Monday, 31 March 2014

The Crimson Ribbon

The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements
Published by Headline Review
27th March 2013
Hardback Edition


 


'I like to give a token to those I care about.'  She hands the package to me and I unpick the strings and unfold the linen.  A pair of crimson satin ribbons gleams like rubies in the candlelight.

The ribbons nestle in my palm, coiled like shining snakes.  They speak to me of my mother, twirling with red ribbons in her hair.  Red - the colour of passion, the colour of the army, the colour of blood.

 

Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforeseen shot from an unheeded bow.  Sometimes death comes slowly, like the first small sparks of a green-wood fire, smoking and smouldering for the longest time before the kindling flares and the heart of the blaze glows with fierce, consuming heat.
     Sometimes God chooses to end a life before it is even begun.
     Born on May Day Esther Tuttle's baby should be a blessing, a symbol of fertility and hope bestowed upon the harvest to come.  In these hard years of famine and war, God knows how much we need it. Instead, Annie Flowers, my mother, attending at the confinement, pulls from Esther's body a misshapen thing, slick with blood, bruised blue and purple.
     The child's head is swollen, one eye unformed, leaving a gaping black hole, showing skull.  Its tiny legs flop this way and that, as though the bones are gone.  Its face reminds me of the graven gargoyles that watch over us from Ely's great cathedral.  It does not cry.  It does not breathe.  A tiny coiled sprig nestling between its legs shows that it would have been a son, had it lived.
     A dead baby is a bad omen, for the family, for the town, for my mother and me.  The birth of a monster is even worse.
     In these bleak, blighted days, when the crops fail, new lambs die of rot and travellers report malevolent spectres wandering the Fens, we are used to bad news.  But this child is unlike any other my mother has brought into the world.  This creature in her arms is more than just another bad birth.  I know it straight away, just as she knows it.

 

It is May Day 1646.  Ruth Flowers' mother Annie has just helped deliver a deformed baby; for this she will pay with her life.  For Ruth, the only thing left to do is run from the home she shares with her master Oliver Cromwell and head for London, to hopeful safety with the Poole household.  There she will know the very best of times, and the very worst of times, as the Civil War plays out in the background, and people begin to mistrust each other, particularly women.

As a historian, I loved Katherine Clements' debut novel.  It's not heavy going, as some historical fiction can be, bogged down by too many facts or characters.  It is a well woven tale, with enough characters to keep the story interesting and entertaining, coupled with an accurate picture of the raging Civil War.  In some ways the book reminded me of  Sarah Waters' novel Affinity which is the highest praise I can award it.

There are lots of points for discussion here, so book groups may like this one.  I think it definitely deserves to be up there amongst some of the historical fiction greats as it's a beautifully drawn-out work.  I particularly liked how both real and fictional characters are interspersed within the story, especially that of Elizabeth Poole and Oliver Cromwell.


* On Friday, I will be holding my first GIVEAWAY on here!  I have a signed hardback first edition of Rebecca Mascull's The Visitors for one lucky follower!  All you have to do is follow this blog, either through blogger or bloglovin and leave a comment on my post on FRIDAY to be in with a chance of winning!
 


Happy Reading

 

Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry

The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Published by Little, Brown
13th March 2014
Hardback Edition

 

 

 

A.J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. His wife has just died, in tragic circumstances. His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. His life is a wreck.

Amelia is a book rep, with a big heart, and a lonely life.

Maya is the baby left on A.J.'s bookshop floor with a note.

What happens in the bookshop that changes the lives of these seemingly normal but extraordinary characters?

This is the story of how unexpected love can rescue you and bring you back to real life, in a world that you won't want to leave, with characters that you will come to love.

 




Lamb to the Slaughter
1953/ Roald Dahl

Wife kills husband with frozen leg of lamb, then disposes of the 'weapon' by feeding it to the cops.  Serviceable-enough Dahl offering, though Lambiase questioned whether a professional housewife could successfully cook a leg of lamb in the manner described - i.e., without thawing, seasoning or marinade.  Wouldn't this result in tough, unevenly cooked meat?  My business isn't cooking (or crime), but if you dispute this detail, the whole story begins to unravel.  Despite this reservation, it makes the cut because of a girl I know who loved James and the Giant Peach once upon a time.

                                                                                                                     A.J.F.


On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes.  'Island Books, approximately $350,000 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday,' Harvey Rhodes reports.  'Six hundred square feet of selling space.  No full-time employees other than owner.  Very small children's section.  Fledgling online presence.  Poor community outreach.  Inventory emphasizes the literary, which is good for us, but Fikray's tastes are very specific, and without Nic, he can't be counted on to hand-sell.  Luckily for him, Island's the only game in town.'  Amelia yawns - she's nursing a slight hangover - and wonders if one persnickety little bookstore will be worth such a long trip.  By the time her nails have hardened, her relentlessly bright-sided nature has kicked in: Of course it's worth it!  Her speciality is persnickety little bookstores and the particular breed that runs them.  Her talents include multi-tasking, selecting the right wine at dinner (and the coordinating skill, tending friends who've had too much to drink), houseplants, strays and other lost causes.




If it is possible to fall in love with a book by just reading it's first chapter, or even just the initial pages, then I fell head over heels in love with The Collected Works of A J Fikry.  I loved every character, every story line, every moment of this book.  It's a pure delight to read, and I can't imagine any book loving individual not enjoying this - and if they didn't enjoy it, I probably wouldn't like them very much if I'm being honest here.

A J runs a bookstore on a tiny island.  He is a widower following the death of his wife in a car accident.  He is also something of a recluse; books are his life.  Then one day, a valuable book is stolen from his house, and a baby is left abandoned in his shop.  Suddenly A. J's life is surrounded by people - from Maya the baby girl he is left to care for, Lambiase, the police officer with a kind heart, and most importantly Amelia, the book rep who is set to change his life.

This is going to be a brief review because I have little more to say than buy this book, savour it and recommend it to everyone you know.  Sometimes all you need from a book is a hug, and I think this one does just that.

 

 

Happy Reading

 
 

Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 27 March 2014

How to be a Heroine

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
Published by Chatto & Windus
2nd January 2014
Hardback Edition

 


 

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw.  She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy - while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realised that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when should have been trying to be Jane.
So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to life.  Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip).  There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch).  And then there was Jilly Cooper...
How to be a Heroine is a funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

 
A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we'd be Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw.
     I thought Cathy.  Obviously Cathy. The point of this walk (this pilgrimage) was to see the ruins of the farmhouse that inspired Wuthering Heights, which loomed at us promisingly from the top.  We'd both, without consulting each other, worn lace-edged T-shirts in honour of the occasion, and after stopping off for supplies in Haworth, here we were at last, and it was just as I'd imagined: all rain-green moorland, spiky heather, a turbulent waterfall and signs beguilingly translated into Japanese (the Brontës are big in Japan).
     It was supposed to be Emily Brontës favourite walk.  She was an ineterate walker, always out,  in all weathers.  Once, she found a merlin hawk in an abandoned nest and brought him home.  She named him Hero.  Or possibly Nero. No one can read her handwriting.  She painted a  watercolour of him, and in her poem, 'The Caged Bird', she imagined him longing for 'Earth's breezy hills and heaven's blue sea'.  And in fact he did escape, while she was away studying in Brussels, and when she got back she could find no trace of him.
     I hoped we might see a hawk.  But I was excited just to be there, on the moor Emily had walked, the moor Cathy spends whole days out on, and haunts after her death.  I was just about managing to stop myself from yelling out to Heathcliff that it was me, Cathy, coming home.
     So stoic, virtuous, plain Jane was very much not on my mind.  But Emma argued that Jane was independent, she knew who she was, she didn't suffer fools and she stuck to her principles.  'And Cathy's just silly.'  Ignoring my howls of fury, she continued, 'She's always weeping and wailing, and she says she loves Heathcliff but she marries the rich boy because she's a snob, and that makes everyone unhappy.'

 

How to be a Heroine is an interesting concept.  Author Samantha Ellis takes the books she loved throughout her youth, and sets to re-reading them in order to see just how the central, female, characters have ultimately shaped her life.  It certainly got me wondering about the books I've read over the years, and that if upon re-reading them I would still feel the same way about them.  Part of me thinks this would be an appealing challenge, but then another part of me wonders about whether my possible changing opinion of some of them would dishearten me. 

Ellis looks at central characters from both the classics - Jane Eyre and Ballet Shoes to much more modern women in Riders and Franny and Zooey and discusses their virtues and merits alongside their flaws.  I have never read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and after reading some of the extracts in this book, I still have no interest in doing so.  I fear I would be increasingly frustrated with it.  Some I do want to read though, E. M. Forster's A Room with a View has been on my shelf for a very long time, and I want to learn more about the artistic Lucy Honeychurch; I also want to re-read Stella Gibbon's classic Cold Comfort Farm with it's heroine Flora Poste.

Do I delve deep enough into the characters of the books that I read.  I know many people try to imagine characters by who would play them in a film, but I can't do that, I simply read, and enjoy the prose for what it is.  Is this the way to do it, or should I be questioning the characters, their traits and morals, and by doing so, would it have changed who I've become?   A debate for another time maybe?!

 


Happy Reading


 
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Light Years

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Published by  Pan Macmillan
7th November 2013
Paperback Edition

 


 

Home Place, Sussex 1937.  The English family at home...

Every summer, brothers Hugh, Edward and Rupert Cazalet take their families back to their childhood home in the heart of Sussex for two glorious, sunlit months.  But not even this idyllic setting can alleviate heartache, fear and loneliness.

Hugh, haunted by memories of battle in France, is terrified at the prospect of another war.  Handsome, charming Edward who escaped from the war unscathed is more occupied by his continuous affairs,  of which his desperately bored wife, Villy, is unaware.  Talented painter Rupert finds he cannot both paint and be married to his beautiful, demanding wife Zoe.  And their sister Rachel is so loyal to her family that she has no time to devote to the woman she feels so passionate about - lovely, half-Jewish Sid.

 


The day began at five to seven when the alarm clock (given to Phyllis by her mother when she started service) went off and on and on and on until she quenched it.  Edna, in the other creaking iron bed, groaned and heaved over, hunching herself against the wall; even in summer she hated getting up, and in winter Phyllis sometimes had to haul the bedclothes off her.  She sat up, unclipped her hairnet and began undoing her curlers: it was her half-day, and she'd washed her hair.  She got out of bed, picked the eiderdown off the floor where it had fallen in the night and drew the curtains.  Sunlight refurbished the room - making toffee of the linoleum, turning the chips on the white enamel washhand jug slate blue.  She unbuttoned her winceyette nightdress and washed as her mother had taught her to do: face, hands and - circumspectly - under her arms with a flannel dipped in the cold water.  'Get a move on,' she said to Edna.  She poured her slops into the pail and began to dress.  In her underclothes, she removed her nightdress and slipped on her dark green cotton morning dress.  She put her cap over her unbrushed-out sausage curls, and tied the apron round her waist. Edna, who washed much less in the mornings, managed to dress while still half in bed - a relic of the winter (there was no heat in the room and they never in their lives opened the window).  By ten past seven they were both ready to descend quietly through the sleeping household. Phyllis stopped on the first floor and opened a bedroom door.  She drew the curtains and heard the budgerigar shifting impatiently in his cage.

 

Quite frankly, what can be better than discovering a book that you really love?  Well, for me, it's finding that the book you love is part of a series of books, and this is the way it is with the Cazalet Chronicles written by the late Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Originally published in 1990, the books span a time period of what was initally a ten year period; the fifth and final instalment will be published later this year.  Until the end of last year, I had never heard of them, but a friend recommended them and I decided to give them a go - how I wish I had found them sooner!

The books follow the lives of the Cazalet family, the Brig and the Duchy, and their four children, their spouses and their offspring.  Added into this jumble of characters is the assortment of servants each employed by the various families.  From the start, it is unbelievable to imagine that the books were written so recently as they spark of  the 1940s era in which they are set. 

The Light Years begins in the summer of 1937 and culminates in the summer of 1938 when preparations for another war seem imminent.  We follow the daily lives of the children Polly, Simon, William, Louise, Teddy, Lydia, Clarissa, Neville, Angela, Christopher, Nora and Judy set amongst boarding school holidays (the boys), and having a governess at home (the girls).  The holidays are a time for old rivalries to be remembered, and fond friendships amongst the cousins to be rekindled.  It's also an opportunity for the wives to be brought together - Sybil, Villy and Zoe, all so very different but ultimately united only because of the men that they have married.

The Cazalet Chronicles is like slipping on a pair of your most comfortable slippers after spending the day in a pair of uncomfortable shoes.  For me the journey into the lives of this family was a delightful one; it's not all bliss and happiness, but there is a real sense of kinship here, and the effects of what life was like before, during and after the Second World War.  I'm already tucking into volume two, and have three and four at the ready!

 

Happy Reading

 

 
Miss Chapter x

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Killer Next Door

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood
Published by Sphere
5th December 2013
E-book edition

 

 


No. 23 has a secret...

In a gloomy, bedsit-riddled South London wreck, lorded over by a lecherous landlord, a horrifying collection quietly waits to be discovered.  Yet all six residents have something to hide.

Collette is on the run from her ex-boss; Cher is an underage children's home escapee; lonely Thomas tries to make friends with his neighbours; while a gorgeous Iranian asylum seeker and a 'quiet man' nobody sees try to keep themselves hidden.  And there for them all is Vesta, a woman who knows everything that goes on in the house - or thought she did.

Then in the dead of night, a terrible accident pushes them into an uneasy alliance.  But one of them is a killer, expertly hiding their pastime, all the while closing in on their next victim...

As a cloying heatwave suffocates the city, events build to an electrifying climax in this brilliantly constructed, tightly paced thriller.

 

He checks his watch and downs the last of his coffee.  'Okay. Miss Cheryl should be done with her fag break.  Let's take you down to her.'
     She follows him down to the interview rooms and he surreptitiously checks his reflection in the wired glass of a door as he passes it.  DI Cheyne's a bit older than he usually goes for, but she's a good-looking woman.  Slightly hard-faced, but a life in the Met doesn't make for a lot of childlike innocence.  Doesn't hurt to keep your options open, anyway.  Women who understand your unorthodox working hours are few and far between; attractive ones even fewer.
     'You should probably know,' he tells her, 'she's pretty tired and upset, and we've still got a lot to get through, so if you could keep it shortish, that would be good.'
     'Sure,' she says.  'I don't suppose it'll take that long, anyway.  How is she? Cooperative?'
     'Pissed off,' he says.  'In the custody of Social Services, so you can't blame her.  She's a bit sulky.  And she's not the sharpest tool in the shop.  No point asking her to read anything, for a start.'
     'That's okay.  Think she can look at a photo?'
     'Oh.  I should think so.  We'll give it a go, anyway.'

 

This is the second novel by Alex Marwood, following on from her amazing debut The Wicked Girls in 2012.  And, can I just say, if you love a good crime novel, and you haven't picked up a copy yet, please rush out and buy one NOW.  It was my read of 2012 and for good reason!

Anyway, I digress, back to The Killer Next Door...a whole host of characters are all living together in a three storey house in the middle of London.  Each has a past they would rather not divulge, and an uncertain future.  Alex Marwood really does hit home just how you can remain pretty much anonymous today if you try hard enough.  The only thing is, whilst you have your own secrets to hide, so do those who are surrounding you.  In this instance, one of you is a killer; and  a pretty gruesome one at that!

The drains are blocking, and the smell is nauseating, but then if the remains of bodily parts are being embalmed and disposed off down the household waste system, what do you expect, and the heat is only going to make things worse!  As the house bonds over an unfortunate incident, though one I must say is wholly justified, will the killer be tipped over the edge, and are the residents of No. 23 safe in their own home?

Alex Marwood knows how to write a real page-turner and The Killer Next Door is no exception.  She deserves to be up there with Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo for some pretty stomach-turning descriptions that keep you reading long into the night.  If you love crime, and haven't discovered Alex Marwood yet, then what are you waiting for? (And if you haven't got an e-reader, The Killer Next Door will be released in paperback in June, so grab The Wicked Girls in the meantime)!

 

Happy Reading

 

 
Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

In Conversation With Paula Daly

Today I am in conversation with Paula Daly, author of the bestsellers Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? and Keep Your Friends Close.


 
 
Your first book Just What Kind of Mother Are You? was loosely based around the heartbreaking news story of Brenda Slaby 'America's Most Hated Mom'; how do you juggle being a mother of three around your work?
Like every mother I try really hard each day and never ever get enough done. But my kids are not toddlers, so they don’t require constant attention. As long as they are loved and fed, I reckon they will turn out okay.

Both of your books are based around female friendships, but not in positive ways; are your own friends worried they may end up in your novels?
No, they’re not worried. I have only two close friends and we’ve known each other since childhood. My relationship with them is very different to the relationships I’ve portrayed in the books.

 

 


DC Joanne Aspinall is a very sympathetic detective rather than the usual hard-hitting variety.  What made you decide to write her this way?
I wanted something different! I wanted to write about a detective I could know - a normal woman with no real baggage (no drink problem, no sinister backstory). I felt it hadn’t been done before and I could do a good job with a character like that.

You are a trained physiotherapist, but have you always wanted to write, and how did your publishing deal come about?
I read Stephen King’s book – ‘On Writing’. In it King encourages you to just start writing and to see what comes out. I began as soon as I finished the book and was surprised to find I didn’t want to stop. I found writing thrilling and knew immediately I wanted to try to make a career out of it if possible.

I quickly wrote a novel and sent it out to agents. One agent said she would like to represent me but wanted me to go away and write my second novel. That second novel was rejected by all major publishers and so I wrote a third. The third novel was Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and lots of publishers wanted to buy it so it went to auction.

 

 


Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Read a lot, write a lot, and persevere. The difference between an unpublished and a published writer is simply perseverance.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Honestly, I don’t know. Ideas pop in from nowhere and if I feel excited by an idea I will pursue it further. But generally I’m looking for a new take on something familiar.

What are you working on next?
A novel with similar premise to the film Indecent Proposal, but with life and death stakes. It will be another thriller set in The Lakes.

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
My dog. Then laptop.


Thank you Paula.  Next time I will be in conversation with Rebecca Mascull.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Monday, 17 March 2014

Keep Your Friends Close

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
Published by Bantam Press
13th March 2014
Hardback Edition

 

 

 

Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty's oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears - just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France - Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home.

Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty's husband has fallen in love with Eve. He's sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over.  With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself.

And then she receives the note. Eve has done this before, more than once, and with fatal consequences...

 

 

'So, what's been on your mind this week?' she asks him.
     'Besides the usual?'
     She tilts her head.  Looks on with mild disapproval and waits for him to answer more appropriately.
     'Death,' he says.  'I've been thinking about death.'
     'About dying?'
     'Not dying per se...but wouldn't it be amazing if we got to choose the exact time of our deaths?'
     Her expression is one of puzzlement. 'Can't we already do that?' she asks.
     'I don't mean suicide.'
     'But surely you don't actually want to die?'
    'Course not.'
     He's lying supine on the couch.  There is the beginning of a small paunch forming, a concertina of trouser creases at his groin.  He turns his head towards her, glances her way briefly.
     'My youngest, Olivia, asked me what I'd do if I had three wishes,' he says, 'and it got me thinking.  The one thing we're really scared of, the thing that unites all human beings, is the fear of death.  Wouldn't it be great if you could just take death right out of the equation?  If you could go through life knowing that everything's okay...because you're not scheduled to die for, say, another thirty years?'
     'Would you life your life differently?'
     'Maybe.  Probably.  Definitely.  Wouldn't you?'
     'We're not here to talk about me,' she says.


 

Paula Daly is back with this, her second novel.  If you haven't already caught up with the sensation that is Just what kind of mother are you? then I suggest that you do.  My review of it is here if you need a reminder.  This novel is also set in the Lake District, and Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall is as always, on the case.  The plot is fairly simple: Natty and Eve have been friends since university, and when her eldest daughter Felicity is taken ill on a school trip in France, Natty leaves Eve at home with her husband Sean and youngest daughter Alice.  Sounds just fine, only when she gets back two weeks later, Sean is in love with Eve and Natty's life is about to take a crashing fall.

Dr Eve Dalliday is not what she seems, not to the reader, that much is very clear right from the start; but to Natty, she is her best friend, her confidante; a psychologist living in America recovering from a failed marriage. Only that's not what she is at all.  I don't think I have disliked a character so much in ages.  Eve is horrible, and that's putting it politely.  She knows what she wants, and nothing will stop her from getting it.  A ruined marriage, that's nothing to Eve, it's a scam she's pulled time and time again.  But can Natty stop her, or will it be Natty that faces going to jail?

Paula Daly writes a real page-turner.  I read this in about two days, turning the pages to find out if Eve would get what was coming to her, or if she could fool them all and play the victim whilst Natty takes the blame.  The ending didn't disappoint.  If you like a good thriller, then Paula Daly is someone I'd definitely recommend.  Because, at the end of the day, if your best friend stole your life, what would you do?

 

Happy Reading

 
 
Miss Chapter x 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

In Conversation With Lyndsy Spence

Welcome to this new section of the blog where I get the chance to chat with some fabulous authors about their work.  I'm calling this section in conversation with...

First up is Lyndsy Spence, author of The Mitford Society Annual, and The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life. She is also the creator of The Mitford Society blog.

 
 
 
When did you first hear of the Mitford sisters?
I'd known about Nancy's books for ages before I became interested in the family. I caught Love in a Cold Climate on TV (the original series) and the remake when I was in my early teens, it inspired me to re-read The Pursuit of Love. A while after that, when I was about 17 or 18 Hitler's British Girl was on TV and I was transfixed by Diana's voice. And a while after that I watched The Lady and the Revamp and saw Debo onscreen. I guess you might call it a domino effect! With the Mitfords one thing leads to another, don't you find?
 
What is your favourite Mitford book, either by or about them, and why?
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. I'd read a lot of their biographies, including Diana and Decca's memoirs prior to reading the letters. It's amazing to experience everything in their own words and I find it broke down a lot of misconceptions about the girls. I found Diana came off the best in the book, could it be good editing or merely an example of her honesty? It's my go-to book for all things Mitford and I recommend it to everyone!
 
Which Mitford sister do you think you would get on best with, and which sister do you think you really wouldn't like?
I like them all for different reasons, that's not to say that I always agree with their actions. I find Unity quite tiresome, I just don't see her appeal, though I am sure she was probably quite funny in her youth. I've always been quite drawn to Diana because, to me, she has the most complex backstory. I admire her loyalty but in a similar vein, I always find it frustrating when she refuses to admit someone or something was wrong. She seemed to possess perfect tunnel vision and could look past someone's bad points. In hindsight, that quality hasn't held her in good steed. However, I found she was the only one without malice in the book of letters, so for this reason I think she'd make a good friend. However, I think Nancy would have been riotously funny. She made no secret of her disloyalty, so I think she represents that friend whom you know is quite spiteful but you can't help liking despite their flaws. I'm very fond of Pamela, I love food, so anyone who is keen to feed me will always get my vote!
 
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
I've always favoured biographies and fiction written with a lightness of touch. When I was a teen I discovered Joan Wyndham's diaries and I adore her turn of phrase. I like to read prose as though it's being spoken by the author as opposed to a rigid academic style. A book should always entertain, so even if the plot is far fetched and bizarre, if the narrative entertains it'll always get my vote. I am inspired by Nancy, actually a lot more now that I'm writing a little fiction novel (I hope to get away from writing biography) and I love how she used real life events and distorted them to apply to her fictional characters. This new trend of writing historical fiction, especially placing the characters in real life historic situations, is very inspiring to me. I also love to read interviews with ladies from the interwar era, their wording is brilliant and they use such phrases entirely without an ounce of self consciousness. This provokes me to think outside the box when phrasing a sentence or dialogue. So in that respect, I think my inspiration comes from Joan Wyndham and the Mitfords.
 
 
 
What made you decide to set up The Mitford Society?
Well, after I watched The Lady and The Revamp I thought surely I am not the only one who adores that era and the Mitfords. I set up The Mitford Society and for ages it only had a small following and them boom, it instantly took off. It's going from strength to strength and I find it's also evolving from just being about the 6 girls. It has brought a lot of people together for reasons other than the Mitfords. I love that there is a place where we can all indulge in our interests from that era. It has also been a great platform for me to express myself as a writer and I hope it has also been useful to others.
 
What was the motivation behind writing The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life?
It happened quite by chance, my friend and I were messing about pretending to talk like the Mitfords when I thought wouldn't it be wonderful to write an etiquette book from their perspectives. I sat outside in my garden all summer, about three years ago, scribbling in my note book. But when people started to get involved and send me info I realized I could turn it into a sort of biography written from their points of view. I like to think it's a manual for us fans and that the readers might discover something they wouldn't have known.
 
 
 
What are you working on next?
My book 'Mrs Guinness' will be published next March. That, too, happened quite by chance. I am fascinated by Diana's life, especially prior to meeting Mosley and I discovered she had an entire backstory outside of being Mosley's wife and Hitler's friend. Thankfully I discovered a lot of new info which, I hope, shows her in a new light. It can't excuse her association with fascism, but I think given the era and her restrictions as a young woman in society at that time, it might give the reader a certain understanding to why she left Bryan and plunged head first into that life with Mosley. I've taken her away from the Mitford family. There's definitely a few surprises along the way. I'm also very excited about the photographs which I've found.
 
What is your favourite non-Mitford book?
I love Joan Wyndham's diary 'Love Lessons.' I've also become a huge fan of The Cazalet Chronicles.
 
If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
I'd throw my great grandmother's photo album out the window - you can't replace things like that and it's a little tome of history. Then grab my pets, which of course would have already been in the same room as me, and my memory stick which holds my writing and bolt!
 
What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
I quite enjoy people who can play off one another so I think in this instance I would invite Margaret Campbell (Duchess of Argyll), Nancy Mitford, Joan Wyndham, Mariga Guinness and Doris Delevigne. It would be a night of fantastic wit. I think Doris might pall from too much champagne, so on that note I'd replace her with James Mason because he was so handsome, and as Diana said, one needs something to gaze upon!
 
 
Thank you Lyndsy.  Next time I will be in conversation with Paula Daly.
 
 
Happy Reading
 
 
Miss Chapter x

 

 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A Heart Bent out of Shape

A Heart bent out of Shape by Emylia Hall
Published by Headline Review
13th March 2014
Paperback Edition
 
 
 

 

For Hadley Dunn, life so far has been uneventful – no great loves, no searing losses.  But that’s before she decides to spend a year studying in the glittering Swiss city of Lausanne, a place that feels alive with promise.  Here Hadley meets Kristina, a beautiful but elusive Danish girl, and the two quickly form the strongest of bonds.  Yet one November night, as the first snows of winter arrive, tragedy strikes.
 
Hadley, left reeling and guilt-stricken, begins to lean on the only other person to whom she feels close, her American Literature professor Joel Wilson.  But as the pair try to uncover the truth of what happened that night, their tentative friendship heads into forbidden territory.  And before long a line is irrevocably crossed, everything changes, and two already complicated lives take an even more dangerous course…


Before Hadley, there was Lausanne, before Kristina, and Jacques, and Joel, there was still Lausanne.  Their presence in the city was only passing; the lake did not burst its banks, no mountainsides were sent crumbling, and no shutters broke from immaculate buildings to go clattering to the ground.  Yet between the striding bridges and the turreted apartment blocks, the tree-lined streets and the looping parks, they played out their trysts and tragedies.  Through it all, Lausanne remained unaltered, but the same could not be said for the lives of the people who lived there.
    It was Hadley’s second year of university and she was spending it abroad, in Switzerland.  La Suisse.  Her idea of the place belonged to cartoons – cuckoo clocks and soupy cheese, triangular chocolate and cool neutrality – but then she looked in a guidebook and saw the words ‘Swiss Riviera’.  She read about Lausanne; a city of vertical streets, rising spires and tumbling rooftops.  She’d seen a picture of Lac Léman, shining like a polished mirror, with the serrated edges of Les Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc rising behind.  There were palm trees and vineyards and palatial hotels with striped awnings that flapped in the breeze.  Lausanne seemed possessed of a quiet glamour, discreet but with a rippling undercurrent, un frisson.

 

A Heart Bent out of Shape is Emylia Hall’s second novel, following on from the bestseller The Book of Summers.  In this, she tells of student Hadley who by chance applies for a study year in the Swiss city of Lausanne, and is accepted to continue her degree there.  Instantly she meets Danish student Kristina and they become best friends, sharing and doing everything together, apart from one thing.  Kristina has a boyfriend, Jacques, but she won’t introduce him to Hadley, and he remains something of a mystery.
 
On the evening of Hadley’s birthday, a tragedy occurs, and Hadley decides she needs to trace and find Jacques, but who is he, and how should she begin?  There are only two people to whom she can turn, an old gentleman called Hugo whom she meets in a hotel, and Joel, her professor.  Working together they try to piece together the mystery and locate Jacques, but all is not what it seems and Hadley winds up playing a dangerous game.  This is an excellent book, I was grabbed from the start, and Lausanne is wonderfully described.  Emylia Hall keeps the suspense going to the very end, and I hadn’t a clue where the tale was going.  A real-page turner.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
Published by Orion
13th March 2014
Hardback Edition

 

 


The presumed death of Harriet de Luce in a mysterious mountaineering accident in Tibet while Flavia was only a baby cast a sombre shadow over the family, leaving Colonel de Luce a broken man and Flavia herself with no memories of her mother.

But now, astonishingly, a specially commissioned train is bringing Harriet back to Buckshaw. But rather than putting the past finally to rest, Harriet's return is set to trigger a further series of bizarre and deadly events, as a most curious group of individuals converge on Buckshaw to pay their respects.

For Flavia, a gruesome new crime to solve is only one of the mysteries confronting her, as she begins to unravel the shocking revelations of Harriet's past and in doing so discovers an extraordinary tale of espionage and betrayal that also seems to be the key to her own destiny.

 

“Your mother has been found.”
      Nearly a week after he had made it, Father’s shocking announcement was still ringing in my ears.
      Harriet! Harriet found! Who could believe it?
     Harriet, who had been lost in a mountaineering accident when I was barely a year old; Harriet, whom I can’t remember seeing, ever, with my own eyes.
     My reaction?
     Numbness I’m afraid.
     Sheer stupid silent numbness.
     Not joy – not relief – not even gratitude to those who had found her more than ten years after her disappearance in the Himalayas.
     No, I felt only a cold numbness: a cold shameful sort of numbness that made me desperately need to be alone.

 

This is the seventh of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, and I must admit I love them all.  They have a touch of I Capture the Castle about them which I totally love.  Set in 1950s England, they follow the lives of widower Colonel de Luce and his three daughters Ophelia, Daphne and ‘almost teen’ Flavia in their crumbling mansion home Buckshaw.  Flavia is something of a chemist, with her inherited Victorian laboratory, and  an amateur detective, and she has a way of finding trouble before it finds her.

This latest book sees the remains of Flavia’s mother Harriet, being returned home after having been missing for the past ten years somewhere in the Himalayas.  As with all things related to the youngest de Luce girl, even this cannot go smoothly, and as her mother’s body is brought off of the train, a man in a long overcoat whispers a coded message to her, before falling under the wheels of the engine.  Add to this, a random comment from the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a precocious cousin by the name of Undine and you have all the ingredients for another of Bradley’s excellent novels.
 
Full of twists and turns and chemical formulas, Flavia sneeks around Bishop’s Lacey determined to find out what really happened to her mother all those years ago.  But as usual, there is always someone who wants to stop her.  Will they get there first or will Flavia save the day?  A wonderful novel full of nostalgia for 1950s England, perfect for curling up in a chair and getting lost in.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Forest of Lost Souls

 The Forest of Lost Souls by Anne Plichota & Cendrine Wolf
Published by Pushkin Children's Books
27th February 2014
Hardback Edition
 
 
 

 
 
The last day of term – and no one is looking forward to the holidays more than Oksa Pollock, still recovering from her epic battle with Orthon McGraw.     
 
But rest and recuperation will have to wait…as her best friend Gus has vanished without a trace.  Accompanied by a band of her fellow Runaways, including the moody, mysterious Tugdual, Oksa goes to his rescue in a secret, parallel world – there the group must all face their personal demons, not to mention an assortment of horrific creatures, in a desperate attempt to bring Gus back alive.

As she confronts terrifying new dangers, Oksa is forced to make some heart-breaking choices, trying to protect those she loves from her enemies…

And from each other.

 

Zoe kept rushing around the McGraws’ house, frantically looking in every room.  Orthon had disappeared and there was no sign of his wife Barbara or his son Mortimer.  She was alone. 
     “Go to your room, Zoe, don’t worry,” Mortimer had told her tow weeks ago.  “I’ll pop up and see you in a bit.”
     That was the last time she’d spoken to him.  She’d waited all evening, then she’d fallen asleep, worn out with worry.  The house was empty when she’d woken up.  Horribly empty.  Again Zoe had waited for hours for Orthon or Mortimer to come back, wandering from room to room and leaving worried messages on their mobiles which had rung unanswered.  Hours had turned into days.  The cupboards and fridge gradually emptied, dust settled on the furniture, growing thicker by the day, and spiders’ webs formed high up on the walls.  With all hope gone, she’d finally had to face facts: she’d been abandoned.  She was all alone in the world with nowhere to go and no one cared if she lived or died.  The house felt as if it were closing in on her like a tomb.

 

Building up from the climatic battle at the end of Book One, the Oksa Pollock series continues with The Forest of Lost Souls and it continues in just the same vein as it did previously.  Orthon McGraw has, thankfully, vanished, and Zoe, with nowhere else to turn goes to the Pollock family for their help.  Back at school again, one day, Gus gets bored waiting for Oksa so sets off down the corridors to find her, but then he hears a mysterious voice and suddenly vanishes, leaving nothing behind….

Oksa and the Runaways can do nothing else to do but go looking for him.  It turns out he has been impictured by mistake and the only way to get him back is to enter into the picture too, but they are not the only ones who want it!  Unfortunately, this takes them into the Forest of Lost Souls, where even the plants have voices and feelings.  It’s not a place to enter into lightly, full of danger, personal demons and horrifying creatures, from which the whole tribe will struggle to return from alive.

The Forest of Lost Souls is another page-turner.  Full of magic and mystique, tension and drama, I raced through the book, in order to find out whether The Runaways would find Gus; whether they would all make it back from the forest in one piece; and whether Oksa would fall under the spell of  Tugdual, who claims ‘he would do anything in the world for her’!  Keeping the drama going right to the very end, Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf have created another excellent book for anyone missing the Harry Potter books.  I’m looking forward to number three already!


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x