on 9 September 2011
When this book opened in a big late-Victorian laundry, I was hooked at once. Hooper is expert at conjuring up wonderful historical settings and making you feel as though you are right there in the middle of it all - in this case in the steam, intolerable heat and noise of the laundry.
I found both Velvet's plight as an orphan and working-girl and the exploration of the world of London's mediums really engaging. I couldn't guess how the story would end - the drama of the final pages took me by surprise and was completely brilliant.
For readers who enjoyed Jane Eagland's Whisper My Name, this is another excursion into the same world of the mystery, deception and intrigue of the Victorian spiritualists - though a completely different story of course.
Velvet is an adventure, a story of growing up, of love, temptation and danger. It's beautifully and simply written; teen and pre-teen girls are sure to love it.
I came across Mary Hooper last year when I was sent Fallen Grace for review and enjoyed it immensely. I love historical fiction, particularly set in the Victorian era, and Hooper's evocative style, sympathetic characters and accessible writing won me over immediately. I investigated the author's other novels and was excited to learn the plot of her new book was set against the back drop of the Victorian spiritualist industry, something I have a read other books on and found fascinating.
I'm glad to say Velvet was just as good as Fallen Grace and I enjoyed every single page. After a couple of weeks of the dreaded reading slump, it's gripping story line and fascinating characters were welcome relief and I couldn't put the book down. Often historical fiction can come across as heavy going but this certainly isn't the case with Velvet at all. It's engaging and exciting yet remains very much in its time, throwing up many fascinating snippets of historical detail along the way.
Told in the first person from Velvet, I felt drawn to this character straight away. Despite having been abused and orphaned as a child and now working tirelessly in a laundry to scrimp her way through life, she remains ambitious and determined to stand on her own two feet. This seems to be a common trait in Hooper's female lead characters and I enjoy the strength she portrays, especially in an age where women weren't expected to want more. Sometimes I felt her ambition and desire to better herself made her a little too naïve at times, particularly where her new employer was concerned, although I think had I been in her position I too may have easily been so overawed at the life being offered to me to question it much.
I thought the character of spiritualist medium, Madame Savoya was incredibly well created. The reader is encouraged to build distrust of her by frequent passages involving clients away from Velvet's eyes, in an almost conspiratorial way from the author. I liked how these sections gave shock factor and a sense of `behind the scenes' rather than just Velvet's biased and bedazzled view. Despite these insights, there where several twists along the way I didn't see coming. There's also a little bit of romance, although this never really takes of into a passionate love affair and remains very much in the background of the story.
At the end of the book Mary Hooper shares her inspiration for Velvet as well as some information on some of the people and places that appear in the book, which was very interesting. I've never come across Baby Farming before for instance and the fact this shockingly cruel practise took place little over 100 years ago stunned me. Clearly, Hooper puts a lot of research into her books and it's this detailing along with her beautifully engaging writing style that makes Velvet a success. A truly intriguing and genuinely fascinating book, which I promise will pique the interest of all who read.
on 28 August 2012
I love historical fiction and enjoy encouraging our young readers to read this genre. I found this book particularly enjoyable. At the start of the story we find our young heroine working in a steam laundry. This is Victorian England and life is hard for orphans like Velvet, who has no family to help her survive and so must take care not to lose her job or she will find herself homeless and hungry like so many others. She is delighted when Madame Savoya, a well known clairvoyant, offers her a position as a live-in maid in her smart London home and she begins to hope that her life might get even better as she suspects Madame's assistant, George, might be attracted to her. As time goes by Velvet realises that many of the women working as clairvoyants are in fact fraudsters taking advantage of, and making lots of money out of, grieving families, and she starts to wonder if Madame might not be as genuine as she seems. She decides to investigate.
The book is based on sound fact as it is widely known that many Victorians, including such famous figures as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, regularly attended séances and visited mediums, and also it is well documented that many of the women who claimed to have psychic powers ended up being prosecuted for fraud. The picture of the life of the girls in the steam laundry and also the glimpse of the terrible baby farm are also convincing. Ms Hooper has done her research well and includes some excellent historical notes and even a bibliography at the end of the book. A great read for young teenage readers.
on 26 September 2011
I actually haven't read anything by Mary Hooper before but when I first heard about 'Velvet' I was instantly drawn in by the concept of a story about spiritualists and mediums set during the Victorian era. I find it fascinating how people could (and obviously still can) be drawn into trying to communicate with their dead friends, relatives and loved ones and how the craze for spiritualists swept across England during this period in time. The rich squandered huge sums of money on this and were so captivated by entrancing clairvoyants that they were in some cases willing to do just about anything to maintain a connection with the dead. Hooper lays bare all the tricks of the trade as she shows the lengths mediums were prepared to go to in their quest to fool those grieving for wives, husbands, daughters, brothers etc and in the process secure a hefty sum of money for their own pockets.
I really enjoyed the fact that although this was a historical novel and huge amounts of research had obviously been done to ensure that the Victorian era was recreated authentically, particularly through the use of Old Bailey records, the book was still rich in a character driven plot which really came to life on the pages. I loved the main character Velvet who goes to work for Madame Savoya as her assistant, after losing her job in a steam laundry. She hopes to better herself after losing her mother and believing her father dead. Velvet is a pretty gutsy character and has had to learn to survive and stand on her own too feet. Although I found her to be a little naive at times whilst in the employee of Madame Savoya, she does eventually open her eyes to what's going on around her and when she unravels all she's seen and witnessed, she isn't afraid to speak up and try to put things right.
Returning to the subject of historical research, I also found the notes at the back of the novel incredibly interesting, with Mary Hooper's own words and insights into spiritualism and baby farms. The inclusion of a sub-plot featuring baby farms was horrifying but also of course incredibly relevant to the period and really helped to show the absolute depths that some women found themselves having to stoop to when they became with child, but in many cases were unable to keep it themselves as they had to go out and earn a full day's wage. I couldn't believe that baby farms actually still existed up to a hundred years ago but the incorporation of details such as these assisted in bringing the Victorian era alive.
For those that enjoy a good romance, there's a dash of this added to with Velvet being wooed by handsome and loyal Charlie who she's known since they were children. Charlie is kind and reliable and is definitely always there when Velvet needs him the most - and even when she doesn't realise she does!
'Velvet' was an extremely enjoyable read and I shall now be seeking out more of Mary Hooper's previous work. I would definitely recommend it to other fans of historical fiction and for those who are looking for an engrossing and compelling read.
I have been avid fan of Mary Hooper ever since I read the wonderful Newes From The Dead and I haven't been disappointed with any of her historical novels for children either, Fallen Grace was especially good with its focus on the Victorians' obsession with death and mourning.
Velvet, our eponymous heroine, has not had an easy life - losing her mother, then neglected by an abusive, gambling father and eventually orphaned. The only thing keeping her from the workhouse is her daily drudgery in the steam laundry but Velvet aspires to greater things. Fate intervenes in the shape of the mysterious Madame Savoya, kin to the Romanovs, who is becoming one of the most popular spiritual mediums in London at a time when spiritualism is all the rage. Naturally Velvet jumps at the chance of becoming Madame's maid/helper and, at first, she is dazzled by the glamour and excitement of her new life. Gradually the seeds of doubt are sown but discovering the truth could have fatal consequences.
Mary Hooper has the knack of drawing her readers straight in from the opening lines - you feel the intense heat and claustraphobic atmosphere of the steam laundry, you feel the tense expectation of the audience at her seances, you feel the desperation of those who will pay any price to have one more moment with their deceased loved ones. The inclusion of real-life characters such as the renowned Spiritualist, Arthur Conan Doyle and infamous Baby Farm murderer, Amelia Dyer, adds texture and depth to this gripping story. The fictional characters are all fully fleshed, flaws and all, especially Velvet's fatal flaw - vanity. I love the way I always learn something new by reading Mary Hooper's historical novels without feeling I'm back in the classroom. Her Historical Notes at the back of the book are particularly useful with the extra information on Baby Farms and Spiritualism.
Aimed at age 12+, this is an extremely engaging read for folk of any age who like a touch of warmth and zest in their historical fiction.
You can find up to date information on Mary hooper on her facebook page and she also contributes to a wonderful historical fiction blog The History Girls.
Life as an orphan isn't easy for Velvet and she has to work long gruelling hours in the laundry just to survive. Getting the chance to work as a lady's maid for clairvoyant Madame Savoya is her chance to move up in the world. Velvet is excited to be away from the laundry but the more she learns about her new boss the more suspicious she becomes. Is Madame Savoya all she really seems to be and if she isn't what should Velvet do about it?
I really enjoyed Mary Hooper's book Fallen Grace so was excited to get my hands on a copy of Velvet and couldn't wait to start reading. The stories are both set in Victorian London and although they are both about very different subject matters they both capture the era perfectly. I love Mary Hooper's writing style which is both descriptive and very easy to read. She is able to pull you completely into her world and has a way of writing characters that it is easy to relate to and care about.
Velvet is a great heroine and an interesting mixture of streetwise (she had to be to survive her upbringing) and naive (especially when it comes to her new boss). Although there were times I almost wanted to shake some sense into her it was easy to understand why Velvet was so keen to believe the best in her boss. After the things she had been through she desperately wanted to believe that her new and better life was real. When she starts to become suspicious she refuses to sit back and ignore things though - she has a good sense of right and wrong and is determined not to be a part of anything dishonest.
I have read about the Victorian spiritualist community before and find the methods that clairvoyants have used to trick people into believing they are genuine fascinating. The tricks of the trade so to speak were truly inventive, if despicable, in the way they took advantage of grieving relatives. What I had never heard about before were the baby farms and that added a horrific element to the story - it is awful to think that things like that really happened and it makes me glad that I'm not living in Victorian times. Velvet is a fantastic read and one that I'm sure will be popular with fans of historical fiction - if you have any interest in the Victorian way of life or clairvoyants then this is definitely a book I would recommend picking up. I'm also adding Mary Hooper to my must buy list of authors and am looking forward to working my way through her back list and picking up anything she writes in the future.
on 19 August 2012
I really enjoyed this! I love intrigue and mystery and this tale has it all, wrapped up beautifully in a rich Victorian setting. I haven't read any of Mary Hooper's before, but I will be looking out for them now.
Velvet is a wonderful character - brave and bold for a young woman of the time and yet so naive. I spent half the book wanting to say 'no, Velvet, don't believe/do that!', because I knew what was going on under Velvet's nose and where the story was going. Or at least I thought I did - Mary Hooper is a clever and sneaky writer because there were several unexpected twists and turns to this story, which delighted me.
The historical detail in the novel was brilliant too. I've always loved being able to come away from a good story with a bonus bit of learning, and this novel gave me that. I knew very little about the world of Victorian mediums and absolutely nothing about some of the other practices featured in the book. It's all skilfully done as incidental through the engaging plot and characters, without a whiff of dry exposition or lecture-style explanation.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend this as a cracking read which offers a really immersive experience, giving plenty of information about the period.
on 23 August 2012
I was sent a email about this book from the publishers over at Bloomsbury which I am very grateful of. I had another one of Mary Hooper book so I thought I would give this one a try which I am glad I did as it's something different to what I usually read and I actually liked it.
The cover in a picture it doesn't look anything special but when I received a copy I loved it. I loved the colours as they really stand out and I also loved the flowers around the edges as it gave the book a more elegant look. What I loved the most was the texture of the book as it actually felt like velvet.
I may already have a Mary Hooper book but this is the first one that I have read which I did find an enjoyable read. This is also my first YA historical book which I thought Hooper did a great job of making me actually feel like I was in this time period which not a lot of books can do very successfully. What I also love is the way in which Hooper backs up her story with facts about the time which is found at the back.
What I did find a bit annoying was that in the blurb it stated that this book was 'A romantic and thrilling exciting' but I didn't find it to be any of these. There was some romance but not enough and none of it was believable. There was parts that had me guessing but most of it I guessed what would happen before it did. I did like a different take on the paranormal but that's all I will say on that as it will give too much of the story away. Even though at times I felt bored I still enjoyed it in most parts.
With the character Velvet I found she was a bit gullible and very naive. There was times I just wanted to shake her so she can actually open her eyes to what was going on around her. I am very gullible myself but even I knew what everyone was up to Velvet however didn't. Charlie was a sweet enough character but I thought he should have been in it a lot more than what he was.
Overall an enjoyable read but I just didn't find it grabbed my attention for too long.
on 16 January 2012
Velvet is set in 1900, Velvet is an orphan, she is working in a steam laundry but she is always only a few steps away from the dreaded workhouse. She begins to look after the laundry of one of the special customers, Madame Savoya, one of the most famous clairvoyants in London. When Madame Savoya offers Velvet a position as a lady's maid, she jumps at the opportunity. She leaves the exhausting steam laundry for Darkling Villa, the home that Madame Savoya shares with her assistant George.
Velvet cannot believe her luck, suddenly she has her own room, beautiful clothes and a job that she actually enjoys. She is fascinated by Madame Savoya's job as a clairvoyant and wants to do everything she can to help her new mistress.
As the book progresses, Madame Savoya has to keep up with what the other famous mediums are doing. She asks more and more of Velvet in order to maintain her reputation and livelihood. Madame Savoya's desperation begins to make Velvet suspicious. Madame Savoya talks about giving the spirits a helping hand but when does this cross over to duplicity? Velvet's suspicions place her in incredible danger as Madame Savoya will not have her work questioned by anyone.
Velvet, like Fallen Grace is mesmerising. I love how Mary Hooper has the ability to immerse her readers into Victorian England. Her descriptions are so vivid and her attention to details shines throughout the book.
I loved reading about Victorian spiritualism, it was such a big part of the Victorian era and so many people from all walks of life were drawn into it, just as Velvet is completely taken with Madame Savoya.
I found Velvet's naivety a little annoying at times but it was understandable in some ways. Madame Savoya is the first person to offer her a real opportunity and some much needed comforts in life. It is not hard to understand why Velvet places her on a pedestal, it just makes it so much harder when she has to question Madame Savoya's motives.
Mary Hooper has once again written a brilliant YA story. Velvet is a very captivating story and it will be interesting to see what Mary Hooper has to offer next.
on 6 November 2011
Mary Hooper has done it again. This time, she has dragged me into the early 19th century world of steam laundries and mediums which is just as deeply researched and believable as always. The story was totally gripping from page one and Hooper really captures the emotions of the orphaned Velvet throughout the book.
What I've always loved about Hooper's books is the depth of research that she puts in and the way that it shines through in the narration, which sounds genuinely historical and not forced or fake. That fantastic narration is just as present in Velvet and it's what totally kept me reading.
I have often found that Hooper's books are slow at the beginning and take a while to get into and Velvet was no exception, but when the plot picks up a few chapters in I really couldn't put it down. If you're going to read this, don't give up if you can't get into it, it really does pick up very quickly.
As always, the characters are believable and fully developed. The character of Velvet is strong minded, but also a little gullible and doesn't question things. I wish that she's been a little more suspicious and less naive, but I understand that women in that era had to do as they were told and weren't brought up to be independent. The other characters are so well developed that we are often questioning their intentions, it doesn't become clear who is actually the bad guy until over half way through. The touch of romance that Hooper adds really does brighten up this story.
Overall, Velvet was an impressive book set in the Victorian era, filled with intrigue, romance and secrets that had me gripped. The story really kicks in a few chapters in, but the believable history should have you gripped well before this. Mary Hooper has hooked me again.