Friday, March 10, 2017

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

Reading a new book by Rosanna Ley is like revisting old friends, because within minutes you feel warm, comfortable and completely relaxed. I'm not normally a fan of contemporary fiction but I make an exception for Rosanna Ley and to be fair she often includes references to the past in her books. In her latest novel The Little Theatre in question is a faded and dilapidated building full of charm and secrets. Faye having completed a degree in interior design but lost a boyfriend is wondering what to do with herself when she is contacted by old friend Charlotte. Charlotte and Faye had travelled through Italy and Sardinia in their twenties and Charlotte had settled in Sardinia and married Fabio a local hotelier. Charlotte invites Faye to come and house sit and to give some advise to her friends Marisa and Alessandro who have inherited the theatre and wish to restore it. 
Faye is rather taken with the idea, though she is quick to point out her lack of experience. Arriving in Sardinia, Faye is soon enchanted by the Little Theatre, the town and the local people not to mention the arrogant but very handsome Alessandro Rinaldi. However it soon becomes apparent that the theatre is in fact a source of discontent amongst the local people. Many are worried about an outsider being involved in the restoration, others are worried that the character will be lost. There is bad blood between the Rinaldis and the Volti family and in fact some even dispute the Rinaldi's ownership of the theatre. Faye is soon wondering what she has let herself in for. The narrative is also interspersed with the stories of Molly and Ade; Faye's parents who are navigating retirement and each other in beautiful West Dorset. 
A wonderful read full of the sights, sounds and experiences of the sultry island of Sardinia. Rosanna Ley is a delight. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries and Victoria Hislop. 

Thanks so much to Imogen at Midas PR for a copy. 
Published by Quercus in hardback 9th March 2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Madwoman in the Attic #5 Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington

Marguerite Power was born at Knockbrit, Clonmel, Co Tipperary in 1789. She was the daughter of Ellen Sheehy and Edmund Power who owned a small amount of land. According to her first biographer her father known as 'Buck' Power was a gambler and drinker and Maguerite had an unhappy childhood as the family were constantly in debt. Her father traded Marguerite in payment for gambling debts to Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer, so at 15 Marguerite went from unhappy child to unhappy bride. Her husband starved, beat and imprisoned his wife. The law at the time would offer her no protection and Marguerite's only option was to separate from her husband. When he was posted to India by the army she refused to go with him and instead  moved to London. She was immediately a cause for scandal as she was a 'separated woman' but still a teenager. However her good looks and sparking wit made her extremely popular as a society hostess. Marguerite began an affair with Charles John Gardiner, First Earl of Blessington while both of them were still married but his wife died in 1814 and Farmer died in debtor's prison in 1817 so the pair married in 1818. Blessington was a wealthy and indulgent husband and Marguerite was generous to a fault insisting on helping out a number of relatives in Ireland and England. In 1822 the Blessingtons set out on a Grand Tour. Marguerite was well known in literary circles and struck up a friendship with Byron at Genoa. She later wrote Conversations with Lord Byron. (1834) At Naples she met Irish writer Richard Robert Madden who later wrote her biography (1855). While they were travelling on the continent John invited the dashing Count D'Orsay who had been part of their London circle to join them. With all of them living together and indulging in a life of extravagance it was probably inevitable that D'Orsay and Marguerite began an affair but with a young and healthy husband Marguerite knew that it could be years before they could be together so she devised a plan. She persuaded her husband to arrange a match between his daughter Harriet from his first marriage to D'Orsay so that they could continue to spend time together without any gossip. Ironically just a few months after the marriage in 1829 Blessington suffered a sudden stroke and died  in Paris. He left Marguerite plenty of money, jewels and estates and she establishment her household back in London persuading D'Orsay and Harriet to live with her, after just three years though Harriet walked out exposing her husband and step mother to scandal. Typically D'Orsay was accepted quickly back into society but Marguerite was not. Marguerite turned to writing to support herself and her literary salons were revived. Her home Gore House is now the site of the Albert Hall and writers who visited her included Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. Marguerite wrote novels; The Repealers or Grace Cassidy (1834), The Governess (1839),  Strathern (1845), The Fatal Error (1847) and travel books The Idler in France (1839) The Idler in Italy (1841) as well as contributing to newspapers and periodicals, she was one of the first writers to have her work serialised in The Sunday Times. Astute in her own business dealings but not in her private life Marguerite and D'Orsay had to leave London to escape their creditors in 1849. Just a few weeks later Marguerite was dead, like her husband before her she suffered a massive stroke in Paris. She is buried at St Germain. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley’s second book for young readers is the story of Miss V. Conroy who is brought to Kensington Palace to act as a companion to the young Princess Victoria. Her father John Conroy is the architect of the Kensington system of which Miss V. is expected to become a part, because Miss V. is very good at keeping secrets. Her father calls her his mouse because she is so calm and quiet in contrast to the wild and wilful Princess. The system is meant to protect the Princess from those who would do her harm and to keep her away from the bad influences including her mother the Duchess of Kent. Miss V. is very soon torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with Victoria as she begins to see how the system keeps Victoria locked away from the world and might even be damaging to her health.

This book is an absolute delight and will appeal of course to fans of Lucy’s television work and her previous novel for young adults Eliza Rose but I believe My Name is Victoria will have even broader appeal, with a successful first series of Victoria and a second series confirmed the interest in the younger years of Queen Victoria has never been so intense. With this book I believe Lucy Worsley has really found her voice as a writer of historical fiction for children. Ideal for fans of Katherine Woodfine and Emma Carroll.  

Thanks so much to Shelley and Louise at Love Reading and the publisher for sending me a copy to review.
My Name is Victoria will be published on the 9th March in the UK and Ireland by Bloomsbury. 

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths Blog Tour

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths the latest in the Ruth Galloway series of mysteries. I actually cannot believe that this is the ninth book in the series. It seems like no time since I started reading about Ruth and Nelson and Cathbad and all the other wonderful characters that people these novels. I can confirm that you can read any of the series as a stand alone since I choose Elly's last book The Woman in Blue for my book club a few months ago and I sneakily didn't tell them that it was part of a series. However it did lead to a number of new Elly Griffiths fans. In the latest instalment of the series a mysterious sinkhole appears on one of the main roads out of Norwich and Ruth has discovered human bones in one of the many underground tunnels beneath the city. The bones however turn out to be not part of a medieval burial but much more recent so DI Nelson is soon involved. Judy is investigating the disappearances of local homeless people and an academic at Ruth's university is talking about secret underground societies so what is the connecting thread? Then a local woman goes missing and a mystery becomes a manhunt. As usual it takes a group effort to unravel. The thing that makes the Ruth Galloway mysteries so appealing is that as well as an intriguing and involving plot the characters are so wonderful that you really want to know what they will do next. Their private lives are as detailed, as interesting and as messy as anything they investigate and it really is a joy to spend time with them. Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite writers and other writers love her too. Val McDermid and Kate Mosse are both big fans. Elly weaves superstition and local knowledge into her fiction so if you are a fan of James Oswald then you will enjoy her work. You could read The Chalk Pit as a stand alone novel but I can assure you that once you discover the world of Ruth Galloway and DI Nelson you will want to read the whole series.

The Chalk Pit is out in hardback and e-book now from Quercus. Thanks to Olivia Mead for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. The Reading Agency in England are currently running a Discover Elly Griffiths Challenge through local libraries and Elly herself is currently touring the UK to promote her new book.

The Blog Tour Continues for another few stops, details below.

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Sarah Dunant's latest novel. With In the Name of the Family Sarah Dunant continues the saga of the notorious Borgia family begun in Blood and Beauty. The new novel however can easily be read as a stand alone. The book presents the voices of Lucrezia, Cesare, Rodrigo; the Borgia pope and Niccolo Machiavelli.  The year is 1502. Rodrigo Borgia is Pope Alexander VI. He is inordinately wealthy, calculating and powerful. His son Cesare is a military strategist intent on becoming the most powerful man in Italy and Lucrezia is once again betrothed; this time to Alfonso heir to the Dukedom of Ferrara . Following the family through the eyes of Florentine diplomat Machiavelli and through their own accounts In the Name of the Family recounts the last year and a half of the rule of the Borgia Pope and the daring attacks carried out by Cesare in his attempts to conquer Italy while Lucrezia contends with an indifferent husband, a penny pinching father-in-law and a jealous sister-in-law. What Machiavelli learns as he watches the unfolding saga of the Borgias will inform his masterwork on politics and power The Prince.
It is a testament to the skill of Sarah Dunant's storytelling that the characters are alive and vivid as people not as the evil caricatures handed down through history. Although despite this the author doesn't hold back at portraying the cruel acts carried out in their names; by Cesare and his henchmen in particular. However their weaknesses and the dangers of illness and disease are also an integral part of the story. This is an intriguing look at one of the most powerful, cruel, ambitious and interesting families of the Renaissance. It is also a fascinating look at the history of syphilis which had begun to spread just a few years before and was known as the 'French pox', Cesare was a noted sufferer and was subjected to a number of treatments during this period. Sarah Dunant has clearly done intensive research on the period. Through a number of books she has presented a variety of portraits of Renaissance Italy and it is her power to bring the period vividly to life that makes her stand out as an author of historical fiction.
Perfect for fans of Alison Weir, Marina Fiorato and Elizabeth Fremantle.

In the Name of the Family is out now in hardback and e-book from Virago. Thanks so much to Hayley Camis for an e-book copy for review. You can learn more about Sarah and her books by checking out her excellent website.

The blog tour continues see banner for details