Friday, 23 September 2016

My Lady Jane, Brodi Ashton; Jodi Meadows; Cynthia Hand

Pages: 416
Publisher: Walker
Release Date: 1st September 2016
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

A comical, fantastical and witty re-imagining of the Tudor world, perfect for fans of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger - and caught up in an insidious plan to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She's about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.

I couldn’t have loved My Lady Jane any more than I did – sass, wit, humour and a whole lot of fun. Perfect!

This is an alternative history that’s really quite alternative. We follow Kind Edward IV and Lady Jane Grey along the recorded path (sort of) for a while, but when we diverge, we really diverge. I loved the twist Ashton, Meadows and Hand put on the story, especially how strong their presence at the narrators was – it could have come across as really heavy handed but I loved it.

The magic and sense of humour in My Lady Jane could easily have become ridiculous, but it definitely erred on the side of brilliantly ridiculous for me. I laughed aloud on nearly every page and I was always surprised by what happened next. I did find that it really brought out my inner history nerd and I often found myself googling what really happened and researching bits and bobs that caught my interest. I now know two versions of Jane, Edward and G’s stories – and I definitely prefer this one.

My Lady Jane has jumped straight to my 2016 favourites and I’m really, really hoping these three write together again very soon. Please?

Thanks to Walker for the review copy.


Thursday, 22 September 2016

Twitter is exhausting me

I'm starting to find Twitter exhausting.

I follow hundreds of intelligent, switched-on, political, and passionate people, and sometimes that just gets a bit too much.

It can feel like a constant tug of war – ‘If you don’t speak up then you’re part of the problem!’ vs ‘Don’t speak, just listen – this hasn’t anything to do with you.’ I often feel like every time I log in I’ll have to war with myself and everyone else, even though I've only ever had to deal with trolls a handful of times.

I want to be informed. I think it’s important I'm part of these conversations. It’s important to me that I stay part of the book world. But every time I scroll through my feed something else has happened that everyone (rightfully) rallies against and it becomes exhausting.

I even feel nervous writing this because of the potential for offence and retaliation. That’s not right, that’s not a healthy way to approach my blog and the community I love.  

The easy option is to stay away from Twitter, but my job is about 30% tweeting so that’s not an option. Do I delete the app from my phone? Cull the wonderful people on my feed?

What do I do?


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

9 Thoughts About Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners Trilogy

This series is a lot less intense than the Mistborn series – it’s fun, fast-paced and easy to enjoy.

Steelheart felt a little similar in the trajectory of the plot to The Final Empire – a ragtag band of misfits plot to take down a tyrannical leader.

Book two, Firefight, is a little less brilliant than book one. It feels a bit similar to Steelheart and the plot is a little less engaging.

But book three steps it straight back up again. I was immediately sucked back into David’s world within only a few chapters of Calamity.

I love the tone of David’s narration. It’s chatty, easy, conversational and SO easy to connect with. Everything is immediate.

David’s ridiculous metaphors are consistently awful and they inject regular humour into some serious drama and action.

The love story between David and Megan is always there, but it never takes over. It’s sweet, affectionate banter in the background; an angst in the beginning; and a motivation to survive. So adorable.

What a twist about Calamity at the end of Calamity! I wasn’t expecting that at all and I loved it.

Macleod Andrews who reads this series is the perfect audiobook narrator. He gets David brilliantly and I love the pep and optimism that’s always there. He’s so brilliant that I would deliberately seek out more audiobooks read by him.

What should I read next in my adventures through Brandon Sanderson’s world? I’m thinking Warbreaker…


Monday, 19 September 2016

Blog Tour: Natasha Farrant on Jane Austen and Fashion

As part of the Grand Tour for Natasha Farrant's brilliant Pride and Prejudice retelling, Lydia, Natasha Farrant is telling us all about fashion in Austen's time. 

I have on loan, for the purpose of promoting LYDIA, an exquisite bonnet of soft gold straw, trimmed with green ostrich feathers, artificial berries and three different kinds of ribbons.  Small crowned and wide peaked, the glow of the straw gives a soft sheen to my skin.  The weight of the thing makes me stand a little straighter.  The bow beneath my chin has a feminine coyness, the feathers lend glamour, the fruit a touch of playfulness.  Hidden several miles behind the brim, I feel at once demure and flirtatious, empowered and restrained. To wear an (imitation) Regency bonnet raises complicated emotions. Rather like slipping on a pair of impossibly high heels or having a manicure or wearing a push-up bra, it changes both the way you feel about yourself and the way you behave.

The late eighteenth century saw a fashion explosion in Britain. Gone were the stiff brocades and uncomfortable hoops of previous eras. The Victorian constraints have not yet made their appearance.  Regency fashion is all about the “athletic”, neo-Grecian figure – high waisted, flowing, promoting ease of movement for activities such as walking and dancing.  This was a time of increased global trading links which brought in new fabrics and designs.  A rising middle-class had money and leisure on its hands, improving roads and communication links spread ideas and goods.  The first fashion periodicals appeared.  Ribbons and feathers, turbans and bonnets, muslins and military jackets – it was a time of experimentation and excess (and see the attached illustration for a risqué satire of the new fashion of ditching underwear under flimsy dresses.

This passage about the trimming of hats, from one of Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, gives us a clue as to her thoughts on all this:

“Flowers are very much worn, and Fruit is still more the thing.  Eliz. Has a bunch of Strawberries, and I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs and Apricots – There are likewise Almonds & raisins, French plumbs and Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats (-) I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.”

From this and other letters, it’s clear that she found the world of high fashion absurd, but we know also that she enjoyed it.  Her letters are full of references to stockings she has bought, caps she has trimmed, and her determination to keep up with the latest trends (for example, in the wearing of long sleeves for dinner).  Austen uses this duality – embracing fashion, while remaining conscious of its absurdities – to inform us about her characters. As a general rule, while it is entirely right for a person to be well turned out, an over-interest in fashion soon becomes a shorthand for ridicule. We know, for example, that Lizzy Bennet spends longer than usual getting ready for the Netherfield ball, that Jane Fairfax is elegant, that Fanny Price dresses with modesty and correct propriety, but are told little else about their dress.    Mrs Elton in Emma, on the other hand, speaks at length of her “horror of being overtrimmed”.  Isabella Morland longs for a “coquelicot ribboned” hat. The first thing Mrs Bennet does with visitors from out of town in make them tell her all about the latest fashions.  Poor Lydia is forever trimming bonnets. Excessive interest in fashion, it is implied, is always a hallmark for intellectual inferiority.

If Austen were alive today, I imagine she would be investing in timeless classical pieces in the House of Fraser sales, with good brogues and a well-cut coat, personalised with cleverly tied scarves and discreet jewellery.  She would use own brand face creams and maybe a little mascara and expensive perfume on special occasions, and she would always be appropriately dressed. I would be very nervous to approach her unless I too were dressed exactly right: nothing pulled un-ironed out of the basket, no uncombed hair or chipped nail varnish or old T-shirt.  No frumpiness, but no ostentation either.  Jeans, maybe, but not ripped, and definitely with a jacket, and squeaky clean trainers.

It is not a coincidence that my Lydia and indeed her female nemesis, Theo de Fombelle, are obsessed with clothes. Lydia’s obsession is an indication, as in Austen’s novels, of her frivolous nature, though also of her sense of fun and experimentation. Theo’s is more complicated: she has understood the obsession of her era with fashion, and plans to use it to her advantage. In both cases, fashion, as Austen understood so well, is a highly charged thing – frivolous and fun, but also deeply revealing of character.

Thank you so much, Natasha! You can read my review of the fantastic 'Lydia' right here and make sure to check out the rest of the Grand Tour! 


Friday, 16 September 2016

Lydia, Natasha Farrant

Pages: 352
Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: 1st September 2016
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Other Titles by this Author: The Things We Did For Love, After Iris, Flora in Love, All About Pumpkin, Time for Jas

A spirited, witty and fresh reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lydia is the youngest Bennet sister and she's sick of country life – instead of sewing and reading, she longs for adventure. When a red-coated garrison arrives in Merryton, Lydia’s life turns upside down. As she falls for dashing Wickham, she’s swept into a whirlwind social circle and deposited in a seaside town, Brighton. Sea-bathing, promenades and scandal await – and a pair of intriguing twins. Can Lydia find out what she really wants – and can she get it?

I’ve had a bit of a Pride and Prejudice year with my first re-read since I was 17 and Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant Eligible, and Lydia was the perfect addition.

Lydia is a character that I've never fully got on board with, either in adaptations, the book itself or the many re-tellings and re-imaginings I've read over the years, until Lydia. I finally got her. She stopped being the annoying younger Bennet sister who caused trouble and put her sisters’ futures into jeopardy and become someone unjustly disregarded by everyone as silly and left out by her older sisters. Lydia became likeable and sympathetic and it’s made me want to re-read Pride and Prejudice again with that new perspective.

As Lydia wrote of her adventures and related the parts of Jane and Lizzie’s stories that I’m so familiar with I got little buzzes of happiness, but I was eventually overcome with curiosity as to how this new dynamic to Lydia’s story would incorporate with what I knew. I loved seeing Brighton – a city I’m very familiar with – come to life in the late 18th century and the reflections of what was happening back in Longbourn, but it was even nicer to see Lydia grow and change during her time by the sea. I really loved the spin that was put on that time that we never really saw in the original novel.

Natasha Farrant took a few takes on Austen that we’d actually discussed in the past and made them strong features of the novel which I really liked. Mrs Bennet’s hysteric need to marry her daughters was out of fear of them ending up destitute – she’s not entirely silly; Wickham’s motives, though wrong, were understandable; and the fact that marriage really was all about money in Austen’s time – Jane and Lizzie were incredibly lucky to love the rich men they married.  

But most of all, I loved that Lydia’s ending felt so different to P&P – it felt worthy of the character I fell in love with during this novel. Marrying Wickham almost seemed like a punishment for her actions in Austen’s book, something that would inevitably end in unhappiness, but Lydia got her happy ending in Lydia which was really lovely to see. I finished this book with a great big smile on my face and you really can’t ask for more than that.

Lydia is a fresh, affectionate and respectful take on Pride and Prejudice and really manages to keep Austen’s original at its heart.