Sunday, 12 February 2017

Class by Jenny Colgan, writing as Jane Beaton - An up-to-date yet nostalgic, novel about boarding school life by the sea

What girl didn't like Enid Blyton's boarding school books: Malory Towers, The Twins at St Clare's, or The Naughtiest Girl in the School?
I loved them, and so did Jenny Colgan -  so much that she decided to write her own school series for grown-ups, set in the twenty-first century, not the Forties and Fifties, and telling the story of the teaching staff as well as the girls. The first ones were published a few years ago, by Jane Beaton, but nobody knew that she was really Jenny Colgan as they were quite different from her usual books. Now they've been republished with Jenny Colgan boldly on the cover for us all to enjoy!
Class: Welcome to the Little School by the Sea  is set at a fictional school in Cornwall with four towers. Sounds familiar? Enid Blyton based Malory Towers on Lulworth Castle in Dorset (Wikipedia).
The main characters are:
Maggie Adair, from Glasgow, who applies for a teaching post at Downey House School to get some experience of teaching girls who want to learn instead of the indifferent students at the local comprehensive, is amazed to get the job.
Dr Veronica Deveral, the headteacher, who needs to keep the school successful to ensure it receives certain funding, is being besieged by the inspectors, and on a more personal level has a secret that she's kept close to her heart for many years.
Felicity Prosser, known as Fliss, doesn't want to leave her friends in Guildford and follow in her elder sister's footsteps to Downey House, and sets out to do all she can to be sent home (a bit like Elizabeth Allen in The Naughtiest Girl in the School!).
Alice Trebizon-Woods, who befriends Fliss and sets out to lead her astray.
And Simone Pribetich, a scholarship girl, who is so proud to have a place at Downey House, but finds it so hard to fit in, no thanks to Alice and Fliss.
Add Stan, Maggie's devoted boyfriend back in Scotland and David McDonald, the handsome English master from the neighbouring boys' school (and his dog!), and you have a wonderful story of the ups and downs of life at Downey House.
If you're looking for an up-to-date, yet nostalgic, novel about boarding school life by the sea, this is the book for you!
And if you want to know what happens next, Rules: Things are Changing at the Little School by the Sea, is also out now, and there are four more to come. Now where's my torch so I can get reading under the bedclothes?!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Do You Want to Write Marvellous Short Stories like Roald Dahl?

Somehow over the years, I'd lost my Penguin copies of Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl, so I was thrilled to see that the publisher has now brought out The Complete Short Stories  in two volumes, and I was even more thrilled to get them for Christmas!

However, I'm not going to use this blog post to add to the many marvellous reviews of his work, but I will say that if you have read or watched some of his Tales of the Unexpected, they are all here to enjoy again, such as Lamb to the Slaughter, and also others that are not so familiar about his wartime spent in the RAF, e.g. Katrina.
And if you have only enjoyed his children's books so far, there's a whole new world here to explore.
What I would like to tell you about is the introduction to Volume One by the author, comedian and actor, Charlie Higson.
Higson calls Dahl 'quiet simply the master of the short story form' and points out that his stories are not just ones with a twist in the tale which might be read once and not revisited ever again. Dahl knew that he had to hold the reader's attention for literally every second, and Higson says that his words should be carved into the foreheads of every new writer, novelist and critic who thinks that it's the reader and not the writer who should have to make an effort with a story.
He says that Dahl's style is deceptively straightforward, played out in a sunlight which exposes everything it touches. Like the British stiff upper lip, a calm and polite exterior thinly masks the 'seething turmoil' and 'suppressed violence' underneath. However, justice is always served, making us laugh or smile, but it is often the older, darker justice that is also found in his children's books.
Dahl was first approached by C.S. Forester to write a story about being shot down in Libya for a U.S. magazine to gain American sympathy in the war. Forester added that Dahl should focus on detail. This he did, and when Forester received his work, he was so pleased that he called Dahl a 'gifted writer' and published it as it was.
You can read a version this in A Piece of Cake (on page 87), and you will see just how he focused on the detail, e.g. tents flapping 'like canvas men clapping their hands', or the slow conversation between his mind and his body as he tried to escape from his fast-burning Gladiator.
I hope that you will love these stories as much as I did and will think, as you read them, about the skills of the master storyteller who wrote them for us all to enjoy.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick - An Ethereal, Wonderful Book about Love, Loss and, Comets

As I have said before, I love quirky books that step outside the normal confines of time and space. The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick is one such book. I saw the hardback version in Waterstone's, and I had to have it! I couldn't wait until August for the paperback version, so I put it on my Christmas list and was very happy to receive it on Christmas Day.
The story begins in 2017 at Halley VI, the British Antarctic Survey Research Station, where Róisín, a scientist, meets François, a chef. This unlikely couple feel drawn together: drawn to this desolate place of snow covered ice and rock, the very things comets are made of, and drawn to the comet which is due to pass at its closest to earth in three weeks on its way to the sun.
Helen Sedgwick then skilfully takes us back and forth in time, each time a comet appears from 1066 to the present day, to explain why they have met in such a place.
She focuses on the forbidden love between Róisín and her cousin, Liam, and how François copes with his mother, Severine, who talks to the ghosts of her family, and through whose lives the story is told over one thousand years. And she shows how Róisín's and François' lives tantalizingly almost touch several times until they meet on the Research Station.
There are so many themes to explore: the Bayeux Tapestry for one, sewn (in the same way the story goes back and forth in time) by Anglo-Saxon women in England.
Then there is the red tent that Róisín and her cousin, Liam, sleep out in to see Comet West in 1976, mirrored by the red tent that she uses in the Antarctic, and the tent that Severine and François use when they are comet-seeking too.
There is also the theme of loss reflecting the approach and passage of the comets with the events in the lives of Róisín, Liam, François and Severine.
I can recommend this ethereal, wonderful book about love, loss and, comets. There is so much to it, I think I might read it again!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Notes from the Northern Lights by Jo Thomas - the Perfect Wintery Novel

With Christmas over and all the decorations packed away until December, here's the perfect wintery book to read with deep snow guaranteed, even if it's raining outside: Notes from the Northern Lights by Jo Thomas.
Ruby Knightley is sent to Reykjavik, when her only experience of  Iceland is watching Rick Stein on one of his Long Weekends!
She on a mission to hunt down her opera company's star performer, Hilmar Snorrison, who has left everyone in the lurch after rehearsing for their new production which is to go on tour.
Iceland in January for wardrobe mistress, Ruby, is cold and dark with only a few hours of daylight. Luckily, she discovers that he's returned to the family sheep farm to help his brother who's broken his leg. She gets a taxi there and hopes to be able to get back to the airport in time for her return flight, but a snow storm blows in, trapping her at the farm.
How is she going to persuade Hilmar to come back with her, and how will they get back to England anyway, in this weather?
As with all Jo Thomas's books, there's always something interesting to learn about someone's way of life, such as oyster farming, olive or wine production. In this book, it's sheep farming, and the production of smoked lamb, hangikjöt, which gives the background to the story.
It's a wonderful book to read on a dark winter's weekend and get transported to the wintery world of Iceland.

I spent a wonderful few days there in 2011, and you can read the blog I wrote here: Yule Lads and Northern Lights in Iceland!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

A Merry Mistletoe Wedding by Judy Astley - The Perfect Book to go with the Last of Your Christmas Chocolates!

Happy New Year! But, if you've still got lots of Christmas chocolates to eat up, here's the perfect book to go with them - A Merry Mistletoe Wedding by Judy Astley.
It's the end of August, and Thea has just spent her summer holidays in Cornwall with Sean and is loathe to go back for the new term at her primary school in London, so he asks her to come back to Cornwall and marry him at Christmas.
Meanwhile, her parents, ageing hippies, Anna and Mike, are thinking of downsizing from the family home and releasing some cash so they can enjoy their retirement, and sister, Emily, gives birth to Ned. Add Charlotte and Alex from It Must Have Been the Mistletoe, Judy Astley's book which tells how they all got snowed in last Christmas at Cove Manor, and you have a great cast of characters.
A Merry Mistletoe Wedding is a really engrossing novel, and kept me enthralled finding out where Anna and Mike would move to, whether Emily would ever go to Cornwall again after last year's fiasco in the snow, and whether Sean and Thea would actually manage to tie the knot on Christmas Day, despite the return of her ex, Rich.
I adored it and would love to read another story to find out what happens to these wonderful people next!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmassy Books: Snow, Starry Nights and Christmas Trees

Don't you love those Christmassy books that appear in the shops at this time of year? Snow, starry nights, Christmas trees; what more could you want?  Here are the books that have caught my eye this Christmas:
Something from Tiffany's by Melissa Hill
I really enjoyed The Charm Bracelet by Melissa last year ( here is my revue), so I thought I'd try this. I've only just begun it, and already it's Christmas Eve in New York, Ethan has bought an extravagant diamond ring from Tiffany's to propose to Vanessa, and Gary has bought Rachel a silver charm bracelet. The identical iconic blue bags get switched, and I can't wait to find out what Vanessa says when she receives the charm bracelet, and what Rachel's reaction when she hits the jackpot and gets the ring! How is Ethan ever going to get it back. I can't wait to find out!
A Diamond from Tiffany's  Yes, it's again by Melissa Hill! This picks up the story of Ethan and Vanessa and Rachel and Gary two years later, on another snowy Christmas Eve in New York. I wonder what will happen this time?
A Merry Mistletoe Wedding   by Judy Astley.  This also takes up a story, this time of Sean And Thea, who I read about in It Must Have Been the Mistletoe last year. (Here's my revue.) From the title, you can see that they're getting married at Christmas and this book is about how their plans for a simple Christmas wedding begin to get out of hand. If it's anything like last year's book, I'm certainly going to enjoy it!
Lastly, every week before Christmas, I make sure that I leave time to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, because Dickens put together the Christmas we know today: the idea that giving is better than receiving, and the must have traditions of roast turkey and snow!
Happy Reading!!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor - A Rich Story of Ambition, Secrets and Love in 1920s London

I am a serial book reader: as soon as I've finished one book, I have to start another! It's like travelling in time and space.
No sooner have I left a cosy Oxfordshire Christmas Eve (in How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry) than I arrive on a cold, icy railway station in Lancashire one hundred years ago, where Dolly is saying goodbye to her sweetheart, Teddy, whom she may never see again as he goes off to war. Two pieces of paper are in her pockets: one represents the life she knows and the other, the life she dreams of.
This is from the wonderful prologue to The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor. I have really loved and enjoyed her previous two books, The Girl Who Came Home, and A Memory of Violets (you  can read my reviews here and here) so I was excited to read this one at last.
Dolly's dream is to be on the West End stage like her idol, Loretta May, so she gets a job as a chambermaid at The Savoy to be in London so she can attend auditions and hopefully get a job in the chorus line and work her way up. One day she literally bumps into Perry, sending the pages of music he's written all over the pavement. He doesn't think his music is worth saving, and throws it in a bin, only for Dolly to rescue it and hide it under her pillow because she feels drawn to him in some way.
Loretta, the Darling of the West End, meets up with her brother, Perry, each Wednesday afternoon for tea at Claridges, but however much she enjoys seeing him, she can't quite get herself to tell him her intimate secret.
Meanwhile Teddy, has been so traumatised with the war in France, that he's lost his memory, and a nurse at the hospital helps him in an effort to get his memory back by reading Dolly's letters.
At the same time, Dolly has her own secret which she keeps close to her heart but which is always there in her thoughts and dreams.
Hazel has written such a wonderful book, rich in the lives of people in the 1920s: Dolly at The Savoy glimpsing the glittering guests; Loretta and her life on and off the stage; and Teddy struggling to  remember who he is and forget the horrors of war in a stark Lancashire hospital.
It is a book about ambition, secrets, love, and the Jazz Age. Another world, perhaps, but only less than a hundred years ago.
Hazel Gaynor's next book, set in 1920s Yorkshire, is about the Cottingley Fairies and the two young cousins, Elsie and Frances, who maintained that their photographs of the beautiful creatures were genuine. I've always been fascinated about this story which should be out in Spring 2017, and I can't wait!