Blog Tour: Snow Sisters by @carollovekin @honno #GuestPost

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Meredith discovers a dusty sewing box in a disused attic. Once open the box releases the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman with a horrific secret she must share. Angharad slowly reveals her story to Meredith who fails to convince her more pragmatic sister of the visitations, until Verity sees Angharad for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm. Forced by her flighty mother to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles to settle, still haunted by Angharad and her little red flannel hearts. This time, Verity is not sure she will be able to save her…

My first thought when I was reading this book was that I wished it was winter and I had a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate with me. Because guys, this is the ideal book to cozy up with. I haven’t felt this with any other book this year and I don’t think I will. Snow Sisters is a truly magical and evocative story.

Snow Sisters is a perfect blend of contemporary, historical fiction, magical realism, gothic story, and family drama. If you like any of those genres, you will surely love this book. This is not a fast-paced book where the plot is more important than the characters. This is the kind of story that needs to be savoured and enjoyed slowly. And every now and then, we all need that kind of book in our lives.

The relationship between Verity and Meredith was my absolute favorite part of the book. Their closeness felt believable and authentic, and I rooted for them to defy their mother and live their own lives. In a book where there are only a few characters, it is extremely important that you warm up to the protagonists. And Carol excels at that. She has crafted a heart-breaking story that deals with several themes like family and kindness.

Carol Lovekin is such an amazing writer. Her descriptions were vivid and evocative and I could picture myself living in the Hull house, becoming a Pryce sister myself. Her writing is gorgeous and poetic and I’d surely love to have her skills with words.

Snow Sisters is a beautiful novel about women and sisterly love. And a ghost!

ARC, Honno, 2017

The Nature of Glimmerings & the Unanswerable Question by Carol Lovekin

If I could choose a genre in which to place my books, it would be Quirky. Since authors aren’t allowed to pick and choose let’s call mine ‘contemporary fiction’ with hints of magical realism. (Which isn’t at all the same as fantasy, let’s be clear.) My stories are firmly rooted in reality. I explore possibilities: the fine line between the everyday and the world of enchantment.

I’m a feminist and my stories reflect this too. I explore family relationships: how people, women in particular, respond to loss and how they survive. My books have ghosts, although there are no clanking chains or blood-chilling wails. All it takes to embrace my ghosts, and the magic I conjure, is a temporary suspension of disbelief.

Enter my loyal reader, with her penchant for a quirky ghost story and a liking for strong women. And her question: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Until I began writing seriously I would have claimed my ideas came out of ‘nowhere’ which is of course nonsensical. Ideas, however obscure, have to come from somewhere. And yet, paradoxically, the notion that a story must stem from a single concept is absurd.

It’s the word ‘idea’ itself I find problematical. It posits the notion that the genesis of a novel lies in an idea per se: a definable moment the writer can recall.

The origin of most stories is, for me at any rate, a random gathering of scattered thoughts; glimmerings as slender and obscure as a line in a poem or novel triggering a sideways digression. As I forget most of my night dreams the moment I wake up, I’ve never dreamed a story into existence. And as any I do recall are rarely logical – and I don’t write fantasy remember – my dreams are unlikely to serve me on any level whatsoever. Day dreaming however is another thing entirely: it’s where glimmerings evolve, the ‘what if’ moments and barely discernible fragments that come out of left field.

Singular words have always appealed to me. I collect them: words like cwtch which is Welsh for hug. And more often than not, a single word can entice me and suggest a theme for a scene, or present me with an unexpected tangent.

My study overlooks trees and low hills. Some mornings the mist lies as heavy as sleep and it’s like living on an island. I like to imagine the Avalon barge emerging between the mists to collect me. It never does, and chewing my pencil I sigh, scan a sky full of birds and watch instead for the ones I call my word birds. They circle a tall beech tree, ignored by a big bossy crow – my hunched, feathery muse. (I kid myself it’s the same one every day – shouting kraa from the topmost branch, urging me to stop lollygagging and get on with my work.)

These word birds are my writing familiars; they drop their glimmerings onto my windowsill; leave words and phrases in the edges of my hair. I gather up these offerings and it’s anyone’s guess what they will become. Not all the words make it onto the page and many get away. Or I put them away, because no sensible writer ever throws anything out.

The glimmerings may not at first gift me entire plots or even vague outlines. What they do is hover in a ghost location in my imagination. The place where I wave my pencil wand and cast my story spells; listen for my word birds, in case they have more enchantment for me.

My loyal reader is a gem and I love her. The fact remains, next time she asks me where my ideas come from, I shall have no choice but to answer, ‘I have no idea…’

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Book vs Film #2 Brooklyn

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

I already talked about this film/book in another post, but I wanted to feature it in this new meme. This is one of those cases where I watched the film, fell in love with it and decided to read the book hoping to feel the same. Spoiler: I didn’t.

I watched the Brooklyn film back in 2015 and I’ve watched it probably 3 times more ever since (and I still want to watch it again). I’m fully aware that this is a rather “simple” film, in the sense that it’s not an epic romantic drama like Titanic or even The Notebook. Some people have told me that: “yes, it was okay, just nothing special”. But when I watched this movie, I hadn’t watched a romantic flick where I rooted so much for the characters in a very LONG time. I had already made my mind when I watched the trailer, as I remember thinking: this Italian “fella” is so cute. And sometimes, a story is justs perfect for you.

The story features various ingredients I really enjoy (no murders this time haha!): Irish immigrants in New York, Brooklyn (I’m completely in love with the Brooklyn area), Italian accents, Irish accents, the 50s, Sunday dances, genuinely good guys who are gentle, kind and funny…

The book wasn’t bad and I would’ve probably liked it better had I read it before watching the film. It just was so different, I found it rather “cold” and I didn’t care about the characters that much. The relationships didn’t feel genuine, I felt like Eilis didn’t really like any of the guys and I certainly want to feel something when I’m reading about a romantic relationship. Underwhelmed was the perfect word to describe my feelings while reading the novel.

So this time, the film is a clear winner. Saoirse Ronan was fantastic, and I want to be Eilis and have Emory Cohen’s Tony fall in love with me. Also, I can’t watch the final monologue without bawling like a baby.

Review: The Sisters of Alameda Street by @SisterLorena @skyhorsepub

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When Malena Sevilla’s tidy, carefully planned world collapses following her father’s mysterious suicide, she finds a letter—signed with an “A”—which reveals that her mother is very much alive and living in San Isidro, a quaint town tucked in the Andes Mountains. Intent on meeting her, Malena arrives at Alameda Street and meets four sisters who couldn’t be more different from one another, but who share one thing in common: all of their names begin with an A. To avoid a scandal, Malena assumes another woman’s identity and enters their home to discover the truth. Could her mother be Amanda, the iconoclastic widow who opens the first tango nightclub in a conservative town? Ana, the ideal housewife with a less-than-ideal past? Abigail, the sickly sister in love with a forbidden man? Or Alejandra, the artistic introvert scarred by her cousin’s murder? But living a lie will bring Malena additional problems, such as falling for the wrong man and loving a family she may lose when they learn of her deceit. Worse, her arrival threatens to expose long-buried secrets and a truth that may wreck her life forever.

WHAT A DELIGHT! I admit I wasn’t sure at first, since I had never read something quite like this, but the synopsis caught my attention and, mostly, the fact that it was set in Ecuador in the 60s! There was also a quote that said: “A generational saga that mixes historical fiction with the romance and intrigue of a Latin soap opera” and thought: well, for sure it’ll be entertaining! AND IT SURELY WAS. Once I started it, I couldn’t stop, I had to pack my suitcase and visit my family but I really wanted to go back to it and keep discovering the secrets of the house in Alameda street.

This was so much fun to read that I kept thinking it would make a wonderful movie, like one of those classic screwball comedies they used to make years ago… only this time set in South America. It just had everything: humor, drama, romance, mystery… Malena doesn’t know who her mother is and once she gets to Alameda Street, the plot thickens: there are four suspects. But who is it? Is it Ana, is it Amanda? Abigail? Alejandra? And yes, this was quite a soap opera. But I adored it.

The writing was wonderful and filled with Spanish expressions, which of course I enjoyed (even though in Spain we don’t talk the same way). The plot never lost its intrigue and although it wasn’t a thriller, there was always something going on. The relationships were engaging and, to be honest, quite tragic, but it made it all more interesting. The flashback scenes helped us understand what had happened to the sisters when they were young and you had to read the whole story in order to fully understand each secret.

In addition, I felt like I knew everyone even only after a few pages. In books like this where there are many characters in the same location, sometimes it’s hard to give everyone their own storyline, but Lorena Hughes manages to create a great ensemble of rich and multi-layered characters who all have their own troubles and motives. The characterization was spot on and I think that’s her greatest strength.

I can’t wait to read another one of Lorena’s books. I’m sure it’ll be as fun and addictive as this one. Perfect for the summer!

Edelweiss, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017

Blog Tour: The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway @marthamconway @BonnierZaffre

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When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles in to life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more… But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the ‘free’ North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May’s secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her. And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own …

“And remember to smile”. I must have looked uncertain, for he said: “Just spread your lips and show your teeth”.

This was a fantastic book. I’ve read so many great stories lately that I’m always afraid for the next one. However, The Floating Theatre was just as amazing as its beautiful cover promised. If you aren’t a fan of historical fiction, I guess this is not the right book for you, but if you want to give the genre a chance, I’d highly recommend this one (and Becoming Bonnie! -not that they’re remotely similar-).

As I do every time I read a book based on real facts, the first thing I did when I picked up The Floating Theatre was to search what exactly was that, as I wanted to know what they looked like and what was the history behind them. This book is a beautiful (and sometimes tragic) story about a peculiar theatre company and the underground railroad. However, I feel the need to make things clear: the underground railroad storyline is important but it doesn’t start until 50% into or so, so I wouldn’t say this is a tough read at all. It’s actually quite fun.

Maybe because it didn’t focus only around that, I believe The Floating Theatre is a lovely book. I found myself smiling most of the time and wanting May and Hugo to kiss already, as their relationship was so well-written and sweet, just the kind of “love story” I love to read about. It’s basically a friendship, but you know there’s something more. And it wasn’t obvious or contrived, it felt completely natural.

And speaking of May, May Bedloe might be one of my favorite characters ever. She was so funny! And don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t funny on purpose, she was actually quite serious, yet she made me laugh several times. You see, May can’t lie or smile and she’s always blunt and straight-forward. She likes precision and details and is always honest when people ask her opinion about something. You can imagine that causes plenty of hilarious situations.

My favorite part of The Floating Theatre was the friendship between the company members. They accepted each other for who they were and there were some secondary characters that I really grew attached to, like Leo, for example. There was a sweet surprise moment that got me teary-eyed and I know that if a book has managed to make me emotional it’s because it’s a great story.

This is a book I won’t easily forget.

ARC, Bonnier Zaffre, 2017

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Review: The Wardrobe Mistress by @MeghanMasterson @StMartinsPress

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It’s Giselle Aubry’s first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette’s newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it’s a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen’s wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger. From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her. But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything…maybe even her head.

I knew as soon as I started this book that it was unlike anything I’d read before. Maybe because of the times (late XVIII) or the fact that it was set in Paris, France. However, I’ve recently loved books based on real characters and the early reviews of this one helped me decide to read it. I was convinced.

The first thing you’ll notice when reading this novel is that Meghan Masterson’s writing feels both lyrical and easy to read. Based on the setting, I was afraid it was going to take me a while to get into the story, but instead I was quickly captivated by Giselle, the revolution, and her castle life. It is so different from what we’re used to that I simply wanted to know more and more.

This was my first book about the French Revolution and I must say I actually learnt a lot, something I always appreciate, especially if I’m enjoying myself at the same time. The Wardrobe Mistress was a thoroughly entertaining book and it certainly had a bit of everything: mystery, friendsip, love… And in addition, it was fun and sad when it had to be.

My only concern was that I thought the novel had its dose of cheesy moments, which I’m not really a fan of. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely wanted Giselle and Leon to be together, but that included plenty of eye-rolling moments from my part. Oh boy, they could be saccharine. Despite those “harlequin-romantic-scenes”, I want to say I LOVED both characters and they were really well-written, as their actions made complete sense at all times. Giselle was strong and vulnerable and even though she made some mistakes, I think I would’ve done the same. It’s so easy to judge if you’re just an outsider. On the other hand, I have a weakness for the rebellious revolutionary type, so Leon was pretty much perfect from my point of view.

If you’re looking for a quick-paced, entertaining historical novel featuring some romance as well, this is the ideal book for you. The Wardrobe Mistress proves that you can learn about history and enormously enjoy yourself at the same time.

Netgalley, St Martin’s Press, 2017