Monday, 31 December 2012

Citadel by Kate Mosse

At last, I got my mitts on a copy of the final part of Kate Mosse's Languedoc trilogy.  Citadel was published by Orion in October, it's been a long 5 year wait for this one.   Historical fiction has never been my first love, and I'll admit that the first of the series; Labyrinth, sat on my shelf for a long time before I actually read it.  I was amazed by the writing, by the story and how Mosse manages to captivate the reader with her complex plots and engaging characters.    Labyrinth was followed by Sepulchre in 2007, and again, I loved it and have anticipated the release of Citadel for such a long time.

Citadel is probably best described as a 'time-slip' story, with the main part of the novel set in France during the German occupation in 1942 - 1944.   Also featuring is Arinius, a monk living in 342 AD.  Arininus is desperately trying to find a hiding place for the forbidden 'Codex', which is said to have the power to raise a 'sleeping army of ghosts'.

In Nazi occupied France the Citadel are a group of all-women freedom fighters - part of the Resistance, and determined to outwit both the Germans and the evil French collaborators.  Led by 18 year old Sandrine Vidal, her sister and their friends, these woman show courage and daring, never knowing who is watching them or who will betray them to the authorities.

Citadel is a huge tome of a book, almost 700 pages and although it dragged a tiny bit in the middle, on the whole, it is a fast-paced, if complex story that will grip the reader.  As with the previous two novels of the trilogy, there is an element of the supernatural in the story, with some familiar characters turning up along the way.

Packed with some terrifyingly realistic action scenes, portraying the horrors of war and the evil that men can do to each other, it is also at times, gentle and down-to-earth - portraying the small French town and it's folk with incredible realism.  The day to day struggles of ordinary people during the Occupation, the blossoming romances, the fear, the hardships and sometimes the joys are all captured beautifully here.

After such a long wait for this instalment, I was not disappointed in the least.  A triumphant end to what has been a fabulous series.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Where The Devil Can't Go by Anya Lipska

Where The Devil Can't Go is the debut novel of previously self-published author Anya Lipska and will be published by Harper Collins' The Friday Project on 7 February 2013.

A crime thriller, with a touch of noir, the story is set within London's Polish community, and starts when the body of a naked girl is washed up on the shore of the Thames.  The reader is introduced to Janusz Kiszka who has lived in London since the 80s - he started out as a jobbing builder, but over the years has become something of a 'fixer' within the Polish community.  When local priest Father Piotr Pietruzki asked Janusz if he can track down a missing girl, little does he realise that he is about to get involved with some of the most powerful people in Poland.

DC Natalie Kershaw is also interested in finding out more about the missing girl, and the dead body, and it is not long before she accuses Janusz of murder.  Natalie is a determined young detective, desperate to impress her superiors and to prove herself amongst her peers.   It is clear to her that Janusz knows more than he is telling - it is clear to Janusz that Natalie hasn't got a clue!

Anya Lipska has written a very impressive debut crime novel.  The sense of place, from the building sites of London, amongst the many Polish cafes and churches to the dark and foreboding tension of Gdansk in Poland, where Janusz travels to in search of answers.   There are some wonderfully created characters that star alongside Natalie and Janusz, who appear very authentic.

The plot is fast-moving and complex, with a great deal of reference to Polish politics, especially in the 1980s.  This was very well explained within the plot, and adds an extra dimension to what could have been a pretty ordinary murder crime story.

My thanks to Sabah from The Friday Project for introducing me to this book, I will most certainly look out for more by the author.

To find out more about Anya Lipska and the book, visit the website here.

Anya Lipska is also on Twitter here

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Forgive Me by Lesley Pearse

Eva Patterson's life is forever altered by the devastating discovery of her mother, Flora, dead in the bath leaving only a note: 'Forgive Me'.

Until Flora's suicide, Eva's world had been secure - but overnight everything changes. For when Flora leaves Eva a London artist's studio in her will, she finds her mother had a secret past.
In the studio's attic are Flora's paintings and diaries, and Eva learns her mother was a popular artist in the swinging sixties. Eva's hunt for answers uncovers clues to a shocking crime which led Flora to hide her past.
But will discovering the truth destroy Eva's belief in everything she holds dear? And will this journey lead her and those she loves into danger?

I'm always very excited when a new novel from Lesley Pearse arrives, I've been a fan of hers since her very first book was published back in 1993.

Her latest novel Forgive Me will be published on 14 February 2013 by Michael Joseph (Penguin) - I have spent the last couple of days engrossed in it, and yet again she has produced another epic story that has kept me gripped until the end.

Forgive Me is set in the early 1990s and once again Lesley Pearse has created a strong and gutsy female lead character in Eva Patterson.

The story opens on the day that Eva returns home to find that her beloved mother Flora has committed suicide, from that moment on, everything that Eva believed about herself and her family is proved to have been based on lies.  

Flora's will states that Eva will inherit an artist's studio in London, but Eva didn't know anything about it, she didn't even know that her mother had been a successful artist.    Eva discovers a bundle of old diaries and paintings in the studio which tell her a little about her past and lead her to Scotland to try and discover more.   Along the way, she uncovers some shocking secrets that will change her life forever.

This was a really fast-paced and emotional read.  Although the story centres around Eva and her search for answers about her beginnings, there is a hint of thrill and mystery added to the mix.  The writing is superb as always, the characters are wonderfully drawn, I especially loved Phil the builder who rescued Eva and made her feel special again.

The story moves from leafy Cheltenham, to fast-paced London and up to rural Scotland, and Lesley Pearse's descriptions are wonderful, really evoking a strong sense of place and era.  The story covers some serious issues which are dealt with sensitively, yet realistically.

At the beginning of the story, Eva Patterson is a fairly innocent young girl, living comfortably in a nice house with loving parents.  During her quest to find out the truth about her mother she experiences heartache and let-down, violence and depression, yet at the end of the book, she is a strong woman - no longer a girl, but happier and finally content.

This is another epic story from one of the best storytellers published today who never lets me down with her fabulous characters and her engrossing plots.   I loved it!

Check out Lesley Pearse's website here, or follow her on Twitter here

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is a very successful American author and has published 12 novels.  Tallgrass was published by St Martin's Press in 2007.    I haven't read any of Sandra Dallas' books before and was drawn to Tallgrass by the subject; the Japanese interment camps opened in America during World War II.    I knew nothing about these camps until I read the brilliant Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford, ever since then, I have been looking out for more novels based on this theme.

In February 1942, just two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorising the federal government to relocate all people of Japanese ancestry who were living on the West Coast.  At great financial and emotional sacrifice, more than 100,000 people, many of them native-born Americans, were uprooted and sent to ten desolate inland camps. 

Tallgrass was an old ranch on the outskirts of the small town of Ellis, Colorado which the government turned into a relocation camp to house people of Japanese origin.

The narrator of the story is thirteen-year-old Rennie Stroud, she and her family live on a farm, not far away from Tallgrass.  This is not a story about what happens inside Tallgrass, it is the story of the impact of the camp on this small town and it's inhabitants.   Rennie lives with her Father, Mother and elderly Grandmother.  Her brother Buddy has joined the Army, her sister Marthalice has moved away to Denver.   The war has brought hardship to the townsfolk with rationing and the shortage of farmhand labour.

Most of the townsfolk of Ellis don't want the Japanese people amongst them, they are suspicious, scared and  hostile towards them.   When a local girl is raped and murdered, the finger of suspicion points directly at Tallgrass and it's inhabitants.     Rennie's father is an outspoken man who will not tolerate ignorance and hate and makes the decision to hire some of the Japanese to help out on the farm, there are many people in the town who do not agree with this and are not afraid to speak their minds.  Not least, some of the members of Rennie's mother's quilting circle; The Jolly Stitchers.

Many reviewers have compared Tallgrass to To Kill A Mockingbird, others have commented that this should be classed as a Young Adult read.   Personally, I don't think that the two novels should be compared, yes there are some similarities, but these are two completely different stories, but have a theme of ignorance,hate and ultimately justice.   The story is narrated by a thirteen-year-old, which makes the language simplistic and easy to read, but this does not make it a Young Adult read - it is a story that should be read by all ages.

There are some tough issues raised in Tallgrass; murder, rape, domestic violence, drug abuse and prejudice. Sandra Dallas depicts small-town American life very well, the gossip, the loyality, the underlying menace.  Her characters are well-drawn and come alive from the page - the wicked and evil characters take centre stage alongside the great and the good.

I enjoyed Tallgrass very much and will look forward to reading more books by Sandra Dallas.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Winter Flame by Milly Johnson

The past week has not been my best if I'm honest.   My online book community lost a very good friend on Wednesday night, Elaine had been battling breast cancer for as long as she had been a member of our group - over 6 years now.  Throughout that time, she had always been positive and determined, regardless of what she was going through, she was always there with a supportive word for others.  She and I did not always see eye to eye, but the beauty of our relationship was that despite our disagreements, we had a strong friendship, with mutual respect.   Elaine will leave a massive hole in our group, but will be remembered fondly.

With this sadness and then hearing about the terrible events at the school in Connecticut, I was feeling a little blue.  I'd just read a grisly crime novel and needed a story that was going to make me smile and bring back a little seasonal cheer.

Milly Johnson - of course!  My lovely friend Lainy who blogs here gave me a copy of  A Winter Flame for my birthday and I just knew that this was going to be the perfect book to lift my spirits.

Eve hates Christmas.  As a child she spent her Christmas wondering if there would be any food in the house, would she get a present, and which of her Mother's boyfriends would be on the scene.  If it wasn't for her Aunt Susan and cousin Violet, Eve would probably never have received anything.     Christmas did not get any better as an adult, five years ago Eve's fiance was killed in action in Afghanistan on Christmas Day.   Is there any wonder that she would like nothing to do with December at all?
When Eve inherits a Christmas-themed amusement park from her elderly Aunt, she is amazed, she had no idea that Aunt Evelyn had any interests other than Mr Kipling cakes, her two cats and her growing collection of strange Christmas decorations.   She is even more shocked and amazed when she learns that Aunt Evelyn has left half of the park to a mysterious stranger - just who is Jacques Glace and where did he come from?
Milly Johnson 
Milly Johnson has that amazing gift of writing stories that can make you smile through your tears.  She has created an extraordinary world on the outskirts of Barnsley that is full of magic, yet still has her down-to-earth stamp on it.   I sighed as Eve tried her best to ignore the wonderful Jacques, I wanted to grab her and shake her and make her see what was under her nose.   I chuckled as I read about the park's transformation into a winter wonderland - overseen by the wonderful character that is Effin - assisted by his crew of Welsh and Polish workers.      I wanted to boo and hiss when introduced to Eve and Violet's Grandmother - possibly the nastiest piece of work since Snow White's step-mother.
I love the good old Northern humour, the reality alongside the magic and the little snippets from The Daily Trumpet are wonderful. 
A Winter Flame made me smile again, it's like a big huge cuddle in a book, that wrapped me up and sent me on my way feeling as though I'd made some new friends.    

A Winter Flame was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this year.  Milly Johnson has a web site here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Calling by Alison Bruce

The Calling is the third in the DC Goodhew series, and was published earlier this year by Constable & Robinson.   Although The Calling could be read as a stand-alone story, I would certainly recommend that the first two of the series; Cambridge Blue and The Siren are read first.  The first two books give the reader a little insight into the enigmatic lead character DC Gary Goodhew.

I have been really impressed by this series so far.  Alison Bruce has created a lead detective who is something of a mystery, to the reader and to his colleagues at the station.  Goodhew is a bit of a maverick, with a determination that often rubs people up the wrong way, I also sense a little bit of vulnerability about him, a teensy lack of self-confidence that peeps through when he gets something right and is rewarded by praise from his superiors.

The plot line of The Calling is complex, fast-paced and introduces a host of characters.  There is an air of menace and a touch of madness running throughout the book in the form of the lead female character Marlowe.  The reader is never quite sure whether she can be trusted to tell the truth, and whether her determination to name her ex-boyfriend as a murderer is based on fact, or is a result of her anger and jealousy.  Alison Bruce does not hold back in her writing, there are scenes that are quite explicitly sexual, and others that are impossibly cruel, but this only adds to the tension and build up to the very fine, and unexpected ending.
Alison Bruce

Goodhew's colleagues; WPC Sue Gully and DC Kincade both feature heavily in the story, and both characters have been developed well, with lots of scope for more stories involving these two in the future.

Alison Bruce has proved that she is up there with the finest of crime authors and has created a series and a lead character that is going from strength to strength.

Alison Bruce has a website here, you can also follow her on Twitter here

Monday, 10 December 2012

The View On The Way Down by Rebecca Wait

This novel will open your eyes
and break your heart.
It is the story of Emma’s two brothers:
the one who died five years ago,
and the one who left home on the day of the funeral and never came back.
It is the story of Emma’s parents,
who have been keeping the truth from her, and from each other.
It is the story of Emma herself,
caught in the middle and trying to work out how everything fell apart.
It is a story you will want to talk about
and one you will never forget.

The View On The Way Down by Rebecca Wait will be published by Picador on 11 April 2013.  This is the author's debut novel, she is twenty-four years old and she wrote the novel in the evenings whilst working as a teaching assistant the year after graduating.

I am really struggling to review this novel.  I'm not a writer and I am finding it difficult to find the words to express just how much I loved this story.

A little about the story;  a family; Mum, Dad and teenage Emma, struggling to deal with their lives after the death of eldest son Kit five years ago.  There is one other member of the family; second son Jamie, who is estranged from the rest of them and living in a drab flat in Sheffield.  Hundreds of miles away from his family and slowly descending into a world of his own.   Young Emma has never really known just what happened on the night that Kit died and finds her comfort in eating and in Jesus until one day the bullying and the unhappiness gets too much and she sets out to find Jamie.

The real beauty and genius of The View On The Way Down is in it's simplicity, the ease of Rebecca Wait's writing captures the reader from page one and doesn't let go.  However, don't be fooled by my talk of 'simplicity', this is a deeply moving and powerful story of a family that has been torn apart.  Four people who have been changed by the same tragic circumstance, yet are dealing with it in four very separate ways.

Each character is drawn so beautifully, from Kit's darkest depths of depressive illness, to Emma's child-like naivety.  The parents - Rose and Joe, so distant from each other, yet unable to let each other go.

Rebecca Wait
I could easily have read this novel in one setting, except for the fact that at times I was so moved, and so affected by the writing that I had to put it down, walk away and try to think of other things.  It's been a very long time since a fictional story has resonated so strongly with me.  Although this is at times almost unbearably heartbreaking, the strong feeling of brotherly love and loyalty that flows through also makes it an uplifting story.

Rebecca Wait is an extremely talented young author and I'm delighted to learn that Picador will be publishing her next novel, whenever that may be.

Once again, Picador have found another bright star of the future.  The 2013 publication list for Picador is exciting and much anticipated, Rebecca Wait is a fine addition to their list.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Magnificent Joe by James Wheatley

Magnificent Joe is James Wheatley's first novel and will be published by Oneworld Publications on 7 March 2013.
It is a brave and ambitious publisher that markets a debut novel as; "Of Mice and Men meets Trainspotting" -  that really is an expectation to have to live up too.  I can honestly say though that Magnificent Joe has more than exceeded any expectations I had.  I've really enjoyed my journey with Joe and his friend Jim, at times it's been a difficult and emotional journey, at times I've laughed along with them and at the end my tears were flowing.

Magnificent Joe may be the title of this book, and he's a wonderful character, but for me the most magnificent character is Jim.    Jim is one of those guys who has found himself in the middle of a life that he can't get out of.  His actions as a teenager have shaped the rest of his life, and despite the fact that he's bright, well-read, kind and passionate, he's stuck in a small village in the North East surrounded by mates from years ago, working as a labourer, drinking too much and eating crap food.    Jim's friendship with Joe is one of the things that marks him out as 'different'.  Joe lives with his Mum, is slow-witted and the victim of constant bullying by the local kids but Jim sticks by him, shows him friendship and cares for him.  Joe and his Mum are the only link that Jim has to his long-gone Dad and he can't give that up, nor can he stop feeling guilty that he wasn't around for his Dad when he needed him.

This is a modern, contemporary story about realistic characters who live life day to day.  Set in the North East among working-class people, it is littered with bad language.  Some readers may object to this, but it is not done to shock - it is done because this is the language that the characters speak.  There's no point setting a story in a gritty pub populated by builders and making them speak in polished English - it's got to be real to be credible.

James Wheatley
There is a real sadness to this story too.  Jim had so much potential as a teenager, he was tough enough to put up with the teasing and to do some revision, he was going to go to college and make something of himself.  The sadness starts when he throws all of that away because of one foolish action, the sadness carries on when he returns to the village to find it unchanged.  There is a sadness surrounding Joe, and around Laura - the wife of Jim's mate.

James Wheatley is a talented new author who has produced a novel that is raw and powerful, yet compelling and emotional.  I enjoyed this story very much  - the characters, the writing and the dialogue are perfectly pitched.  I look forward to reading more from this author.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman will be published by The Friday Project (an imprint of Harper Collins) on 3 January 2012.
I discovered Andrw Kaufman's writing back in January of this year when I read and reviewed his wonderful novella The Tiny Wife (read my review here).    I startled myself, and some of my friends by praising a story that could be classed as magical realism - a genre that usually leaves me cold.

I am startled once more!  Born Weird is most certainly magical realism, and is a full-length novel, and I loved every page.  I'm a little perplexed, a little bemused and fairly confused about it all to be honest; it's a case of thinking 'what the hell was that all about?', but I really really enjoyed it.

Born Weird is book weird!     Five brothers and sisters, all with a blursing.  What in God's name is a blursing?  Well, each of the siblings were given a blessing by their Grandmother when they were born, these blessings turned out to be more curse-like.  So, a cross between a blessing and a curse  - a blursing!
Grandmother Weird is going to die, on her birthday, and has decided that she will remove these blessings on her death-bed.   Angie is given the task of making sure that all the brothers and sisters arrive together, on time before Grandmother dies.  

And so the reader is plunged into the weird and wonderful world of the Weird family and travels along with them on their remarkable journey.  Along the way their past history is revealed and each character is introduced, along with their dead (or is he?) father and their totally bonkers mother.

I giggled and spluttered and gasped as this remarkable story unfolded, often wondering where on earth it was heading, but always eager to turn the page to find out a little bit more.

If you enjoy quirky and strange, and of course, weird, you will love this tale of family drama and life journeys.

My thanks to Sabah from The Friday Project for inviting me to read and review an advance copy of Born Weird.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

Picador have published some of my very favourite books over the past few years, the Picador editors seem to be able to sniff out a winner instinctively; Emma Donoghue, Anna Raverat and Alice Sebold are three of my favourite authors, and if Emma Chapman's debut novel How To Be A Good Wife is anything to go by, then she is definitely going to join that club.

How To Be A Good Wife will be published in January 2013.

Emma Chapman wrote this novel whilst completing her Royal Holloway MA in Creative Writing, incredibly she is only 27 years old.  I find this incredible because this debut novel is one of the most accomplished and clever pieces of writing that I've read for a long, long time.

Marta and Hector have been married for many years, they have a grown up son who recently moved to the city.  Marta has always tried to be a good wife and took her instructions from the book that her mother-in-law gave to her just after she married Hector.

The book is an old-fashioned marriage manual entitled How To Be A Good Wife.   Marta misses her son Kylan so much, the house is empty without him, her days are endless with no son to care for.  Life seems to be unravelling around her and she begins to see visions of a small blonde girl.  Hector is worried about her, she's stopped taking her tablets, she's hallucinating and acting very strangely.   It's clear that Marta has suffered with mental health problems for many years and that Hector has looked after his wife ...... but is the small blonde girl a symptom of her illness, or is she a real memory?

Emma Chapman
Emma Chapman has written a short novel (just over 160 pages), that conveys such a feeling of menace and chill, yet is complex and clever.  Marta is such an isolated character, she has no contact with anyone outside of her immediate family and lives in a desolate spot, away from the town, shops and neighbours.  Most of the time, she lives within her own head - interacting with her visions and her memories far more than with any living human being.

Is Marta an unreliable narrator?  At times I thought so, but there were also times during the story that I believed her wholeheartedly - and that is the beauty of this novel.  Even after reading the last few lines, the reader will sit and contemplate the whole story, and yet you will never be quite sure just what is the truth.  This is a story and these are characters that will stay in the mind for a long time, a little like the characters that  live in Marta's head.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Foodie Penpal Reveal - November

Where did November go to?  Time seems to fly away so quickly, it's hard to believe that we are almost at the end of 2012 already.

I'm still really enjoying being part of the Foodie Penpal project, I get really excited when my parcel arrives and I love creating my parcel to send out too.  This month, my parcel sender was Claire from Grimsby in North Lincolnshire, so not very far away at all.  Claire runs her own business which produces Scrubbys Crisps; really classy crisps made from root vegetables, they are well worth trying out if you like good savoury snacks.  Claire is on Twitter @scrubbyscrisps

My parcel from Claire was packed with delicious goodies, she did really well and sent things that really are perfect for me.

Strawberry covered Coffee Beans:  These are pretty unusual, but very moreish.  The coating is sweet and fruity and inside there is a whole coffee bean - strawberry coffee - yum.

Tangy Orange Drinking Fudge from Fudge Kitchen - Wow! I've never seen drinking fudge before so was really keen to try it - it's DELICIOUS!!  The fudge is liquid form, packaged in a sachet and you just add boiling water - simple, but oh so good!

Thai Rock Salt from Flavour Magic - I love herbs and spices and seasoning and have a special shelf in my kitchen with lots of different varieties but I'd never come across these before.  It's rock salt infused with different flavours, the Thai variety includes lemongrass, chilli, ginger and garlic.  I've had a little taste and am going to use this in my next Thai Curry.

A slab of Scorcher Chedder from The Cherry Tree - this is HOT HOT HOT!  Chedder with pieces of red chilli and green jalapenos running through it - I like it, I like it alot - but I can only bear a small piece at a time!

A pot of Super Sweet Chilli Jam from Mercers of Yorkshire - again, this is HOT, but yet again, this is GOOD.  Sweet Chilli is one of my favourite flavours and this one is especially nice.

A packet of Organic Oatcakes from Side Oven Bakery  - these are really delicate and crumbly and go perfectly with a slice of the Scorcher Chedder and a smear of Sweet Chilli Jam.

What a really fantastic parcel, I've been so lucky with my Foodie Penpal parcels so far.

I sent my parcel over to Anna who lives in the Republic of Ireland and has her own blog that you can take a look at here .  I sent Anna a selection of Lincolnshire goodies, including Poacher cheese and plum bread.

If you are interested in signing up for the Foodie Penpal project, just fill out the form at the Rock Salt blog here

Monday, 26 November 2012

Beautiful Bargain

It's only very recently that I've started to shop at, I bought a dress from them at the beginning of the summer and was really impressed by it.  Ever since then, I've been having a little browse every now and then and adding to that good old checkout basket!

Aswell as the dress, I've had a pair of black velvet slipper shoes and some really funky black and leopard skin print ankle boots.  I've been complimented every time I've worn any of them and I'm really pleased with the items even though they really are as cheap as chips.

I ordered a skater dress a couple of weeks ago.  I've always like the skater style but I've never really been sure about the waistline, or the length.  It's pretty difficult to get things to fit nicely when you're not quite five feet tall.    The dress arrived, and I love it!     It fits perfectly, it's comfy and just the right length.  It has long sleeves and is made of a really warm material, so it's going to be perfect for the winter months.

The picture on the left is the stock photo from - the dress is a little longer on me, but still looks and feels great

I wore it with thick black tights and a pair of burgundy suede cowboy boots.  I bought the boots from Shelley's in Covent Garden about 6 years ago and they are still in great condition.   Apparently cowboy boots are 'on trend' this season - it's a good job I never throw anything away!!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Up Close by Henriette Gyland

Publisher Choc Lit were recently awarded 'Publisher of the Year' at the 2012 Festival of Romance, and quite rightly so.  Choc Lit consistently publish well-written, intelligent and grown up contemporary fiction.  Up Close by Henriette Gyland will be published on 7 December and is sure to be another winner for them.

The setting is deepest Norfolk with it's chilling winds, deserted fens. swirling fogs and close-knit communities.  Dr Lia Thompson has arrived back to her roots; a cold, damp and unsettling old house that she must sort through after the sudden death of her grandmother.   Lia has a new life, she is a successful A&E doctor in America, engaged to a high-flying lawyer and seemingly settled, it's difficult for her to have to start dealing with the memories that are evoked as she goes through her grandmother's possessions.   Then there are the niggling doubts that start to crop up.  Why did her grandmother get a dog?   What made her order a high-spec security system and did this traditional, set in her ways old woman really order a take away curry just before she died?

And then there is Aiden, injured during an accident whilst serving in the Navy, now producing some quite disturbing works of art and most definitely hiding something.   How much does he really know about the death of Lia's grandmother?

Henriette Gyland
Up Close is a chilling story that literally sent a shiver or two down my spine.  It's a complex story, with a cast of characters that are not to be trusted, who have back-stories that interleave together to create a quite unexpected conclusion.   Lia and Aiden are complicated characters who at first fight against their attraction to each other, hurting each other in the process.  There is real passion in this story, not just the blossoming romance, but also the passion felt by the characters for what they believe in - there is also an undercurrent of hate running through the book - terrible deeds carried out in the past that have shaped the characters and their futures.

This is a clever and gripping read - with a twist.

A Guest Review of The Merde Factor by Stephen Clarke

I'm delighted to introduced another of my guest reviewers to my blog today.   Susan has read and reviewed Stephen Clarke's The Merde Factor which was published in September by Century, part of Cornerstone Publishing.

I'll let Susan introduce herself to you:
I am a 33-year-old girl (lady always makes me feel old!), who until recently worked as a retail manager, and after facing redundancy have begun working part-time hours in retail and offering more time to Samaritans where I currently volunteer.  I am unmarried, and live alone.  Needless to say, my favourite hobby is reading; mostly chic-lit, crime and thrillers.

So back to The Merde Factor   and a little about the author.  Stephen Clarke lives in France where he divides his time between writing and not writing.  His first novel, A Year In The Merde, originally became a word of mouth hit in Paris in 2004, and is now published all over the world.  Since then he as published three more best-selling Merde novels.

Here are Susan's thoughts on The Merde Factor:

I looked at the title and synopsis of this book and thought it looked like an enjoyable read.  The front cover is amusing and the storyline blurb on the back of the book had enough content to make me want to read on.
I didn't realise that the book is a part of a series, and maybe due to this, I found myself struggling to follow everything that was happening in the story.
I don't speak French, and I think this too made it a little difficult to follow at times.
However, I must say that I really enjoyed the wit and humour in the book.  I found Stephen very funny in his style of writing and there were times when I was reading that I had a little chuckle to myself.  I can honestly say that I believe Stephen has a unique style of writing which is very good.
The main characters in the story are likeable, and I was keen to find out how the story would end.  My favourite character is Jake who is a 'wannabe' poet with the inability to compose poems!

Huge thanks Susan for your honest review, thanks so much for contributing to my blog.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Every Step of the Way by Kit Domino

A couple of months ago I agreed to be a reviewer for a new book site; The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf.    The Bookshelf is the 'sister' site of which has been up and running since June 2011 and showcases 30 authors from around the world who write fiction, poetry and real-life.  The featured authors are beginning to get noticed and 7 of them have now signed deals with publishers.  The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf site features these authors and their publishers.

My first review is for Every Step of the Way by Kit Domino which was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Prize in 2004 and is published by Thornberry Publishing

Beth Brixham is a 16-year-old London girl.  It's 1952 and the city is beginning to recover from the War.  Beth is desperately looking for an office job, something that will please her parents and allow her a little more freedom and independence, away from her bullish, somewhat overbearing Father and her overworked and tired Mother.  Beth is making her way to an interview when she becomes lost in a terrible 'pea-souper' of a fog, a fog like nothing ever seen before in London which becomes known as the 'Great Smog'.  Beth takes refuge in a cafe, and gets talking to the staff and owner who offers her a job there and then.    Working in a cafe is not what Beth had hoped for, but once there, she soon starts to enjoy her days.   
Eventually, after four days the smog cleared and the aftermath for the city is huge.  Thousands of people have died and lives have been changed forever.  The aftermath for Beth is that instead of getting an office job, she is now a waitress - but has met the handsome and charming Terry who has quickly stolen her heart.
Life deals Beth and her family a really hard hand.  As she encounters tragedy and disappointment her character's strength shines through.  Kit Domino paints a wonderfully evocative picture of life in the 1950s, of the newly emerging coffee shop culture, the music and the fashion.  Throughout the story, as Beth deals with the pain and grief around her, she never weakens.   Sometimes she may make the wrong decisions in life, but always for the right reasons.  Beth is loyal and devoted to her family, despite her Father's treatment of her and her siblings, and indeed, his own wife.  She is also determined to fight for her rights as a woman, often going against the wishes of others, to make sure that she as a woman can have the same opportunities as the men.
The story moves to rural Gloucestershire for a while and again Kit Domino is able to paint a wonderfully realistic picture of life on a farm in the 50s.
Kit Domino
I was very impressed by the quality of the writing, the descriptions of murky London transport the reader back into the midst of the smog.   Each of the characters were well-rounded, realistic and likeable, especially the heroine Beth, who with her forward-thinking ways really makes the reader stop and think about how much women today owe to those who fought the equality cause all those years ago.
This is a historical family drama done very well.   The ending is left wide open for a sequel and I'd like to think that Kit Domino will let her readers know what happens next for Beth.

My thanks go to Linn and all at The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf for inviting me to be a reviewer on their new site and sending a copy of Every Step of the Way as my first review.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Wonderful Parcel from Caroline James

A little while ago I entered a giveaway hosted by Carol on her fabulous blog; Dizzy C's Little Book Blog.  Carol always has some interesting book reviews and great author interviews and giveaways.  I was delighted to find that I was the winner of a copy of Coffee, Tea, The Gypsy and Me by Caroline James.

This morning the postman knocked on the door and handed over a parcel, to be honest I'd completely forgotten about the prize so it was a really wonderful surprise to open up the parcel and find such wonderful treats inside.

Caroline had made a really special effort with my prize.  A copy of her book and a postcard all wrapped up in gorgeous pink ribbon.  Alongside these there was another little parcel, again beautifully wrapped and tied with ribbon and inside I found a really scrumptious piece of home-made tiffin.  What a great surprise!   Immediately, the kettle was on, a cup of tea made and I sat down to sample the cake - wonderful!  Moist, full of chocolate and fruit and nuts - it really is to die for.

I've since been and checked out Caroline's webpage and blog and what an interesting life she's led, I've found we have a few things in common too.  Like me, she loves Greece, and again like me, she especially loves the Ionian islands.   People who know me know just how much I love our holidays to Greece and especially the Ionians.   Arillas in northern Corfu is our very special place, we visit every May for 2 weeks without fail and this year we were lucky enough to have a second holiday - a wonderful week in a cottage on the island of Paxos.

So, huge thanks go to Carol (Dizzy C) and to Caroline for my surprise parcel.   I'm really looking forward to reading the book, and will be back just as soon as I've read it to let everyone know what I think of it.

Please do check out Carol's blog here, and Caroline's webpage here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Definition of astray


  • 1away from the correct path or direction:
    we went astray but a man redirected us
  • 2into error or morally questionable behavior:
    he was led astray by boozy colleagues

Astray was published by Picador in October and is Emma Donoghue's latest collection of short stories.  Like her previous collection; 'The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits', these stories are based on true events and make up a collection of fictionalised fact.

The central theme of each story, and that which links them together is 'astray', not just geographically astray, but morally and in some cases criminally too.   The collection is divided into four parts; Departures, In Transit, Arrivals and Aftermaths and are mainly set in the 19th Century.

Emma Donoghue

There is a quote on the back of this book from author Colum McCann; he describes Emma Donoghue as 'one of the great literary ventriloquists of our time' - I can add nothing to that statement for it really is spot on.

Emma Donoghue has a writing style and a voice like no other, it doesn't matter whether she is writing short pieces or a full length novel, whether it is historical or contemporary fiction, or even if the voice that she is using is that of an adult or a child.   Her writing skill takes my breath away and I was totally immersed in this collection, literally reading it from beginning to end in one day.    It takes special skill to be able to transport a reader to Deep South USA on one page and then to Victorian London on the next so seamlessly.  Her voices are realistic, entrancing and so vividly written.

With many thanks to Emma at Picador for forwarding a copy for review.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Picador Book of 40 : 40 Writers Inspired by a Number ~ Edited by Charlotte Greig

Picador celebrated their 40th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion they asked 40 writers to respond to the idea of 40 in whatever way they liked.  The result is The Picador Book of 40 : 40 Writers Inspired By A Number, edited by Charlotte Greig.

The authors range from great established writers on the list, like Alice Sebold, John Banville and Graham Swift, to new stars, such as Emma Straub, Belinda McKeon and Megan Abbott.

What a diverse and entertaining read this book is!   Not just the traditional short stories, but pieces from the authors which range from a series of 40-word synopses of great works of literature, poems and 40 things to do before I die.   It's not only the pieces of writing that are so eclectic either, the range of authors gives the reader tastes of different writing styles, different perspectives and different ages.

Megan Abbot writes about 'forty cakes' - fairly unknown to British readers, but seemingly something very familiar to thousands of Americans.   Gavin Knight delivers a dark and quite unnerving very short story entitled 'The Forty Years War'.   There are some of my favourite new writers included in the anthology, including the incredibly talented Anna Raverat (author of Signs of Life), and Naomi Wood (author of The Godless Boys).

I really enjoyed dipping into this collection of writing.  I'll admit that I didn't enjoy every single piece that is included, but that's usually true of any anthology of short stories or essays, but on the whole it's a really well put together collection that highlights the talent that Picador represent.

The illustration on the cover of the book is also a part of the 40 collection; it's by Matteo Pericoli and is an infinity symbol in forty lines.

My thanks, as always to the Press Officer at Picador who kindly sent my copy for review.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Curious Invitation: The 40 Greatest Parties in Literature by Suzette Field

What do Plato, Jane Austen, Dickens, Proust and Stephen King have in common?  They all wrote a great party.

A Curious Invitation : The 40 Greatest Parties in Literature was published in October by Picador, I was delighted to receive a copy of this beautifully presented book from Sandra in the Picador Press Office.

It really is a joy to look at, the cover is wonderfully illustrated, with touches of gold leaf in amongst the drawings, there are more black and white drawings dotted throughout the book.

Suzette Field is a very successful event promoter. the balls and parties that she arranges regularly attract 3000 guests.  She is a real 'party animal', and her love of a good 'do' shine through in the 40 parties that she has selected to feature in her book.   Each party has been taken from a work of fiction, although a couple of the included bashes are fictionalised versions of real historical events.    And what a varied bunch of parties she has selected, the reader is taken from the world of Plato to Pooh, with each event given as much thought and consideration as the last one.

It's not just traditional parties that are featured either, there are garden parties, proms and orgies!  Suzette Field has listed the guest lists, the food, the dress, the entertainment and the lasting legacy of each event.

A Curious Invitation is a fascinating read, told with humour at times, it is really accessible and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves books and especially those book-lovers who love to party.

This the sort of book that you can dip into at any time and find another fascinating party, it's almost like being a constant gatecrasher!

Find out more at 

Friday, 9 November 2012

The First Cut by Ali Knight

Back in August of last year, I read and reviewed Ali Knight's debut novel Wink Murder (you can read my review here).  I was impressed by her writing then and having just read her second novel The First Cut, I'm still very impressed.

The First Cut is another very cleverly written psychological thriller.  The lead characters are not the most likeable of people, they are flawed and damaged individuals who constantly make the wrong decisions, yet the story is compelling.

In the prologue, Nicky's best friend Grace is brutally murdered.  Her throat is slit and her body is dumped in a lake.  Nicky finds the body and the murderer is never found.

Grace's murder shapes the rest of Nicky's life.  The story then begins proper, five years later, and the reader discovers that Nicky is now married to Grace's widower Greg.

Nicky writes for a newspaper, Greg works in film and is often away from home.  Life seems pretty normal until the day that Nicky meets Adam on a flight home from Spain.  This meeting turns her life upside down.  What starts out as pretty harmless flirting with a sexy younger man soon turns into a nightmare for Nicky.  What really happened to Grace?  Does she really know the man that she is married to?  Could Greg really be a murderer?

Ali Knight
The First Cut is a roller-coaster of a read, full of suspense, red-herrings and an intricate if sometimes over complicated plot.  At times I found the cast of characters a little confusing and this is certainly not a book that can be rushed.  Despite being fairly short at just over 300 pages long, it took me quite a while to read this.  It needs to be digested fully in order to follow the plot line completely.

Although this is definitely a thriller, it is also a relationship study and looks at how a marriage can work even when there are secrets being kept that could change everything.  With themes of guilt and betrayal, this is much more than a murder story.

It is clear that Ali Knight's writing is going from strength to strength, she has mastered the art of creating characters that the reader does not have to particularly like, but will care about what happens to them.

The First Cut was published by Hodder on 11 October 2012.  Ali Knight has a website here.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Foodie Penpals ~ October 2012

As the nights are drawing in and it's most definitely getting colder and greyer by the day, I do begin to feel a bit down in the dumps.  Autum and Winter are not my favourite times of the year by any means, although I do love chunky jumpers, scarves and boots!

Being part of the Foodie Penpals scheme is great, and my parcel this month arrived on a particularly horrible day - very cold and sleety rain, so I was really happy to have a box of surprise goodies to open up.

This month my parcel came from Simon and Karen in Manchester.  Karen puts together the parcels and Simon blogs about them, his blog is great, full of food, fashion and travel and you can check it out at   Simon had contacted me before they put the parcel together, so they had a little idea of some of my likes and dislikes.   The parcel was perfect, full of unusual and very tasty goodies!

Included were; a pot of Simon's Bacon Jam - now this sounds a bit weird, but it really is delicious, both myself and Martin can't keep away from it.  It's really savory and bacony and tastes great with cheese and crackers.  Another home-made treat was a jar of marinated feta cheese, made from Nigella Lawson's recipe - I adore all things Greek and I'm going to enjoy the cheese, maybe alongside some juicy stuffed olives.

Also in my parcel is a packet of Mrs Crimbles Cheese Biscuits - I've never tried these before but I'm hooked.  They really are moreish, thin and crispy and very cheesy!

To finish the foodie delights, I discovered a bag of gorgeous praline chocolate that Simon and Karen had bought from the Old Fashioned Sweet Shoppe, a couple of pieces of that alongside a cup of coffee made with the Italian Ginevra blend that they included is the perfect way to end the day.

Another wonderful parcel from the Foodie Penpals scheme, if you'd like to sign up, just fill out the form at the Rock Salt blog here

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

I can hardly believe that seventeen years have passed since Marian Keyes introduced us to the world of the Walsh Family in her debut novel Watermelon.   At last, six years since we last heard from one of the Walsh sisters in Anybody Out There?, it's the turn of youngest sister Helen to update fans on what has been happening in the Walsh family.

Helen was always a little bit quirky, and although she has not played a big part in the other books in this series, she's always been there in the background.   Helen has tried her hand at quite a few jobs over the years and is now a Private Investigator.   She was a fairly successful PI, working on various cases, sometimes jetting off to exotic locations, she had her own flat and a car.   Then along came the economic melt down that hit Ireland harder and faster than anywhere else in Europe.  Helen has found herself back with her parents and struggling to find work.   She's also battling a darker and more dangerous demon; the debilitating depression that almost finished her off once before and is looming over her again.

When Helen is offered a job, tracking down the missing member of a re-formed boy band, she is delighted to be needed, the major downside is that the guy who hires her is her ex-boyfriend Jay Parker.

Helen is not the easiest character to like, she could be considered rude, she is forceful, cynical and often speaks before she thinks, but underneath that exterior is a vulnerable and damaged woman with an acid wit and a fantastic collection of one-liners that would stop anyone in their tracks.  She is funny and she is loyal.

The 'mystery' of the story appears at first to be a bit forced : the disappearance of an ex boy-band member.   Helen's methods of investigation are also a little unusual to say the least, but I feel that the whole mystery and investigation is just the cover-story for something that underneath, is a very serious and quite frightening subject matter.   Marian Keyes deals with Helen's battle with depression with ease, with compassion and with humour.   Her own depressive illness is something that she has talked openly and honestly about, and it is clear that she has taken some of her own experiences and given them to Helen.  A very brave step for any author to take, but her wonderful writing and her talented wit have allowed her to carry it off with ease.

The Mystery of Mercy Close is a book that on the face of it appears to be about a grumpy girl PI and a bunch of burnt-out pop stars, but is in fact, a story of hitting the bottom and pulling yourself back up again - with laughs thrown in and of course a Shovel List!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A Guest Blogger reviews The Child Who by Simon Lelic

I am delighted to introduce my friend Joan, who has kindly agreed to be the first guest reviewer on Random Things.

Joan describes herself as the daughter of a forces family who has lived in Staffordshire for 57 of her 62 years.  She has been married to Terry for 41 years.   Joan retired from teaching seven years ago and enjoys a very busy and active retirement.  Always a book-lover, she fostered a love of stories, not only to her own family with with her pupils.  She lists her loves in life as her family, homelife, friendships, reading, playing tennis, socialising, photography and holidaying.

Joan tells me that she thinks she sounds uninteresting - she isn't!   Joan and I met through an online book discussion group, we were virtual friends at first but have since met up many times to eat lunch, talk about books and laugh together.   She tells me that during her life she's been run over by a car, shot in the shoulder,  team-taught with a convicted paedophile, been stalked and received menacing phone calls TWICE, and coached a young gymnast who went on to compete in the Olympics - phew!   Hardly uninteresting!

Joan agreed to read and review Simon Lelic's latest novel; The Child Who which was published by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan in paperback in July this year.   Here are Joan's thoughts;

What an absolute cracker this one was.  The story revolves in the main around Leo Curtice, the duty solicitor,  when police telephone the Exeter practice of twelve solicitors where Leo works, to ask for representation for twelve-year-old Daniel Blake, charged with the shockingly violent murder of his ten-year-old school mate Felicity Forbes.  

The tension escalates throughout the build up to the trial, with Leo receiving hate mail, his daughter Eleanor being attacked and covered by red ink, and his wife being frightened witless by an intruder emerging from the dark at her lounge window.  Despite the worries of his fellow solicitors and his family, Leo is determined to mount a comprehensive defence to minimise the impact of the sentence to be bestowed upon Daniel, who admits to the charge and feels deep regret for his actions.  

When Leo's daughter disappears, he and his wife are distraught with worry and Leo reluctantly hands over the case to a colleague while he concentrates on helping the police to track down the abductor of his daughter.  In his absence, and to Leo's horror, Daniel is sentenced without offering the defence Leo had envisaged and worked so hard on.    

There are two strands to this story, with Daniel's story the back-story set in the past, being the bulk of the book.  The contemporary strand, running parallel tells of the devastating consequences for Leo's family.  With chilling reminders of the prosecution of John Venables and Robert Thompson in the 1993 murder of toddler James Bulger, and the relaxing of the age of responsibility for criminal actions to ten year olds,  there is plenty of room for reflection and discussion about the rights and wrongs of the treatment metered out on Daniel.  This is a meticulously researched, well-written novel, a page-turner that will stay in my thoughts for a very long time.

My thanks to Joan for such a fabulous review of The Child Who. I look forward to introducing more guest reviewers over the coming months.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Move Over Darling by Christine Stovell

Move Over Darling is Christine Stovell's second novel and was published by Choc Lit at the beginning of October.

The small Welsh village of Penmorfa is the main setting of the story which revolves around Coralie Casey and Gethin Lewis.    Coralie is a newcomer to the village, she has left behind her busy corporate life to set up a small business selling her own range of natural beauty and cleaning products - inspired by her late Grandmother.   Gethin, on the other hand, is a native of Penmorfa.  He left the village many years before and is now a successful artist based in New York.  Gethin has returned to refurbish and sell his childhood home after the recent death of his father.   Gethin doesn't have happy memories of the village, and many of the residents seem to resent his success, especially as they feel that his most famous painting does his home village no favours.

Christine Stovell gradually introduces other characters into the story, and although they do not take centre stage, their personalities and complex lives are just as entertaining and often as intriguing as the two main players.   The essence of village life is captured very well, from the gossipy old women, to the handsome young surfer and the modern-day worries of marriages, business and how to raise funds for the much needed new Community Centre.

As the story unfolds and the reader gets to know both Coralie and Gethin, my initial impressions of them changed.  Gethin starts out as something of a cold and distant character, often appearing arrogant and uncaring.  Coralie has an air of mystery to her, and at times appears quite vulnerable.  As their relationship with each other develops, so does the relationship between their characters and the reader.

Christine Stovell
Move Over Darling is a traditional romance with a modern twist, and a hint of suspense and mystery running through it that makes for a satisfying and entertaining read.

My thanks to Jane from Choc Lit for sending a copy for review, and the added bonus of a Walnut Whip to go with it!

You can visit the Choc Lit website here, for details of their other books, and follow them on Twitter here.

Christine Stovell's web site is here, she is also on Twitter here.