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4 March 2015

Review & Interview: 'The Ghostly Father' by Sue Barnard (2014)

Romeo & Juliet - was this what really happened? 

When Juliet Roberts is asked to make sense of an ancient Italian manuscript, she little suspects that she will find herself propelled into the midst of one of the greatest love stories of all time. But this is only the beginning. As more hidden secrets come to light, Juliet discovers that the tragic tale of her famous namesake might have had a very different outcome...

As an English Literature student, I have read (both willingly and occasionally also slightly unwillingly...) all kinds of classics, from Chaucer to Jane Austen to, of course, William Shakespeare. There are some great classic books out there and I love picking up retellings or sequels to these old stories, providing us readers with a new perspective. So, when author Sue Barnard contacted me about possibly reviewing her novel 'The Ghostly Father', an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', I couldn't say 'yes' quickly enough. I was really curious to find out what the author had done with one of the most famous love stories of all time, and had my fingers crossed for a good read!

Juliet Roberts is asked by her grandfather to translate an old manuscript from Italian to English for his birthday. The story manages to exceed all Juliet's expectations, as it turns out to be the actual story of Romeo and Juliet, made famous by playwright William Shakespeare. The story of Romeo and Giulietta, told from the point of view of a monk named Lorenzo who experienced it all up close and personal, continues to surprises Juliet with every page and she can't help but wonder whether this might be the actual story of what happened between these famous starcrossed lovers...

I had to read lots of Shakespeare plays at university and 'Romeo and Juliet' was undoubtedly my favourite. However, as a hopeless romantic and a sucker for happy endings, the ending of the story always broke my heart and I love retellings of the tale, to see what other authors do with the characters and the storyline. Thankfully, Sue Barnard has done a tremendous job rewriting a classic like 'Romeo and Juliet' and she has really managed to give it her own twist. The story is quite different from the original, but I won't say much more about it because I don't want to give too much away. Of course, the essence is still the same: two young people fall in love but as they come from two feuding families, they have to fight to be able to actually be together.

The author's writing style is really comfortable to read; well-paced, a good dosage of both description and dialogue, and befitting to the original story and the time in which it is set. I really enjoyed the fact that the story was told from the perspective of monk Lorenzo, whose story was also really interesting and results in the reader being given more than just Romeo and Juliet's tale. I really enjoyed this and I can't wait to see what Sue Barnard will come up with next. 'The Ghostly Father' is a beautiful and captivating retelling with respect for the original story, but with its own twists and style; a thoroughly enjoyable read!
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Author interview with Sue Barnard!

I'm really excited to welcome author Sue Barnard to the blog today to tell us some more about her novel 'The Ghostly Father', her own favourite books and her future plans as an author!
Can you tell us something about your novel, ‘The Ghostly Father’?
It’s based on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet, but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.  It’s a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, and is told from the point of view of Friar Lawrence (although he’s called Fra’ Lorenzo in this version).  The book’s title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play, and it’s how Romeo addresses  the Friar.
Where did you get the inspiration for your novel? Why did you decide to go with a Shakespeare play as the basis?
I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet, but hated the way it ended.  
A few years ago, I came across one of those lists of “Things You Should Do Before You Die” – and one of them was “Write the book you want to read.”  
The book I’ve always wanted to read is a version of the Romeo & Juliet story in which the star-cross’d lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.  
Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.
Can you tell us a bit more about the main character, Juliet Roberts? 
Juliet is the modern narrator, who is given the task of translating the old Italian manuscript which contains the story.  By showing her reactions to the tale as it unfolds, she provides the link between the historical narrative and the reader.  
There’s a great cast of supporting characters in the novel as well. Which character did you most enjoy writing?
I think the Friar would have to be my favourite.  I’ve always been fascinated by him, and I’ve often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did.  By giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.
I also had fun developing the characters of Lord and Lady Montague (or Montecchi, as I’ve called them in the book).  In the play they barely step out of the shadows.  Benvolio, too, is given his own story which is missing from the original version.
Did you do any particular research for parts of the book?
I had to research what life would have been like in a medieval Franciscan friary.  And as the Friar is a herbalist, I also had to learn a little about herb-lore.
Can you perhaps tell us something about your future plans? Are you perhaps already working on a next novel?
My second novel, a romantic intrigue entitled Nice Girls Don’t, was published in July last year.  It’s set in 1982 and is a story about family secrets.
For my third novel I’m returning to Shakespeare.  The Most Unkindest Cut, due out later this year, is a murder mystery set during an am-dram production of Julius Caesar.  As with The Ghostly Father, the title is a quotation from the play.
I’m currently working on a time-slip novel based on an old French legend. 
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Try to write something each day, even if it’s only a haiku.  And believe in yourself.  If you have a story to tell, then don’t keep it hidden! 
What is the last book you read that you’d like to recommend to others?
It’s a while since I read it, but I’d highly recommend That Devil Called Love by Lynda Chater, which was first published about fifteen years ago.  It’s based on the Faust legend, but is brought up to date and told with great perception and humour.  The heroine of the story finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don’t necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness.
Which book could you not live without?
Facebook!  I’ve made lots of lovely friends on there, and it’s also how I found my wonderful publisher, Crooked Cat.
And last but not least, if you had to describe ‘The Ghostly Father’ in just three words, which words would you pick?
Love conquers all.
Thanks so much, Sue! :)

3 March 2015

Blog Tour: 'Ivy Lane' by Cathy Bramley

Tilly Parker needs a fresh start, fresh air and a fresh attitude if she is ever to leave the past behind and move on with her life. As she seeks out peace and quiet in a new town, taking on a plot at Ivy Lane allotments seems like the perfect solution.

But the friendly Ivy Lane community has other ideas and gradually draw Tilly in to their cosy, comforting world of planting seedlings, organizing bake sales and planning seasonal parties.

As the seasons pass, will Tilly learn to stop hiding amongst the sweetpeas and let people back into her life – and her heart?

I'm really honoured and excited to be part of the blog tour for Cathy Bramley's amazing novel 'Ivy Lane' today! The book was first released by Transworld Digital in separate e-book instalments in 2014, divided into four parts fitting the four seasons of the year: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. On the 26th of February, the paperback version of the novel was released, which has a simply gorgeous cover, if you ask me! Before I read 'Ivy Lane' I was already familiar with Cathy Bramley's work, since I was asked to review her novel 'Conditional Love' last year (click here to read my review). I really enjoyed it, so I couldn't wait to check out the entire story of 'Ivy Lane'!

Thirty-year-old Tilly Parker has been through a lot and she is ready to start anew and try to leave the past behind. She has moved to a new town where she hopes to build up a new peaceful life for herself, and in order to give her something to stay busy with she has got herself her own plot at Ivy Lane allotments. However, after her first few visits to her new plot, Tilly quickly finds out the Ivy Lane community wants nothing more than to welcome her with open arms and let her become a part of their group. Question is, is Tilly really ready to step away from the past and focus on the here and now? 

Luckily the story inside this novel fits the absolutely gorgeous cover; it’s amazing! I loved everything about ‘Ivy Lane’ and I honestly couldn’t get enough of the characters and everything they go through together. The main protagonist Tilly is incredibly easy to like so it didn’t take long for me to warm to her and to start rooting for her. It’s obvious from the start Tilly is running away from something that has happened in her past and she needs to start afresh. I loved joining Tilly on this journey and seeing her develop as a character from start to finish. Next to Tilly, there is a great collection of colourful characters, each with a different personality, ranging from all ages, who all come together at Ivy Lane allotments. I fell in love with quirky and outspoken Gemma, who owns the plot next to Tilly’s; handsome fire-fighter Charlie, and cute and friendly Alf. 

The author’s writing style is so warm, engaging and easy to read. I went through all kinds of emotions while reading this story, from laughing out loud to frustration to sadness (I even had tears in my eyes a few times which doesn’t happen that easily to me while reading!). Even though I’m not the gardening type myself, I fell in love with the idea of an allotment and the way it brings people together. I also loved the different seasons and how this was reflected in the allotments and the different events taking place, such as Halloween, Christmas, bake sales in the sun. ‘Ivy Lane’ is an incredibly warm, uplifting, charming read about friendship, family, and not giving up on life, even when the times get rough. Cathy Bramley is an author to watch and ‘Ivy Lane’ is a read you do not want to miss!
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

2 March 2015

Review: 'Don't Tell the Brides-To-Be' by Anna Bell (2015)

With a baby on the way and her business starting to boom, has Penny finally found her happily ever after? 

Things are looking up for Penny Robinson. She's kicked her gambling addiction and even started her own business: Princess on a Shoestring, an all-inclusive service for brides-to-be looking to pinch pennies on their big day. Between family fights and wardrobe calamities, wedding planning is no piece of cake, but Penny's got it all under control. That is, until a rival planner decides to take her down—one hard-won bride at a time. Now Penny must fight to save her reputation and her livelihood before it's too late. But when a romantic weekend away has some unexpected consequences, Penny's expectations for her career are brought back down to earth with a bump.

The past week I’ve been busy reading Anna Bell’s successful ‘Don’t Tell...’ book series, which consists of ‘Don’t Tell the Groom’, ‘Don’t Tell the Boss’, and the most recent third instalment ‘Don’t Tell the Brides-To-Be.’ I was lucky enough to have received a review copy of the last title, which was released by Quercus on the 12th of February. I already had the two other parts of the series waiting for me on my bookshelf, and decided to read the entire series in one go! Today, I’m really excited to share my review of ‘Don’t Tell the Brides-To-Be’ with you, the latest part of the series and a read which you definitely don’t want to miss out on if you enjoy chick lit as much as I do!

Penny Robinson has finally found the courage to take the big leap and start her own wedding planning business called ‘Princess on a Shoestring.’ After the success of her blog with the same name, Penny soon finds herself with enough brides-to-be who want her help to organise their own budget weddings. Of course this includes the occasional bridezilla and emergency moments, but Penny is so passionate about her job she is ready to deal with it all. Until a rival wedding planner named Georgina Peasbody, who works in the same area, decides there is only place for one of them and she’s not going down without a dirty fight. Penny has to give it her everything to keep her business going, but when another unexpected bump in the road makes things even more complicated, Penny starts to doubt whether she is really meant to be a wedding planner.

There are certain book series which I can’t get enough of and if it was up to me, there would be at least 36 parts of the series to keep us entertained and up-to-date with all the characters. This certainly goes for Anna Bell’s book series, because ‘Don’t Tell the Brides-To-Be’ is a fantastic third part of this series starring Penny Robinson as the leading lady. Penny is a simply wonderful heroine; she’s spontaneous, naive, funny, incredibly passionate and I think many readers will be able to relate to her one way or another. I loved seeing how Penny tries to build up her own wedding planning business, especially after all she has been through in the first and second book of the series, and all the wedding elements in the book were simply great (I really wish Penny would be available to plan my own wedding someday!). Next to Penny, many other familiar faces make an appearance and together make up a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters, including Penny’s husband Mark, her best friend Lou, and all the brides-to-be who have their own story to tell. Another thing which I really liked about the novel are the Twitter messages/conversations each chapter starts with; this really added something fun to the story.

Sometimes, a sequel or a third part of a series can feel a bit pushed, but that is not the case with this book. The story flowed naturally and I honestly couldn’t wait to read more about Penny’s adventures and I think there are still many more tales to tell featuring these characters (fingers crossed!). I personally read this book straight after the other two parts of the series, which worked really well for me because I knew all the details and character backgrounds, but I think the novel can also be read as a stand-alone because the necessary facts are given. Overall, ‘Don’t Tell the Brides-To-Be’ is an incredibly fun, feel-good, light-hearted romantic comedy which I simply couldn’t get enough of. Anna Bell is slowly becoming one of my favourite authors and I’m keeping both fingers and toes crossed for a fourth Penny novel!
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.