PBN

Swiftly becoming a highlight in my yearly calendar, last week I attended the 4th annual Penguin Bloggers Night. Held as usual on the lofty top floor of Foyles Bookstore in Charing Cross, the evening serves as a showcase of the publisher’s key books for that year with a programme of notable authors reading excerpts from them.

Aside from tables piled with delectable books and Penguin totes to greedily fill, the night is a great chance to talk to favourite authors and for me to discover books that are out of my comfort zone – i.e not historical fiction or sinister gothic tales.

I also love the pianist who has become a staple at the events who intros each reading with a catchy theme tune – my favourite was the intro for Elizabeth Fremantle’s new historical book ‘Sisters of Treason’ she walked on to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ – naturally. Sheer brilliance.

Here are some of the books and readings from the night that caught my eye and ears.

ElizabethIsMissing

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healy

A mesmerising reading and no doubt multi-layered debut novel by young and talented author Emma Healy - Maud, an ageing grandmother, is slowly losing her memory-and her grip on everyday life.

Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger. But no one will listen to Maud-not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend. Publication Date, June 2014

NinaStibbs

Man At The Helm by Nina Stibbe

This reading had everyone in stitches… nostalgic and funny, Man At The Helm follows a divorced mother and her children, including nine-year-old Lizzie, in the 1970s as they move to a village in the English countryside. All alone and shunned by the villagers, Lizzie’s mother becomes a drunk and a playwright. Worried about becoming wards of court, Lizzie and her sister decide to write letters to the suitable men in the area in order to find a man at the helm for their mother.

After reading up more about this author, none of whose books I had heard of before – I stumbled onto her much acclaimed biographical book published earlier this year Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life which sounded equally hilarious. Then I realised I hardly ever, in fact ever, read funny books. I have resolved to begin. Publication Date, August 2014

Everland

Everland, Rebecca Hunt

Two groups, almost a hundred years apart, find themselves on the same desolate Antarctic island in this tense and compelling novel.

1913: Dinners, Millet-Bass, and Napps – three men bound not by friendship, but by an intense dependence founded on survival – will be immortalised by their decision to volunteer to scout out a series of uncharted and unknown islands in the Antarctic, a big, indifferent kingdom.

2013: Brix, Jess, and Decker – three researchers with their own reasons for being far from home – set out on a field trip to the same ancient lumps of rock and snow, home to nothing but colonies of penguins and seals.

Under the harsh ultraviolet light, as all colours bleach out, and the world of simple everyday pleasures recedes, they unknowingly begin to mirror the expedition of 100 years ago. Publication Date, March 2014

SistersofTreason

Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle

A delicious Tudor drama [with an amazing theme tune] Sister’s of Treason is a gripping tale about  two sisters who tread as dangerously close to the crown as their tragic sister, Lady Jane Grey, executed after just nine days on the throne.

When Lady Jane Grey is executed by her cousin Mary Tudor, it is court painter Levina Teerlinc who  helps Jane’s young sisters, Mary and Catherine,  survive the Queen’s reign. But when the hot-headed  Elizabeth inherits the crown, court life becomes  increasingly treacherous for the Grey girls . . . Publication Date, May 2014

A few other books on the table published last year or earlier this year which caught my eye…

penguinbooks

Em and the Big Hoom, Jerry Pinto. In a tiny flat in Bombay Imelda Mendes – Em to her children – holds her family in thrall with her flamboyance, her manic affection and her cruel candour. Her husband – ‘The Big Hoom’ – and her two children must bear her ‘microweathers’, her swings from laugh-out-loud joy to dark malevolence, and her frequent wish to die.

The Violet Hour, Katherine Hill . A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, The Violet Hour follows a 21st century American family through past and present, from a lavish New York wedding to the family funeral home in suburban Washington, from a drunken PTA party to a scene of unexpected public violence.

The Strangler Vine, M.J. Carter Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure.

Elle-Deco-Oct

A shameless plug this morning …

This month a dream feature idea of mine was realised in my favourite design magazine of all time – Elle Decoration’s October issue. ‘Let Me Entertain You’ [Pg 161] is a beautifully art directed [by Elle Decoration] and written by myself feature on the Modern Day Martha Stewarts of today – some of my favourite design and lifestyle bloggers of today.

Part of being a blogger is the extreme compulsion to share. You are so excited and passionate about sharing your discoveries with others because you are convinced they are hugely important – and that they will make everyone who reads about them’s lives a little bit better. I have followed and watched these bloggers grow over the years and grown with them –  from Linda Lomelino who conjures up the most magical and digitally immersive cakes and pastries on her blog, to Heather Taylor of LA in Bloom who revives me each morning with her soulful and inspiring blog about life in Los Angeles. Traditionally bloggers haven’t always had a lot of love from the publishing industry so I am overjoyed that I was able to interview them about their careers as bloggers and introduce them to the readers of a publishing institution like Elle Decoration.

Pick up a copy of Elle Decoration October Issue today to find out more about how my favourite bloggers balance work and blog life.

I’ve been late on my Summer Reading list this year so I thought I would compile a transitional list of delicious reads that will take us from summer into autumn. Here are a selection of magical, ghostly, nostalgic and historical novels that have tumbled through my door over the last few months.

The Curiosity, Stephen Kiernan

TheCuriosity

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. Remarkably, the frozen man is brought back to the lab and successfully reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was—is—a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906.

Witches, A Tale of Sorcery Scandal and Seduction, Tracy Borman

Witches

September 1613. The heir of one of England’s great noble families falls ill. Convulsing fits, a foaming mouth. Within a month he will suffer an excruciating death. Soon the whole family will fall ill.

On March 11, 1619, in the city of Lincoln two sisters, Margaret and Phillipa Flower, were hanged for witchcraft. Tracy ­Borman’s new book investigates their tragedy and traces the dramatic events which unfolded at one of England’s oldest and most spectacular castles four hundred years ago.

The case is among those which constitute the European witch craze of the 15th-18th centuries, when suspected witches were burned, hanged, or tortured by the thousand. Like those other cases, it is a tale of superstition, the darkest limits of the human imagination and, ultimately, injustice – a reminder of how paranoia and hysteria can create an environment in which nonconformism spells death. But as Tracy Borman reveals here, it is not quite typical. The most powerful and Machiavellian figure of the Jacobean court had a vested interest in events at Belvoir. He would mastermind a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries.

Here Be Dragons, Stella Gibbons

HereBeDragons

When Nell Sely moves from sleepy Dorset to Hampstead she leaves behind a childhood of dull teas and oppressive rules for the freedom of the big city. Naive and only nineteen, she becomes embroiled with the wayward John Gaunt and falls in with London’s bohemian crowd. In this city of seductive, shifting morals, smoke-filled jazz-clubs and glamorous espresso bars, Nell must master her new found independence and learn to strike her own course.

Continue Reading…

Herbs

I would like to begin this post by saying I HAVE NEVER PLANTED A THING.  I once owned some succulents during the peak of the succulent trend, but they were re-homed after a year when we moved for the umpteenth time in our renting lives. Also I have never lived anywhere with a garden.

This post relates to two things – my own personal travails as a Balcony Gardener and an amazing book  by Isabelle Palmer of the same name that has changed my life.

When we bought this flat with balconies in the front and back, we only ever planned to neaten them up a little so we could enjoy sitting out there in rare good weather. When winter turned to spring earlier this year we were excited to get out there and transform the concrete balconies into warm extensions of our home using Ikea’s genius PLATTA decking system.

Platta2

Once I started being able to walk out into the back balcony which was connected to the kitchen I began to think how nice it would be to have some sort of a kitchen garden out there. ‘Too small” I thought, and  “I’ll never be able to grow anything” and “How can I grow anything in this temperamental weather” and ” I don’t think this balcony gets enough light anyway” and many more excuses…

Then after a serendipitous meeting at the launch of One Leicester Street, I spent an enlightening afternoon with florist/landscaper Miria Harris in her abundant English garden in Homerton. She walked me through her and her chef husband Tom Harris’ kitchen garden in the city. She offered me heavenly herbs to rub between my fingers – fronds that smelled like onions and leaves scented like lemons. She showed me an abundant trail of climbing roses that she was training to eventually hang charmingly over her kitchen door. An outside table was scattered with pots of experiments.

MiriaGarden

At first I thought “Oh she’s a professional gardener, of course her garden is going to be this wonderful” but Miria explained the trials and rewards of gardening in a way that no manual I had ever read really could. She opened my eyes up to looking at ‘failure’ differently - that sometimes things worked and other times they simply didn’t – for example one year her beautiful roses didn’t flower at all and this year they are abundant… she explained as a gardener you just grow to be intuitive to what you are cultivating. It’s the first time I truly understood the meaning of ‘nurturing’ in this context. She showed me that there was magic in the surprises and possibilities of a garden and she me think that I could do it too!

Roses

Inspired, I ran home, straight to the garden centre and dived in headfirst. A visual being more than a practical, I accosted the garden centre assistant as to the things I needed to install a climbing rose. I wanted one like Miria’s. I bought a tall trellis for my back balcony, a pot and an inexpensive rose plant [for my first try]. I planted it and it stayed alive! I couldn’t believe it – a climbing rose is the cherry on every home-owner’s cake is it not?!

Rose1

“So, that wasn’t too traumatic” I thought. “But I definitely won’t be able to grow anything edible.”

That’s when I received ”The Balcony Gardener, Creative Ideas for Small Spaces” by Isabelle Palmer the founder of online store  The Balcony Gardener. The first thing that struck me in the introduction to the book [and further research] was that the author Isabelle has balconies too!  I loved that this book wasn’t written by a cultivated gardner with acres of land, but someone who once was a novice like me. The idea for The Balcony Gardener came about due to her own experiences living in the heart of the city and coming across the difficulties of gardening in small spaces.

BalconyGardener
Continue Reading…

Tags:

The-Yonahlossee-Riding-Camp-for-Girls

I’m not sure whether it’s the norm to write reviews when you haven’t yet finished the book, but often I find myself most attuned to its rhythms when I am not quite done. Besides, this novel is one of those that you put off ending because you just can’t bear to leave its world. So I write this review before I deliciously turn the pages on the last chapter.

A debut novel from Anton DiSclafani, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is set in 1930 during the Great Depression of America. The root of the multi-layered novel is about a heartbreaking family scandal, set in a very specific time in American history and nestled in a very unusual environment – a prestigious riding camp for girls high in the awe-striking Blue Ridge Mountains in the Southern States of America.

Thea Atwell is an alluring young girl from a wealthy Florida family who made their money in citrus farming, sent away to Yonahlossee because of her part in a family scandal. Thea takes her place in the beautiful school populated with Southern Debutantes, day-long horse riding, dinner bells and handsome headmasters – where there is a new order to her life. Yonahlossee on the surface seems like paradise to the reader, but there is an unsettling dichotomy of uncertainty and guilt that bubbles under Thea’s surface from her past.

The privileged girls live in a bubble of sorts, distanced from what is going on in the outside world, with maids to clear up after them and balls to attend, but fractures and cracks begin to seep in as once wealthy families begin to lose everything.

The writing ambles provocatively between Thea’s home in Florida and school, the narrative powerfully unfurling the true story behind her expulsion from her family. And there is a dangerous languidness to Thea’s awareness of the scandal, revealed to us in tandem as she grows and grapples with her responsibility for the events that led her here.

There could almost be something Malory Towers- esque and wholesome about the book albeit for the very specific and real writing style  - it is one of the most vivid and surprising novels I have read and despite its chick-lit title, is far from it.

Wholly immersive, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a transporting page-turner and proves that simple ideas are the best.

Published by Headline, It is available to buy on the 6th of June.

 

{ Search }

{ Recent Articles }

5 Spring Update Essentials

Penguin Blogger's Night 2014

{ Currently Reading }

Em and The Big Hoom, Jerry Pinto

{ Sponsors }

{ As Seen In }

{ Follow me on Instagram... }