Friday, August 28, 2015

Book review: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

My edition: Paperback, published on 16 July 2015 by Simon & Schuster Children's, 340 pages.

Description: Oliver's absence split us wide open, dividing our neighborhood along a fault line strong enough to cause an earthquake. An earthquake would have been better. At least during an earthquake, you understand why you're shaking.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. But now Oliver is back, and he's not the skinny boy-next-door that used to be Emmy's best friend. Now he's the boy who got kidnapped. A stranger - a totally hot stranger! - with a whole history that Emmy knows nothing about.

But is their story still meant to be? Or are they like the pieces of two different puzzles - impossible to fit together?


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book review: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

My edition: Paperback, published on 13 August 2015 by Black Swan, 352 pages.

Description: The summer the Dovers move in next door, sixteen-year-old Helen's lonely world is at once a more thrilling place. She is infatuated with the bohemian family, especially the petulant and charming daughter Victoria.

As the long, hot days stretch out in front of them, Helen and Victoria grow inseparable. But when a stranger appears, Helen begins to question whether the secretive Dover family are really what they seem.

It’s the kind of summer when anything seems possible . . .

Until something goes wrong.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Theatre review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

©Hugo Glendinning & Feast Creative

A tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hit London last year and I wasn't impressed with the show at the time; the songs weren't memorable, the story was outdated and the performances were adequate at best. However, when I first heard the the classic would be a part of this year's Regent's Park Open Air season I was interested to see how it would compare, especially as I have heard nothing but great things from this unique theatre yet had never had the chance to visit before. And when Alex Gaumond was cast in one of the leads (who I loved in Top Hat, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and We Will Rock You), I knew I had to give Seven Brides for Seven Brothers another chance.

After two failed attempts visiting the Open Air Theatre as we were rained off (the first time the show was cancelled before curtain up, the second time after 40 minutes - these were the only two performances not to go ahead due to the weather all season up until that point so we were just very unlucky) we finally managed to watch the whole show towards the end of the run. And it was wonderful, definitely worth the wait and the three trips to Regent's Park!

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tells the story of Milly (Laura Pitt-Pulford), who is swept of her feet in a whirlwind romance by Adam Pontipee (Alex Gaumond). So whirlwind in fact, that she agrees to marry him within five minutes of meeting him. His excuse is that he's only in town that day and once he makes the 12 mile long trip back to his cabin in the woods he won't come back until Spring. Milly is just pleased she doesn't have to marry one of the local boys and she is excited to head to a remote location with just one man to care for. However, when the newly married couple make it back to the Pontipee home an unpleasant surprise is waiting for Milly: Adam's six younger brothers. They're wild, without manners and rather than a quiet honeymoon period, Adam and the boys expect Milly to cook, clean and take care of all seven men in the house...

Before I start my review about the actual performance I have to say that the the setting was just magical! We were given a tour onto the stage during our second visit and I was in awe of how incredible it looked and how well integrated the set was into its surroundings. As a spectator you really do instantly get transported to a remote cabin in rural North America, and seeing the sun set and watch little insects fly near the trees on the stage created an incredibly atmospheric and unique experience, unlike anything I've ever come across in theatre. Having now finally been to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, I am going to make a real effort to see at least one show each season, so I can relish that incredible experience of witnessing a piece of theatre in the open air again.

Like when I saw the tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the story still felt incredibly dated and old-fashioned. It's misogynist and the lines are cringe-worthy at times, yet somehow the company at the Open Air Theatre has transformed an unlikeable story into a charming evening out. Laura Pitt-Pulford is incredible as Milly, and despite some questionable choices she comes across as a much stronger and independent woman that the story lets her be. Alex Gaumond's Adam on the other hand is every bit as aggravating as you'd expect someone to be who marries a woman under false pretenses. It's in actual fact his six younger brothers that fall under Milly's spell much quicker and turn from ill-mannered woodsmen into gentlemen (gentlemen that kidnap wives for themselves, but even so).

The real star of this show though is the breathtaking choreography by Alistair David. The axe-jumping sequence is of course the most iconic within this musical, but there are many more outstanding moments. The scene where the brothers take on the townsmen at the harvest social was a particularly stunning one that was so incredible that I did not want it to end. The dancing was daring, tight and very exciting; if there was a two-hour long version that included just these guys working their magic on stage I'd be first in line to book my tickets to watch it - it was that good. Replicating an abbreviated version of that sizzling scene as the finale was a clever thing to do, as it left the audience in awe as the metaphorical curtain drew a close to the show.

While the story of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers may be dated and even a tad uncomfortable to watch at times in our PC-focused society, this production has steered away as much as possible from the more cringe-worthy elements, to put the focus on a strong female protagonist, a whole slew of hummable songs and a phenomenal choreography, creating a surprisingly charming and definitely impressive show, which is made even more exciting and memorable by its magical setting.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is running at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 29 August 2015. You can book tickets here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

5 Musicals (And 1 Play) That Need a West End Run

We're really lucky in London, having a wealth of exciting and diverse theatre on our doorstep with the West End, Off-West End shows, Fringe theatre and UK tours hitting the outer regions of Greater London. In recent years I've seen some absolutely splendid productions from Book of Mormon, Loserville and Matilda to smaller productions or those a little further afield, including The Clockmaker's Daughter, Grand Hotel and Assassins.

As a self-confessed musical theatre geek, I have spend many hours trawling YouTube for Tony ceremonies and other performances from productions that don't make it over here and consequently buying the full soundtracks to add to my ever-growing musical theatre collection. It's great to discover brilliant new shows that way, but it's not so great when there is no opportunity to then see them in London.

SEE ALSO: Cheap Theatre - How to See West End Theatre for Less

This is why I've created my list of productions that I believe TOTALLY deserve a West End run (or at least a home somewhere in the capital).

Catch Me If You Can

I have not seen this live on stage yet, but I adore the cast recording and there are ways to watch the full Broadway production online *cough* YouTube *cough*, which has definitely sold me on this show even more. I've always been fascinated by the story of teenage-conman-extraordinaire Frank Abagnale Jr, I adored the movie adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, and the musical went one step further to glamourise Frank's life. It really is suited for the sparkle of Broadway and the songs are SO good.

Live in Living Colour - Aaron Tveit (Frank), this performance is a
studio recording but has clips of the show too

Mary Poppins

This one has been in the West End before but during a time I wasn't living here (in fact I was living in Canada and Australia, so just a tad too far away). As my favourite Disney film of all time and with one of the most stunning sequences in musical theatre with Step in Time, this show has always been on my must-see list. It is touring the UK next year so hopefully they make a West End stop before or after, though I admit I'm disappointed that neither Gavin Lee or Gavin Creel will be taking on the role of Bert again, as they're both such phenomenal performers (I've seen them in Top Hat and Book of Mormon, respectively).

Step In Time (be sure to stick around for Bert's (Gavin Lee)
showstopper at the 5:45 mark)


Based on the Disney film of the same name from the early 90s (which stars an all-singing, all-dancing Christian Bale in the lead) this was one of my two favourite shows (together with Kinky Boots, which is starting previews in London tonight!) when I made a trip to Broadway back in 2013. The songs are brilliantly catchy and the story of the newspaper boys on strike is both charming and grounded in American history, but it is the phenomenal choreography that makes this show so very special. Watch the below Tony Awards rendition of Seize the Day for a sneak-peek. 

Next to Normal

You might be sensing an Aaron Tveit theme here (as he was also in the aforementioned Catch Me If You Can) and you wouldn't be wrong, he has done some extraordinary, different productions. The plot for this rock musical isn't as cheerful as most shows, as it focuses on a woman with bipolar disorder and also covers other heavy themes such as drug abuse and loss of a child. But, guess what? Musicals don't always have to be jazzhands and big smiles, this story is absolutely phenomenal. It's heartbreaking, for sure, but also beautiful and the music is incredible. It ran on Broadway from 2009 until 2011 after a pre-Broadway try-out and followed by a US National Tour. And there has even been a run in The Netherlands, so surely a London one is bound to follow?!

I'm Alive - Aaron Tveit (Gabe)

The Addams Family

This show based on the famous fictional family also ran on Broadway between 2010-2011 (it was a good time for musicals) but has never received a professional production in or near London, for as far as I'm aware. I did see an amateur version in London last year but both production values and the cast were pretty sub-par and so I am in desperate need of a do-over. The music is so catchy, you guys!

Crazier Than You - Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor (Wednesday
Addams and Lucas, respectively, both of Smash fame)

Peter and the Starcatcher

During the previously mentioned trip to Broadway in 2013 we saw many musicals but also a handful of plays. Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the famous story by J.M. Barrie, had a successful Broadway run a few years prior, and the version I caught was off-Broadway. It was extra-ordinary; the staging and choreography was imaginative, the story was gripping and poetic, and the overall result was pure magic. It was a really different kind of play and had some songs too, so that's my excuse for including it in this post. You can watch a nearly 10 minute preview with clips from the Broadway show below (which stars Christian Borle, another Smash-actor).

These are my favourites that I've not had a chance to watch in the UK yet. What musicals and/or plays would you love to see open in a London theatre? Post your suggestions below!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book review: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

My edition: Paperback, published on 28 February 2015 by Sphere, 396 pages.

Description: Summer has arrived in the Cornish town of Mount Polbearne and Polly Waterford couldn't be happier. Because Polly is in love: she's in love with the beautiful seaside town she calls home, she's in love with running the bakery on Beach Street, and she's in love with her boyfriend, Huckle.

And yet there's something unsettling about the gentle summer breeze that's floating through town. Selina, recently widowed, hopes that moving to Mount Polbearne will ease her grief, but Polly has a secret that could destroy her friend's fragile recovery. Responsibilities that Huckle thought he'd left behind are back and Polly finds it hard to cope with his increasingly long periods of absence.

Polly sifts flour, kneads dough and bakes bread, but nothing can calm the storm she knows is coming: is Polly about to lose everything she loves?


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Blog tour: Review of Mile High by Rebecca Chance

My edition: Ebook, published on 13 August 2015 by Pan Macmillan, 496 pages.

Description: First class is about to get dangerous...

Pure Air's new LuxeLiner is flying from London to LA - its inaugural journey - with a first-class cabin packed with A List celebrities. As the feuding crew compete to impress their famous passengers, the handsome pilot tries to win the attention of a pretty young stewardess.

But one VIP singer is battling something seriously sinister: watching her every step is a very determined stalker, someone who will go to any lengths to get the star to satisfy their desires. At thirty thousand feet there is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide...


Monday, August 17, 2015

Blog tour: Review of Appleby Farm by Cathy Bramley

My edition: Paperback, published on 13 August 2015 by Corgi, 480 pages.

Description: Freya Moorcroft has wild red hair, mischievous green eyes, a warm smile and a heart of gold. She’s been happy working at the cafĂ© round the corner from Ivy Lane allotments and her romance with her new boyfriend is going well, she thinks, but a part of her still misses the beautiful rolling hills of her Cumbrian childhood home: Appleby Farm.

Then a phone call out of the blue and a desperate plea for help change everything…

The farm is in financial trouble, and it’s taking its toll on the aunt and uncle who raised Freya. Heading home to lend a hand, Freya quickly learns that things are worse than she first thought. As she summons up all her creativity and determination to turn things around, Freya is surprised as her own dreams for the future begin to take shape.

Love makes the world go round, according to Freya. Not money. But will saving Appleby Farm and following her heart come at a price?


Friday, August 14, 2015

Book review: The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon

My edition: Paperback, published on 2 July 2015 by Allen & Unwin, 389 pages.

Description: Christmas Livingstone has 10 rules for happiness.

Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, and sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is number 10 - 'Absolutely no romantic relationships'.

Her life is good. In her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, she tempers chocolate and creates handmade pieces; her friends and family surround her; and her secret life of wish granting brings joy to herself and others.

She doesn't need a handsome botanist who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother intent on interfering, who's adopted a gorgeous rescue dog, and who needs her help to write a book on her passion, chocolate. She really doesn't need any of that at all.

Or does she?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blog tour: Author Eva Holland's writing room

To celebrate the publication of The Daughter's Secret today (13 August 2015), I'm excited to share with you a guest post from author Eva Holland! Have you always wondered where the magic of creating a gripping read happens? Or are you just a tad curious and want to snoop around her work space? Look no further, as Eva shares where she writes and what her routine is!

"My desk is wedged into the bay window of the spare bedroom. It is the perfect writing space for me – far enough away from the distractions of books and people downstairs and right next door to my bedroom so I can shuffle to it in my pyjamas as soon as I wake up.

"I’ve always been messy and my desk in no exception. I envy writers who have orderly systems for recording their thoughts in notebooks. I just scribble on or in whatever I have to hand. As result my desk is a mess of notebooks, old envelopes and Post It notes covered in my scrawl. Apart from my notes, the only thing I must have on my desk when I write is a frequently refilled cup of coffee.

"My writing routine is very simple: I start as early as I can and I always unplug my modem. The internet is an amazing thing but I have no ability to focus on my work in progress if I could be reading the whole of Wikipedia instead!"

Blurb: When Rosalind's fifteen-year-old daughter, Stephanie, ran away with her teacher, this ordinary family became something it had never asked to be. Their lives held up to scrutiny in the centre of a major police investigation, the Simms were headline news while Stephanie was missing with a man who was risking everything.

Now, six years on, Ros takes a call that will change their lives all over again. He's going to be released from prison. Years too early. In eleven days' time.

As Temperley's release creeps ever closer, Ros is forced to confront the events that led them here, back to a place she thought she'd left behind, to questions she didn't want to answer. Why did she do it? Where does the blame lie? What happens next?

The Daughter's Secret is out now and you can purchase your copy from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Theatre review: Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse

Victoria Serra (Flaemmchen) and the cast of Grand Hotel. ©Aviv Ron

It's 1928 and in Berlin the Grand Hotel is the finest place to stay and be seen. Guests range from charming, thieving nobleman Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Scott Garnham) and charismatic ballet dancer Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Christine Grimandi) on her umpteenth farewell tour, to young typist Flaemmchen (Victoria Serra) with big Hollywood dreams (and an even bigger secret) and the terminally ill Otto Krigelein (George Rae), who just wants to feel alive. The colourful cast of characters is only triumphed in eccentricity by those permanently present in the hotel; its staff members.

Southwark Playhouse has been on a winning streak with their productions recently. After the critically acclaimed Into the Heights they put on a powerful version of Carrie the musical, and with Grand Hotel they have created another spectacular show that will no doubt delight casual theatre-goers and stagey people alike with its perfect mixture of an engaging story, impressive performances and a heavy dose of richly layered musical theatre songs. And at just 1 hour 45 minutes in length, the show is punchy from start to finish with not a dull moment in sight.

With sweeping dance moves of glamorous women in sparkling flapper dresses and dashing gentlemen in smart suits, the powerful opening sequence, Grand Parade, instantly transports the audience to a Berlin of long ago. A hotel doesn't sound like a terribly exciting setting for a musical spectacle, perhaps, but the larger than life characters and their ambitions are hugely contagious and their stories playing out amid the haze of cigarette smoke are endlessly engrossing. The book by Luther David feels timeless and is complemented so well by the music and lyrics of George Forrest, Robert Wright and Maury Yeston, who have created a feast for the ears.

Not to mention that the production was stunning to watch, from the costume design by Lee Newby to the lighting design by Derek Anderson and from the minimal set, which was nothing more than an intricate chandelier and the occasional piece of furniture, right down to the impressive choreography by Lee Proud. The auditorium is on the intimate side and so the moments in the show where the large cast were on stage together could have easily felt crowded or messy, but instead it was an exciting experience as the tight choreography brought the characters so close that you feel part of the action, as if you too are wandering the exquisite hallways of the Grand Hotel.

And I haven't even mentioned the incredible cast yet. Scott Garnham's powerful vocals were almost too large for the venue and it was a thrill to listen to him in such close proximity. Victoria Serra, who I was previously impressed by in Titanic (also at Southwark Playhouse) and Spring Awakening, perfectly balanced small-town innocence and sensual ambition in her shining moment, The Girl in the Mirror. I was also particularly enamored by George Ray, whose Otto was the heart of the show and even made me feel a little teary towards the end. There wasn't a weak link in the entire cast though, and the moments where all their voices blended together were some of the most spine-tingling ones in the entire show.

Southwark Playhouse excels at stripped-down versions of great spectacle shows as they have shown once more with this splendid production of Grand Hotel. The title for this musical could not be more apt as everything about it is grand and ornate; the complex characters, the rich music, the exciting choreographic... it's a truly stunning show all-around.

Grand Hotel
is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 5 September 2015. You can book tickets here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Blog tour: The Royal We authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan talk about writing together

Today I'm very excited to be part of the blog tour for The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan of Go Fug Yourself fame! I've recently read quite a few novels written by more than one author, including Tiny Pretty Things and How to Be Bad, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been wondering how co-writing actually works. The lovely ladies behind The Royal We share their experience in today's blog tour guest post.

The Royal We -- our new book about an American who falls in love with a prince who’ll inherit the British throne -- is the third novel we’ve co-written. And anytime two author names appear on a book jacket, it inspires loads of logistical questions: “Do you sit in the same room and watch each other type?” “Does one of you do the dialogue, and the other write the descriptions?” “How often do you want to kill each other?” (The answers are, respectively, no, no, and hardly ever.) We completely understand why it’s tough imagining one literary baby coming from two people -- while that may be how human babies are made, writing has a reputation for being more of a solo undertaking. However, we’d argue that not only is it possible to write together, but it’s our favorite way.

1) Four hands are better than two. We start with a detailed outline and trade the manuscript back and forth, editing each other’s work before adding the next section of the story. This means only one of us has custody of the book at a time, and the other gets a prescribed mental break, which prevents the dreaded burnout. And you know that last-day-of-vacation feeling, where dread creeps in about the work you left stagnant on your desk? This system obliterates that. We can walk away knowing the project is perking along in trusted hands.

2) We’re a team. No matter how much they love you, the people who are invested in your success -- your spouse, your friends -- may not have the bandwidth for yet another conversation about what your main character would sing at karaoke. So it’s comforting having one person who is exactly as invested in this book as you are, and who doesn’t need you to re-explain the plot six times whenever you need advice.

3) We push each other. The first thing they teach you in improv comedy class is to react to your scene partner with, “Yes, and...” so that the scene always moves forward. (Ergo, if they pretend to hand you a human bone, you don’t say, “That’s not a bone, it’s a Dairy Milk.”) In writing, sometimes this turns into “Yes, or...” but the idea is the same: Two people building on each other’s ideas can take things much farther than you’d have gotten on your own.

4) You’ve got backup. By necessity, whatever we’re working on gets read multiple times by us both, meaning we catch more typos and errors than we would on our own. With each proofreading pass, we’re surprised by what we missed and the other person found.

5) It’s fun. Getting the newest pages from each other is like a sneak peek at your new favorite book by your old favorite author. And there’s no greater thrill than that. J.K. Rowling, are you sure you don’t want to get in on this? Because we’re available.

Blurb: Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is far more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love–her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself – will have been for nothing.

You can purchase your copy of The Royal We from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Theatre review: Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre

Amanda Drew (Natalya) and John Simm (Rakitin). ©Tristram Kenton

Based on Turgenev's A Month in the Country, this abridged production was as fast-paced as you'd expect from a play that had been shortened from five acts to just two; taking what could have easily been a sluggish tale of infidelity and unrequited love in the Russian countryside to a snappy comedy that a times leaned perhaps just a tad too much into slapstick territory.

Natalya (Amanda Drew) is the wife of rich Russian landowner Arkady (John Light), who despite her husband's clear passion is bored in her marriage. She shamelessly flirts with family friend Rakitin (John Simm) and falls head over heels in love with a young tutor by the name of Belyaev (Royce Pierreson). Natalya isn't the only one charmed by the new eye-candy though, and that is when things get just a little bit complicated for the family.

While the thought of a Russian play wouldn't normally spark my interest due to witnessing too many poorly put on Chekov productions, having both high expectations of the National Theatre and already being familiar with several of the actors – including John Simm, who appeared in Trafalgar Studios' excellent The Hot House, and Mark Gatiss, who was tremendous in Season's Greetings at the National – I was interested to check out Three Days in the Country. And I wasn't disappointed.

Amanda Drew's initial stand-offish Natalya provided a great contrast to John Simm's silently passionate Rakitin, and the introduction of Royce Pierreson's Belyaev created a shift in characters that was fascinating to watch. Though while the focus of the play was on the complicated and ever-changing relationship dynamics, its strength lay in the unexpected bouts of humour; both of the quick-witted dialogue variety and the more physical kind, with a particularly memorable moment involving Mark Gatiss' awkward doctor Shpigelsky in the second act.

For a play created and set in the mid-19th century it felt surprisingly contemporary as Patrick Marber's adaptation was fast-paced and engaging, and despite a somewhat similar storyline of unrequited love befalling several of the characters it remained exciting throughout. It felt fresh not only through its unanimous spot-on performances by the cast and the rapid dialogue, but also because of the minimalist and almost industrial set-design, which added a modern touch to the production.

'Everyone's a joke they don't get,' Simm's Rakitin says at one point during the first act, and that sums up the characters within this terrific play rather well. Those three days in the country are filled to the brim with unashamed infidelity, mad mishaps and farcical confrontations, creating an effervescently entertaining two hours in the theatre.

Three Days in the Country is playing at the National Theatre until 21 October 2015. You can book tickets here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book review: The Blue by Lucy Clarke

My edition: Paperback, published on 30 July 2015 by Harper, 396 pages.

Description: They had found paradise.
What would they do to keep it?

With a quick spin of the globe, Kitty and Lana escape their grey reality and journey to the Philippines. There they discover The Blue – a beautiful yacht, with a wandering crew.

They spend day after languorous day exploring the pristine white beaches and swimming beneath the stars, and Lana drifts further away from the long-buried secrets of home.

But the tide turns when death creeps quietly on deck.

A dangerous swell of mistrust and lies threatens to bring the crew’s adventures to an end – but some won’t let paradise go…whatever the price.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

6 Great British Baking Books in Fiction

Inspired by the start of the new series of The Great British Bake Off, kicking off 10 weeks of delicious baked goods, soggy bottoms, and a plethora of innuendos from Mel & Sue (baking has never been so sexy!), I want to share some of my favourite fictional reads steeped in mouthwatering home-baked goods, and written by British authors.

After all, a slice of GBBO-inspired cake or still-warm-from-the-oven bread tastes just that much nicer when enjoyed with a good book in hand, doesn't it?

Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan

Ever since I devoured Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe, Jenny Colgan has been my go-to author for scrumptiously sweet books filled with baked delights. Little Beach Street Bakery was such a wonderful read and ticked all the boxes of what I was hoping for in a Colgan novel; a charming and inviting story filled with likeable characters and scrumptious baked goods, which are described so vividly that they made me hungry just reading about them. My mouth watered as I devourd the lush descriptions of different types of bread and organic produce as main character Polly lost herself in the cathartic process of kneading bread and creating new flavours with edible delights she comes across on the island the moves too. Bonus: the novel introduces Neil the puffin, an adorable character that has become a firm favourite of mine. >> Full review of Little Beach Street Bakery

The Art of Baking Blind - Sarah Vaughan

Similar to The Great British Bake Off, this novel is about a contest, The Search for the New Mrs Eaden, looking for the next big thing in baking and centres on a diverse cast of contestants along the way. It was a delicious read, steeped in a love for baking and quintessentially British delights. The lush descriptions of the food made them so vivid that I could almost taste them on the tip of my tongue while reading. So, even if you weren't hungry before picking up this novel, you definitely will be once you've dug into it! The paperback has just been released, which is gorgeous, but I have a particular soft spot for the stunning hardback, which is taking a very proud place on my book shelves. >> Full review of The Art of Baking Blind.

The Dish - Stella Newman

Laura Parker works as a PA for Roger Harris at The Voice magazine, which sounds like a job she is overqualified for, as her sister reminds her all too frequently, but she enjoys it immensely. Especially her super secret role as a food critic, which allows her to channel her true passion, writing, and eat out at some of the best places in the city to boot. Things get a bit sticky for Laura, however, when she bickers over a doughnut with a guy (as you do). The novel is a delectable delight in more ways than one. Just make sure you have an ample supply of sweet treats at hand before you dig in, because as soon as you open the book the smell of the scrumptious food detailed within wafts off the pages and you will want to munch your way through a basket of freshly baked goods. >> Full review of The Dish

The Teashop on the Corner - Milly Johnson

The moral of this novel is: when life gives you lemons, you should make a delicious lemon drizzle cake to cheer yourself up. As we meet the main characters, they are all at a low point in their lives and are struggling to find any joy in it. Yet as if by magic - or it may very well be the alluring smell of a freshly baked pie - over the course of several days they all wander into the new teashop in Spring Hill Square for a cake-shaped pick-me-up. They are warmly welcomed by Leni Merryman who, just like her last name, brings some much-needed merriness into these lost people's lives in the form of delectable home-baked goods, lively literary discussions and an unexpected friendship. Filled with a wonderful mix of characters the reader will quickly fall in love with - not to mention a wealth of literary baked goods, must-have gifts and interesting debates - this is the perfect novel to enjoy with a freshly brewed pot of chamomile tea and a big slice of home-made cake. >> Full review of The Teashop on the Corner

The Travelling Tea Shop - Belinda Jones

British expat Laurie lives a pretty charmed life in New York City. She works for the girlie travel-planning website she and her best friend set up, through which gets to visit all sorts of exciting places and get paid to do so! When beloved baker and fellow Brit Pamela Lambert-Leigh comes over to the States to find inspiration for her next baking bestseller and is on the look-out for someone to make the travel arrangements during her trip, Laurie jumps at the chance to be the one to organise it all. Even though this was fiction, the hugely inviting descriptions of the places visited made the novel resemble a good travel guide at times, one with a dash of romance thrown in and a swirl of scrumptious baked goods. It was the perfect sweet treat for my Sunday afternoon and I'm already craving more of Belinda Jones' delicious writing. >> Full review of The Travelling Tea Shop

What Would Mary Berry Do? - Claire Sandy

This novel was published in 2014 and coincided perfectly with the finish of the last series of Bake Off, providing a calorie-free solution to the endless GBBO-less hours that would otherwise likely have been filled by consuming copious amounts of cake.The story is one woman's flour-coated fight against the baking odds, from unexpected tasty successes to all the kitchen disasters you can possibly imagine. In between the greatest challenge of her life (or at least the greatest challenge involving an oven), Marie has to juggle her marriage and kids, work and even has to play nice with perfect little home-making neighbour Lucy, which results in some unexpected surprises for the both of them. A warm and hilarious novel for which Claire Sandy deserves the award of Star Baker. >> Full review of What Would Mary Berry Do?

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What are some of your favourite fictional baking books by British authors? Share them in the comments, as I'd love to discover more scrumptious stories!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blog tour review: A Very Big House in the Country by Claire Sandy

My edition: Paperback, published on 30 July 2015 by Pan Macmillan, 418 pages.

Description: For one long hot summer in Devon, three families are sharing one very big house in the country. The Herreras: made up of two tired parents, three grumbling children and one promiscuous dog; the Littles: he's loaded (despite two divorces and five kids), she's gorgeous, but maybe the equation for a truly happy marriage is a bit more complicated than that; and the Browns, who seem oddly jumpy around people, but especially each other.

By the pool, new friendships blossom; at the Aga door, resentments begin to simmer. Secret crushes are formed and secret cigarettes cadged by the teens, as the adults loosen their inhibitions with litres of white wine and start to get perhaps a little too honest ...

Mother hen to all, Evie Herreras has a life-changing announcement to make, one that could rock the foundations of her family. But will someone else beat her to it?