Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Paris in Love, or Why It's Important to Match Books to Your Moods

After years of living vicariously through the heroines in her novels, bestselling author Eloisa James takes a leap that most of us can only daydream about. She sells her house, leaves her job as a Shakespeare professor, and packs her husband and two protesting children off to Paris.

Grand plans are abandoned as she falls under the spell of daily life as a Parisienne — exquisite food, long walks by the seine, reading in bed, displays of effortless chic around every corner, and being reminded of what really matters in a place where people seem to kiss all the time.

Against one of the world’s most picturesque backdrops, she copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools — not to mention puberty — in a foreign language; and her formidable mother-in-law, marina, who believes dogs should be fed prosciutto and wives should live in the kitchen.

An irresistible love letter to a city that will make you want to head there, Paris in Love is also a joyful testament to the pleasures of savouring life. 
For me the success of a book lies largely in the way someone reacts to it, as well as whether you ever return to it again.

I read Paris in Love for the first time when I was going through a fairly stressful time - quitting my job, moving back home and starting everything anew.  I'd pressed the restart button, determined to truly enjoy my life and do the things I wanted to do, and the book echoed this.

Eloisa James (otherwise known as the Shakespearean scholar Mary Bly - I know, I want to be her!!) had been diagnosed with breast cancer and so, once recovered, took a year's sabbatical and moved with her entire family to Paris for a year.

The book itself is not continuous prose and reads more like a journal, art mimicking life.  Her descriptions manage to capture the way time elongates whilst in Paris, each moment caught to be relieved again and again.
The sky before my study window is pale blue, with airplanes' fleecy vapor trails patterning it like lace, and the building across the street is gleaming in the sunshine. The itinerant brass quartet that occasionally plays in our quartier for money is down on the corner tootling "Blue Moon," with great verve but not such great timing.
I suppose in some ways I reacted to the book like this because I adored the short time I spent in Paris.  There's something about certain cities and towns (for me, there's also Bardi in the Emilia-Romagna region of Nothern Italy, and Edinburgh, with its meandering streets) that makes you want to immerse yourself in every aspect of the culture.  Whether that's noting the colour of the sky or reveling in the noise and bustle of residents, it's what most inspires me.

When writing, I return to settings more than anything else.  I have to be able to completely invision myself there.

And that's what Paris in Love did for me.  It managed to envelop me in a way that almost tricked me into believing that I was back in Paris, drinking chocolat chaud in Angelina or spending hours browsing in the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop.  And it felt so affirming - I didn't feel like I'd missed out on a romantic holiday, but rather that the city welcomed me as it does everyone, with a nod and a raised eyebrow.

A beautiful piece of writing that conjures up family living, Paris and a longing for the holidays Paris in Love is worth every penny.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Breaking News (or 'recently in my life...')

So over the last couple of weeks I've been quite quiet here - for a number of reasons.

Partly because I had an event for 1000 people to organise for work (went off without a hitch - thanks for asking), and partly because I've been contributing to a number of other sites.

I'm now an official contributor to the wonderful For Books' Sake webzine (books by and for women), specialising in Chick Lit and Erotica new stories.  Most recently I've written about the thirteen women who've won the Nobel Prize for Literature, busted the Mills & Boon myth and celebrated the delights of Marian Keyes.

Forthcoming articles for them include wishing Tamora Pierce 'Happy Birthday', interviewing Emily Dubberley about her research into women's sexual fantasies and a piece on the History of Sex Toys in Literature...

I've also been contacted by Mills & Boon who've asked me to write a monthly blog for them on the new revamped website (coming in November).  This may have made my year.

Matt Gardner and I have also launched The Plotcast (episodes one-three of which can be found here, here and here), a vodcast about narrative.  Essentially we ramble on about our favourite books / tv shows / films / anything we want and I almost fall off a chair.  A lot.  I've also recorded an episode of Writer Collider with M. J. Starling, but more about that when it's published in its podcast format.

In other news, I seem to be getting addicted to comics, continue to prep for NaNoWriMo - which may or may not end up being the most stressful month of my life - and am creating a super hero costume for Halloween (see below for the latest reincarnation of Miss America upon which I shall model myself).

So pleased to note that I can dress up as a female character without having to resort to the dreaded leotard!

AND I've just bought a new netbook for all my typing needs.  :D

But despite the insanity that is my life, things are pretty good and I'm rather pleased with the way things are going.  So which of the above are you looking forward to (if any)? 

On a Foray into Comics

I have a fairly addictive personality, which is the only reason I can come up with for avoiding comics for so long.  I've always been a fan of manga but (despite a slight obsession with superhero movies) never really made the move to Marvel or DC.

However, this has all changed in the past week.

Tasked with finding a costume for my group of friends' annual Halloween party (this year's theme: super heroes and super villains) I turned to the Twittersphere for help.  I wanted to go as a female character, and yet have a distinct lack of love for leotards and hypothermia, hence the dilemna.

Then the delightful Holly Casio pointed me in the direction of the latest incarnation of Miss America in Vol. 2 of the Young Avengers.

Her look - red hoodie under a denim jacket, blue t-shirt, black shorts and what look like red converses - only underscores how kickarse this latino version of the character is, as well as how she's slightly different when compared to the 'clean-cut-ness' of the rest of the team.

The artwork's pretty gorgeous and I love that there are short cameos from the 'old' avengers dotted throughout the issues.  Plus I'm genuinely rooting for the characters and more than a little annoyed that the next book doesn't come out til February! (And yes, I know I could get the monthly issues, but that won't match my first set of the comics).

So now I find myself ordering series such as Gotham Central (a noir-style look at the Gotham's human police force) and Secret Six (cos who doesn't love a group of anti-heroes?!) and am currently stuck on a toss-up between Secret Avengers, Thor:  God of Thunder and Brian Wood's X-Men.

Essentially I'm teetering on the edge of what appears to be an unstoppable torrent of comic addiction.  And all in the week before NaNoWriMo.  I'm so screwed.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Holding Out for a Hero, or Why Families Ground Chick Lit in Reality

When sensible schoolteacher Ella Lucas rides into her home town on a Harley and seduces the resident football hero, Jake Prince, she figures she can be forgiven and move on. After all, she’s just buried her mother.

Two years later, back in the city, their paths cross again but this time Jake is in the process of destroying her favourite dive bar. With her home facing a wrecker’s ball, her school being closed down and her 15-year-old brother hell bent on self-destruction, it’s the last straw. Throw in a dominatrix best friend who is dating a blue ribbon guy so straight he still lives at home with his mother, it’s no wonder the sanest person in Ella’s life is a dog.

With all this to contend with, the last thing Ella needs is Jake back in her life. But, as fate would have it, Jake is the only chance she has to save her school.

As the school football season heats up, old secrets threaten to surface and Ella takes on greedy developers, school boards and national tabloids. But can she save not just her home, her school and her brother, but also the reputation of the man she’s never been able to forget? And, more importantly, does she want to?

Amy Andrews is a Mills & Boon Modern Tempted stalwart, and writes utterly charming and delightful spicy romances – so when I was sent a review copy of her new Moonlight Momentum book, I was rather psyched.

HoldingOut for a Hero’s more edgy than her Mills & Boon fare and I like it all the more for that.  There’s Ella, a school teacher whose out-of-character night of passion comes back to haunt her; her best friend Rosie – whose on-off relationship with blue-collar boyfriend Simon is enchanting, hysterical and really fun – and Rosie’s two carnivalesque aunts Iris and Daisy who are beyond awesome. 

There are a couple of things that I really loved about this book.  First of all, the motorbike.  Ella heads back to the town she fled on a motorbike.  A motorbike.  I love motorbikes.  And the fact that this woman steps out of her comfort zones in oh so many ways – she sets up a football team to save her school; she faces up to her mother’s past could have a negative impact on her own career; and she heads back into town and demands the hottest sex with the steamiest of alpha males – Jake Prince.

Also, she gets landed with a teenage younger brother.  I think in some ways, the dichotomy of being an older sister and also having to be Cameron’s guardian, manages to capture the frustrations that are always present in sibling relationships.  I’m twelve years older than my younger brother who – despite his ability to drive me round the bend – I adore.  And I think this lies at the heart of this novel.

Andrews’ ability to capture the ups and downs of familial relationships has never been in doubt, but here it adds a depth to what is essentially a love story.  It’s about the triumphs and struggles of a relationship that seems very real – despite the large stage on which it plays out.

It’s released on Tuesday 15th October and y’all should go download it.  Now!  :P

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


I think it's fairly well-established knowledge that I'm a bit of a wedding nut.  I watch Don't Tell the Bride religiously, have wept buckets over Tom Fletcher's wedding speech and am currently working on a paper that looks at The Wedding Season Quartet as challenging the normal romance novel by opening (as opposed to ending) with a wedding.

So understandably I was delighted to be invited to the wedding of two friends from uni.  I met Jo in my first year where we bonded over sex-infused poetry seminars and late-night love of Moulin Rouge (I maintain that our version of Elephant Love Song Medley is a classic).  Towards the end of that year she met Andy and that was pretty much it for the both of them.

Fast-forward to last Saturday and to one of the loveliest weddings I've ever attended.  Set in the beautiful Ward Rooms in the University of Greenwich - with surprisingly good weather for September - everything seemed perfect.

From the banners with their family crests emblazoned on it (wings for the Piancastellis and a crescent for the Tattons) to the packs of cards, board games and (frankly exhausting) Dance Dance Revolution in their own games room, it was clear that this was a celebration of their past, present and what will clearly be a very happy future.

The ceremony itself was simple but lovely; Jo's dress divine and the vows .  It was as if there was no-one in the room but them.  And this is the key thing.  In so many weddings you go to, or see, the bride and groom do the 'rounds' and do all the stuff they think they ought to do, whereas Andy and Jo did what they wanted.

They had a jukebox so that everyone could choose the songs to dance to; they spent time just chilling out with their friends and family (I'm referencing a fairly hysterical interlude where most of the party - men included - tried on heels of varying heights and attempted to stumble along in a straight line); they did Gangnam Style with Andy's 86 year old nan (who is a legend); and they provide an obscene amount of food, which is always a good thing.

And when it came to the first dance - to Come What May from Moulin Rouge - they danced with each other, with parents and then grandparents.  When Jo's younger brother went to dance with her I (in a rather embarrassing moment) burst into tears and retreated behind my friend Cathy until I was able to pull myself together.  And when she looked up at him and he looked down at her...  Well, who says that true love is a fable?!

Their laughter, lust for life and love for each other is what makes them who they are and is what makes them a perfect couple.

I wish them all the best, all my love, and all the adventures they could ever wish for...with a pack of dice always in their hands.