Friday, February 27, 2015

Book review: The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams by Fiona Harper


My edition: paperback, published on 3 October 2014 by Mills & Boon, 400 pages.

Description: Nicole, a born organiser and true romantic, has created her dream job when she sets up the Hopes & Dreams proposal agency - staging YouTube worthy proposals...until she's hired to plan a proposal by gorgeous photographer Alex Black's girlfriend.

Alex is the New Year's kiss that Nicole hasn't been able to forget - and now she's planning his wedding to someone else! But if she lets herself fall for Alex's charms, her reputation and business will be ruined before it's even got off the ground!

Suddenly the girl whose always prepared is at a loss...and falling head over heels.

Rating:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book review: I'll Take New York by Miranda Dickenson


My edition: Paperback, published on 4 December 2014 by Avon, 495 pages.

Description: When her boyfriend lets her down for the last time, Brooklyn bookshop owner Bea James makes a decision – no more. No more men, no more heartbreak, and no more pain.

Psychiatrist Jake Steinmann is making a new start too, leaving his broken marriage behind in San Francisco. From now on there'll just be one love in his life: New York.

At a party where they seem to be the only two singletons, Bea and Jake meet, and decide there’s just one thing for it. They will make a pact: no more relationships.

But the city has other plans...


Rating:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga


My edition: Paperback, published on 12 February 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton, 302 pages.

Description: Aysel and Roman are practically strangers, but they've been drawn into an unthinkable partnership. In a month's time, they plan to commit suicide - together.

Aysel knows why she wants to die: being the daughter of a murderer doesn't equal normal, well-adjusted teenager. But she can't figure out why handsome, popular Roman wants to end it all....and why he's even more determined than she is.

With the deadline getting closer, something starts to grow between Aysel and Roman - a feeling she never thought she would experience. It seems there might be something to live for, after all - but is Aysel in so deep she can't turn back?

Rating:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book review: Fish Out of Water by Natalie Whipple


My edition: Paperback, published on 5 February 2015 by Hot Key Books, 322 pages.

Description: Mika Arlington was supposed to spend the summer after her junior year shadowing her marine biologist parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but when her estranged grandmother randomly shows up on the doorstep one day, those plans are derailed.

Because Grandma Betty isn't here to play nice—she is cranky, intolerant of Mika's mixed-race-couple parents, and oh yeah she has Alzheimer's and is out of money. While Mika's family would rather not deal with Grandma Betty, they don't have much choice. And despite Mika's protests, she is roped into caring for a person that seems impossible to have compassion for.

And if that wasn't hard enough, Mika must train the new guy at her pet shop job who wants to be anywhere else, and help a friend through her own family crisis. Something's gotta a give, but whichever ball Mika drops means losing someone she loves. Not exactly a recipe for Best Summer Ever—or is it?

Rating:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Interview with author Jemma Forte



British author Jemma Forte had a successful career in television, presenting for the likes of the Disney Channel and ITV, before she turned to writing novels, with her first title released in 2009.

She now juggles both jobs on top of being a mother, talk about keeping busy! Her latest novel, When I Met You, was published earlier this month and for the occasion I caught up with Jemma to talk about the new book, her writing process, inspirational female authors and what she'll be working on next.

Can you tell us about your new novel, When I Met You, and your inspiration for main character Marianne Baker?

Jemma Forte (JF): "I decided it would be interesting to write about a dysfunctional family and for the main character, Marianne, to be not only a product of her upbringing but also of the times we live in. She is in her 30s, stuck in a rut and still living at home because she simply can’t afford to move out. She has grown up without her dad in her life but one day, completely out of the blue, he comes back and her whole world implodes.

"In many ways When I Met You is a 'stranger comes to town' story. Her long lost father arrives with a secret and the book is about what happens over the course of the next nine months or so. I wanted to show how one person can change the dynamic of an entire family and to write a story about love, loss, family and kindness."

You've come to writing from an exciting career in television, how did this career change come to be?

JF: "I started my career at the Disney Channel where I worked as a presenter for five years and then I went on to host various shows for the BBC, ITV and C4. At a certain point I had two children at which point it became difficult to juggle everything. A lot of the TV series I worked on were shot all over the country, I was lactating, sleep deprived and so it made sense to concentrate on my babies and to do some writing for a while. The fact you can write in your pyjamas being a huge plus point.

"I had written a draft of my first novel a few years previously and around this time I dug it out and sent it off to a lot of publishers. Happily, Penguin picked it up and so suddenly I officially became a ‘writer’.

"These days I do both. My kids are older and at school now, I’m a single mum and I write and do all sorts of other jobs. I present, do adverts and appear on shows such as The Wright Stuff as a panellist. It’s great to combine the two careers as I enjoy both enormously. Admittedly it can be a bit of a challenge to find enough time to write but somehow it all pans out. Just about."

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals that help you get in the "zone" or a word count you set for yourself each day?

JF: "I try to write the minute I have the house to myself and no other pressing work things to attend to. I have learned to ignore the fact the house is a mess because otherwise I simply wouldn’t get it done. Something has to give and it’s always the ironing! With two kids and other jobs on I don’t really have time for writer’s block so in a way my circumstance forces me to be very disciplined. If I’m not really ‘in the mood’ I’ll edit what I’ve already written but if I can get 2000 words written in a day I feel really happy.

I also find that taking exercise before sitting down at the laptop helps. I guess it’s something to do with blood flow to the brain? Other than that I have to admit I’m a bit of a ‘slob’ writer. I find bed the most comfortable place to write and often work (as previously mentioned) in pyjamas. Barbara Cartland would not have approved."

Who are your female inspirations, writers or otherwise?

JF: "I have lots of favourite female writers but if I could only have dinner with one it would be Caitlin Moran every time. I love her as a journalist and her book How to be A Woman is incredibly inspiring, funny and important. I also love Jojo Moyes and Lisa Jewell and they inspire me a lot in terms of my career as a writer.

"Other than that I have three amazing sisters who I couldn’t do without, lots of feisty friends and a great mum and step-mum to boot. So it’s fair to say I’m not short of fantastic female influences."

When I Met You has only just hit the shelves, but are you already working on your next novel? If so, can you give us a little scoop?

JF: "I’m very excited about the idea I have for my next novel. I don’t want to say too much but I’m hoping it will be a very emotional story of redemption which explores some of the problems unique to relationships in the 21st century; the way we communicate these days has changed so much and has been affected by social media and by having our phones glued to us 24 hours a day.

"It’s a work in progress at the moment but I am looking forward to immersing myself in it over the coming months."

When I Met You is published by Mira and you can buy your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book review: The A - Z of You and Me by James Hannah


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 12 March 2015 by Doubleday, 268 pages.

Description: Ivo was once a young man living a carefree life. Now he is middle-aged with a failing body and a head full of regrets, resident in St Leonard’s Hospice.

Ivo's dedicated nurse Sheila suggests a game, the ‘A to Z’, to occupy and encourage him. Eager for distraction, Ivo begins listing his body parts alphabetically, associating a memory with each.

The results are a kaleidoscopic chain of recollections, which together unravel the story of Ivo's life; of the girl who tried to help him, and the friend who wouldn’t let her.

Rating:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Interview with author Josephine Cox



British author Josephine Cox has written an astonishing amount of books so far and her 50th novel, The Runaway Woman, was published in October.

In this interview she talks about her latest release, of course, but also her writing process and who she'd name 'Superwoman of Great Britain', a title she was once awarded herself.

Can you tell us about your new novel, The Runaway Woman, and your inspiration for the story and main character Lucy Lovejoy?

Josephine Cox (JC): "The new book is about an ordinary, hard-working woman, who desires nothing grand in life, except to be contented and fulfilled – as we all do

"She is a quiet, but discontented woman; although she would never admit it; not to herself, and certainly not to anyone else; especially family, who in spite of all their faults, she has great affection for; and is totally committed to them.

"Deep down though, she realises there is something sadly lacking and unfulfilling in her life, but she is at a loss as to how she might deal with it. So, she puts it to the back of her mind, and carries on as always; ever devoted and ever restless.

"The character is taken from every woman who craves real love, attention, and a measure of excitement; but constantly falls into the trap of putting everyone else first, thinking that for her it is all too late.

"When I began this book, it was one of the easiest stories I have ever written. I thought of all the restless women I had encountered along life’s journey. Good, loyal women, quietly craving a life outside the responsibilities and commitments to family, and duty. As my admiration and frustration grew in me for these loyal women, my main character was born."

What does an average writing day look like for you? Do you have a strict schedule or any rituals that help you get in the zone?

JC: "An average day for me, is always chaotic; impossibly busy and immensely joyous. I always plan, it always falls apart.

"Often I find myself working right through breakfast to tea-time, and I am often lost in my stories when the clock strikes ten p.m. Then I can’t sleep, so I have a long, lazy bath; hoping that might make me sleepy, but more often than not, I lie there thinking about the next chapter in my story, and I have to go back to my characters and keep them awake as well.

"I take my characters with me wherever I go; and always have a notebook and pen to hand."

The Runaway Woman is your 50th novel, how do you manage to keep so many different stories and characters separate, and ensure each one is unique?

JC: "As in life, no person is ever the same as another, and that can be said of my characters. Every living soul had a story unique to that person. So, when I finish one story I have the next one mapped out in my head and heart. There are as many different stories to write, as there are people walking the streets every day"

You were once named 'Superwoman of Great Britain', which inspirational woman would you nominate for this title?

JC: "If I had to nominate a woman for Superwoman of Great Britain, it would have to be Madge – a cantankerous relative of mine. She is a woman of fire with strong opinions, but she has a heart kinder and bigger than the Mersey tunnel. She has had more than her fair share of pain and troubles, but she never complains.

"Everyone who knows her, loves and admires her. In a good mood, she is an angel. In a bad mood, you had best duck and dive or regret it. But she is the most loved and trusted woman, and never turns anyone away when they need her help"

What is next for you? The Runaway Woman only hit the shelves a few months ago, but are you already working on your next novel? And if so, is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

JC: "I have already delivered my next novel - I did not want to finish that story, because the characters got to me in a big ways. One I hated with a passion. Another caught my heart, and I still can’t let her go"

The Runaway Woman was published by Harper. You can buy your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Theatre review: She Loves Me at the Landor Theatre



©Photo Darren Bell

For the longest of time I have been quite a West End snob, only venturing out to the 'regions' (Wimbledon, Richmond, Greenwich) for UK tours but otherwise sticking firmly to theatre outings on Shaftesbury Avenue and the surrounding area. However, once I started blogging about the plays and musicals I saw, I met fellow theatre enthusiasts and their positive reports have encouraged me to visit the less obvious performing spaces as well.

I've recently had excellent experiences at The King's Head Theatre in Islington and the Menier Chocolate Factory near London Bridge, and while my first visit to the Landor Theatre in Clapham wasn't a huge success (I didn't like the production I saw at the time), the space itself was wonderfully intimate and I was happy to give it another shot when an invite to She Loves Me arrived in my digital inbox.

Winner of both prestigious Tony Awards in the US (1964, 1993) and an Olivier Award on British shores (1994), She Loves Me is the musical adaptation of Miklos Laszlo's Parfumerie, the very same story which inspired film classic You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I'm a sucker for romance films, especially from the 80s and 90s, so I was particularly keen to see this sweet story play out on stage – and it didn't disappoint.

From the moment Amalia Balash (Charlotte Jaconelli of Britain's Got Talent fame) starts working in the same perfume shop as Georg Nowack (John Sandberg) they do nothing but bicker and grumble about one another to their co-workers. Georg cannot forgive Amalia for the way she charmed her way into the company, making him lose a bet in the process, and Amalia doesn't understand why Georg is always so hard on her.

Despite their differences they have more in common than they realise, as they both write regular love letters to a 'dear friend' they met through a lonely hearts advertisement. And, predictably though not any less entertaining because of this, it turns out that they've been writing to each other. However, can they put away their differences and see the other person as the 'dear friend' they each fell in love with through letter writing alone? Or will the workplace rivalry get the better of them?

The show starts off sugary sweet, not unlike one of the pink concoctions that are displayed in the beautiful bottles on the counters of Maraczek's Parfumerie. While the first several musical numbers, thought delightful to the ear, were unmemorable for longer than the duration of the performance, as soon as we hit the hummable Tonight At Eight the production took off, producing a wonderful night out at the theatre.

The real strength with this perhaps somewhat dated piece, however, lay with its unanimously brilliant cast. John Sandberg was a charming Georg with great comical timing and Charlotte Jaconelli's powerful soprano voice, which I was already impressed with when she was part of Britain's Got Talent, was even more mesmerising in such an intimate theatre space as the Landor. I also quickly fell in lovely with Joshua LeClaire's Arpad Laszlo, whose hopeful innocence charmed the audience from the first moment his big smile appeared on that small stage.

She Loves Me could perhaps do with a little upgrade to not come across as too gentle and unmemorable to today's audiences, but the fantastic cast make this production of the 1960s show at the Landor an outstanding one – and well worth a visit.




She Loves Me is running at the Landor Theatre until 7 March 2015. Buy tickets here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill


My edition: Hardcover, to be published on 12 February 2015 by Sceptre, 304 pages.

Description: A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain.

No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment.

No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden.

No parents - just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them.

The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air.

Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony.

But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, and sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon's past.

Rating:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Theatre Review: Anything Goes (UK tour)



©Photo Johan Persson

Billy Crocker (Matt Rawle) is a broker who instead of following the orders of his boss, Elisha Whitney (Simon Rouse), follows his heart straight onto the SS American, determined to convince the love of his life, Hope Harcourt (Zoƫ Rainey), that they belong together. The fact that Whitney is also on board of the ship, and that the girl he has eyes for is already engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Stephen Matthews), doesn't stop Billy from sneaking on with a fake passport, which belongs to Public Enemy 1; Snake Eyes Johnson.

Among the merry band of passengers is nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Debbie Kurup), who likes Billy as more than just friends; a second-rate gangster by the name of Moonface Martin (Hugh Sachs); Hope's mother Evangeline Harcourt (Jane Wymark), who is trying to marry her daughter off as soon as possible to save them from having to live as poor people; and two Chinese Christian converts with a weakness for card games.

It sounds like a very random collection of characters and their, often unintentional, interactions quickly turn into a farcical affair. Like its title, quite literally anything goes; mistaken identities, disguises made out of dog hair, random hook-ups, language barriers between Brits and Americans, and accidental marriage proposals are just a few of the plot twists that make up this hugely entertaining, though at times a tad too daft, production of the classic Cole Porter musical.

The cast takes the silliness of the material in stride, with particular highlights being Sachs' camp Moonface Martin, who thinks he's far more intimidating than he truly is, and Matthews' Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, who starts off as an over-the-top caricature, yet slowly turns into a likeable charmer – and surprisingly one of the most real characters on that stage.

But it is Kurup's Reno Sweeney who steals the show. Despite the top billing, the character is not as integral to the story as Billy Crocker is, yet oozing charisma and with a powerful voice, all show-stopping scenes within the musical are centred on Reno; including pre-interval spectacle Anything Goes. Even though the tap-dancing sequence goes on and on, it's a mesmerising performance and easily worth the ticket price on its own.

After Singin' in the Rain and Top Hat closed in the West End, London was missing a sparkling, tap-dancing spectacle from the glory days and Anything Goes certainly fills that empty space with gusto. The lyrics to one of its most famous songs, It's De-Lovely, sum up the show perfectly; it's delightful, delicious and delectable – if, perhaps, somewhat delirious at times.



Anything Goes is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 7 February 2015, before going on a UK wide tour. Buy tickets here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Blog tour: The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again! by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg



Last year saw the release of some brilliant novels starring elderly people in the lead and which, coincidentally (though maybe not), all had very funny long titles and were translated from Swedish. There was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window as well as The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, and a sequel for the latter has now been published as well (with a third one on the way too, you heard it here first!).

The books were already on my radar and after I had the pleasure to talk to the lovely Catharina at the Pan Mac party, I'm even more excited to read them. So I've packed both the first and second instalment in my suitcase for my trip to Rome next week - I can't wait!

As part of the blog tour for the second book, Catharina talks to Page to Stage Reviews about sharing her stories of Martha and the League of Pensioners with people from all over the world. Check it out below:

"As The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules has spread around the world, I have been in various countries to speak about the book. It is amazing to be able to talk about Martha and her friends in France, Finland, United Arab Emirates and Brazil. It's surreal to see that the stories that were once just in my head, have now spread all over the world. I lean back, look at it and cannot believe it´s true!

"Now I hope you will like my new book The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again! as well. In this book, Martha tries to steal money in Las Vegas, meets a gang of bikers and attempts a bank robbery. She does everything in order to get money to give to the poor. I am blessed because I am able to laugh out loud at my own writing, and now I hope you do the same.

"I am in the middle of my third book about the League of Pensioners. They are such a nice company. I love it when these five elderly people plot together for the good of others. After all, one cannot always follow the rules . . . and Martha would not be Martha if she did . . ."


Thanks Catharina for stopping by Page to Stage Reviews! I shall dig into the novels soon and my reviews will follow in the next few weeks. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book review: The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 12 March 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton, 304 pages.

Description: Life has its ups and downs.

From the author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods comes a dark, painful and witty novel about a woman whose life is spiralling out of control.

You're going to find some of my actions frustrating. I'm hard to live with, maddening, uneven - I get that. But I can't stand around listing my faults or we'll be here for ever. All I ask right now is that you indulge me.

For as long as it lasts, this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Rating:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

LDNTheatreBloggers meet-up at Planet Hollywood



Get your own #stagey tote here

Last Friday was another brilliant meet-up with fellow theatre bloggers, organised by the lovely Rebecca from Official Theatre. After 'Gin-gling' at Central and Co and another cocktail-heavy night at Soho Grind, this time around us theatre lovers ventured all the way to Hollywood er.... Planet Hollywood for another fabulous chinwag with food, drink and lots of stageyness.

Personally I'd never been to a Planet Hollywood (though I've passed loads on my travels) so I was particularly excited to peak into the elusive venue – and our summer-themed private room was pretty awesome; from the floor resembling a pool to the Hoff's trunks from Baywatch on display (which was simultaneously revolting – what if he has actually worn them?! – and bizarrely fascinating).

After an introduction from Rebecca, who was looking particularly amazing in a bright suit printed with palm trees, there was plenty of for mingling and chatting to fellow bloggers and I think I've met more people this time around than I have at the previous two events combined. I must be getting a little better at this socialising lark!

There was OF COURSE also another puntastic Twitter content, though after a particularly rough week at work I was all punned out and couldn't come up with anything more exciting than that I was 'venturing Into the (Holly)Woods'. Needless to say, I did not win any cocktails. That was totally fine though, as there was plenty of wine and yummy food (including mini burgers and an amazing Mexican tortilla-thing forgetting the name of) to keep us going for the night.

Rebecca also awarded some prizes to bloggers who'd been particularly awesome at uploading their theatre seat reviews to the Seat Plan website and a super-blogger award (which was a pineapple and a bottle of Prosecco, win!) to the blogger who'd seen the biggest growth in recent months. I was definitely feeling inspired to make my own blog bigger and better after that!

The super tasty Mexican canapes, which name I can't remember


The Hoff's trunks....

Massive thanks to Official Theatre, SeatPlan and Planet Hollywood for the smashing evening! And to West End Wilma for the fabulous tote bag, which will make my grocery shopping a lot more #stagey from now on.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pan Macmillan's Women's Fiction Evening



2015 has only just begun and already I've attended one of the best bookish evenings of the year! Thanks to lovely Laura (that is her official name now), I had the opportunity to go to Pan Macmillan's Women's Fiction event at the lush Oxo Tower on London's South Bank. It's one of those magnificent locations I've always wanted to visit and the view at night over the Thames was even more impressive than I could've possibly imagined (though we did only appreciate it briefly, as we got far too distracted by awesome people, food and drinks when the party got going!).

Laura and I arrived quite early, when it was still reasonably quiet, so while enjoying our first (and not last!) glass of Prosecco we had a wander through the room to admire the amazing view as well as all the gorgeous Pan Mac books on display. I ooh-ed and aah-ed over seeing the orange Station Eleven paperback (I'm even contemplating getting a copy, despite already owning the proof and hardback!) and there was major gushing when I first spotted proofs of Kirsty Greenwood's The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance, which is not out until April! I may or may not (I did) have stroked its beautiful cover upon first laying eyes on it. And eh... one copy 'miraculously' found its way into my handbag.

While visiting the Oxo Tower was a treat in its own right, it was made even better by the astonishing amount of amazing authors and publishers who were in attendance. The evening was a who's who of the book publishing industry – and I got to chat to the likes of Kirsty Greenwod (squee!), Miranda Dickinson (more squeeing!), Cesca Major (let's just say there was a lot of squeeing), Hannah Beckerman, Claire Sandy, Debbie Howells, Catharina Ingleman-Sundberg and Pan Mac-cers Sam and Natasha. There were heaps more fabulous people in attendance which I didn't even get a chance to speak to, but basically everywhere I looked there were authors I admire. Even after having met lots of fantastic writers in recent years, I did feel a bit starstruck being in such brilliant company, but in between endless gushing I did manage to talk to some of my favourites authors about their wonderful books.

Also, the canapes were delicious; from the mini fish and chips and tomato/mozzarella bites to the mini hotdogs. Mini. Hot dogs!

In all it was an amazing night and I am super chuffed I had a chance to be a part of it thanks to Laura. And of course many thanks are also due to Pan Mac for organising the event and to all the lovely people I had a chance to chat to, for indulging me in my bookish fangirling.


The amazing view on my walk along the South Bank to the Oxo Tower


The fab tote bag we got on our way, which included a lip balm, a SUPER cute Lucy Diamond bookmark and a colouring book (the Kirsty Greenwood novel is the one that 'found' its way into my handbag...)


Some more books from the goodie bag (including a gorgeous purple notebook!) and a few I picked up on the way out


Friday, January 30, 2015

Book review: From Notting Hill with Four Weddings... Actually by Ali McNamara


My edition: Paperback, published on 23 October 2014 by Sphere, 448 pages.

Description: Movie addict Scarlett O'Brien is finally living the jet-setting life she's dreamed of, but it all hangs by a shiny, golden thread. Flying between London and New York, running two businesses, and planning her wedding to handsome fiance Sean along with her best friends Oscar and Maddie--life couldn't be better.

Then Scarlett meets paparazzi darling Gabriella Romero, and life suddenly becomes even more extravagant and glamourous. But as she begins to experience the other side of being rich and famous, it's not only Scarlett's perfect wedding that's put in jeopardy, but her whole world.


Rating: