Wednesday, 27 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforeseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed to be a man blessed by fortune. Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman and Black is born...

Publisher: Orion
Publication Date: 25th September

I was a huge fan of Diane Setterfield's first book, The Thirteenth Tale so I was extremely excited to see that she had written a new one. Bellman and Black is a fascinating read; it is dark and mysterious, leaving you feel quite unsettled but in a good way.
William Bellman is the central character and at the beginning of the book he is just a boy. A boy who kills a rook with his catapult, showing off to his friends. This one small act has consequences when he becomes an adult. The folklore surrounding rooks is a big part of the book; these birds remember everything and can foresee death and tragedy. The details of the folklore meant that I didn't question this aspect of the book at all. I just felt that William Bellman was going to be punished for taking the rook's life, even though he had no idea that his actions would have any kind of consequences.
In the first part of the book we see that William Bellman is a good man and particularly hard working. He goes from being an apprentice at his uncle's mill to running the whole business. He has a loving wife and several beautiful children. The second part of the book sees the downturn of Bellman's life; those close to him start dying and only his daughter is left. He makes a deal with the mysterious Mr Black to save her. Mr Black has been appearing at the funerals of all those Bellman has lost; Bellman has no idea who he is or where he has come from but he does know that if he does as Black says then his daughter will survive. So Bellman sets up Bellman and Black, a mourning emporium. He sells nearly everything to do with death, he is effectively profiting from other people's losses. Bellman is so relieved that his daughter has been spared but he begins to question who exactly Mr Black is and why has nobody else seen him?
Bellman and Black is described as a ghost story and it does have that Victorian/gothic feel to it. However, I think it would be better described as a mystery as this is not a tale about things that go bump in the night.
Diane Setterfield's writing is extraordinary, I felt like she drew me into the story from the very first page and then weaved a wonderful fictional world around me. As I said, I felt that the idea of the rooks was entirely believable and I couldn't stop reading as I wanted to know what would become of William Bellman. He is such a good character and I completely loved the idea of a mourning emporium, it was the perfect fit for the Victorian period.
Bellman and Black is an excellent read that showcases Diane Setterfield's many talents for storytelling.

Many thanks to Orion for allowing me to read a review copy via Netgalley. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Teashop on the Corner by Milly Johnson

Life is full of second chances...if only you keep your heart open for them.
Spring Hill Square is a pretty sanctuary away from the bustle of everyday life. And at its centre is Leni Merryman's Teashop on the Corner, a place where three people will find a friend to lean on.
Carla Pride has just discovered that her late husband Martin was not who she thought he was. But now she must learn to put her marriage behind her and move forward.
Molly Jones' ex-husband Harvey has reappeared in her life after many years, wanting to put right the wrongs of the past before it's too late.
And Will Linton's business has gone bust and his wife has left him to pick up the pieces. Now he needs to gather the strength to start again.
Can all three find the comfort they are looking for in The Teashop on the Corner? And as their hearts are slowly mended by Leni, can they return the favour when she needs in the most?
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 492

The Teashop on the Corner is Milly Johnson at her best; warm, inviting, witty and entertaining. I devoured this book in about two days, I wanted to constantly be surrounded by the characters that Milly had created in order to find out what would happen to them.
The teashop run by Leni is delightful, she sells beautiful literary gifts and her cakes are named after famous authors etc. I found myself wishing that this was a real place as I know I would be in there a lot. Leni's teashop becomes a real safe haven for the main characters in the book, the shop brings people together who perhaps would not have met otherwise.
I always love the way in which Milly Johnson manages to tackle big issues in her book but without bringing the reader down. The Teashop on the Corner deals with death, infidelity, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and deception. I couldn't believe how much was packed into this book and it was done in such an effortless manner. As I said though, Milly Johnson shows the tough stuff but then ever so subtly lifts the reader back up, not an easy feat.
The Teashop on the Corner is a brilliant book, the characters and the storyline are spot on and I was very sad to reach the final page.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

BOOK TOUR: Q&A with author Leah Fleming

I am very pleased to be taking part in the tour for Leah Fleming's latest book, The Postcard, I reviewed the book earlier this week here. I was able to ask Leah some questions about the inspiration for the book and also what she has been reading herself:

1. How did you research the Gaiety Girls?
I researched the story of the Gaiety Girls first through their postcard images online and then some biographies especially one of a famous beauty: Lily Elsie: a working class girl, child  artiste who was spotted by George Edwardes , the impresario for her looks and talent on stage. She married a wealthy heir as did many of the IT girls of that era. She was the inspiration for Phoebe Faye.

2. What was your inspiration for this book?
The inspiration  for this book was the idea that one lost postcard could change lives down the generations. Also I was inspired by those brave women SOE agents who put for Callie.

3. Where did the idea for the animal sanctuary come from?
There's an northern animal sanctuary not far from me called : Only Foals and Horses. The Brookes Donkey sanctuary has always touched me. Now  animals provide therapy for both man and beast. Cruelty to any dumb animal makes me physically sick but they only got going in the UK circa 1960s. That is why there was one around to help Callie.

4. Could you describe your typical writing day?
My typical writing weekday begins with the usual chores around a house followed by sitting down to write 3 pages in my Journal of whatever comes into my head.  This sort of meditation releases the " must dos" of the day and any frustrations fears or ideas that pop up. I then go to my "plotting shed" in the garden with just a pen and paper and write for 2 hours. I may do researches in the afternoon, read, shop, play out with friends or grandchildren after that. I try to turn up at the blank page most days when I have a deadline.

5. Could you recommend any books that you have enjoyed recently?
I've just finished Milly Johnson's:  The Tea shop round the Corner It is  a warm, compassionate funny and moving read.
I love well researched historicals. I can recommend Catherin Czercawska's The Physic Garden . For any body who loves their garden and history you just have to read The Morville Hours. by Katherine Swift.

Many thanks to Leah Fleming for answering my questions and to Diana at Ruth Killick Publicity for organising this post. Please take a look at the blog tour poster at the top of my page to see where the tour stops next.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

I opened a book...

I just came across this lovely poem by Julia Donaldson about reading and I wanted to share it with you. It sums up exactly why reading is so important to me:

I opened a book and in I strode,
Now nobody can find me.
I've left my chair, my house, my road.
My town and my world behind me.
I'm wearing the cloak, I've slipped on the ring,
I've swallowed the magic potion.
I've fought with a dragon,
Dined with a king.
And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I openened a book and made some friends,
I shared their tears and laughter,
And followed their road with its bumps and bends,
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came,
The cloak can no longer hide me,
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Postcard by Leah Fleming

1930's London
Caroline has lead a privileged life, supported by her Aunt Phoebe. But when her impulsive elopement to Cairo quickly turns sour, she finds herself alone with a newborn son. Then war breaks out and Caroline feels compelled to play her part. Leaving her son, Desmond with Phoebe, she begins a dangerous existence on the front lines. Will they be reunited?
2002, Australia
On his death bed, Melissa Boyd's father confesses a devastating family secret. Armed with only a few tattered keepsakes, including an old postcard addressed to someone called Desmond, Melissa embarks on a journey that will take her across oceans and into the past...

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 405

Leah Fleming weaves a marvellous story in her latest book, The Postcard. The book revolves around secrets and their varying consequences. Caroline's Aunt Phoebe kept a huge secret from her until she was forced to tell her the truth. The secret destroyed their relationship and affected how Caroline went forward in life and the decisions she made. In the present day Melissa discovers that her father had a secret too, she is going to have to delve in to the past in order to discover how she is connected to the Desmond addressed on the postcard left by her father. If she is connected to him then why has her father waited so long to tell her?
The Postcard has a brilliant pace and as a reader you are taken from Scotland to London, Egypt and Australia. The depiction of the Second World War is fascinating and highlights the lengths that women went to in order to help the war effort. Some left behind children, never to see them again, all in the name of duty.
I highly recommend this book, Leah Fleming's writing style is rich and enticing and the book is brimming with secrets and mysteries.

I am taking part in the blog tour for this book, please take a look at the poster at the top of my blog for more information and come back on Thursday where I have questions and answers with the very talented Leah Fleming. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Making Marion by Beth Moran

Marion came to Nottinghamshire to discover her father's mysterious past, but all she has to go on is a picture of her father dressed up, it would seem, as Robin Hood.
Whilst looking for somewhere to stay, she somehow finds herself on the wrong side of the reception desk at the Peace and Pigs camp site and despite her horrible shyness, promptly lands herself a job.
It takes Marion all she's got to come out of her shell and get to grips with life on a busy camp site, where the chickens seem determined to hinder her and an unfortunate incident with a runaway bike throws her into the arms of the beautiful, but deeply unimpressed Reuben. However, Marion's would-be boyfriend Jake and Reuben's stunning fiancee Erica seem intent on thwarting any hint of romance between the two of them.
Can she really find peace and perhaps even love amongst the pigs?

Publisher: Lion Fiction
Pages: 316 

I am going to be completely honest, when I saw the front cover of this book I was expecting a very twee and cheesy read. However I was pleasantly surprised to discover a particularly warm hearted and thought provoking read.
Marion is shy and I mean seriously shy, she was pretty much mute as a young child. She has to employ extreme courage when she accidentally gets a job at the Peace and Pigs camp site in Sherwood Forest. Marion is there in search of her father, a mysterious figure who she knows nothing about. Instead she is employed by the extremely glamorous and lovable Scarlett who takes her under her wing. Marion very much becomes one of the family and we see her blossom. Marion was focused on looking for her father when she set out so she was completely unprepared for Reuben, the son of the local Lord and Lady of the manor who she literally bumps into. Reuben already has a fiancee though and Marion already has an admirer at the camp site but will true love win?
Making Marion is a lovely read, I found myself rooting for Marion and I so wanted her to find her voice and be happy. I would highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to Midas PR for sending me a review copy of the book, it is out now. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Thirteen Weddings by Paige Toon

Sometimes you just have to step out of the light to see clearly again...
Bronte never expected to see Alex after their one night together, but she never stopped thinking of him. So when she arrives at work one day to find that Alex is a new colleague, she is secretly thrilled. The only problem is that Alex is now engaged to the girl he was on a break from the night they met.
Determined to move on, Bronte becomes a part-time wedding photographer, alongside her day job. Surrounded by loving couples, tearful bridesmaids, mischievous  pageboys and interfering mother-in-laws, she struggles through wedding after wedding whilst he heart is slowly torn apart.
As Alex's own wedding day draws ever nearer, their chemistry becomes harder to ignore. Bronte must decide whether to fight for the man she loves, or to let him go forever. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 422

Thirteen Weddings is a brilliant read and my favourite of the Paige Toon books that I have read so far. Sadly, I've not had any weddings to attend this year but after reading this I feel like I've been to so many! I read this book over two days as I just couldn't put it down which I always find with this author's books.
Thirteen Weddings revolves around Bronte, she has a one night stand with Alex when she is visiting the UK from Australia for a friend's wedding. She thinks she won't see Alex again  but she never stops thinking about him. A year and a half later, Bronte finds herself back in the UK for a year long work placement. She cannot believe her eyes when Alex turns up in her office as the new Art Director. Alex who she has not stopped thinking of, Alex who is now engaged to be married in three months time. Bronte tries to keep her distance but she cannot ignore her feelings and neither can Alex. Bronte starts to spend a lot of time with Lachie, a fellow Australian living in the UK. She tries to occupy her spare time by becoming an assistant to a wedding photographer at the weekends. She has vowed never to get married due to her parents miserable relationship but watching several couples declaring their love for each other and making a life time commitment raises some questions in Bronte's mind.
Will Alex really marry his fiance and should Bronte give up her chance of happiness with another man? Can she truly love two men at the same time?
I was completely in love with Alex and Lachie by the end of the book and I was so unsure of who I wanted Bronte to end up with. Paige Toon has created two very appealing and believable male leads, I could see why Bronte loved them both. There were subtle differences in her relationships and this made it very difficult to decide who she was the most suited to.
Bronte's dislike of marriage added an extra element to the story. Her parent's marriage breakdown has greatly affected Bronte and I thought that Paige Toon dealt with this very well; it added real intrigue to the story as we don't find out exactly what happened until the very end.
Thirteen Weddings is the perfect summer read, it is full of love, friendship, passion and weddings! Read it, you won't be disappointed!

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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