Blog Tour/Guest Post: The Reading Party by Fenella Gentleman

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I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Reading Party, the debut novel by Fenella Gentleman.  I’m really looking forward to reading the book but in the meantime I have a wonderful guest post by Fenella about how the germ of an idea during a creative writing exercise was transformed into the subject of her first novel.

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The Reading PartyAbout the Book

It is the seventies and the colleges of Oxford are finally opening their doors to women. Sarah Addleshaw, young, spirited and keen to prove her worth, begins term as the first female academic at her college. She is in fact, her college’s only female Fellow. Impulsive love affairs with people, places and the ideas in her head beset Sarah throughout her first exhilarating year as a don, but it is the Reading Party, that has the most dramatic impact.

Asked to accompany the first mixed group of students on the annual college trip to Cornwall, Sarah finds herself illicitly drawn to one of them, the suave American Tyler. Torn between professional integrity and personal feelings she faces her biggest challenge to date.

Format: Paperback, ebook (304 pp.)    Publisher: Muswell Press
Published: 14th June 2018                      Genre: Literary Fiction

Purchase Links*
Publisher | Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Reading Party on Goodreads


Guest Post: ‘The Reading Party’ by Fenella Gentleman

Well, this is fun: I’ve never done this before!  One of the great things about being published is getting to know the book blogging world, which is more extensive than I realised, and talking direct to readers and potential readers, who suddenly become real people.  So, a big thank you for this opportunity to do both.

How did I come to write about an Oxford reading party – something so tantalisingly, even infuriatingly, obscure?

Well, I went on one many years ago.  In fact, I went on two reading parties – in my first and third years at university.  It was a batty tradition at my college to invite a group of students for a week of hard work and hard play, in a rambling house on a Cornish cliff top, so they could revise before their exams without getting into a state.  The selection process was opaque, and I was as surprised to be asked on the trip as I was to get into Oxford in the first place.  I thought the whole notion anachronistic, but in the end found it oddly wonderful.

For years afterwards I considered arranging something similar with colleagues or friends, but at the time I couldn’t see how to do it.  Still, it must have stuck in my mind.  When I started writing fiction, I found myself recreating the reading party on paper.

This is where another strand comes in.  I’d been at one of the first male colleges to go mixed, I’d worked briefly for a feminist publishing house, and then I’d spent years amongst the growing number of women trying to hold their own – and often more – in professions dominated by men.  I was fascinated to see how women negotiated their working lives in such unforgiving environments, and particularly how some of them became trailblazers – unintentionally or otherwise.  When I began writing, this theme kept peeping through.

Even so, the real starting point for what became The Reading Party was the central character.  She emerged as a result of a creative writing exercise, in which you had to draft a conversation between two people talking about somebody else.  I imagined a pair of male academics being spiteful about a young female colleague.  This amused people, so I worked her up in a short story in which this woman, at the time called Buttercup and with streaks of blue hair, had to run an Oxford reading party with a tetchy older man.  The feedback was again encouraging, and someone suggested I tackle this scenario in a novel.

I had one big reservation: the connotations of privilege.  So I tried setting my story in a younger university: it lost something.  I sent the students to a rural vicarage: that was too tame.  As for narration, each chapter had the voice of a different student, with a different perspective on this nutty week, but that didn’t work either.

Eventually I realised that the whole point was the archaic set up, and that its oddities could be the source of much tension and humour.  Then things fell into place.  This would be the story of a feisty young woman – a historian with radical ideas – arriving at Oxford in the mid-1970s just when the men’s colleges were beginning to go mixed.  It would be about what might happen if she was asked to host a reading party on the Cornish coast alongside a much older man, and if – against all the strictures about setting a good example – she found herself drawn to someone who was ‘out of bounds’.  She would narrate, betraying the muddled confidence and insecurity of so many women under pressure, but always poking fun at the ridiculous.

I did lots of research – this is not my story and Sarah Addleshaw is not me – but it was easy to imagine myself inside her head and I enjoyed doing so.

Of course a ‘reading party’ doesn’t have to be this rarefied Oxbridge thing.  Nowadays I hold my own version every year with a bunch of girlfriends: we have a ball.  All you need is a place to go, a mix of people, a good book, and some food and drink.  Anyone can be part of that.  I’d love there to be reading parties all over the place!

© Fenella Gentleman, 2018


Fenella GentlemanAbout the Author

Fenella Gentleman studied PPE at Wadham College, Oxford, when it went mixed. She participated in two reading parties in Cornwall. After graduating she worked in publishing, before moving into marketing and communications in the professions. She lives in London and North Norfolk.

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Blog Tour/Book Review: Summer of Love by Caro Fraser

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for historical novel, Summer of Love by Caro Fraser, the sequel to The Summer House Party.  I was lucky enough to interview Caro as part of the blog tour for The Summer House Party and you can find her thoughts on that book here.  I loved her summary of the book as ‘a blend of wartime romance and intrigue, ration books, spam , and a bit of sex!’

Now let’s turn our attention to Summer of Love.  You can read my review below.  Do check out the other book bloggers taking part in the tour.


 Summer of LoveAbout the Book

The dark days of the war are over, but the family secrets they held are only just dawning.

In the hot summer of 1949, a group of family and friends gather at Harry Denholm’s country house in Kent. Meg and Dan Ranscombe, emerging from a scandal of their own making; Dan’s godmother, Sonia; and her two young girls, Laura and Avril, only one of whom is Sonia’s biological daughter. Amongst the heat, memories, and infatuations, a secret is revealed to Meg’s son, Max, and soon a terrible tragedy unfolds that will have consequences for them all.

Afterwards, Avril, Laura and Max must come of age in a society still reeling from the war, haunted by the choices of that fateful summer. Cold, entitled Avril will go to any lengths to take what is hers. Beautiful, naive Laura finds refuge and love in the London jazz clubs, but Max, with wealth and unrequited love, has the capacity to undo it all.

Format:  Hardcover, ebook (512 pp.)      Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 31st May 2018 (ebook), 12th July (hardcover) Genre: Historical Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Kobo | Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Summer of Love on Goodreads


My Review

Summer of Love is billed as a standalone sequel to Caro Fraser’s earlier book, The Summer House Party.   It definitely can be read as a standalone but if, like me, you still have a lovely copy of The Summer House Party sitting unread on your bookshelf, be aware that the opening pages of Summer of Love reveal a lot of what transpired in the first book.  For this reason I would recommend that, if you intend to read The Summer House Party, you read it before Summer of Love.

The book opens in a country house in Kent in a seemingly idyllic setting.  However, somehow you know that the complicated history of those gathered there and the secrets some of them possess mean all will not end well.    Early on in Summer of Love, one of the characters remarks, ‘The past is the past.’   But how easy is it to consign unpalatable events and actions to the past?  Not easy it turns out because before long a comment made in a moment of cruelty reveals a secret from the past that sets in motion a chain of events that will end in tragedy.  This will open up wounds that seemingly may never be healed, setting a pattern for later events in which actions have unintended consequences creating rifts that will endure for years.

The main focus of the book is the younger members of the family – Max, Avril and Laura – as they navigate life beyond school and family and the transition from childhood to adulthood.    The dynamic between the three of them is complicated and has a bearing on what follows.  In wider society, times are changing although, in certain aspects of life and social attitudes, rather slowly it seems.  Laura is the character most directly affected by this and it is her story that I found the most compelling.

The author skilfully evokes the London of the 1950s and 1960s but focused on a particular section of society.  It’s a world of drink, drugs, increasing sexual freedom, wild parties, avant garde art and basement jazz clubs.   I loved the references to and occasional walk-on parts by now well-known figures in the world of art, poetry, music and film.

I can’t say that I found myself caring about the main characters in Summer of Love, except perhaps Laura who came across as the most likeable.  I was also shocked by some of their attitudes and prejudices and the decisions they make as a result, which reflects perhaps how far we have come as a society since the events depicted.  However, I was certainly gripped by the stories of their lives and eager to learn how events would play out for them.

Summer of Love is a compelling depiction of how secrets, even those hidden for years, will eventually find their way into the light.  As one character in the book perceptively observes, ‘Pretending was the worst part.  A lie happened on its own, but pretending – pretending went on and on.’  It shows how small actions, albeit well-intentioned, can have unintended and long-lasting consequences.  And it asks the question: “Must people go on suffering for their mistakes for ever?”

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Head of Zeus, in return for an honest and unbiased review.  Summer of Love is the fourth book in my 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge.

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In three words: Compelling, intense, atmospheric

Try something similar…That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina (read my review here)


CaroFraserAbout the Author

Caro Fraser was born in Carlisle and educated at the Glasgow High School For Girls and the Buchan School in the Isle of Man. After attending Watford School of Art she had a brief career as a copywriter, then studied law at King’ College, University of London.  She then read for the Bar and became a barrister specialising in shipping law before retiring from her law practice to concentrate on writing.

She is the author of the bestselling Caper Court novels, based on her own experiences as a lawyer. She is the daughter of Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser and lives in London.

Connect with Caro

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