The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt

Fascinating
Fascinating

Published by Icon Books, 5th November 2015, 320 pages, £16.00

Quick Description: non-fiction, biography of a self-made woman, a Parisian Courtesan who rose to fame in the 19th century.

Steam?: tantalizing hints

Plot: Valtesse de la Bigne was a celebrated nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan. She was painted by Manet and inspired Emile Zola, who immortalised her in his scandalous novel Nana. Her rumoured affairs with Napoleon III and the future Edward VII kept gossip columns full. But her glamourous existence hid a dark secret: she was no Comtesse. She was born into abject poverty, raised on a squalid Paris backstreet; the lowest of the low. Yet she transformed herself into an enchantress who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages, and art the envy of connoisseurs across Europe. A consummate show-woman, she ensured that her life – and even her death – remained shrouded in just enough mystery to keep her audience hungry for more.

Now I have never heard of Valtesse de la Bigne, so when I heard about this publication, I was on board from day one. The jacket cover is just so scandalous, its hard not to be really. It has the ring of tabloid, which is befitting to the subject. Valtesse remains to shock and intrigue to this day… But firstly, the research is thorough, and the author has a very straight-forward writing style. Hewitt takes us through from rags to riches, birth to death, whilst reminding us of key historical events.

I feel educated and appropriately introduced to the life of courtesans during 19th century Paris. Hewitt has opened my eyes to the excess of prostitution in the capital and the different levels of the trade a young women would need to ascend before attaining a respectable title. I found this phenomenon, which could be deemed as a career ladder or rite of passage for unprivileged women, absolutely fascinating and am thirsty for more.

But most importantly, these descriptions expose the strength of Valtesse’s character. It feels good to read about women with astounding bravery- cue Freddie Mercury’s The Show Must Go On… I don’t want to give too much away, but a young girl who shuns her entire upbringing to scale the city’s restrictive social circles – and succeeds tremendously- I mean, when’s the movie coming out? Not only does she have to sell her body, but she had to cultivate a whole new persona which encompasses charm, wit, intelligence and charisma.

Its all about character, and Hewitt guides us carefully through all the different people Valtesse has mingled with;  celebrated writers, artists and politicians. I can assure you there will be many recognizable names and events the courtesan is linked to, some very sensational affairs. It feels as if the book is one big networking party as she moves from one notable name to the other. I would have liked more descriptions about the sight and sound of Paris at the time to really cement the feeling of being there with Valtesse.

Hewitt writes about the courtesan with great certainty and admiration, as if she were a close acquaintance. She uncovers intimate details, like sexuality and its fluidity- not only of Valtesse but her peers, with confidence. But the juiciness of these topics only begins to unfold. I feel like we have just begun scratching the surface of Valtesse’s complex character. As Hewitt concludes, the courtesan likes to keep her audience guessing.

Great read. Many thanks to Stevie Finnegan at @IconBooks for my review copy!

xxx

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Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake

Not the best cover I must admit
Not the best cover 
alternative cover pic
alternative cover pic

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 3rd Nov 2015, 352 pages, £5.18

Quick description: mysterious regency romance

Steam?: a lot

Plot: Bella Jones feels like a fish out of water in civilized England. Raised abroad by her explorer father, she’s amused by the very proper manners of the nobility. Nevertheless, to save her younger siblings from ruin, she must infiltrate a ducal household in order to find the map to an ancient treasure trove. Alas, the haughty, handsome duke stands in her way…unless she can tame his beastly temper, that is.
Miles Grayson, the Duke of Aylwin, prefers antiquities to, well, everything else. Especially prying females with their irksome questions. But Bella’s blue eyes and beguiling smile are improbably charming, and the temptation of her kiss is impossible to resist. As the pair is swept into a mystery that reaches back to their childhoods, Miles realizes that Bella has made the rarest discovery of all-the key to his heart…

This is my first time reading Olivia Drake and I must say its a very nice find. Its a good old regency romance with plenty of mystery thrown in. Lately, I have been veering into YA and General territories, so this book has grounded me back to solid romance and why I started this blog in the first place.

I must admit, the cover does not really do the plot much justice. And its these slightly cringey bodice-ripper covers that put women off reading romances- or admit to reading them. Do we need to be blatantly alerted that there’s sex in it? And who’s going to read the paperback on the tube? Although this feeling of embarrassment taps into a deeper problem related to female sexuality and literature, which is a whole other issue.

Anyway, this book is part of a series (Cinderella Sisterhood), but you do not need to have read the previous books to enjoy it. The plot description pretty much sells it all-a missing treasure map, ancient Egyptian mysteries and an undeniably handsome duke prowling around-  what more do you really need for a light read that helps you escape the drudgery of everyday life? How about if I say Bella is a lovely character. She lands in England, completely uncharted territory, having been used to living in Persia, and does not have a clue about social decorum. But she is brave, smart and knows how to survive. She is pretty much left with nothing and needs to support her younger siblings.

She enters the cold and dark Aylwin estate with her head held high and confronts the Duke to give her a job and would not take no for an answer. The fact that the place may hold the key to her father’s secrets was too tantalizing. Miles had been used to being alone with craters of artifacts, scrolls and sketchers. Bella is instantly a curious disturbance to his usual routine. For one thins she has a connection to his own father, and may be able to unlock mysteries that began when they were children. She is also the only other person his age that shares his passion with ancient history.

There’s no joke about it, he really is a beast. His aggressive manner and short temper instantly repulses Bella. And he does veer towards the rape-ish, but I do think the author quickly pulls it back in time before it gets disturbing. The chemistry between them is dynamite, totally swoon worthy. Bella gradually unveils that behind the monster is a sensitive man wrestling with the ghosts of his past. To complicate matters a murderer is on the loose, possibly someone close to them! So plenty to entertain yourself…

@OliviaDrake1

Thanks Amy Goppert at St. Martin’s for my review copy xxx

Interview: Mila Gray (Sarah Alderson) Talks Romance

sarah_alderson_rgb_300

As you all know, I absolutely adore Mila Gray books, cannot get enough of them. Two words: HOT and HEARTBREAKING. Come Back to Me is about Kit, a marine home from leave and Jessa, a girl trying to break free from a father who has PTS. This is One Moment  is a spin-off about her best friend Didi who falls for Walker, a reserved ex-marine who has given up all hope in life. Both books will make you swoon, laugh, and ache at the emotions and revelations that explode.

Mila Gray is the pen-name for Sarah Alderson, who is better known for her YA thrillers, like Conspiracy Girl (which I have also raved about) and the Hunting Lila series. In 2009, she quit her job in London and took off with her husband and daughter on a round the world tour to find a new home. She stopped off at India, Bali and the search continues..

She has kindly agreed to talk all things NA and romance with me!

1. I’ve read in your travel memoir, Can We Live Here, that you were asked to write NA, but what got you interested in accepting this offer? Did you ever want to write NA before?
Well, the amazing editor who signed Hunting Lila and my other YA books at Simon & Schuster moved to Pan Macmillan and she was the one who suggested that I write something for them under another name. I loved working with her and the idea for Come Back To Me came to me very easily so I figured I’d give it a shot. I had never written anything in that genre but it isn’t that much of a leap from my YA stuff, it’s just a little bit more, um… R-rated? 
2. How different is it to writing YA? Was it simply adding in some x-rated scenes or was it quite tricky to make the transition?
It was different in that my YA tends to be action thriller and this was very much a straight up contemporary romance. In a way it was easier as there were no complicated plot lines to figure out or twists and turns. It was much more focussed on the relationships and the characters’ interactions. I really enjoyed that a lot.
3. Let’s get to the good stuff… What is it like writing super steamy scenes and what tips can you give to aspiring writers?
Hahahaha! Brilliant. Oh man… it’s actually quite fun. A bit like sex, it gets easier and less embarrassing once the first time is over. It also helps not to think about anyone reading it – especially your parents. If you think about your parents or your children reading it then you might freeze up, so I just ignore the voice in my head that’s cringing and let loose. I think the key is to never use flowery, euphemistic language and never to veer the other way into using crass language. It’s a fine line. 
I guess my tips would be to read sexy books and see what makes you cringe and what makes you flip the pages faster, then analyse what works and doesn’t work! If you read the book Vagina by Naomi Wolf she talks about the science that proves the link between sex and creativity in women. The more sex you have the more creative you are. So yeah, lots of sex. That helps too. God, I hope my parents don’t read this. 
4. I find your characters so realistic, how do you find inspiration for them?
Thank you! I don’t really know. Often when creating characters it is about thinking up the situation first and then what you do is try to create a character for whom that particular situation is the most painful or difficult or challenging. By creating back story you are then able to think about who they might be on a deeper level. What has made them the way they are. Is your character the daughter of a colonel who has PTSD? That’s Jessa – and I thought long and hard about what that might do to your character if you had to live with a man like that as a father. Likewise, who would you become if you blamed yourself for the death of your best friend? I’m interested in how humans react to extraordinary and ordinary situations.
5. Which NA authors do you like to read?
Is it bad to admit I don’t read books in this genre? I did try early on but I found them all to be so depressingly full of arrogant, narcissistic, bullying, alpha males with anger and control issues so I quickly gave up. I think readers deserve better. Young women shouldn’t be raised on a diet of brooding asshole men. I want to show that it’s possible for a man to be sensitive and strong without being controlling or violent. That nice guys exist and they can be sexy too! Sexier in fact.
6. Anything you can let slip for the next Mila Gray book?
I am toying with a story involving Isaac (Walker’s brother) but I’m really busy with screenwriting at the moment. Hunting Lila is casting and The Sound is in development as a TV series. There are other exciting things in the works too so watch this space! 
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Heart breaking
Heart breaking
Gorgeous- full stop.
Gorgeous- full stop.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Woah..
Woah..

Published by Penguin Books, January 2015, 388 pages, £5.59

Quick Description: A book about love, suicide, mental illness and the coolest guy you will ever meet.

Steam?: yes, but nothing graphic.

Plot: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

I am so happy to have read this book. This is a book that actually made my heart expand. You will see on twitter and instagram, fans saying that this book has changed them in some way. I get what they mean. It really is one of those books that, when you reach the last page, you feel like a completely different person from that first page. I even started reading the first few pages again to remind what my perspective was like then- which was only a few days ago, but felt like an eternity.

Ok- rewind. This book will introduce you to the most unique character ever- Theodore Finch, who I can only describe as a hot weirdo. This is wrong as he hates labels. But anyway, this dude is a hurricane. He is everything, all over the place, extreme, dangerous and fascinating. The author had seriously taken characters to a whole new level. At one point I even thought he was the new Edward Cullen- does anyone know what I mean or just thinks that’s weird??? Ok, I know Twilight is what it is now, but there was a time when it just belonged to us- the girls who read before school started. And Edward broke the mould (as far as my 15 year old self thought), and I think Finch does as well.

Anyway, the connection between him and Violet is pretty electric and I can promise you a lot of swooning. Violet is not as interesting as Finch. But she embodies the every girl. She’s smart, vulnerable and tough. Finch helps her to enjoy life after the death of her sister, and the two of them create their own little world. There are a few cliches: the quoting of literary greats, guitar playing, random and quirky activities in public. But altogether quite charming.

But I have to warn you. There are dark spots in the book. Finch has problems that are perhaps too heavy and late to solve. They start to expand and turn inwards, and it is a bit of a suck-zone towards the end of the book. I don’t want to give much away, but its not really for the faint hearted. Even though it made me sad, I wouldn’t want to be the person who I was before I read this book, before I met Finch. He really is quite special.

Thanks Penguin for my copy xxx