Book review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street coverI had a fab time putting together the Cosmo summer reads list this year – it was great to be able to mix different genres and throw in a couple of wild cards. My one regret was that I spent so much time justifying this book as ‘accessible fantasy’ that I didn’t have enough words to describe how wonderful it is. I even called it a ‘caper’ which, although there were moments of high adventure, was a bit of a misnomer really. There’s so much more going on than that.

This is the story of Thaniel, a lowly Victorian civil servant who narrowly escapes an Irish Republican bomb by what seems to him like a stroke of luck. This leads him to the workshop of Keita Mori, Japanese exile, genius watchmaker and prescient.

Imagine meeting a person who remembers the future and can arrange your life to get the result he wants, lining up coincidences like a human domino run? To Thaniel Mori’s world is fascinating but his new friend Grace is profoundly disturbed. Is Mori a kindly man sorting things out for the best or a manipulative monster whose actions have robbed an innocent man of his free will?

You find yourself asking questions about love, trust and surrender

Woven through the action is an intriguing glimpse of 19th Century Japan, a race to find the mysterious bomber and a touching, unexpected love story. You find yourself asking questions about love, trust and surrender, making up your mind about a few things – then changing it again, several times in the course of a chapter.

It’s definitely a book that keeps you on your toes.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is out now.

A proper swanky launch

To look at this blog anyone would think that all I ever do is go to maritime-themed book launches. A mere two weeks after attending the Tenacity launch on a submarine, there I was walking up the gangplank of the Royal Princess, a luxurious cruise liner on Southampton docks for the launch of Chrissie Manby’s latest book, A Proper Family Adventure.

It has a wonderful streak of warmth and affection running through it.

Actually I wasn’t walking, I was limping. I had some crazy idea that a cruise ship required glamorous footwear and had forced my feet into a pair of insanely high heels. Note to self: deck shoes next time. They’re called that for a reason.

Still, apart from the ocean-wave aspect the two book-launch vessels couldn’t have been more different. There were no cramped living quarters here and no steampunk cranks and tubes. Instead think luxurious marble trims, glistening chandeliers and sweeping staircases. The ship was enormous – 19 decks catering for 3,560 guests (we all goggled in amazement when the chef told us they get through 40,000 eggs on each trip.) Facilities include a kids club, a spa and a “movies under the stars” screen on the main deck.

Check out the spangly ship, and the lovely Chrissie.

spanglyship montage lores
Unlike Chrissie, who’s fantasised about going on a cruise for years, I’ve never really fancied it. But after my tour (and now I have a small toddly person in my life, which means the words “kids’ club” have a magical power over me) I could definitely see the appeal of being ferried around the world and dropped off in interesting places. The only thing that spoiled the magic of the day was the weather. Put it this way… this is what the sun deck looks like when the ship is sailing the Med:

And this is what the main deck looked like during our visit:

deckStill the fabulous company and three course meal at Sabatini’s restaurant soon gave us that cushioned-in-luxury feeling you should always get on a cruise.

It was a great scene-setter for A Proper Family Adventure, which is Chrissie’s third book about the loveable, chaotic Benson clan. This time Granddad “I’ve won the bloomin’ lottery” Bill actually wins the bloomin’ lottery and takes the clan on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate. Like all the Family books it’s funny and has such a wonderful streak of warmth and affection running through it. It’s a pleasure to read and makes you want to rush back to your hometown and hug your own family. You can read my rundown of it on the Cosmo Summer Reads page.

This is probably my last nautical themed book launch for a while (unless there are any yacht invitations out there… anyone?) but more book reviews on the way, I promise.

A Proper Family Adventure is out now.

And for better cruise-porn pictures and detail than I could ever provide, try Princess Cruises.

PS: here’s a glimpse of the shoes, looking down at the water on the ship’s famous SeaWalk deck. Ow. Ow. Ow.


Book review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

TifAni can’t wait to marry her cookie-cutter Perfect Boyfriend. So why is it that, in the very first scene of Luckiest Girl Alive she is fantasising about stabbing him with their carefully chosen designer wedding cutlery?

It could be because – whisper it – she can be a bit of a cow. In fact, there is lots that will irritate you about TiFani FaNelli. Her snobbery, which blends beautifully with her inverted snobbery; her snarky asides about perfectly nice people and not least her heartfelt belief that size 12 is fat. Even reading her name grates – did the caps lock button keep getting stuck when they made out her birth certificate?

But TiFani is not a heroine, she’s a person. Sometimes she’s a pain in the arse, other times she’s sweet, compassionate and funny – like many real people are. And it’s the compelling reality of the character that is making Jessica Knoll’s novel one of the big word-of-mouth hits of this year.

TiFani is not a heroine, she’s a person.

Back at High School TifAni made a few mistakes. She hung out with the wrong people, she got a crush on the wrong boy and set in motion a chain of events which affected the whole school and still haunt her 10 years on. The wedding has become her way of showing she’s moved on, that she is no longer TifAni but has reinvented herself as Ani Harrison – successful writer on a glossy magazine, wearer of designer clothes and WASP in training. But as Madonna could tell you, reinventions are rarely permanent and don’t really fool anyone. As the wedding gets closer she’s forced to confront what happen to her in the past, and things start to unravel…

Luckiest Girl Cover resizeSo chances are you won’t love TifAni. But you’ll sit up all night reading to find out what happened to her, whether she’ll get the wedding she deserves and who she decides to be in the end.

When I was a kid I loved Cinderella heroines. I loved the idea that if you were a good person and kept doing the right thing eventually someone would notice and give you a big sparkly tiara and a fancy title. And most of us have never fallen out of love with that idea (otherwise who would have bought Fifty Shades of Grey, ever?) But in the past few years there’s been a bit of an awakening. A desire for real three dimensional characters who we will love, warts, neuroses and all.

That’s how we ended up with Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck character, and Eliza Kennedy’s sexy debut novel I Take You which features yet another driven New York heroine trying to balance love with her unfortunate casual sex habit. Bluebirds do not alight on these women’s shoulders when they get dressed in the morning. They do not sing about how a dream is a wish your heart makes. But they take us to new, entertaining places where women are fully formed human beings with layered, complicated lives. And with women like that, you never know what will happen next.

Luckiest Girl Alive is out in hardback now

The importance of being tenacious

Two years ago, when I set up this blog all bright eyed and full of enthusiasm, I wrote about the Arvon course I attended and how great it was to meet like-minded writers, discuss our characters, plot and story arcs etc. But while we were having all these lovely big chats there was one guy who ducked out of most of our sessions, who didn’t want to join in with our dialogue workshops and storyline exercises. You’d stumble on him tucked in one or other cosy corner of the beautiful Lumb Bank Centre, hunched over his laptop hammering the keys. “Can’t talk now, I’m writing…”

Unlike most of us he was near the end of his project and you could almost see the waves of determination coming off him. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he’d landed one of the top agents in the biz, that there had been a bidding war for his first manuscript. The guy was called James Law and last week I went to the launch of his first novel, Tenacity. The name really couldn’t have been more appropriate.

you could almost see the waves of determination coming off him

It’s a dark, claustrophobic crime novel set on a submarine – James spent years on subs, so there’s lots of naval detail. It follows the story of a lone female investigator trapped with a hostile all-male crew, one of whom might just be a killer…


At Arvon James waxed lyrical about the addictive action of the Millennium trilogy. And while I’m not a fan of Stieg Larsson’s waffly prose and the graphic violence against women James has dodged both of those Larsson traits while piling on the tension, suspense and secrets. I’m only about half way through so I don’t know the end yet, but as Tenacity is the first in a series I’m guessing that naval investigator Danielle “Dan” Lewis makes it through.

Unsurprisingly, the wine flowed

The launch was fabulously nautical – at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport. There were speeches, readings and a genuine vintage sub to explore. I went crazy taking close-up pictures of pipes, taps and dials – it was like some kind of steampunk nightmare, hard to imagine that dozens of sailors lived amidst all this for months at a time. And you know what? Even though it was decommissioned years ago it was still a bit whiffy. The crowd was an interesting mix of writers, journalists and James’ naval buddies. Unsurprisingly, the wine flowed.

I came away with a signed copy, which I hope will be the first in my collection of Arvon alumni publications. I also felt fired up for the first time in ages. James finished his book, which is achievement enough, but then he had enough confidence in it to shout about it and grab the publishing world’s attention. Instead of emailing his MS off into the abyss and crossing his fingers he created a military-style plan of attack with the clear objective of getting the publishing deal he wanted – and it worked.

This business is all about talent and hard work but without confidence it all just sits there mouldering away on your Dropbox.

Time to start shouting, I think.