Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday book review - A Sea Change by Veronica Henry


I’m a huge fan of Quick Reads, the “bite-size” books that aim to get more people reading. Around one in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and many never pick up a book. That’s where Quick Reads come in. Launched in 2006, Quick Reads  commissioned a host of big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. The initiative has proved so successful that over the last seven years 4.5 million books have been distributed and three million library loans clocked up.

New authors are added every year, with the latest starry batch of names including Andy McNab, Kathy Lette, Minette Walters and Veronica Henry. The novels cost a bargain £1 each and have turned loads of previously reluctant readers into “book addicts.”
I’ve read several Quick Reads over the years and when I spotted A Sea Change by Veronica Henry in Foyle’s at St Pancras the other day I snapped it up to read on the Eurostar.
The story was perfect for my train journey. It’s only 90 pages long but has all the charm and insight of Henry’s longer novels. Set in the fictional seaside village of Everdene, it’s the tale of ice-cream seller Jenna, who turns up for work one hot summer’s day to find that she’s been sacked. With a flaky family, no money to pay her rent and no work on the horizon, she takes drastic action – action that catches the attention of a young copper sitting on the beach.
Henry’s story is thought provoking, easy to read and as light as the summer breeze. The perfect Quick Read in fact.
A Sea Change by Veronica Henry (Orion, £1)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

What would my mother say?


I’ve been looking forward to reading Lucy Boyd’s book, Kitchen Memories, for ages. The daughter of Rose Gray, the inspirational co-founder of the River Café, Lucy is now head gardener at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey and an accomplished chef herself.

I met Lucy at HarperCollins last autumn when I was invited to the publisher’s Fulham HQ to give a talk about blogging. 

Kitchen Memories is a captivating mix of recipes, memories and stunning photography. In a moving interview with The Times yesterday Lucy spoke about her mother’s massive – and ongoing - influence on her. Rose Gray died in 2010 but even now, when Lucy’s cooking she can hear her mother’s voice in her ear.

“I bought some asparagus out of season the other day and I’m still covered with shame,” Lucy told interviewer Andrew Billen. “It’s like ‘God, what would Rose say?’ She’d say 'Traitor.'”

Lucy’s words resonated so strongly with me. My mother died more than eight years ago but every time I do something she’d disapprove of (not often, I admit) I feel desperately guilty. We were incredibly close, spoke on the phone every day and agreed on most things  – apart from poached eggs, brackets, flat shoes and telling people your age.

She loved poached eggs, I hate them. She loathed brackets, I love them (as you can tell). She loved sky-high shoes and well, so do I (but I’m quite keen on my Converse too). And last of all she thought you should never ever let on how old you are. Actually, come to think of it, I’m coming round to that one…

Kitchen Memories by Lucy Boyd (HarperCollins, £20)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Moving On, my second novel - out as an ebook TODAY


Moving On, my second novel, is published as an ebook today – and I’m over the moon. It’s the novel I’m most proud of so I’m hoping that new readers will enjoy it.

When the book was first published it had a lurid pink jacket with daisies scattered across the front but now publishers Piatkus Entice have given it a gorgeous mauve cover (I must say I rather covet the heroine’s green and black spotty shirt) and it looks far more stylish.

Like my first novel, Moving On is set in the world of newspapers. But this time round the main characters are two sisters, Kate and Laura Hollingberry. Their father, HH, is a mega-successful newspaper tycoon, but they know next to nothing about their mother, Clare, who walked out in mysterious circumstances when they were little.

The two girls are close but they’re poles apart in character. Laura is happy to get an undemanding job until she finds Mr Right, while Kate is fiercely ambitious and wants more out of life. Determined not to rely on her father's money or influence, Kate takes a job on the Bowland Bugle, a struggling weekly newspaper in the wilds of Lancashire. It's her first job and her first bid for independence. Anything can happen – and it certainly does.

Kate arrives in the north of England as a naive, inexperienced reporter (hmmm, shades of autobiography there), but is forced to grow up fast. Especially when she’s faced with a distraught couple whose teenage daughter has gone missing, a boss who seems hell-bent on tripping her up at every opportunity and a love affair that doesn't go according to plan. Meanwhile, back in London, Laura is facing her own heartbreak and the future of the family business is looking uncertain...

Moving On by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus, £3.99)

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Book Review - The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes


Reviewing a book by an author you’ve met in real life can be tricky. But actually, when the author is as talented as Jojo Moyes it’s not difficult at all.

Over the past year Jojo has become one of our most successful novelists. Me Before You, her tear-jerking story of a hotshot city financier who becomes wheelchair-bound after an accident, was one of the top five paperbacks of 2012 and has sold more than 500,000 copies in the UK so far. Her ninth novel, it’s now a New York Times bestseller and this week MGM acquired the film rights. Me Before You is an amazing book and if you haven’t yet read it, go and download it NOW.

As I wrote in my House With No Name review last year Jojo is one of those writers who surprises her readers with every novel. While lots of novelists play it safe and stick to familiar themes and subjects, she always chooses something different. To date she’s written about everything from brides crossing the world to meet their husbands after the Second World War (The Ship of Brides) to a businessman planning a controversial development in a sleepy Australian town (Silver Bay).

And her latest, The Girl You Left Behind, is different again. It’s the story of two women, unrelated and separated by 100 years, who are united in their determination to fight tooth and nail for what they love most. One is French artist’s wife Sophie Lefèvre, who is forced to make a terrible decision in the hope of being reunited with her beloved husband during the First World War. The other is young widow Liv Halston, who a century later finds that her future is inextricably linked with Sophie’s past.

There’s no doubt that Me Before You is a hard act to follow but Jojo has managed it with style and panache. The Girl You Left Behind isn’t quite as spellbinding as its predecessor but it’s still utterly compelling and the two stories are skillfully entwined and meticulously researched. At first I found Sophie’s story – her courage, pragmatism and determination to keep her family safe against all odds – far more gripping than Liv’s. But as the novel progressed Liv and the ex-NYPD cop she falls for completely won me over. I can’t wait to see what Jojo writes next.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (Penguin, £7.99)

PS. Jojo Moyes is speaking at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival on Sunday April 21.  You can book tickets here.

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012


It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday book review - The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable


If you’re racing to get your Christmas shopping done and need an enchanting story for girls aged ten and up, then The Wolf Princess could be just the ticket.

The first novel from journalist turned author Cathryn Constable, it’s the captivating account of penniless orphan Sophie Smith. Stuck in her drab London boarding school with her two best friends – brainy Marianne and immaculately groomed Delphine - she longs for something exciting to happen.

Then, thanks to a mysterious Russian visitor, the trio suddenly find themselves on a school trip to St Petersburg.  But when they arrive they are swept off by train to a winter palace – where a charismatic princess lavishes them with gifts, takes them skating on a frozen lake and weaves stories about her family’s tragic past. 

With its magical descriptions of ice, snow, diamonds and white wolves who prowl the palace grounds at night, The Wolf Princess is the perfect read for a chilly Christmas afternoon. The cover, as you can see, is glorious too.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House, £6.99)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A little bit cool, a little bit nan


My last pressing book review is done and dusted - so now I can’t wait to get down to some pre-Christmas reading of my own. Top of my list are two treats I’ve been saving up. One is the just-completed manuscript of one of my best novelist friends, the other is Mutton by India Knight.

And it’s Knight who gave me the idea for this blog post. She wrote a laugh-out-loud funny piece in The Guardian at the weekend to promote her new book, explaining how, even at the advanced age of 46, she doesn’t feel like a grown-up. As the mother of an eight-year-old daughter and two grown-up sons, she explains: “… on the one hand you're the mother of adult men, and on the other you're the mother of a little child. You're both ‘the youngest mum of all my friends’ and among the oldest mothers in year 4. You're a bit cool, you're a bit nan.”

A little bit cool, a little bit nan – that just about sums it up. Apart from worsening eyesight and wrinkly skin, I don’t feel middle-aged in the slightest. I still shop at Topshop and River Island, still like Dizzee Rascal's music and still spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over the latest nail polish colours at Nails Inc. Actually, I’m half-hoping for their new leather and skulls varnish in black for Christmas, only the Oxford branch says they aren’t getting any till January.

On the other hand, I’m definitely a bit nan in lots of ways. The idea of staying out till 6am makes me feel ill, I can’t face loud music first thing in the morning and when I put sugar in someone’s coffee I still use a teaspoon. I still wear a watch, still send Christmas cards (no round robins!), still walk to the shops every morning to buy a newspaper and can’t go to bed before clearing up the chaos in the kitchen first.

My son definitely doesn’t think I’m cool though. I was telling him the other day that I quite like James Blake’s music. “James Blake?” he said crushingly. “Don’t you mean James Blunt?”

Friday, 14 December 2012

Giveaway - win a copy of Lauren Child's latest Ruby Redfort story


I’ve been a fan of Lauren Child’s work for years. Her children's books, with their zany patchwork collages, wonky text going in all directions and off-the-wall stories, are utterly entrancing. In fact I reckon I’ve given copies of her fabulous Charlie and Lola books and Clarice Bean stories to just about every child I know - goddaughters, nieces and friends’ children. I even bought a copy of an edition of Pippi Longstocking she illustrated for, er… myself.

Child is incredibly prolific and last year she launched the Ruby Redfort stories for readers aged nine and up. Undercover agent Ruby first appeared in the Clarice Bean books but so many readers asked about Ruby that Child decided to give her her own six-book series. First came Look Into My Eyes and now the second – Take Your Last Breath – is out.

Super-cool detective Ruby is only 13 but she’s a genius at cracking codes and puzzles. This time round she’s on a mission to crack the case of the Twinford pirates, while evading the clutches of a vile sea monster and an evil count. And one thing’s for sure, if anyone can convince children that puzzle-solving and code-cracking are fun, it’s Child.

Now, thanks to HarperCollins, I have got a copy of Take Your Last Breath to give away to a lucky House With No Name reader. All you have to do is leave a comment about who you’d give it to at the end of this post and I’ll announce the winner next week.

This giveaway is open to readers with UK postal addresses only. The closing date is 12 noon on December 18, so get your entries in soon!

Take Your Last Breath (HarperCollins, £12.99).

Friday, 7 December 2012

Giveaway - win a copy of Michael Morpurgo's brilliant new novel


Michael Morpurgo is one of the most prolific writers around. He began writing stories as a primary schoolteacher 40 years ago and has since written more than 120 books. I remember my two children excitedly discovering The Butterfly Lion, a tale that so enthralled them that they proceeded to whizz through every other Morpurgo book they could lay their hands on.

Morpurgo, who was children’s laureate from 2003 to 2005, has the knack of writing books that catapult you into a different world. And none more so than his latest novel, A Medal for Leroy.

Partly inspired by Morpurgo’s own life and partly by the life of Walter Tull, the only black soldier to serve in the British Army during the First World War, A Medal for Leroy is a poignant story, movingly told.

As Morpurgo explains: “Walter Tull was the inspiration for Leroy in my story. This extraordinary young man had grown up in an orphanage in London, had played football for Spurs, then joined up with his pals when war began in 1914.

“He was incredibly brave in the field of battle and deserved a medal for gallantry. He never received one. He died leading his men into attack in 1918. He has no known grave. Many of the issues raised in this book spring from the life and death of this brave young man. This is why the book is dedicated to his memory.”

A Medal for Leroy, charmingly illustrated by Michael Foreman, is the story of Michael, a little boy living in London with his French mother after the Second World War.

Michael’s father died a hero before he was born, shot down in a dogfight over the Channel in 1940. But Michael has one of his medals and occasionally visits his two aged aunts, Auntie Pish and Auntie Snowdrop, to scatter snowdrops on the sea in his memory.

After Auntie Snowdrop's death, Michael discovers a writing pad tucked behind a photograph of his father. It's filled with his aunt's writing and contains family secrets that have remained hidden for years. “I knew even as I began to read – and I have no idea how I knew – that my life would be changed forever," says Michael, "that after I’d read this I would never be the same person again.”

Morpurgo has had a stupendous year. First the movies of War Horse and Private Peaceful (weepies, both of them) hit the big screen, and now he has written this fine new novel. Suitable for children aged nine and over, it is compelling and thought-provoking. Vintage Morpurgo.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I have two copies of A Medal for Leroy to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment about your favourite children's book at the end of this post.

This giveaway is open to readers with UK postal addresses only.

Plus, as a special Christmas promotion, you can buy A Medal for Leroy and get Little Manfred free.  Find out more here.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Friday book review - The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis


With Christmas less than a month away (eek!), I’m busy writing a newspaper piece about great festive reads for children.

One of my favourites so far is Richard Curtis’s The Empty Stocking. The prodigiously talented Curtis – director and screenwriter extraordinaire – has written an enchanting tale for children, with sweet illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.

It’s the story of seven-year-old twin sisters Sam and Charlie, who look the same but couldn’t be more different.

Sam is angelic, while Charlie is quite naughty. Or as Curtis puts it: “Not interested in being obedient. Quite often very grumpy. Not very fond of telling the complete truth. But very fond of eating sweets, making a filthy racket and having too much fun.” (Actually, come to think of it, Charlie sounds the life and soul of the party).

The little girls can’t wait for Christmas and excitedly hang their stockings at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve. But the big question is - will Santa fill both their stockings with presents this year? Or is it time he got tough?

This is a lovely picture book for small children – and as well as being an exuberant and heart-warming tale, it’s got an important message too.

The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis (Puffin, £6.99)

Friday, 16 November 2012

Friday book review - Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd


Writer Hilary Boyd probably can’t quite believe it. A month ago, her first novel had sold just 3,000 copies – a respectable number, but nothing to write home about.

Four weeks later, it’s a different story. Largely through word of mouth, Thursdays in the Park has turned into a smash hit.

The book’s fortunes changed when Amazon discounted the ebook version to 20p. I spotted the novel a couple of weeks ago and was so entranced by the title and the cover – and yes, the price – that I downloaded it straight away. I was clearly one of many because the book has now sold more than 100,000 copies. Apparently Charles Dance is interested in starring in the movie and and the foreign rights have been snapped up in France, Sweden, Finland and Germany too. Not only that, Hilary Boyd has been interviewed by scores of newspapers and even popped up on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

But after all the excitement, is the book any good? Well yes, actually, it is. I read it earlier this week and tore through it in one go. Well-written, heart-warming and sweet, it’s the story of Jeanie, a 60-year-old woman trapped in a safe but sexless marriage. The light of her life is her little granddaughter Ellie, whom she looks after on Thursday afternoons. The pair always go to the park, and it’s there that she meets Ray and his small grandson Dylan. Ray is kind, funny and easy to talk to – everything that Jeanie’s husband isn’t, in fact – and much to the horror of Jeanie’s family the pair find themselves falling in love. 

Thursdays in the Park has been dubbed “gran-lit,” but readers of all ages will enjoy it. Boyd, who’s 62, says she wanted to write about romance and love at “a certain age” and show that these days becoming a grandmother doesn’t mean “polyester slacks and a blue rinse.” Not in Jeanie’s case it doesn’t, anyway.

Boyd’s book is far from being a great literary work, but it’s an insightful and compelling tale. There are a couple of sex scenes, but they’re tastefully done. Thursdays in the Park may be the talk of publishing circles right now but it’s nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey, I promise…

Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd (Quercus, £7.99). The ebook is currently available for 20p on Amazon. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Download White Christmas for free today


Hal Benson smoothed his crumpled charcoal jacket, adjusted the livid pink tie he’d borrowed from a friend and cleared his throat noisily. His mouth was dry and he’d started to sweat under the bright studio lights. He couldn’t for the life of him work out why he was so nervous. For goodness sake, he’d performed in front of thousands of people before. He’d played Macduff at Stratford-upon-Avon without batting an eyelid, and had even appeared in a Tom Cruise movie once. It had only been a tiny part, admittedly, and his five seconds of fame had ended up on the cutting room floor, but all the same, he was a professional actor. And this, well this was just play-acting.

In eight years of acting, Hal had never worked anywhere as garish as this place. He half-wished he’d brought a pair of sunglasses with him. The whole studio was painted in an acid yellow, with a giant black clock on the main wall and a vast red curved sofa in front of it. There was a Christmas tree in one corner, covered in red and yellow baubles, and a life-sized model of Father Christmas in the other. Red and yellow were clearly the TV station’s signature colours.

At that moment a young studio manager with a bulky pair of headphones clamped to her ears took him by the arm. She guided him to the left-hand side of the sofa and instructed him to stand in front of a translucent screen.

‘You’ll see a faint image of the graphics appear,’ she told Hal. ‘The image will give you an idea of where to point and you can use the remote clicker we’ve given you to move on to the next graphic. Is that clear?’

As clear as mud, thought Hal, but he nodded brightly and said ‘sure…’

That's a short extract from my festive new ebook, White Christmas. If you’d like to read more, you can download the novella for free on Amazon today. Let me know what you think...

Friday, 9 November 2012

White Christmas – new romantic novella out now


With Christmas just seven weeks away (help!), my festive new novella has just been published. White Christmas, the tale of two rival weather forecasters, was great fun to write – so I hope readers will enjoy it.

From Christmas trees and carols to holly and mistletoe, the story aims to get everyone in the festive mood. White Christmas is available for download at AmazonHere's the blurb...

Everyone dreams of a White Christmas.

But nobody dreams of one quite as much as Hal Benson.

Out-of-work actor Hal has been hired as a stand-in weather presenter by a ratings-chasing TV news channel. But actually, Hal couldn't care less whether it rains or not. To him it is just a job.

But then he meets rival weather forecaster Lizzie Foster. She’s bright, determined and very beautiful. Fascinated by meteorology, she can’t believe that Hal is completely clueless about the weather.

They become friends, but as Christmas Day approaches, their relationship turns out to be as unpredictable as the weather. And sometimes as stormy.

Whilst everyone else is unwrapping presents, Hal and Lizzie are looking to the skies for signs of a White Christmas. So will the pair overcome their meteorological differences - and find true love?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Movie stardom for A Street Cat Named Bob?


How brilliant to hear that a green-eyed street cat called Bob could be on the way to movie stardom.

Like thousands of other readers, I was bowled over when I read A Street Cat Named Bob. James Bowen's book describes how he found an injured stray cat in the hallway of his block of flats back in 2007. He took the cat in, nursed him back to health and called him Bob.

James, a recovering drug addict and musician, started taking Bob busking with him and the duo soon became a familiar sight around the streets of Covent Garden and Islington. Then, two years ago, they were spotted by literary agent Mary Pachnos, who encouraged James to write Bob’s story.

The ensuing book, written by James and journalist Garry Jenkins, became an instant bestseller. It has already sold more than 250,000 copies around the world, been published in 18 languages and a US version of the tale is due out next year. James is also writing a children’s version, called Bob: No Ordinary Cat, which will be published in February.

And now a report in The Sunday Times says a film could be on the cards. Apparently  the Hollywood agent who brought Marley & Me to the big screen is in talks about turning Bob’s story into a film. Bob is already the most famous cat in London. He could soon be the most famous cat in the world. 
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