News and Reviews
Thanks so much to Blooming' Brilliant Books for this lovely review:
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but I have to admit I was initially draw to Garden Of Stars because of the cover…it is simply beautiful. The contents of the book are equally gorgeous in this tale of love, loss, regret and family secrets.
This moving and beautifully told story centres on Sarah and her great aunt Ines and is told over two time lines. Sarah has reached a point in her life in which her marriage has become staid and she is yearning for her lost love, Scott. Rose has given Sarah’s character depth and conveys her emotions wonderfully allowing the reader to empathise with her situation;
‘But still a hot flush swept over her, combined with a jolt of realisation that she wasn’t sure who she was anymore, or who she wanted to be.’
When the opportunity arises for her to return to her old home of Portugal she jumps at the chance and re-kindles contact with Scott. This chain of events leads her to re-evaluate her life. The dissatisfaction with her current life comes through and although her behaviour is unfair to her husband, Hugo, the range of emotions she goes through about her behaviour and the way Rose expresses them evokes understanding from the reader.
Ines is coming towards the end of her life and gives Sarah the journals she wrote as a young woman. The journal contains family secrets Sarah was unaware of and gives her a greater insight into her aunt and also her own life;
‘We always assume that those so much older than us have not experienced what we have, are somehow immune from human frailty, weakness, doubt and temptation, she though. But of course this is not the case.’
Ines’s story is incredibly touching and at one point reduced me to tears. The relationship between Sarah and Ines is also beautifully portrayed with the change in their roles through the natural course of their individual life stages coming through.
Set in Portugal as well as Britain, Rose has captured the essence of Portugal wonderfully through her rich descriptions and she transported me there each time I read a part of the story set there. The two timelines meld perfectly together, seamlessly moving the reader between present and past making Garden Of Stars an evocative and poignant read. While I became immersed in the story and the lives of both Sarah and Ines, I did find myself drifting away a little towards the latter half of the book, however, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as it quickly picked up pace again .
Garden Of Stars is a well written and constructed debut and I look forward to future books from Rose. A stirring novel that induces strong emotions in the reader, this is a wonderfully written book about how the grass is not always greener on the other side and that life is too short for regrets.
SATURDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2016
Author Q & A Rose Alexander - Garden of Stars
Many thanks to Annette of Sincerely Book Angels (@AnnetteHannah) for hosting and posting this interview:
What was the inspiration behind this novel?
It’s hard to talk about that without giving away part of the story. If people really want to know and don’t mind spoilers, check out my blogpost on where my ideas come from on my website: www.rosealexander.co.uk. Part of it was also reaching a certain age and looking around me and seeing how relationships often falter at key times, such as when there is a lot of pressure from young children, financial worries or simple boredom.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Always. As a child, I wrote a book and sent it to a publisher, all in secret. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone as I thought they would laugh at me and say that I was ridiculous to even think that I could be a published writer. The publisher of course didn’t go with it, but sent a lovely letter back encouraging me to carry on writing. As I grew older, I dabbled in student journalism and feature writing but I got waylaid into all sorts of other things – in terms of career, I wanted to be a newspaper journalist but ended up getting a job in TV and working as a TV producer/director for many years. During that time I didn’t write as I was so busy. Then I had three children and got even busier…. Finally, I got to a stage in my life when I had to say to myself that if I still dreamt of being an author I had to actually knuckle down and write a book! So I did.
What other jobs have you had?
I’ve been everything from a waitress, book shop assistant and melon picker to freelance feature writer, TV producer/director, creative consultant for a digital media agency and now a qualified teacher of English. I am full of envy for novelists who manage to get on and write stuff in their twenties and thirties and get it published. I wish I had done that but I just didn’t have the faith and confidence in myself to even try. I’m not sure that I had the stories then, either. With age has come a much more cavalier attitude – who dares wins, in essence, plus a wealth of life experience to draw upon for my novels.
How did it feel when your first novel was published?
In truth, it was a bit of an anti-climax. When you have wanted something for so long, and worked so incredibly hard to make it happen, I’m not sure it could be any other way. I also have a terrible tendency to rain on my own parade and dismiss my own achievements. I think this is due to having experienced a lifetime of depression – it’s very hard to be kind to yourself and to congratulate yourself on anything. Once the positive reviews and words of support and encouragement started to come in from readers and reviewers, the whole experience became a lot better, not just because they were saying nice things but just because it felt that the writing had a real purpose.
Have you ever had writer's block? If so how did you overcome it?
I don’t allow myself to have writer’s block. I have very limited time slots available for writing as I have an incredibly demanding full-time job as a secondary school English teacher, as well as three children of my own, so when I’m in one of those slots, I MUST make the most of it and write whether I feel like it or not. I reassure myself by telling myself that I can always scrap it if it’s rubbish – but something good might get written down, even if I can’t see it right then and there.
However, overcoming depression to write is a lot harder because it is not about the words or lack of them but about what is going on deep inside you, your own feelings of worthlessness and pointlessness. I struggle to deal with that sometimes, but fortunately after a few years of counselling, taking anti-depressants etc the depressive bouts are becoming fewer and shorter.
What motivates you to keep writing?
If you want it, you have to make it happen – and no one can do that except you. And I have a head full of ideas that feels as if it will burst if I don’t get them down on paper.
Do your characters moods ever affect your mood and vice versa?
I don’t think my characters affect my mood but they certainly often do rather unexpected things – they take on a life of their own once you have created them and the book doesn’t always follow the path you had envisaged once the characters start meddling! The thing I can’t do when writing is listen to music because this really does affect my mood. I find it far too distracting so I prefer to write in silence, or I have the radio burbling away in the background. I find speech radio hugely comforting and truly don’t think I could survive without Radio 4.
What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Never give up, never give up and never give up.
Which authors inspire you?
Rebecca West, Rosamond Lehmann, Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Aminatta Forna, Khaled Hosseini, Daphne du Maurier … I could go on. Just noticed all but one is a woman, too!
What are you reading at the moment?
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – recommended by a friend who said her book club had loved it. I’m really enjoying it.
If your book was made into a film what song would you choose for the opening credits?
Angels Don’t Cry by The Psychedelic Furs.
Who would you choose to play your favourite character in the film of your book?
Gwyneth Paltrow would be Sarah. Kristen Scott Thomas for Inês, if she didn’t mind playing someone very old. Chris O’Dowd would be Hugo. I can’t think of who would be Scott – suggestions welcome. Then of course we need the young Inês, and John, plus the young Sarah and Scott. Tricky!
What is your next book about?
A love triangle, jealousy, passion and poison…
And now think about the books you've read and just give the first one that comes into your head for our quickfire 'Which book round.'
Which book has made you:
Laugh out loud?
Anything by Bill Bryson.
Cry your heart out?
The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann.
Want to read it again?
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Wish it would be made into a film?
How to Be Good by Nick Hornby.
The Devil That Danced on The Water by Aminatta Forna.
I hate being scared – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is as scary as I go!
Thank you so much for joining us Rose and good luck with the book.
Book Angel x
You can read the original post here:
The lovely Linda Green @BooksOfAllKinds read and reviewed the book in September. My huge thanks go to her for her support and this gorgeous review, which you can read, along with many other equally interesting, informative and insightful reviews, on her website:
On the outside, Sarah Lacey has a perfect life - living in London with her husband Hugo, her two beautiful little girls, working from home as a freelance writer, and looking in on her special great-aunt Ines. But looks can be deceiving. Sarah is lost. Unhappy in her marriage which has become stale, with a man who is more of a roommate than a husband. So when Sarah gets offered a writing commission that will take her to Portugal, she jumps at the chance. Even though it brings back her memories of her short time there all those years ago. That unbelievable time that will forever live in her heart. Her time with him...
But her own experience is not the only link that Sarah has to Portugal - after all, Ines is Portuguese. Her wonderful stories and beautiful descriptions of Portugal always made Sarah long to be there. And when Ines finds out that Sarah is returning to her homeland, she gives Sarah her journal from all those years ago and asks her to take it on her journey with her. When Sarah arrives in Lisbon, nothing will ever be the same again, for the man who stole her heart all those years ago is also visiting. But there is nothing wrong with two old friends catching up, is there? As Sarah tries to work her way through her own feelings of regret, loss, and lack of identity, reading Ines's journal seems to show echoes of her own feelings. But the more that Sarah learns about Ines, the more she realises that she never really knew her great-aunt at all. With her family at stake, will unravelling Ines's past help Sarah figure out her future?
GARDEN OF STARS by Rose Alexander is a stunning debut novel, rich in detail and brimming with emotion. Sarah is unsatisfied with herself and her marriage, and even though she tries, she cannot help but feel ignored and invisible. When she grasps the opportunity to spend time with the man that has always been hiding in her heart, she is caught between trying to relive her past and trying to fight for her future. Throughout the novel, learning about Ines through her journal added a deeper meaning and emotional understanding of life and love, and the heartache that is woven through the happier times. Ines is my favourite character because of her inner-strength and determination to keep going. Through beautiful detail, Portugal comes alive in this story which makes this novel even more special. GARDEN OF STARS by Rose Alexander is a compelling read about life, love, and trying to find your sense of self, and I highly recommend it.
Fabulous inteview courtesy of the lovely Anne Williams, with whom I connected via Twitter.
Read it here:
Many thanks, Anne, for your support and encouragement - and for putting together such a lovely post.
Look out for Anne's review of GARDEN OF STARS, due in November this year.
I was extremely fortunate to have the wonderful Rebecca Pugh @beccasbooksUK review GARDEN OF STARS recently. I am always amazed at the sheer dedication and hard work that book bloggers put into their reviews and Rebecca exemplifies this. Here is her full review, which you can also find on her site
Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander was a beautifully poignant, richly-told story of love and loss. As soon as I began reading this one, I became lost to Alexander's vivid descriptions, which opened up the setting of Portugal to me in the most inviting of ways. Highly-emotive, tender and completely heart-warming, when I finished this book, I felt as if I'd lived a lifetime right beside the characters.
In Rose Alexander's Garden of Stars, readers are introduced to Sarah Lacey. As the story begins, Sarah is offered a commission in which she is to travel to Portugal, in order to capture a 5,000 word story surrounding cork, and its journey from tree to bottle. Seeking advice from her Great Aunt Ines who grew up and lived in the area, Sarah is surprised when she is handed an old journal, detailing Ines's early life in Portugal. Unsure as to why she's been given the journal, Sarah takes it with her as she heads back to the place she left so long ago, curious about what lies within. Little does she know, the past is about to rear it's head in the most surprising of ways.
Rose Alexander's descriptions were the first thing that struck me while reading this story. They were gorgeously real and vivid, in a way that had me feeling as if I were right there in Portugal with Sarah. From the heat and the blinding sun to the bleached buildings and the ocean. It was atmospheric and incredibly easy for me to lose myself in, and the history behind the cork itself was fascinating to learn of. I loved hearing of the place Ines grew up in through the use of her journal, and found myself conjuring up images in my mind, with the help of Alexander's details, of these stunning places. There was so much depth to this tale, and I felt the pages were full of culture not to be missed. It was a real joy to read, to soak it all up and imagine myself in Sarah's shoes. Ines's too!
Things really took an interesting turn when Ines's journal began to be read by Sarah. It was such a glorious step back in time, and learning of Ines's early life in Portugal had a certain dreamy quality to it that rubbed off on me completely. Readers learn of Ines's life after marriage and how things begin to change after time. It was bitter-sweet at times, but struck at my heart in the most moving of ways, leaving me close to tears numerous times. As Sarah continued to dip into Ines's journey throughout the progression of the novel, the similarities between the two women began to become clear to me, and I felt my excitement rising as I wondered just how Sarah would take this information and use it in her own life in the present day. This aspect of the novel was absolutely magical and I loved it. The use of Ines's journal felt tender and poignant, and only intensified as more secrets were revealed to Sarah. The bond between the two women didn't fail to capture my attention either. It was beautiful, and Rose focused fantastically on this.
Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander warmed me inside out. The setting of Portugal has never felt so alive to me until now, and the richness of Alexander's writing truly brought the place to life. The characters were wholesome and likeable, and centred around Ines's journal, swinging between the past and the present, I felt incredibly close to this story and the emotions wrapped within it.
Becca's Books is awarding Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander with four of my bookish cupcakes. I really can't wait to see what's coming next from this author. I, for one, will be keeping a keen eye out for more news on Rose Alexander's next release.
Writing round the block ~ Christina Philippou
The following is an interview featured by the prolific blogger and all round lovely, supportive person, Christina Philippou.
First published on 10th October 2016, you can find it on her website, along with hundreds of reviews and guest interviews, here:
And you can follow her on Twitter: @CPhilippou123
I am excited to welcome Rose Alexander, author of Garden of Stars, on the blog today.
Welcome, Rose. Tell us a little bit about you…
Hi, I’m Rose, my debut novel GARDEN OF STARS is out now and doing really well in the charts plus getting some lovely reviews. This is so important for a writer as reviews are the validation that all your hard work is worth it. Even a bad one means that someone cares enough to write it! I’m also a mother of three daughters and my day job is as a full-time English teacher in an inner London secondary school. I shouldn’t forget to mention the tabby cat, lodger and husband who also take up my time – in that order, more or less . As you can see, life is pretty busy but I’ve always been like that – taking on too much and ending up exhausted. But my children, my job and my books (yes, there are several more underway) are worth it.
Your inspiration for Garden of Stars?
I’ve written about the inspiration for the story on my blog which you can find on: http://www.rosealexander.co.uk. It’s hard to go into detail without giving away too much so I’ll leave people who don’t mind spoilers to look there. Meanwhile, the initial idea came from a radio programme I heard in which some women were talking about experiences they’d had that really touched me. The rest of the story developed from there. However, just as important for me was the influence of Portugal and the majestic cork oaks that are such an integral part of the culture there. I find that place is really important in my own writing and also often what I love about other books. If I feel that I am there, that I can smell the cork bark and feel the heat of the bleaching sun, I’m transported. I hope I’ve achieved that for my readers. And the life-cycle of the cork tree runs through the book as metaphor for love, loss, hope and new beginnings.
What’s the most frightening aspect of being a debut novelist?
For me, it’s been getting to grips with social media. I’m a very private person and I’ve always shunned Facebook etc as I don’t like too much of myself on public display. But I totally recognise the need to connect with my readers, and in the context of my writing I’m finding that I’m really enjoying getting to know you all over the airwaves. Twitter is definitely my favourite medium and you can find me there @RoseA_writer. Come on down, I’m looking forward to meeting you.
Where and when do you write?
Anytime and anywhere. I have so little time available that I have to use any spare moment – literally, five minutes waiting for the bus will see me making some notes on my phone, jotting in my notebook or editing a draft. The idea of retraining as a teacher, which I did with Teach First a couple of years ago, was firstly to have reliable source of income to support my family and secondly to have the holidays to write in. Of course, it never quite works like that because I also have the aforementioned three children who need the odd meal and bit of TLC – but I do my best. I try to get back from work by 6pm and do a couple of hours in the evenings, as well.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
A bit of both, really. A deadline definitely gets me going and I always take things to the wire. But I have to plan as well so that I can make the most of the writing time that I have. I’ve got much more efficient since writing GARDEN OF STARS – I guess the first is always the hardest?
Do you do any research?
I do research but I’m not sure that the sites would be of interest to anyone else unless they suddenly develop an obsession with cork similar to my own! For GARDEN, I unearthed a wonderful DVD of a film by Portugal’s most famous director, Manoel de Oliveira, which documents life in Porto in the 1930s. It proved invaluable in providing material for the Inês parts of the story. The rest of the information about Portugal came from my own travels there and experiences of the Alentejo, Lisbon and Porto.
Do you read inside your genre or out when writing?
I probably do read mostly in my genre but I also love a psychological thriller – who doesn’t? And I read quite a bit of YA fiction – perhaps because I teach teenagers and am a mother of two newly turned teenagers. I think there’s some fantastic literature for this age group out there. John Green is a favourite – who couldn’t love The Fault in Our Stars? The only genres I don’t really get on with are chick lit and romance. I find them too insubstantial but that’s just me.
Your author heroes?
There are so many and so varied. I love Margaret Atwood, Maggie O’Farrell, Helen Dunmore, Rosie Thomas and Rose Tremain. One of my favourite books of all times is The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West. Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop changed my whole outlook on life when I read it as a teenager. But I also love John Le Carre, and David Nicholls. Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good is a recent favourite and Alex Garland’s The Beach is one I’ll always love. My daughter did work experience at Penguin Random House this summer and got given a copy of the 20th anniversary edition so I recently read it again. I’ve picked up on the current trend for psychological thrillers and adored Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I need to intersperse this type of reading with more substantial tomes! As a child I was obsessed by Milly-Molly-Mandy and with the Jill pony books by Ruby Ferguson.
Thank you, Rose, for joining us today.
Five start review from Amazon reader Bagpuss, 24th October 2016:
Everything about this story was so descriptive and felt so real .... the scenery, the characters, the emotions... everything. You could tell that the author had such empathy for the characters and I felt as though I really knew all of them - and I was there, agonising over their decisions, feeling their pain, their sadnesses and their joy. This book has so many layers; there are many unpredictable twists and turns; you felt as if you were on an emotional roller coaster with them all, as one surprise after another is revealed. There is a thought-provoking message that begins to emerge towards the end of the story which somehow and very cleverly ties it all together. It really is a story that stays with you long after you have finished it.
I would love to see this book translated into a film and hope to read more from this wonderful author - I would give it 10 stars if I could!'
Thank you, Bagpuss, for your support!
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