Thursday, 17 August 2017

THE RASPUTIN DAGGER BLOG TOUR | Fabergé Eggs & Researching 'The Rasputin Dagger'

Hey guys, and happy Thursday! Today I am very excited to be on blog tour to celebrate the brand new book from Carnegie medal winner Theresa Breslin, the wonderful historical novel The Rasputin Dagger. 

The Rasputin Dagger follows Nina Ivanovna, a young woman who after her father's death has to leave her family home and make the journey to St Petersburg, to find a long lost relative who will be able to help her escape an unwanted marriage and a life of misery and restriction. But St Petersburg isn't the city it was before, it is a city of poverty, of political rebellion, and of danger. As Nina gets dragged further into Russia's political situation than she ever imagined, she discovers that there is a fine line between doing what you think is right, and doing what is safe. 

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Russia, 1916.

Nina Ivanovna’s world is in turmoil. Her only hope is to travel to St Petersburg, to escape the past and find a future.

Stefan Kolodin is a medical student – young and idealistic, he wants change for Russia and its people.

Amidst the chaos of a city in revolt, their lives collide. And a stormy relationship develops . . . full of passion and politics.

But soon Nina is drawn in to the glamorous, lavish lives of the Russian royal family – where she begins to fall under the spell of their mysterious monk, Grigory Rasputin. The ruby-studded dagger he carries – beautiful and deadly – could save her and Stefan from a cursed life

. . . or condemn them to it.

And today I am delighted to welcome Theresa Breslin to Delightful Book Reviews, where she will be talking about the extensive research she undertook to write The Rasputin Dagger... including Fabergé eggs!

Fabergé is the name of a family of Russian jewellers who became known for the skilfully crafted and expensive eggs they supplied to the Russian royal family. 

The first ‘Imperial Egg’ was made in 1885 for Tsar Alexander III who wanted to give his wife, the Empress Maria, a special gift for their Easter festivities. This one was called the ‘Hen Egg’ because, inside the white enamel shell was a yolk of gold which opened to reveal a golden hen with ruby eyes, which itself contained a miniature gold and diamond crown and a ruby-stone pendant. Not surprisingly, the Empress adored her present. And so, the Tsar began a royal tradition of gifting unique, lavishly decorated and incredibly costly Fabergé eggs for special occasions. 

The shape of an egg as a symbol is interpreted in many ways by many different cultures – including a representation of the arrival of Spring, new life and Hope. Decorating hen’s eggs - ordinary hen’s eggs, that is, NOT golden ones! – was, and still is, a widespread activity done every year at Easter. It was my grandfather who showed me how to pierce the egg carefully at each end and blow gently through one hole to push the contents out the other side. Then there was the fun part of painting the surface with a face or pattern or any abstract splurges of colour. Such happy memories!  

The eggs of the Romanovs, the Imperial Family who once ruled Russia, cost much more than any egg I made or have since owned. Over the years, until the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917, approximately fifty were commissioned by Russian royalty. Made from precious metals and studded with jewels: sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds, they were miniature masterpieces. A few of these have still to be traced, but one egg, accidently discovered recently by a scrap metal dealer, was valued more than 20 million pounds! 

I move about a lot, researching and speaking about my books. On my travels, including those I made for The Rasputin Dagger, I buy local books and examples of traditional craft work from the countries I visit. The eggs I own are of little monetary value but I treasure them. Wooden and alabaster, delicate Oriental with fine brush work, best china and pottery and, of course, hen’s eggs hand-painted in traditional Eastern European style.   

  Photo: Theresa Breslin Books - Egg Collection: ©Scarpa

To this day Fabergé still make beautifully designed eggs. Much as I would like to, sadly, I do not yet have one of these. 

However, to my delight, when wandering along a quiet London Street In Mayfair one day I came across a Very Significant Shop! Tucked away from the bustle of nearby Piccadilly is the deceptively small frontage of an outlet bearing a brand name of international repute.

In case I ever needed to find it again I took a photograph.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – London Fabergé Shop: ©Scarpa

So, I can still hope… 

Thank you so much, Theresa, for appearing on my blog!

Make sure you guys check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour! Stay tuned for my review of The Rasputin Dagger coming soon...

Buy The Rasputin Dagger here:

Check out Theresa Breslin here:

Twitter:  @TheresaBreslin1 

Until next time :)

Monday, 14 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW | When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (****)

Hey guys, and happy Monday! Today I am really excited to be sharing a review with you of a fantastic book I read a few weeks ago - When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy. When I Hit You is a heartbreakingly written, raw account of a woman who undergoes horrific physical and psychological abuse. It is definitely a hard read, but I also found it incredibly eye-opening, and it is written in a arrestingly beautiful way. 

I was kindly sent When I Hit You by Atlantic Books, in exchange for an honest review <3

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his i

dealised version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back - a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. 

Smart, fierce and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India.

As soon as I was offered this book for review I knew it was something I wanted to read - I would really like to read more diverse books and When I Hit You definitely falls under this category. It is a novel that is hard to categorise, but is a narrative interwoven with the themes feminism, poetry, family and domestic violence. As I said, it is a difficult book to read, but simultaneously a hugely important one. 

Kandasamy is a writer who invariably writes straight from the heart - When I Hit You is profound, heartfelt and bitterly angry - I felt an unapologetic sense of yearning for a life unencumbered by the restraints her husband imposes on her. The novel is hugely invested in poetry and I felt that the writing reflected this - When I Hit You is lyrically beautiful and invested in meaningful images.

I feel like the story was well developed and, as the abuse evolved as the book went on, I grew all the more horrified. I feel like the subject was dealt with really well and in a sensitive but unflinching way. I loved reading about the narrator's fierce and almost unshakable determinism to write, even when her laptop and internet access was taken from her - and she had to type out an article on her phone and text it to her editor. I also learned quite a bit about traditional marriages in India - about the involvement of your family - and how an unhappy marriage can be turned into a question of honour and family embarrassment. The idea of a marriage as a contractual ownership shocked me right down to my core - but this can happen to any woman, from any part of the world, and sometimes I think we like to forget that, or at least avoid thinking about it.

This book was definitely not a lighthearted one, but I think it is required reading; it is the tale of a determined woman who makes the decision to pursue her ambitions whatever the cost, and I think the story is a remarkable one.

Buy When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife here:

Check out Meena Kandasamy here:

Until next time :) 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW | 'Love & Gelato' by Jenna Evans Welch (****)

Hey guys, and happy Saturday! Today on this rainy August day I am delighted to bring you a book review of a gorgeous summer read I devoured during my holiday in Italy about a month ago. It was the perfect book to read by the pool, and I completely devoured it.

Love & Gelato follows Lina, who has been forced from her home in America to live with her father (whom she's never met) in Tuscany, Italy. Despite the beauty surrounding her, she can't bring herself to be optimistic about this summer. The secrets surrounding her mother's life in Italy, coupled with the mystery of why her dad hasn't been around for the past sixteen years, is all too much. But Lina discovers that, even in the worst situations, taking a chance on a place and a person can be the best thing that you can do.

I was kindly sent Love ¶ Gelato by Walker Books, in exchange for an honest review <3

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

I loved this book from start to finish. It really is the perfect summer read you can lose yourself in. Love & Gelato is packed full of mystery, humour, romance, set against a beautiful Tuscan backdrop I could easily picture in my head. I adored the way it was written and Lina, with all her particularities and emotions, was so easy to relate to, and care about. In fact, I loved all of the characters; all of them had been carefully curated by Welch to be simultaneously lovable and relatable. 

I think it gives Welch merit to say that one of my favourite characters in the book was someone who actually doesn't appear in it at all - and that is Lina's mother. I loved her diary entries and I got such a strong sense of her character. I was as attached to Lina's mother's story as to the main narrative of the book. The mystery was enticing and intriguing, and although I kind of predicted the ending, I was still thoroughly satisfied at the end of the book.

I loved how Lina and Ren's friendship blossomed and developed - although it did turn into a romance I did feel that the friendship aspect was developed really well - it's not often that you get a good, healthy male-female friendship described in YA! 

Welch's writing was one of my favourite aspects of the book; it kind of reminded me of Dessen - whom I read religiously every summer! Love & Gelato is an effortlessly written, endlessly comforting but also exciting novel that makes you want to jet off on an adventure to Tuscany, and I couldn't recommend it enough! 

Even if it isn't sunshine in the UK, you can still enjoy a cute YA romance!

Check out Jenna Evans Welch here:

Until next time :)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW | 'Under The Sun' by Lottie Moggach (***.5)

Hi guys, and happy Wednesday! Today I am excited to be sharing another book review that I read while I was on my holiday in Italy about a month ago. As soon as I saw this book on Twitter I knew it was a book I wanted to read this summer!

I was kindly sent Under The Sun by Pan Macmillan (on behalf of Picador Books) in exchange for an honest review <3

Under The Sun follows Anna, an expat who moved to Spain to build a new glittering life for herself with her artist boyfriend, Michael. But things soon turn out to not be all that they're cracked up to be. One night Michael packs his bags and leaves, leaving Anna to fend for herself amidst the 2008 financial crisis and the feeling of a bright future slowly slipping away from her. When a businessman approaches Anna one day with an offer to rent Anna and Michael's old home, things appear to have the potential to get better. But when a body washes up one day on the beach, Anna starts to uncover the dark side of this blissful, beautiful backdrop.

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Anna’s friends and family think she is living the dream in her beautiful finca under the Spanish sun. But the reality is far from perfect. The handsome, complicated man she was building a life with has left with little more than a note to say goodbye and the future she imagined has crashed around her ears. Anna has secretly embarked on an ill-advised affair and lives above the dingy bar she runs in the sleepy beach town of Marea, surrounded by British expats as homesick and stuck as she is.

When Simon, a local businessman, offers to rent the finca, Anna hopes it will pave the way for her escape. But there is more to him than meets the eye, and when a body washes up on the beach in mysterious circumstances, Anna realizes she may be the only one with the power to unravel the truth. But how can she prove that Simon is connected, and how can she reclaim her house? Anna is prepared to risk everything to get home – even though she’s no longer sure where home really is.

Urgent, gripping and brilliantly observed, Under the Sun is an exhilarating novel about heartbreak, identity, migration and finding a place to call home.

Under The Sun was all that anyone could want from a summer novel - with an exciting and brilliantly described setting, a colourful cast of characters, and a gripping story you can easily lose yourself in. Right from the beginning of the novel I was completely immersed into a world I could visualise easily. I loved the lethargic, balmy feel to the writing, and the edgy dynamic between the characters.

I would have loved more of the novel to be spent exploring Anna and Michael's relationship, and greater detail spent on their dynamic in general. We never actually get to see the side where they are desperately in love with each other - to the extent that Anna moves away from her home in London to be with him in Spain - apart from the few flashbacks throughout the book. I liked how Anna's character was developed in so much detail during the story, but she was obviously really affected by Michael leaving so I just wanted a bit more background on their relationship in general.

I loved the whole mystery surrounding the men living at the finca, and the body being washed up on the beach. There was just the right amount of secrecy; the reader wasn't left completely on their own to figure it out - I felt as if I was with Anna, uncovering the dark secrets with her. I think the shady element of the story, contrasted with the beautiful setting, was a great part of the novel and I enjoyed this part immensely. I thought that the secret involving Simón was also well explored and I think the ending of the book as a whole was perfect and satisfying. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Under The Sun and it's the perfect novel to read by the pool. There were some aspects of the book that I wish were explored in a bit more detail, but overall I enjoyed this book and would recommend that you pick it up for your summer holiday (or just lazing in the park or the garden!)

Check out Lottie Moggach here:

Until next time :) 

Friday, 4 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW | 'The Pinocchio Brief' by Abi Silver (****)

Hi guys, and happy Friday! Today I am really excited to be sharing a review with you of a book I read aaaggeeess ago, but since I was part of the blog tour only last week I thought this was the perfect time to share my review with you! 

The Pinocchio Brief is a tense, gripping thriller following a murder investigation of a teacher, supposedly murdered by a fifteen-year-old student. Judith, an experienced and  accomplished lawyer has come out of retirement, and she joins Constance, a solicitor new to the game, to try and fight Raymond's case. But this is no ordinary case, and boy is no ordinary boy. In a twisted story of secrets, lies and influential, powerful technology,  The Pinocchio Brief explores a world where technology strives to solve the ultimate human problem - how do you know if someone is lying?

A 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of the brutal murder of one of his teachers.

His lawyers – the guarded veteran, Judith, and the energetic young solicitor, Constance – begin a desperate pursuit of the truth, revealing uncomfortable secrets about the teacher and the school.

But Judith has her own secrets which she risks exposing when it is announced that a new lie-detecting device, nicknamed Pinocchio, will be used during the trial. And is the accused, a troubled boy who loves challenges, trying to help them or not?

The Pinocchio Brief is a gripping courtroom thriller which confronts our assumptions about truth and our increasing reliance on technology.

I loved this book; I haven't read a thriller/murder mystery book in a while, and it was a very enjoyable read for me. I loved the character of Raymond and Judith - they were so interesting to read about and intensely realistic. Obviously neither of them are perfect, but somehow this made them all the more likeable. I feel like their characters developed so much throughout the novel and this was really great to read. 

The Pinocchio Brief is the kind of book that starts from a specific point, a simple narrative, and then spirals out of control into so many different directions. This is a reason I loved this book, it was an excitingly realistic portrayal of court room drama, and I was completely sucked in. The inclusion of a discussion about our interdependence of technology makes this a thoroughly topical and compelling read. 

I loved now the narrative alternated between third person and Raymond - it created an amazing sense of suspense and was also so fascinating to get an insight into this highly sophisticated and intelligent mind. I found these sections to be particularly well-written, I felt like I got such a close understanding of Raymond. 

The court scene was my favourite part of the book and I was on tenterhooks the whole way through! You can easily tell that Abi Silver is a lawyer - throughout the section the writing was so effortlessly accomplished and the dialogue flawless. I thought the ending of the book was fabulous and I loved the twist. 

If you're looking for a book to grip you this summer, The Pinocchio Brief is the book to read this summer!

Check out my post by Abi Silver for the blog tour that took place last week all about her inspiration for writing The Pinocchio Brief!

Check out this video of Abi Silver talking about The Pinocchio Brief:

Check out Abi Silver here:

Until next time :)

Saturday, 29 July 2017

BLOG TOUR | 'The Pinocchio Brief' by Abi Silver | What Inspired me to Write?

Hi guys, and happy Saturday! Today I am really excited to be hosting a guest post today by none other than Abi Silver, the brilliant author of The Pinocchio Brief - a story following the investigation of the murder of a teacher, supposedly by his fifteen-year-old student.

Keep tuned next week for my review of The Pinocchio Brief

Here is the blurb to whet your appetite...

A 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of the brutal murder of one of his teachers.

His lawyers – the guarded veteran, Judith, and the energetic young solicitor, Constance – begin a desperate pursuit of the truth, revealing uncomfortable secrets about the teacher and the school.

But Judith has her own secrets which she risks exposing when it is announced that a new lie-detecting device, nicknamed Pinocchio, will be used during the trial. And is the accused, a troubled boy who loves challenges, trying to help them or not?

The Pinocchio Brief is a gripping courtroom thriller which confronts our assumptions about truth and our increasing reliance on technology.

And here is Abi Silver with her piece about what inspired her to write this brilliant book!

The Pinocchio Brief – how to make it (warning: it takes a long time and requires frequent revision and long periods of standing before the final version is ready for consumption)
Take a dash of Sherlock Holmes, try to get hold of the “The Red-headed League” brand if you can.  This provides the basis for our cocktail of the day with its subtle blend of fiery ginger and confused expectations.  Or if Conan Doyle is in short supply you could switch it for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” – there’s a fair bit of flame-coloured hue in there too, together with a wonderful explanation of the “disentangling” virtues of the mind of a true analyst of crimes. 

Enhance with a tablespoon of Rumpole of the Bailey, I suggest the “Age of Miracles” variety, to add humour, some cutting remarks and astute commentary on the battle of the sexes in the fictional Chambers of old Soapy Sam Ballard.

Slosh in large quantities of sweeping courtroom dramas with fabulous character-acting and difficult moral dilemmas; either Inherit the Wind, all bushy eyebrows and lofty sermons on the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution, or you could easily substitute To Kill a Mockingbird, with its curious, reclusive hero and noble stand against racism in the Deep South (don’t include Scout’s ham suit – the flavour will be overpowering).

Augment with two female leads to bring out the flavour, one young and zesty, the other experience incarnate for the more mature palate- the Cagney & Lacey of our times (but homegrown, not the US strain).  Recite the words “That’s why people with experience are so invaluable, a fact people forget in our throwaway society” as you stir vigorously and then set the packaging aside for recycling.

For more intense flavour don’t make this drink at home; you need to be standing in a deserted class room, with Maths formulae on the board and the cheers from a lively sports match filtering in through the half open window.  Sort of Tom Brown’s Schooldays meets Good Will Hunting.

Sprinkle in a pinch of politics: not too much, perhaps the latest version of cost cutting of the criminal justice budget or a debate on the vagaries of juries.

Optional extra (particularly recommended for voyeurs) is the proposition that criminal court trials should be filmed live for TV viewing and “education” of the general public.

Pour carefully into your cocktail shaker and add the secret ingredient (no longer secret as I am telling you what it is); namely a New Scientist article on AI and lying.  This is the article which includes the explanation that tiny, facial movements, invisible to the naked eye, but filmed, collated and “judged” by computer, can indicate whether a person is telling the truth or telling a lie.  (Don’t mix it up with other equally interesting but different pieces, like the one on computers joining the dots of what happened at crime scenes or pinpointing petty crime on CCTV from people’s body language.  These other commentaries will keep, if refrigerated unopened, for another day.)  Agitate briefly but with dedication to the task.

The result – a zingy, flies off the shelves, formidable, multi-layered brew entitled “The Pinocchio Brief”.

I hope you guys have enjoyed this post!

Check out this video of Abi Silver talking about The Pinocchio Brief

Buy The Pinocchio Brief here:

Check out Abi Silver here:

Until next time :)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

5* BOOK REVIEW | 'Release' by Patrick Ness

Hey guys, and happy Wednesday! Today I am really excited to share with you a review of a brilliant book I read about two weeks ago. This book has been one of my most eagerly anticipated books of this year, and I requested this as soon as it appeared in my inbox! Unfortunately I had to wait until I got back from uni to tear it out of it's packaging and dive right in... but it was as fabulous as I anticipated so definitely worth the wait!

I was kindly sent Release by Walker Books in exchange for an honest review <3

Release follows a day in the life of seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn, a day that becomes probably the most eventful and monumental day he has experienced in his life so far. It is a day coloured by misfortune, betrayal and heartache, but also a day where Adam realises the strength of the tie of friendship and how, even on the darkest of days, it can stop you from drowning when there is nothing else holding you up. 

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It's a big day. Things go wrong. It's intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches...

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It's a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won't come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course. 

I didn't really know what to expect from this, as the only other Patrick Ness book I have read is More Than This, and I also had mixed feelings when I read Mrs. Dalloway, however this book completely and utterly blew me away. There is something thoroughly magical about Ness' writing. The book hooked me in from the very first page and I felt compelled to keep reading until the very last page. And it's not only the writing, but the storyline is also irresistible. The book as an entirety is not only an absolute joy to read but is urgent and almost demands to be read. Release is the perfect cocktail of an enjoyable story with fantastic characters, mixed in with important issues such as friendship, acceptance, religion and LGBTQ* issues, and the ways in which people are discriminated against. 

Adam Thorn's story was hard-hitting and beautifully and sensitively written, and also made me extremely angry. The furious plight of a teenage boy to be accepted, in a situation where he shouldn't have to be fighting for it, was hard to read, but it is also important to read about these situations as they are anything but fictitious. 

I loved the portrayal of the friendship between Adam and Angela. Not a lot of YA focuses on the absolute essentiality of teenage friendship, and Patrick Ness illustrated this friendship perfectly. Angela was shown to be the person who Adam could talk about absolutely anything with, without fear of judgement or indifference. Angela was such a fantastic character and I could read a whole book about her.

I know a lot of reviewers have been unimpressed with the magical realism side story, but I loved it. Of course, I think Release still would have made sense and been a great book without it, however it was a great way to add an otherworldly element into the story, and to also show another case of a toxic relationship, much like Adam's relationship with his parents, and his parents' toxic relationship with their religion. I really enjoyed this intermission between the chapters detailing Adam's story, and I'm very glad Ness chose to include it. I think magical realism very much suits his writing style.

Overall, I adored Release and it has made me want to go and pick up all of Ness' other books immediately! If you enjoy YA, LGBTQ* books, and Patrick Ness' other work I would highly recommend that you check this book out.

Check out Patrick Ness here:

Until next time :)