31 March 2016

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - Cover Reveal and Prologue

Exciting book news!  The book jacket and prologue for Laini Taylor's newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, were revealed today.  When the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton asked me if I would like to take part in the reveal, I said yes please!  I was so happy to be asked to as I'm a big fan of Laini's work since reading the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series a couple of years ago - she has such a wonderful way with words.

I'm really excited to be able to show you both the UK and US book covers:

Aren't they pretty?  The UK cover is the blue one on the left, with the US cover on the right.  I might be biased but I prefer the UK cover this time, however the US jacket is beautiful too.  I can't wait to have a copy on my shelves!

Hodder & Stoughton have also very kindly given me a copy of the book's prologue to share.  It's made me even more excited to read it!

On the second sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. 
Her skin was blue, her blood was red. 
She broke over an iron gate, crimping it on impact, and there she hung, impossibly arched, graceful as a temple dancer swooning on a lover’s arm. One slick finial anchored her in place. Its point, protruding from her sternum, glittered like a brooch. She fluttered briefly as her ghost shook loose, and then her hands relaxed, shedding fistfuls of freshly picked torch ginger buds. 
Later, they would say these had been hummingbird hearts and not blossoms at all. 
They would say she hadn’t shed blood but wept it. That she was lewd, tonguing her teeth at them, upside down and dying, that she vomited a serpent that turned to smoke when it hit the ground. They would say a flock of moths had come, frantic, and tried to lift her away. 
That was true. Only that. 
They hadn’t a prayer, though. The moths were no bigger than the startled mouths of children, and even dozens together could only pluck at the strands of her darkening hair until their wings sagged, sodden with her blood. They were purled away with the blossoms as a grit-choked gust came blasting down the street. The earth heaved underfoot. The sky spun on its axis. A queer brilliance lanced through billowing smoke, and the people of Weep had to squint against it. Blowing grit and hot light and the stink of saltpeter. There had been an explosion. They might have died, all and easily, but only this girl had, shaken from some pocket of the sky. 
Her feet were bare, her mouth stained damson. Her pockets were all full of plums. She was young and lovely and surprised and dead. 
She was also blue. 
Blue as opals, pale blue. Blue as cornflowers, or dragonfly wings, or a spring—not summer—sky. 
Someone screamed. The scream drew others. The others screamed, too, not because a girl was dead, but because the girl was blue, and this meant something in the city of Weep. Even after the sky stopped reeling, and the earth settled, and the last fume spluttered from the blast site and dispersed, the screams went on, feeding themselves from voice to voice, a virus of the air. 
The blue girl’s ghost gathered itself and perched, bereft, upon the spearpoint-tip of the projecting finial, just an inch above her own still chest. Gasping in shock, she tilted back her invisible head and gazed, mournfully, up. 
The screams went on and on. 
And across the city, atop a monolithic wedge of seamless, mirror-smooth metal, a statue stirred, as though awakened by the tumult, and slowly lifted its great horned head.

Strange the Dreamer will be published in September 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton.  Join in the excitement on Twitter with the hashtag #StrangetheDreamer and visit Laini at www.lainitaylor.com

Big thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for getting in touch!

28 March 2016

The Ballroom

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom, vast and beautiful.  For one bright evening every week, they come together and dance.  When John and Ella meet, it is a dance that will change two lives for ever.  Set over the heatwave summer of 1911 at the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Ballroom is a beautifully written novel following the lives of a small cast of characters during their days at an asylum on the Yorkshire Moors, where male and female patients are segregated other than once a week, when they are allowed to come together to dance. 

The story is centered around three main characters and is told in turn from their own perspectives: John Mulligan, a long-term patient; Ella Fay, a factory worker who finds herself admitted after a heat-induced outbutst at work; and Dr Fuller, a member of asylum staff.  All the characters are very compelling and have great depth to them.  John and Ella's love story was one of the most touching I have ever read and completely absorbing.  Anna Hope beautifully captured the desperation of their situation and their longing to be together.  Through their respective chapters we also learn a lot about asylum life, the tasks patients would be expected to do, their treatments, and other experiences they might have whilst living there.  Dr Fuller's chapters provide the historical backdrop as we are given an insight into attitudes towards mental health in the Edwardian era, and the eugenics movement.  As the novel progresses, Dr Fuller becomes a very different character to the one we are introduced to at the start, as we witness a change in his attitudes towards the feeble minded and what he believes is the best course of action.  The historical elements of the novel were really interesting and very well detailed.

Anna Hope's writing flows beautifully, and The Ballroom is a haunting, atmospheric book.  Both the asylum and the weather - as the novel is set during a heatwave summer - are so vividly described that they are almost like characters in themselves and the whole time I was reading I was easily able to imagine being there, experiencing asylum life along with the characters.

I was fascinated to learn that the novel was based on the true story of the author's grandfather and his time at the very real High Royd's Hospital in Yorkshire.  This was particularly interesting to me as the asylum is not very far from where I live, and I've often heard people mention it!  The first time in a long time that I've felt compelled to read even more about the subject of a novel, I was really interested to learn that the hospital, formerly West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, really did have a ballroom and dances really were held for the patients as described.  Anna Hope has taken this reality and expanded on it to create an unforgettable story.

Too long, didn't read?  Here's my Goodreads review:

The BallroomThe Ballroom by Anna Hope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful love story set against a fascinating historical backdrop, in a very vivid and atmospheric setting. Completely absorbing.

View all my reviews

22 March 2016

Things to remember

• For every terrorist there are countless good, compassionate souls, and those people are the majority.
• It doesn't make you any less concerned or sympathetic if you choose not to watch rolling news, or read every detail as it unfolds, particularly if events like this are triggering for you.  Take care of yourself.
• Look for the people who are helping.  There will be lots of them.
• It's normal to feel afraid, but remember that there are people working around the clock, every day, to keep you safe.  For the most part, they are successful.
Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. - Albus Dumbledore
Thinking of you, Brussels.

20 March 2016

5 Happy Things

 • The Bootleg Beatles put a huge smile on my face on Tuesday night this week.  A great evening dancing and singing along on a whistlestop tour of the many incarnations of The Beatles.  I particularly enjoyed how every time they left the stage for a break, they came back with more and more facial hair!

 • Enjoying the first day of Spring with a walk around the local park with my Grandma.  I'm so happy to see how well she's looking since moving into her nursing home, even if she does insist that she's only staying 'until Christmas is out of the way,' and she's still making us all giggle!  Also, meeting Crumble the cocker spaniel who belongs to one of the nurses and sometimes comes into the home for a visit.  She's adorable!  I'll have to try get a sneaky picture next time.

 • Pretty flowers purchased from the market adding colour to our living room.  They were much cheaper and have lasted so much longer than any we've had from a supermarket which just goes to show the benefits of supporting local business, and buying from a trained florist.

 • Team treasure hunts in the office on a Friday afternoon - and being on the winning team!  Our new manager seems very big on Friday afternoon fun and it's pretty cool.

 • A thoughtful message from one of my oldest and closest friends which made me very emotional, but also was a timely reminder of how lovely and supportive she is.  Love you Em!

13 March 2016

I'd like to read...

I'm kicking off a new blog series today - introducing The List, a monthly (or at least that's the plan) installment in which I'm going to show you some the books that have caught my attention and were added to my never-ending list of things I'd like to read over the last month.

In February...

The Ballroom by Anna Hope
1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautful.  For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.  When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever.  Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.
I'm really interested to read this one because it sounds like it combines all my favourite ingredients for a book: history, psychology, a moral question, a love story, and to top it all of, it's set in Yorkshire (also known as the best place in the world - I'm biased but it's true).  I'm intrigued to see what I can learn from this about attitudes to mental health in the Edwardian era and I actually currently have this on loan from my local library, so it will be getting read very soon!

Pax by Sara Pennypacker
The story of Pax, a young fox, and his 'boy' Peter who are separated when Peter has to move away at the start of the war. Switching between their two viewpoints, Sara Pennypacker's book tells the story of their independent journeys to find one another again. 
This sounds reminiscent of Homeward Bound and I'm a big fan of stories involving animals as part of the main cast of characters.  I love foxes, and it sounds like a heartwarming story!

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
Noah wants to go home.  It sounds like a simple request from a 4 year old, but Noah also has an irrational fear of water, is plagued by nightmares, and makes frequent requests of his mother, Janie, to go see his 'real mother.'  Under pressure from Noah's school, Janie seeks help and they meet Jerome Anderson, an academic studying children who appear to recall detail of previous lives.  Their quest to help Noah leads them to the door of a woman whose own son disappeared seven years ago.
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?  I'm really interested to see the direction this book takes with the theme of past lives and memory.  It sounds very similar in style to Jodi Picoult with alternating chapters told from different viewpoints.  Very excited to read this one!

Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery
Caitlin is the only young person living on Middle Island.  On the first day of vacation, she finds a tiny alien on the beach.  Caitlin becomes close to her secret friend, whom she names Perijee, teaching him everything about her world and treating him like a brother.  There's only one problem:  Perijee won't stop growing.  And growing... Caitlin will have to convince the adults around her - and Perijee himself - that the creature they see as terrifying monster is anything but.

I'm really loving children's fiction at the moment and Perijee & Me sounds like a really cute story, with absolutely gorgeous artwork:

Life After Life // A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life has been on my list for a long time, but I have to admit that I'd kind of forgotten about it.  It wasn't until someone mentioned A God In Ruins during one of February's book blogger chats on Twitter that I even knew it had a sequel, but after reading a little more about both books, I've bumped Life After Life back up this list and added its sequel too.

Has anything new jumped out at you this month?  Make sure to come back next month for the next installment!

11 March 2016

Let me photograph you in this light

... in case this is the last time that we might be exactly like we were.

On Tuesday night this week we got the train to Manchester to see Adele in concert.  There she is, look, above.  We had a pretty good view, albeit very high up so she looked very tiny to us!  But in all honesty, the fact that we couldn't see her very well didn't matter at all once she started singing.  That voice!  It goes without saying that she can sing but she sounds even more amazing live.  She's well known for her personality too and this shone through - even though we were in a sold out arena she made it feel a lot more intimate, like she was just having a chat with us all and very down to earth, and was so great with the audience - stopping for selfies on her way between stages (she had a smaller stage set up near the back of the arena) and even letting a couple of people up on stage with her for photos and inviting a 12 year old girl on stage to duet Someone Like You with her - that was really special.

Her setlist was really good, she did all the big popular ones along with some other favourites of mine and yes, I did have a little cry.  I always say that I feel the same about Adele as Emma Thompson's character in Love Actually feels about Joni Mitchell - she taught me how to feel.  Quite a few of her songs really get me but actually the one that makes me cry the most is Million Years Ago.  It's kind of a strange feeling to hear your own thoughts summarised so well by another person and the first time I listened to that song, I was sobbing by the end of the first chorus.  It was like she'd scooped thoughts right out of my mind and turned them into lyrics.  So I was really glad she played that one.

The highlight of my year so far!
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