Book Review: Vintage

Champagne. Being a fan of the delectable delight, a book about the dizzy world of champagne was inevitably going to end up becoming one of my favourite books. I give you this week's book review: Olivia Darling's debut novel, Vintage.

According to Darling, Vintage is a modern take on the blockbusters of the '80s - the likes of Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. I've never read any of Collins' or Steele's work (should I?), but I *loved* the sound of Vintage:

Three women who dare to make it in a man’s world. One sparkling prize.

Madeleine Arsenault has prepared for this moment all her life. She is determined to rescue the beloved family chateau and prove she’s got what it takes to run the most successful champagne house in France.

Former supermodel Christina Morgan knows she hasn’t got what it takes. But she’s sure as hell not going to show it. And with the help of her friends, she’ll turn her ex-husband’s hobby Californian vineyard into a major player.

British cleaning-girl Kelly Elson would rather drink vodka and coke than champagne. Then she inherits a vineyard in Sussex and suddenly she’s thirsty for success.

Watching over them all is Frenchman Mathieu Randon, head of luxury goods conglomerate Domaine Randon. Super-rich. Seductive. And a sociopath.

In competing to produce the world’s best sparkling wine, the three women are swept into a world of feuds, back-stabbing, sabotage and seduction. Have they got what it takes to survive?

What can I say? Well, the characters are all believable, there's a plot beyond the superficial champagne world, but it's also peppered with interesting tit-bits. This book has it all. There's: Love. Mystery. Struggle. Grief. Glamour. Ooh, and power.

Set in the UK, France and the US, the plot time frame spans several years, but it still makes a captivating read. It flows as smoothly as a champagne fountain should. ;) Just read it, okay? x

More childhood and teen reads

I knew I'd miss out some childhood reads and teen reads, so here's an update post! Let me know if you've thought of any more books you enjoyed as a child or teenager. 

Okay, first up, the Richard Scarry books! Does anyone else remember the inhabitants of Busytown? Lowly Worm and Mr Frumble! Yes? No? As is usually the case, this was made into a TV cartoon, so you might remember that. It was on Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nickelodeon!!!! Here's the opening credits as a reminder:

I don't know how I could forget this one: Charlotte's Web by E. B. White is a lovely story. How about His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman? The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer? Dianne Wynne-Jones books? (I avoided these for ages thinking they were merely Harry Potter rip-offs, until I noticed the publication dates were decades before Harry Potter). Meg Cabot's: The Princess Diaries (only one book left - *sob*)?

It's embarrassing I forgot these as I practically lived in France as a child and teen (it felt that way anyway): Tintin and Astérix! (Also embarrassing as one of my characters is nicknamed Obélix. Sacré bleu! Writing inspiration comes in many forms!)

I was absolutely in love with Dylan from Diary of a Crush (I can't believe I forgot this!), which used to be published at the back of J17. In the summer there would be a free book with the magazine telling Edie's summer adventures. Even though by that age I was reading Cosmo, I still got J17 for my monthly fix of Edie and her art-boy, Dylan. The writer Sarra Manning has a blog if you're interested!

I *think* that's all I've forgotten. Was anyone a fan of any of these? Or, if you're new to the blog, what were your favourite childhood and teenage reads?

Book Review: Cents and Sensibility

In summer 2006, when I was working front of house for Burberry, I can recall deliberating over two books. I can't recall the book I didn't purchase that day, but the one I chose became one of my favourite books and in part influenced me to write the genre I write.

The book was Cents and Sensibility by Maggie Alderson and things might have been quite different today if I had picked the other book. However, the reason I chose this book was because of the author information; Maggie's happens to say:

Maggie Alderson was born in London, brought up in Staffordshire and educated at the University of St Andrews

Being a St Andrean myself, the decision was made.

Cents and Sensibility follows the life of journalist Stella who writes about luxury for top newspaper, the Journal - she'd rather be writing about Politics though. On a press freebie in the Côte d’Azur, she meets Jay - a gorgeous playboy who could give her womanising father (called Henry, and he's also had six wives ...) a run for his money - but because she knows the rules from her dad, she knows how to get him. What she doesn't realise however, is that Jay is actually a billionaire. That's when the problems begin...

Set in the Côte d’Azur, London and New York (some of my favourite places), the book is beautifully descriptive and perfectly accurate with its luxury smells, sights and sounds. I've read reviews that say this is pure fluff, but Maggie peppers the book with delightful insights into the world beyond the fluff *if* only you're the sort of reader who appreciates the subtle hints behind the surface. This isn't fluff - this is clever, captivating writing.

Definitely one my favourite books, and I whole-heartedly recommend you read it! Has anyone else read this or any of Maggie's other books?

Teen reads

Following on from childhood reads, it's time for my teen reads. I'm a little fuzzy on exact reading dates, so some of these might be childhood reads, but ho-hum.

As an early teen, there were four book series I mainly bought. Firstly, the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine - these were the predecessor to me buying Point Horror books (another of the series). I *hated* the ones with the ventriloquist dummies - soooooo creepy! From what I recall, I liked the one set in Egypt where the mummies came to life - I think the kid was called Gabe - and the one where the kid swapped bodies with a bee. LOL. Anyone else read these?

Another of the series was The Baby-sitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin - I loved the New York Special - and my favourite characters were probably... actually, I have no idea now! I'd say Kristy or Mallory, but I don't think my thirteen year old self thought that: I think my favourite was Stacey back then, maybe Dawn! And then there were the Sweet Valley books. From Sweet Valley Twins to University, I couldn't get enough of the Wakefield twins! Oh, and The Unicorn Club!

I suddenly feel quite juvenile! Moving on! Two other authors that spring to mind are Bill Bryson and J.K. Rowling. I was eleven when Harry Potter was first published, but started reading the books aged thirteen. It was just before Prisoner of Azkaban was published - coincidentally that became my favourite Harry Potter book, and I recall reading it for the very first time on Christmas Day. I was fourteen when I started reading Bill Bryson: Notes from a Small Island was my first book of his I ever, and I've read him ever since.

When I was about sixteen, I started reading Robert Rankin books. I can't remember why - I think I spotted them in a bookshop, and was attracted by the covers. My first read of Rankin's was Snuff Fiction, which I still love now. Then it was onto the likes of Bridget Jones, Adrian Mole, and Ben Elton books - Dead Famous was my first Elton read. It's funny how I didn't develop my love of chick lit until I was twenty-one - I much preferred travel writing and comedic far-fetched fiction like Elton's and Rankin's.

I'm sure I'm missing some essential teen reads out, so what were *your* teen reads? Maybe you can jog my memory! What do you recall reading?

Book Review: The Ex-Boyfriend's HandBook

The Ex-Boyfriend's HandBook by Matt Dunn is another of my favourite chick lit books, except this is chick lit with a bit of a difference. We follow the plot solely through the eyes of Edward Middleton. Yes, that's right, a man!

Edward is dumped by his girlfriend, Jane, by letter, who leaves him this rather nasty PS:

I realise at this point I'm supposed to say something like "it's not you, it's me", but in actual fact, it is you.

Brilliant! So, Edward sets forward into changing his over-weight, fuddy-duddy image into the man Jane wants, helped along by best friend, Dan, and personal trainer, Sam.

It's a very witty and funny journey, and Edward is a lovable character, nicely contrasted by his man-slag best friend, Dan. With the antics of Dan you can't help but want Edward to achieve his transformation, for him to save the day for all the nice, normal men out there. There are some nice, normal men out there... right?!

It's definitely my favourite Matt Dunn book, but I read on Trashionista that there is a sequel out now - Ex-Girlfriends UNITED - so I'll have to check it out. If you check this one out, let me know what you think! Or, let me know if you've already read it - do you love the book as much as I did?

Childhood reads

Razia Iqbal blogged last week about her favourite children's books as last week was Children's Book Week: "a celebration of reading for pleasure for children of primary school age" (up to the end of tween years, age 12). This got me thinking about what my favourite reads of that time were. Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton automatically spring to mind, but I'll go back to the very beginning. These are my favourite reads from when I could first read, to the onset of my teenage years (I'll post another time on those).

I have *devoured* books since I was three years old. My favourite early read was a series of books called Puddle Lane by Sheila K. McCullagh (there was also a TV series that aired in the late '80s). Sadly, there's not much information about the books online, but the books were split into five stages and told us about the inhabitants of Candletown:

Has anyone else read Puddle Lane books? Thinking of picture books, I'm sure everyone will have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. How about the Topsy and Tim books, not to mention Mr Men! I loved those!

After Puddle Lane, Enid Blyton was my next lot of childhood defining books. I *adored* The Famous Five, and also loved the R-Mystery books (actually known as the Barney Mysteries - anyone remember the likes of Snubby and Loopy?), the Adventure series and Malory Towers. The Secret Island from the Secret series is still one of my favourite books, but I wasn't a big fan of The Faraway Tree series, even though I know a lot of people who rave about that series from their childhood reading memories.

I also loved the Galliano books, and The House at the Corner is brilliant, too. You will never hear me say a bad word for Blyton. I think the reason I like her books so much is because the children go off and do their own thing - there are rarely adults involved - yet the children cope and survive, managing to catch a nasty robber or two along the way! Dreadfully politically incorrect nowadays, but you can't change the face they were written when they were written.

Roald Dahl was another childhood favourite of mine. At school we had to make a monster from The Minpins in clay. We had Danny, the Champion of the World read to us (I actually have a first edition of Danny - I also have first editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and a few of The Famous Five books), ditto for Fantastic Mr Fox. At one point I could recite that book off by heart, as well as The Magic Finger, but my *favourite* book of Dahl's is George's Marvellous Medicine. I even painstakingly trawled through the book to write down the ingredients so I too could make my own "medicine"!

Other reads: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Then there's The Chronicles of Narnia - my favourite is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The Horrible Histories books. A series called Coping With... by Peter Corey. The Anastasia books by Lois Lowry. Poor Jack by Una Power. Various Judy Blume books but in particular Are you there God? It's me, Margaret and the Fudge books). Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The Demon Headmaster series by Gillian Cross... Oh, and I read the Nancy Drew books, and also The Three Investigators. Jupiter, Pete and Bob anyone? I was never a fan of The Hardy Boys though.

What were your favourite childhood reads (up to age 12)? And, more importantly, do you go back and dip back into your childhood by reading them now? x

And the winner is ...

Despite me judging a book by its cover to predict that Linda Grant would win The Man Booker Prize 2008 with The Clothes on Their Backs, Aravind Adiga won the prize (and £50,000 cheque) last night.

Has anyone read The White Tiger?


Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India - by murdering his master.

The White Tiger presents a raw and unromanticised India, both thrilling and shocking - from the desperate, almost lawless villages along the Ganges, to the booming Wild South of Bangalore and its technology and outsourcing centres. The first-person confession of a murderer, The White Tiger is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator - amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.

Write and fight with love

"To be able to talk about books you love is the way to understand how writing works. Nothing of any value proceeds without love. If writing is a means to an end - it is not worth doing. If it is an end itself, even if it makes no money, even if it is never published, then it has value."

This quote is appropriate for any aspiring writers, I think. At the end of the day you can't write to make money; you have to write for the love of it. And the reason you have to write for the love of it is because if your writing lacks that sparkle that is achieved from your enjoyment, your writing probably won't be very good anyway. It will show (or, technically, won't show) and your writing will suffer. If you don't have feeling for your writing, how do you expect others to gain anything from it?

Whether you are published or not, your writing does have value. It should have value to you. Yes, it may not be appreciated how you would like it to be, but if you don't appreciate it, I would take a good hard look and consider whether you really want to be a writer or not. It should be your passion. I'm not saying it should consume every breathing moment, but it should consume a significant amount of moments. You shouldn't be writing for the sake if it - you should be writing because you want to tell a story - a story that you feel strong enough about to take the criticism, the pain, and the rejection. A story is worth fighting for, just like love is worth fighting for. If you love something, then it will shine through. How can you expect others to love your creation if there's no love from you?

Yesterday I had my first rejection for Geli and, do you know what, my world didn't crumble. I am immensely proud of Geli because it is my third finished chick lit book - if I didn't feel for my characters and my book, there's no way I would have achieved that.

Because I love what I do, I will fight for Geli to be published so people can love the book as much as I do because, after all, when we write for love, then we will fight for that love.

Book Review: The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson has to be one of my favourite chick lit books. I chose to write about it today because it's actually set somewhere other than London (amazing!). It's set in Leeds, where I happened to be today. Not only is it set in Leeds, it's accurately set in Leeds, as Dorothy Koomson went to uni there. As I'm a writer defined by my years at uni in St Andrews, I can relate to DK in that sense. She's very lovely about Leeds (rightly so); not only that, the story's decent as well!

Really, I'm dreadful at reviewing books. You really want me to do this?

Okay, so for me the big pull of it is the Leeds setting. But, I absolutely adore Greg - he's the love interest in this book - and I mean, I *adore* him. Amber, the protagonist, is the right sort of chick lit heroine for my taste - she's an over-thinker with potential. Did I mention I adore Greg "man-tart" Walterson? He's your classic man-tart redeemed when he finally meets the right woman - sort of like Mrs Beeton's "she reclaims her husband from vice" observation (honestly, Mrs B is a genius!). Greg is definitely my favourite sort of chick lit main man, and Amber comes across as deserving of him. Don't you hate it when the "heroine" gets it all, yet she's annoying and blah, or is that just me?

So, it's a believable book because it has sass, plus it's not at all fluffy. What else? Amber works in the world of film, and she's a chocoholic. Mmmm - chocolate! Tick points there. Ummmm... Just read it okay - I highly recommend it! Alternatively, if you've read the book and liked it/loved it, post me a review! Yours will be much better than mine! Ta! 

Why I love Mrs Beeton

One of my favourite historical periods is Victorian Britain. If I was a Lady in the Victorian Era, Mrs Beeton's book of Household Management would have been my Bible. But, as I'm in 2008, my interpretation of Mrs Beeton is a lot different from her contemporaries (it's probably a lot different from everyone's interpretation).

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management isn't merely "a classic of domestic literature" with a cookery book, it's an informative and intelligent study of household life. From what to equip your kitchen with, to how to write invites to dinner parties, Mrs Beeton tells us etiquette, but she also goes beyond the surface. Giving the history of the development of the kitchen, to how animals are reared and slaughtered, Mrs Beeton was more than just the Mistress of her household: she was a pioneer, and quite the educator.

Her book opens as follows:

AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family.

In this opinion we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.

And this is why I truly love Mrs B - it's the way she compares her life to be equal to a man's life. It's more than that actually, it's her quote from The Vicar of Wakefield that gives me the sense she really was a modern day chick lit sort of women (which is why I like her) - she reclaims her husband from vice - she wasn't merely a feeble romantic waiting in her ivory tower to be saved. Honestly, this woman is a heroine of the Victorian times. She had sass, sass and a household to run, and it makes for a very endearing combination, believe me.

The book is peppered with gems from Mrs Beeton - gems which more than excuse the fact she is writing about domestic life. Plus, it's not at all stuffy - surprising for the times. Mrs B rocks! Please tell me there are some fans out there?!

It's my opinion every household should have this book. Watch the clip below to see the spirit and sass of Mrs B I'm on about (I hope you see what I mean!):

Originality vs books made into movies

I read this article here with some interest as I'm a writer whose ambitions extend beyond mere novels (I want my own production company, and I want an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I have my first film idea firmly scripted already (in my head), ideas for a book/film adaptation [based on another author's work - I will cry if the rights go before I can buy them], an original TV series idea, and a sketch show all planned out.).

The article explores what happens when a book is turned into a film by Hollywood, and should the writer interfere with the film process. For me, I write it as a book because that's the format I deem most appropriate for what I want to convey. If I wanted it as a film, I would write a screenplay.

However, this only applies to my chick lit work. Whereas I don't think I'd be happy with say Geli making it onto the big screen (ask me again when I hear how much they are offering), I actually would want Boudica's Attic to be filmed (directed by Tim Burton, please). Certain genres work better as books (and should be kept as books), some swing both ways, and some are films through and through.

Of course there are times when the movie produced does not do the book justice (I'm thinking: The Golden Compass [firstly, it's the Northern Lights!], The Other Boleyn Girl and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but then there are the crazy instances when the movie is better than the actual book.

With recent books turned into movies including Brideshead Revisited, Twilight and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - do you think books should be turned into movies, or should original movies be made? What sort of books work best to be turned into movies? What are your favourite examples of books made into movies? And what books do you think were "ruined" because of their movie adaptation?

The Legend of Arthur

I seem to be having an overload of Arthur these past few months. First, I saw Spamalot on the West End, which tells the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. Then a few weeks ago, I started watching Merlin, which shows an interpretation of how the Arthurian legends came about. This BBC TV series shows the relationship between Prince Arthur and Merlin when they first meet (airing in the US from January '09).

The Arthurian legend pops up everywhere in popular culture. From Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, many parts of the Arthurian legend exist in direct, or indirect forms. More and more will follow, no doubt. Not bad going for a legend that has existed since the early 6th century - around 1550 years ago.

I knew the Arthurian legend was old, but not that old. When I think of the legend, I have to admit, my knowledge is a little woozy. It also has a high Disney influence. I know there's a dragon who lives under the castle (from the castle at Disneyworld to be precise), and then Merlin in my mind always springs up the image of Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (from Fantasia), with The Sword in the Stone explaining Excalibur. My knowledge is a little fragmented and skewered, I must admit, especially to say Arthur is such a legend. So, how did the legend come about?

Well, the legend is huge - it spans 16 centuries after all. To look into everything would take a lifetime, but here are some snippets I thought worth mentioning:

* The Arthurian legend perhaps begins with Arthur's father - Uther Pendragon. Uther helped Merlin fetch over the stones that compromise Stonehenge (with 15,000 knights), and he is supposingly buried under there.

* Merlin is actually older than Arthur (minus points to the BBC), and his magic actually brought about Arthur's birth by allowing Uther to sneak into Camelot became the city of Arthur's realm, where his court and Round Table were. Depending on sources, there were between 12-150 knights - Lancelot, Gaiwan, Percival, Galahad and Bedivere are perhaps the most famous. The Knights had a vision of the Holy Grail, and went on a Quest for it.

* Guinevere was Arthur's Queen Consort. She was believed to have had an affair with Lancelot.

*Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, proving him to have the rightful sovereignty of Britain. She is credited for enchanting Merlin, reviving Lancelot (they were lovers), and for taking Arthur to Avalon.

* Because Arthur was taken to Avalon, it is believed he never really died. Therefore, one day, he will have a messianic return to save his people.

Speaking of which, Arthur's return is a possible book/screen idea if I ever saw one (and let's face it, his return probably already exists in the cultural world). It's safe to say however, Arthur is firmly established in British mythology. He will no doubt survive for another 1550 years.

What's your favourite bit of the legend? How did you learn about the Legend? Do you think King Arthur really existed?

Would you like to earn £5 a SECOND?

According to Forbes, Harry Potter author JK Rowling makes £5 a SECOND. This is a phenomenal amount of money - about £150 million a year. Can you imagine earning that much? It would be lovely to be a successful writer, but I can't ever comprehend making that sort of money (I say that now... ask me my view if I ever make that sort of money ;p).

James Patterson placed second, and Stephen King third. I'd be happy enough with just having my books published...

Are you above average?

I've just read this article here, and I'm shocked - not that nearly 800 titles are to be published on Thursday to gear up for the Christmas rush (that comes as no surprise) - but to this little fact near the end of the article:

People who buy books only buy an average of seven books a year, and a lot of those are for Christmas.

An average of seven books a year?! A YEAR!? Now I don't know how true this stat actually is, but my last book order from Amazon was eleven books, and I've just ordered another seventeen today. I can safely say I'm above average when it comes to book-buying.

Are you above average? How many books do you buy a year?

Why the lure of the vampire?

The Vampire genre is popular, especially in the past few decades - from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (well, her Vampire Chronicles), to a blast from my teenage past - the film, and its TV spin-off of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (which then spawned the Angel spin-off) .

Last week I read Twilight (prompting me to re-read Dracula - the book defined as bringing the lure of the Vampire into modernity), and Kate recommended I check out new TV series, True Blood. This recent influx of Vampires into my life got me thinking. Where did the Vampire myth spring from?

Of course, I know the association of Bram Stoker's Dracula fuelling the myth, but where did Bram get his inspiration from? Polidori's: The Vampyre (interestingly this was the result of the boredom task Lord Byron set at Lake Geneva, which also resulted in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) is the progenitor spawning the Vampire genre, although Stoker is the one who the credit is usually attributed to. The term was popularised in the 18th Century, with the first appearance of the the word Vampire been in 1734.

Before the Industrial Revolution, knowledge of body decomposition meant it wasn't realised bodies could decay at different rates, hence it was believed bodies that weren't decomposing as fast as was believed to be "normal" were actually Vampires - illustrated by the Arnold Paole case.

Mass hysteria in Eastern Europe in the 18th Century led to Vampire hunts, which only ended when laws were passed prohibiting opening graves and desecrating bodies. The Vampire went on living instead in the world of pupular culture, but why?

For me, I think the exotic glamour of ever-lasting life (ignoring the blood-sucking, evil, death connotations) is what makes the Vampire so appealing. The use of the Vampire brings about human issues of life and death - the natural and the supernatural - the Vampire serves as a juxtaposition to remind us of our mortality. It highlights the forbidden to us, serving as a reminder every human being will face within their life - we live, then we die.

The Vampire shows us it is wrong to long for ever-lasting life. We are usually told they have no soul, that they are as cold as ice. This makes them incomplete, without life. It is interesting to note the cold Vampire dies in the sunlight; the sun is what allows us humans to inhabit the Earth and to live.

I think the Vampire rose to prominence when it did, because at that time people were beginning to unlock the "secrets" of life through technological and societal advancements. The Vampire was put in place in popular culture to reassure us in some way - to keep the hope of the unknown and everlasting out there by highlighting the forbidden ever-lasting life.

This is the lure of the Vampire - whilst ever we face this struggle between life and death, the Vampire will flourish because it goes against all scientific explanation.

For a creature depicted as being damned to the night, the Vampire remains as a light bringing us hope... in the form of excellent cultural entertainment! Any more books/films/tellybox shows I should check out? What lures you to the myth of the Vampire?


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