Sunday, 20 September 2015

Book Review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets
By Eva Rice
Published by Headline
Available in paperback and ebook

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the book equivalent of eating sweets. Sometimes you need something sugary and full of innocence.

Set in the 1950s, Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love but life isn't going the way she wants. A chance encounter with Charlotte means Penelope's life will never be the same now she has a new stylish friend in her life.

This is a light-hearted, gentle read, making it the ideal book if you want fancy an afternoon curled on the sofa, snuggled inside a duvet.

Glitzy parties, grubby cafes, gossiping girls and boys with bikes. This book is full of period detail in 1950s London. The first generation of 'teenagers' have arrived - celebrity crushes, falling in love with every boy, dancing to records, and dreaming of living in another country. Penelope must find her way through the minefield of adolescence as well as finding a way to make her mother happy.

Around Penelope and her friends, are obsessed with being wined, dined and dancing to rock 'n' roll but the older generations are still recovering from World War 2. Penelope's mother is still in mourning years after her husband died in the war, and left behind their crumbling mansion with no income to help with the maintenance. Rice explores the push and pull of each generation and the way culture has infiltrated their lives. Obligations to past generations has a hold over Penelope and her family and they must work out if they want to break away, and form their own future.

The publisher, Headline has released a 10th anniversary edition which includes a short story on how Penelope's parents met as well as an introduction from the comedian, Miranda Hart. It would have been nice to have had a front cover overhaul as I'm sure with a jazzier cover this book would also appeal to readers who like the 'young adult' genre.

You can buy The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets from your favourite bookshop.


I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Guest Post: Colette McBeth's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we have Colette McBeth popping over to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A. Earlier
this year I reviewed her novel, The Life I Left Behind and it is a roller-coaster of a book. You can read my review here.

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Hi Colette, thank you for stopping by and taking part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A. Congratulations on the publication of The Life I Left Behind in paperback.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Lady McBeth’s Books by the Sea

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?

Overlooking the sea in a place where it was hot during the day and chilly at night so I could light a log fire.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
The books would choose the reader, a bit like the wands choosing the characters in Harry Potter, so each customer would find their perfect book match every time.

What sections would you have in your bookshop?
One for psychological thrillers obviously and next to each thriller, a lighter, funnier, book to compliment it. I’m a firm believer in lightness and shade!

And what sections would you ditch?

Any celebrity biographies by people younger than twenty five. I know that’s very prescriptive but it’s my bookstore and I feel it’s my duty to save readers from them.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Instead of a display table with cook books, I’d have the chefs make their favourite dishes for my customers to taste because, a) we’d know if the recipes actually worked before we forked out for the books, and b) no one would have to leave to eat lunch.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Roald Dahl would run a children’s event every week and every child who came along would have to invent a new, rude sounding word like snozzcumber. There aren’t enough of these words in circulation.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Life I Left Behind, and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?

If you buy the book I’ll let you have a slice of my cake (see below)

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Lemon meringue pie. It makes the world taste better.

You can buy The Life I Left Behind from your favourite bookshop.




Former BBC correspondent Colette McBeth is the author of Precious Thing, and this year’s The Life I Left Behind, as well as a member of Killer Women.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Reading in August

Books read in August
August saw me actually read an ebook - something which I haven't done in a while but I saw several quotes of the book on Twitter, and I wanted to read it straight away. I also read three 'normal' books too. This month all four books were written by women, and about women trying to find a place in society and breaking away from society's expectations.

Lillian on Life was my book of the month. A woman in her late fifties looks back at her life, and the way it hasn't turned out the way she thought it would when she was younger. You can read my review here. Alison also took part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

I saw Emma Jane Unsworth read one of her short stories at a reading recently (Faber Social - you should go - trust me!), and that same night I popped into a bookshop and picked up Animals. I loved the energy and voice of this book. It's Girls crossed with Withnail and I.

Live Alone and Like It was my token ebook, and is a reissue from the 30s - this is full of sassy advice for women in the 1930s on being independent in the world, and some of that advice can still be applied in 2015.

Maybe the start of my art collection...
The Secret Art of Keeping Secrets is one of those books that I meant to read but haven't got around to it - I think its because the front cover doesn't appeal to me. I do remember stacking it high when I used to be a bookseller. Eva Rice's novel has been published for over ten years and has been reissued to celebrate! This is about growing up in 1950s London - the world is changing and the teenagers are stuck between the old and new. I will be reviewing this soon.

If you're in North London then you must go and see the House of Illustration's exhibit on Ladybird books. I went at the end of August with a friend, and it wasn't until we saw some of the front covers that we started to remember them from childhood. I picked up this great print, which I'm looking forward to hanging on my wall!


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Ayisha Malik's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we have a new Imaginary Bookshop participant. Ayisha Malik has kindly agreed to take part in the Q&A. Today is also the publication of her debut novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is the first title in a brand new imprint from Bonnier, called Twenty7, which only publishes work by debut novelist, first in ebook and later in paperback

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Hi Ayisha, congratulations on the publication of your novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged! Thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The Lazy Gal’s Library. (So lazy, she can’t even be bothered to spell ‘girl’ correctly.)

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
In some kind of nook in London, where you have to go through narrow side-streets and walk down a flight of stairs before you enter this grand, be-cushioned place.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
In true essence of the bookshop, perhaps a place to nap: some comfy sofas that double-up as beds with a nice warm fleece. Oh, and a fireplace.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It’d be open twenty-four hours a day for those night owls. Seeing as there will be a napping area, they can read and then switch off their bedside lamp for a snooze before they start their reading day all over again.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I’m not sure which I’d ditch (maybe self-help) but I’d have a special section for, unsurprisingly, epistolary and diary form novels. A lot of people don’t like these forms, but I think they can be the most exciting type of narration. There’s a raw honesty in letters and diaries that perhaps you can’t quite attain in a normal narrative structure. If done well it’s the spilling of emotion, carefully balanced with the unravelling of events through the eyes of the narrator that’s deeply personal and engaging.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
All my favourites, of course. But if we’re being specific then a table full of clever satires and comedies: the type that make you laugh out loud and maybe even cry.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Only being able to choose one is a bit harsh. I’m going through a Nora Ephron stage though so it’d have to be her. I’d want her to divulge to writers how to make a reader laugh, while making strong and poignant social, as well as deeply human, observations. Then I’d make her stay and churn out hundreds of more books so that we’d never run out of Nora Ephron.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I don’t think I’m a very good self-publicist so I’d probably direct them towards another book I love and give them my book for free. This way they can’t come back and trash me for it if they don’t like it! And if they do like it then I’ll always be that lovely author who gave her book away.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Nutella cake. Obviously.

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Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature at Kingston University and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between being managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and writing. Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is Ayisha’s debut novel.


Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik is published by Twenty7 in ebook on 3rd September (£4.99) and paperback in January (£7.99)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Book Review: Lillian on Life

By Alison Jean Lester
Published by John Murray
Available in paperback and ebook

Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester’s debut novel is fantastic and you should read it.

If you mixed together Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Mad Men then you would end up with Lillian – witty, sharp and willing to bare herself to the world . Life has not turned out as she has expected or more importantly what society expects – no marriage, no children but Lillian, 57, has had a career spanning from New York, London, Paris and Munich plus she is never short of boyfriends.

Lillian takes a breather from the married man in her bed, and her demanding cat, to reflect back on her life. The short chapters, are split into rich and vibrant topics as she examines the life she has had. These chapters, are almost like essays and could stand alone if you wanted to dip in and out of the novel at random. I told myself that I would read one more chapter but Lillian on Life is too addictive. Lillian casts herself away from the conservative constraints of her upbringing and in to a world full of changes – from driving sports cars around France, to dinner parties in Munich.

Her glamorous life, in post-war America and Europe shows how women have gained more choices in their lives, but are still struggling to break away from society’s expectations. Lester has created an unforgettable character who is full of elegant and edgy quips, fierce, independent, strong-willed and an inspiration. I adored this book, and I really think everybody should read it.

There is one downfall – this is the author’s debut novel – I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long for another book.

You can buy Lillian on Life from your favourite bookshop.

You can read Alison's response to the Imaginary Bookshop here.

I was sent a copy via bookbridgr.