Sunday, 22 January 2012

In my mailbox...

This is my third IMM so far and despite my good intentions, (oops, I did it again) I've bought more books!  I'm currently buying far faster than I'm reading, which is a bit of an issue!

I've finally given in and decided I need to see what all the fuss is about A Discovery of Witches.  Reading some reviews on Amazon and goodreads it looks as if it's a marmite book and I always feel I need to make my own decision!  I was tempted to go for the audio version as I have a couple of credits available, but wasn't convinced I could stand several hours of the narrator if the sample was anything to go by...shame really, but liking a narrator is such a personal thing!  Hope to read it fairly soon, as I'm definitely behind the queue with this one!
Becoming Jane Eyre has been a constant feature on my Amazon recommendations for a while and I finally decided to go for it.  Bronte fans should look away now... I don't love Jane Eyre but I do love the melodramatic madness of Wuthering Heights, so I have good hopes for this one.  Sadly being made to force-read Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea for A level sort of killed it for me and the TV adaptations have never convinced me otherwise.
The other two are ready and waiting for my kindle (The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen and Season of Storms) - Susanna Kearsley is a bit of a no-brainer as I've enjoyed her other stuff and other one fulfils my austenesque urges (again!)
Catch you soon - happy reading!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Dancing on Thorns by Rebecca Horsfall

Jean-Baptiste St Michel, known simply as Michel (thank goodness) was tempted away from England and his mother by his famous choreographer father to learn ballet in Paris.  Abandoned by his absent father and disillusioned in his dancing abilities,  Michel is plucked from obscurity by ballerina Nadia Petrovna to become an apprentice in the small but striving Islington Ballet.  Director Charles Crown is less impressed, but Michel's determination and persistence pay off as he becomes a formidable talent.
Jonni is an aspiring actress new to London who becomes entangled in the exciting and close knit group that revolve around Michel's flat.  Despite their immediate attraction, Michel's only true commitment is to dance and their relationship falters as Jonni wants more than Michel is able to give.

So did I mention that I'm on a ballet obsession at the moment? (oh, sorry, I must have!) and it's still going strong, much to Amazon's delight and pain to my credit card!!
There's actually far more to this book than I can give in a brief synopsis; there's 730 pages and never a dull moment!  It's a theatrical, passionate saga with a huge range of varied characters and sub-plots and I don't want to give anything away.  I loved Michel, despite him being a self-obsessed egotist for much of the book, he's perfect! (and yes, I do love my flawed heroes, I know!) Primo is fabulous, Jonni is mildly irritating and wet and I adored the behind the scenes details and the creation of new ballets.
Just in case I'm not enthusing enough, even though it's not completely perfect, I lurved this book!  It's totally indulgent, Jilly Cooper-esque in both size and sweeping breadth, but who cares?!  It did what these huge chunksters are supposed to do, whisked me off to another life and I couldn't put it down! Unlucky for me that I chose to start it during the first week back at work after Christmas hols, as it meant I stayed up extra late as I was desperate to see how it all ended!  Brilliant!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Ageing ballerina Nina Revskaya, formerly of the Bolshoi, now lives in Boston and has decided to sell her extensive collection of jewellery to help support the Ballet Company she has worked for in her later years.  However, renewed interest in the history of the treasures alongside her increasing frailty and illness makes Nina reluctantly dwell on her past.
The book combines a modern day story with Nina's earlier experiences before she defected to the West; working through the ranks to become a star dancer, known as the "butterfly" to the exclusion of almost everything else, including the dangers and motives of the people around her.

Drew is managing the details of the auction and is fascinated by Nina's reticence to discuss the jewels and her own past.  A set of amber earrings and bracelet are particularly interesting and the intrigue increases when university professor, Grigori Solodin, donates a matching necklace to auction alongside the Revskaya collection.  Drew searches for specific details of the owner, whilst Grigori has his own reasons for the personal interest in the history of Nina and her husband the poet, Victor Elsin.

I think it's pretty clear that I read this partly due to my current ballet fixation (sorry - it's still ongoing!) and my love of historical fiction.  Although I know quite a lot about about the ballet, I'm pretty ignorant about Russia, particularly the era covered in this book, so it was an interesting read.  The descriptions of life in the Bolshoi were realistic and contrasted the beauty created on stage with the hard work, physical tolls and seediness of backstage life.  The historical aspect was well done and obviously well researched without coming across as inserting big chunks of a text book into the plot.  A claustrophobic atmosphere was created where the characters had to cope with the bleakness, lack of privacy and poverty of everyday life, where there was real danger in being seen not to conform.  I thought it was brave that many of the main characters in this section weren't particularly likable, although by the end of the book most have redeemed themselves.  It showed people in frightening circumstances managing the best way they can.

As I became absorbed in the Russian back story, I actually found the modern day sections with Grigori and Drew a bit of an irritation.  They are both thoroughly decent characters and are needed to shed light on Nina's earlier decisions and the eventual reveal, but I wasn't really bothered.  It was also difficult at first to see how the young Nina became the old (not very nice) Nina, but that became more apparent as the story developed.

I really enjoyed this book and its unravelling mystery.  Just to be really picky there was a couple of things could have put me off!  Firstly I didn't get the gorgeous cover that I'd seen on goodreads (go and look!) and got the rather boring cover, shown here...I've said before that I know I should judge by the cover, but let's be honest, we all do to some extent!  Secondly, the four and a half pages of quotes to tell me how wisely I'd chosen seemed a bit of overkill on behalf of the publishers, I can go for a couple of admiring quotes on the back cover, but honestly!  However, that's not the author's fault and I would recommend this as a tale of dance, history, love and betrayal...a good read!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

In my mailbox this week...

Despite having a huge TBR list and far too many books stacking up around the house and on my kindle, I've gone and bought even more this week!  I really must rein myself in at some point very soon, but as I look at all the brilliant blogs out there, see reccommendations on Amazon, audible and goodreads, I just can't help myself!
There's a couple I've acquired as audiobooks (My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and Miracle on Regent Street) and The Silver Locket is on the kindle.  I'm really looking forward to all of them, especially as one allows me to indulge in my Phantom obsession and another is a promising Austeneque treat.
Reviews will follow as I get through them...but the bookshelves are towering!! 


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

new books for this week...

Just to clarify, apart from the Transworld Challenge that I did this summer, I don't get any freebies! Not that I wouldn't like any, but I'm very, very small scale and I don't get any books offered!!  If you'd like to help change this situation, please contact me!  Although I try to blog reasonably regularly and I keep my goodreads updated, I am very slow at putting reviews on Amazon and other sites, so I aim to try harder this year.
So what treats have I lined up this week? Well, I'm waiting for another couple to arrive from Amazon, (yes, I've been seduced by the recommendations for me, again, so I'll tell you about them next time I blog about my mailbox and let you know what other goodies I have to look forward too...but waiting on the shelf right now are:

Has anyone read these already? What did you think?


Well, things look a little different around here, don't they?!
I decided I needed a bit of a change and so started to play around...some of this is intentional, but then I accidentally deleted the HTML that gave me my "wallpapery" background and I can't get it back...oops!  I was getting a little bored, but hadn't intended to be so drastic, but needs must and all that.

So, please bear with me whilst I play around over the next couple of days and decide on a final, finished look.  I'm not happy with the colours and contrast between background and text so far, but will get it right in the near future!  But I have a book waiting for some attention and I can't let me writing time slip!
Let me know what you think!

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Fat Chance Guide to Dieting by Claudia Pattison

Three women are battling the bulge at the local "Fat Chance" slimming club.  Holly lives with Rob but has to deal with the far too frequent visits from his overbearing mother.  Naomi is a wedding photographer who finds unusual perks to the job and recently widowed Kate has been seeking solace in the fridge.  The three become firm friends and support each other through the strict diet regime, a boot camp and their own personal dilemmas.

So two things made me buy this book; firstly, I just loved the cover and even though I know you shouldn't judge by that alone, I probably am a marketer's dream and yes, I do fall for the trap! Secondly, I'm back on the diet wagon, and although I've not submitted to the slimming clubs this time, I've been there (several times), bought the t-shirt, calorie point book, those horrid diet biscuits that taste of nothing and I have been the cynical element that sits at the back that the leader finds difficult to motivate!  So I was in for a light hearted dig at the world of losing weight...and although the book does provide that, I was disappointed...a bit like how Options 40 calorie hot chocolate just doesn't deliver against a full fat Starbucks version!

I didn't realise (should have checked the blurb on the back) until I'd bought the book that Claudia Pattison also writes as Leonie Fox.  I read one of those a couple of years back and wasn't overly enthusiastic, so I'd have probably not bothered if I'd been more thorough before slinging it in my supermarket trolley.
As a parody of the horrors of slimming clubs, there was a couple of points where I smiled, but Amanda the club leader is beyond horrific (and at times makes Marjorie Dawes look empathetic!) so it might be funny, at first, but is completely unbelievable that anyone, particularly a professor of psychology, would pay for the privilege of being harangued by such an unoriginal stereotype.  And that's my main problem with this book, it seemed almost over the top, cartoonish at times with such bizarre situations that I just couldn't enjoy it.  The characterisation seemed thin and I really didn't like or care for anyone throughout the story, even Holly, who was the most believable person but was just so wet!  Without giving spoilers,  Naomi was the most unreliable character as I not only disliked her life choices but there was no indication as to why, and as Naomi apparently weighs in at 11 stone is she really likely to be attractive to Toby's "interesting" predilections?
On the plus side, it does rattle along and I still love the cover! However, although it's definitely not to my taste, it will appeal to many.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate

This came as an Amazon recommendation, which I know can be a bit hit and miss, but I do give some of them a go and I'm so pleased I did as I'd never have found this book by myself and I loved it!  With similarities to Nicky Pellegrino and Adriana Trigiani it charts a young women's journey in finding herself through food...what's not to love?!
Holly's Italian grandmother ran a cookery class on Blue Crab Island, Maine, where she combined her culinary genius with her fortune telling skills and ability to weave magical wishes into her dishes.  She became known as the "Love Goddess" and despite some antagonism to her good looks and mysterious knowledge she carved out a thriving business with Camilla's Cucinotta.
Holly has meandered through life following her romantic inclinations rather than making her own way.  A prediction from her grandmother on her sixteenth birthday that her true love will like sa cordula (an extremely unappetising old Italian dish) gives her some hope, but she's not found her man yet and the final break up with (the rather unpleasant) John, on whom she'd pinned all her hopes makes Holly pack up and go to Blue Crab island to lick her wounds.
Inheriting her grandmother's house and business is an unexpected development and Holly decides to give it a go, but she needs to learn how to cook, especially as she has a course for four new students to teach.  Each student has a reason to join the class, but will the Love Goddesses magic still work and will they be able to find the recipe for their own happiness?
Firstly, although I have given this book five stars, I must make it clear that I give the ratings out to books I love, not because they're perfect!  Maybe it also helped reading a lovely gentle book about food when I was particularly mellow between Christmas and New Year!  But the combination of food, pretty setting with a bit of wish fulfilment was brilliant; there's also recipes included (which has become an increasing feature in many books similar to this, I never try them, so can't comment!)
The story is told by weaving Holly's present tale with diary extracts from Camilla, where her grandmother's experiences and wisdom enlighten current events and relationships.
The island contains the usual small town enemies and nastiness but the main characters despite their problems are a pretty upbeat lot, except Juliet, an old friend from Holly's past who has to deal with her grief and find a way of moving on.  Holly develops through the book from a bit of a wet whinger who has no idea who or what she is and only exists for the man she is currently trying to get to marry her, through to a self-doubting but more determined character to someone who is able to take control of her own destiny...but gets the perfect man!  My favourite character was twelve year old Mia who was probably the only person who who knew what she wanted from the start and takes strong action to get it.  It's even Mia that manages to sort out the happy ending!
Love interest Liam seem a bit thinly drawn for me and I got annoyed with some of his behaviour when his ex reappears, but as in all good chic-lit, everything is resolved and forgiven!
So, to sum up, it's not a book that will change your life, but a cosy, happy read that'll make you feel hungry throughout...there's only so much pasta and tiramisu you can stand reading about without delving into the fridge...and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Dancer in Wartime by Gillian Lynne

A Christmas pressie that I couldn't put down!
Gillian Lynne (for me at least) is famous for her choreography of ALW musicals, particularly Phantom of the Opera (as my all time favourite musical!!) but I was pretty ignorant about her background and early dancing career.  This autobiography charts her childhood and early ballet career at Sadler's Well through the war, taking in the tragic death of her mother, the trials of London in wartime and her nomadic existence between loving relatives and ballet schools. 
I loved this book, as a huge ballet fan and for the years (mis) spent struggling in ballet classes, it was a enthusiastic and loving tribute and Lynne's passion for the art form really come through.  The famous names scattered throughout and the photographs used make it even more special.  A must for all theatre and dance fans and I hope there's a follow up!

Happy New Year!!

Just a quickie, to wish everyone a very Happy New Year and I hope 2012 brings happiness to all!

Prima Donna by Karen Swan

Pia Soto, Chicago Ballet's amazing ballerina with an even bigger ego has climbed her way from poverty in Brazil to being the most feted dancer in the world, her ambition is to gain the illustrious title of Ballerina Assoluta.  Will Silk, financial whizz has Pia in his sights, but she's not impressed with his showy largesse until a disastrous accident which puts her career on the line means she has to give in and accept his help during her recovery.  To encourage her return to form Silk sets up a "dance-off" between Pia and her only rival, Ava,  to show she's back in business, but Pia isn't sure she's willing to give him all he wants as a pay off for his support.
Tanner oversees Silk's polo horses, but decides he's had enough of his high handed behaviour.  Living next door to Silk's estate, he comes across Pia on several occasions and witnesses her diva-ish behaviour at close quarters, she and Silk are perfect for each other!
Sophie has been running away from herself for years and by being Pia's personal assistant for a few years she's been able to bury herself in work, but she is dismissed without reason after Pia's accident.  She returns to Chicago where her artistic talents are finally recognised and she becomes their resident artist to promote their centenary and the appointment of Ava as their new lead dancer.  A betrayal makes Sophie return home to Ireland where she has to face her ghosts and meets the talented Tony.

So it's Jilly Cooper in tutus (and there's still some horses!) and that's not a bad thing!  I've not really read many of the bonkbuster type chick-lit in the past few years as I started to find them a bit same-y and had moved onto other reads.  However, as I'm still very much wallowing in all things ballet (blame seeing two different versions of The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty all in a month!) so I enjoyed the indulgence!  The contrast between the grind of everyday life for dancers and the thrill of performance was well done.  All the strands come together and although it wasn't a great surprise in how everything was resolved, it was all very satisfying when the baddies get their comeuppance, Sophie gets her life sorted and despite her prima donna behaviour you are actually rooting for Pia to succeed.

It's fast paced and an ideal holiday/ chill out book, which is exactly what I expected.