it. My eventual agent had other ideas and landed the two-book deal I mentioned above. I was on maternity leave when my first book came out. It did well enough that I was able to choose not to go back to my editorial job in children’s publishing, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to go on writing and be a mother and work. I believe you can do two things well, but not three. I’ve worked hard but I’ve also been very lucky (and every writer needs luck).

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Getting the right agent is the most important thing of all if you want a career in writing. You do that by writing the best book you possibly can and by being professional in how you conduct yourself (don’t pitch at parties or on Twitter, follow agency guidelines, research the market and the agents you’re approaching, be considerate and polite and so on). That may sound obvious and patronising but I worked in publishing for a long time and people can be very aggressive, probably because they are frustrated. Being patient is important. Also, remember that most agents are actively looking for someone new and wonderful to work with. The very biggest agents might have full lists, but most want to find someone amazing, unpublished, unheard of - and make them into a star. 

Read, a lot – and read outside your genre too, because if you’re totally caught up in a story you stop reading critically. That’s easier if you’re not enthralled by the subject matter. You can learn something from every book, good or bad, successful or not. Listen to authors talk about their process if you can, not to imitate but to see yourself as one of them. Don’t allow yourself to get cast down. There is no barrier to success as a writer – not age, not appearance, not background, not education. There is only good writing and the confidence to see it through. I really believe anyone who dreams of being an author should see themselves as an author who hasn’t yet been published, and behave accordingly. Have faith and work hard: your time will come!

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
The strangest places! Sometimes it’s seeing someone on a bus and being intrigued by their demeanour. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been reading something in a newspaper and it suggests a plot. Sometimes it's a photograph or a building that starts me thinking. My husband is a criminal barrister and immersed in crime, but I rarely take stories directly from life. For me, books are all about the characters – set them in a situation and see how they react. Sometimes the character comes to life long before I work out what situation they should be in.

What are you working on next?
I’m writing the sixth Maeve Kerrigan novel at the moment. I’m also finishing my third young adult novel featuring a teenage detective, Jess Tennant. I’m busy! Next year, if I have time, I’d like to spend some time working on something different, more to see where it takes me than for any specific purpose. I think trying new things is an essential part of being a writer, but it can be hard to be experimental in a series.

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
I’d fling my laptop out of a window and hope it survived, but then I’d concentrate on saving my elderly cat, Fred (although he would be disgusted to be called a possession). He’s been with me since 2005, when we rehomed him from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. He’s sat beside or on several different computers, purrs on demand and stays up late with me when I have a deadline. Material possessions are all well and good but you only get a cat like Fred once in a lifetime.

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and my husband. I would not expect to get a word in.

And if you haven't read any of Jane's books before (and why haven't you?!) then this is what she has to say: "The paperback of the fifth Maeve Kerrigan novel, THE KILL, comes out in November, and if you’re daunted by not having read the previous four, you really don’t have to have followed the series to understand what’s going on. I promise!"  Reviews of The Kill and The Stranger You Know can be found here.
Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Fortune Hunter

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
Published by Headline
28th August 2014
Paperback Edition

In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

This is Daisy Goodwin's second novel, following on the heels of My Last Duchess.  It tells the story of the Empress of Austria, Sisi, a woman unhappy in marriage, and longing for adventure.  Sisi comes to England to join the hunt and there she meets Captain Bay Middleton.  He is assigned to be her pilot and make sure that she is kept safe whilst on horseback; however a spark forms between them which goes deeper than Empress and commoner.  Add to the formula rich heiress Charlotte Baird and you have a fascinating tale of forbidden love and adventure set in the late 19th century.

The Empress of Austria
I loved that this book is based on real people.  I love my history, and much prefer it when I know that the people I am reading about really did live.  Elizabeth or Sisi as she was known, was married to Franz Joseph, ruler of the Hapsburg empire.  She had hair that reached to her toes and was considered the 'Princess Diana' of her day.  William 'Bay' Middleton did pilot her when she came to England to hunt with Earl Spencer, and it is speculated that they did indeed have a relationship. 
Captain Middleton
There are some fabulous characters in this book, especially the American photographer Caspar Hewes who has no idea of the airs and graces associated with European royalty.  I also liked how Daisy Goodwin managed to incorporate Queen Victoria into the story, and gives her a cameo role!  Even better was that the book is set around Easton Neston, the grand  home of the Fermor family that is situated in the town I was born, and that Sisi rented in 1876.  This has also been chosen as one of the autumn titles for this years' Richard & Judy Book Club.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 3 October 2014

Before We Met

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
Published by Bloomsbury
8th May 2014
Paperback Edition


A whirlwind romance.  A perfect marriage.  Hannah Reilly has seized her chance at happiness.  Until the day her husband fails to come home . . .The more questions Hannah asks, the fewer answers she finds.  But are the secrets that Mark has been keeping designed to protect him or protect her?  And can you ever really know what happened before you met...?

This has been billed as the UK's equivalent to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (which I did enjoy, but felt the ending was a bit 'pfff'), and has been featured on the Richard & Judy Summer Book Club of 2014.  I only heard about it from watching the Specsavers TV Book Club as it is one of their featured reads.  Adele Parks reviewed it, and sucked me in.  I wanted to read more.  I read Lucie Whitehouse's first book The Bed I Made when it came out, and it's very 'Sleeping with the Enemy' in context, and I loved it, so I figured I'd love this too.

Hannah is married to Mark, it's been a whirlwind courtship, and a wirlwind marriage, and she's given up her life in America to come to England to be with him.  On the day she expects him to fly back into the country, she is left waiting at the airport.  Mark isn't answering his phone, and he certainly wasn't on the flight.  Maybe Hannah has the wrong date?  He doesn't turn up the following day either, and his PA seems to think he's on holiday with Hannah on a trip to Rome.  Now Hannah is becomming a bit suspicious.  Mark makes contact but his answers still don't satifsy Hannah, who starts to do some digging of her own.  How well does she really know the man that she married?

I was grabbed right from the off, Hannah has married this young, rich, successful businessman, but once he fails to return home, his story becomes doubtful and you start to side with Hannah into thinking there is more to him than she is aware.  In the middle of the book, I was a bit disappointed because I thought the plot had taken a different turn and I didn't want that to be the case (don't want to spoil the plot so having to be a bit vague here).  However, I continued, and I'm glad that I did as it ends with a fabulous fast-paced climax that has you turning the pages in haste to find out what is going to happen next.  I enjoyed her first book, and I did with this one too.  It's safe to say that I'll be picking up the next Lucie Whitehouse when it hits the shops!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Vita Sackvile-West's Sissinghurst - The Creation of a Garden

Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden by Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven
Published by Virago
6th March 2014
Hardback Edition

From 1946 to 1957, Vita Sackville-West, the poet, bestselling author of All Passion Spent and maker of Sissinghurst, wrote a weekly column in the Observer describing her life at Sissinghurst, showing her to be one of the most visionary horticulturalists of the twentieth-century.

With wonderful additions by Sarah Raven, Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst draws on this extraordinary archive, revealing Vita's most loved flowers, as well as offering practical advice for gardeners. Often funny and completely accessibly written with colour and originality, it also describes details of the trials and tribulations of crafting a place of beauty and elegance.

Sissinghurst has gone on to become one of the most visited and inspirational gardens in the world and this marvellous book, illustrated with drawings and original photographs throughout, shows us how it was created and how gardeners everywhere can use some of the ideas from both Sarah Raven and Vita Sackville-West.


I have never been to Sissinghurst, now maintained by the National Trust, but now I've read this book by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven, I'm desperate to go - if only it wasn't so far away from where I live!  This book starts from when the Honourable Victoria Mary Sackville-West (better known as Vita)  purchased Sissinghurst, right through to the present day and it's a magnificent tale of a beautiful garden.
It tells of Vita's vision, of how she chose to plant each species, and whether or not it worked the way in which she anticipated, and it's also a journey of the staff who helped her create this dream garden.  It's not a photographic guide to the gardens, though I believe there are books like this available, but a sort-of memoir, a tale of how the gardens came to be, as well as being the story of the journey made by Vita and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson.  It is the perfect story, of how to create the perfect garden!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Please note, these photos are not examples of those included within the book, but they are photos of Sissinghurst.