Saturday, 29 June 2013

Oscar the Bionic Cat by Kate Allan

Those of you who know me well will know that I'm a cat lover and have owned cats for all of my life. At the moment we have two seven-year-olds; Costa and Nero - a pair of cheeky, if very lovable rogues who rule the household - and quite rightly so.

I rarely get a chance to watch TV so missed the BBC Series The Bionic Vet which was aired a couple of years ago, so when a copy of Oscar the Bionic Cat by Kate Allan dropped through my letterbox, it was the first time that I'd heard about this amazing, and very very lucky black cat.

Oscar has certainly used up all of his nine lives - and more! Not content with being hit by a car and having to undergo surgery, he then found himself in the middle of an argument with a combine harvester.

Oscar is not your ordinary, everyday cat, and in this case the cat won!   His owners, Kate and Mike were fortunate enough to have a wonderful vet who was determined that Oscar would walk again, he'd heard of the pioneering work done by the 'Bionic Vet' in London and soon plans were underway for Oscar to receive a pair of implants that would enable him to run and jump again.

I enjoyed reading about Oscar and his journey. I guess at times, this must have been a pretty difficult and emotional story for Kate Allan to re-tell. It is clear from her writing that she and her husband Mike adore Oscar, but also had their other three cats to consider. Oscar's treatment went on for a long time, with long periods away from home.

A story that will touch the heart of any animal lover, well written and from the heart.

Oscar The Bionic Cat by Kate Allan was published by Summersdale in February 2013.


Friday, 28 June 2013

It Never Was You by William E Thomas ~ Review and **Book Giveaway**

It Never Was You is the second part of the Cypress Branches trilogy, written by William E Thomas and published by acuteANGLE books.   I read and reviewed the first book; Pegasus Falling on my blog last June and have waiting for part two ever since then.

I was delighted to receive my copy of It Never Was You from the author's son Mike who has worked tirelessly to get his father's story into print.  Mike wrote a guest blog piece for Random Things last year.  I was doubly delighted to find a quote from my review of Pegasus Falling in the front of the latest book.

Once again, William E Thomas has created a wonderfully atmospheric story, starting out as something as a mystery and turning into an emotional journey with two strong and interesting characters heading the way.

When Harry Williamson disappears from a ferry bound from Liverpool, his family are left devastated and puzzled.  Harry was an experienced ex-merchant seaman and they have no idea why he was heading for Liverpool.   They become even more distressed when they discover that Harry has left a significant amount of money and a property to a mysterious Mary Robinson.   Who on earth is she, and why should she inherit so much of their family money?

The reader is then whisked back to Harry's early life, just after the war and long before he met his future wife.  What follows is a story of passion and heartbreak and the story of Harry and Mary slowly unfolds.  Many parts of the story, and some of the characters do link into the first book of the trilogy, and although it would help if the reader had read Pegasus Falling first, this book does work well as a stand-alone novel.

As in the first book, there is a political side to Thomas's writing, the effects of war on the working-classes, the wide gap between them and the wealthy, the prejudice and beliefs of the times are all shown here - the language is often colourful and often very politically incorrect, but fits perfectly with the era of the story.

It Never Was You is another powerfully epic tale.  Thomas's writing is compelling and incredibly engaging. I look forward to reading the final instalment in the trilogy next year.

I am delighted to be able to offer a paperback copy of It Never Was You by William E Thomas - to enter please complete the Rafflecopter widget below - the giveaway will be open for 7 days.   Huge thanks to Mike from acuteANGLE books for supplying my review copy and the giveaway copy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 27 June 2013

How To Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days...... by Karen Salmansohn .... from Presents For Men

How To Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less, Using The Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers - phew, what a very long title for a quite small book!    Written by Karen Salmansohn and illustrated by Alison Seiffer, this book would make a sweet and funny gift for both men and women.

My copy of the book came from who have a great website full of some really quirky and unusual gifts for the men in your life.   I always struggle to buy gifts for the men in my family, both my Dad and my Brother are horribly difficult to buy for.  Browsing through the website has given me some great ideas for future presents.  I especially like the funny books section on the site, there is a great collection to choose from ranging from 101 Things To Do With A Retired Man to Great EMail Disasters - definitely something for everyone.

How To Make Your Man Behave ..... made me chuckle and nod my head, and the illustrations are fabulous too.

Just a couple of observations and tips from the book:

Dogs are known for their pack behaviour.  A dog forced to spend too much time in captivity with you will suffer greatly.  He'll whine and bark until he's let out to hang with his pack.

Dogs display marked territorial behaviour, claiming their perceived space with belongings and scent.

Dogs are known for bad peeing habits.

Sound familiar ladies?   Yes?   Well, maybe the author is right and dog training secrets are the way forward with our men!!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne with Q&A from the Author

If there are any crime thriller fans out there who have not yet been introduced to Steven Dunne's 'Reaper' series featuring the brooding maverick DI Damen Brooks, then you are in for a real treat.  In fact, I'm a tiny bit envious of anyone who still has all four of these incredible books to read.

The Unquiet Grave finds DI Brooks back at the station after his recent suspension and injury.  Brook has few friends and many enemies, and finds himself relegated to the cold case department.  In his morgue-like office, surrounded by yellowing files containing cases that many other Detectives have tried and failed to solve, Brook considers his own future at regular intervals.   His relationship with his daughter is strained, he's living on rice and cream cheese and has given up smoking.   Only his old partner, DS John Noble, still believes in him and the local newspaper reporter is determined to blacken his name even more.

Brook's only colleague in the cold case department is Copeland; an ex-cop who devoted his life and his career to trying to catch his sister Tilly's  murderer.  Copeland's life has been ruined by that one event so many years ago, and Tilly's case has been reviewed time and time again.

Brook begins to see a pattern in a series of murders that began back in 1963 and the deeper he digs, the more he discovers.  Wondering why these cases have remained unsolved for so long, Brook soon realises that he is uncovering not just the identity of the murderer, but also a web of lies and deceit from both inside and outside of the force.

Just like Steven Dunne's first three books; The Reaper, The Disciple and Deity, The Unquiet Grave kept me reading until the early hours.   This really is high-end crime writing, excellently constructed and throwing enough red herrings around to both challenge and thrill the reader.    DI Brook is a multi-layered character, and whilst there are a stock of flawed detective characters floating around the crime genre at the moment, Brook stands out from the rest with his intelligence, his emotional baggage and his determination to get to the bottom of a case, no matter what it takes.

The Unquiet Grave grips the reader from the first paragraph and doesn't let go until the very last word. The pace is perfect and the twists are genius.

The Unquiet Grave is published by Headline in hardback and in eBook on 4 July.   My thanks go to Sam Eades who sent my copy for review.

Steven Dunne has written for fun since attending Kent University.  After a brief and terrifying stint as a stand-up comic, he became a freelance journalist working for The Times and the Independent.  He is now a part-time teacher in Derby.  He is the author of the highly acclaimed thrillers THE REAPER, THE DISCIPLE and DEITY.  Follow Steven on Twitter @ReaperSteven or visit his website

I'm really thrilled that Steven Dunne has agreed to answer some questions here on my blog today:

Steven Dunne
What are you reading at the moment?    White Noise by Don DeLillo

Do you read reviews of your novels?    Absolutely, I think if someone takes the trouble to read your work you need to hear their reaction to it in the same way as I would listen to readers' thoughts at book signings or festivals.  Reviews are a good barometer for how your writing is being interpreted.

Do you take them seriously?  If reviews are well argued it would be churlish not to take notice.  I'm sure, like most writers, I won't be able to please everyone so accept that some readers are just wrong for your work.  And positive reviews are one of the things that inspire me to do my best.

How long does it take to write a novel?  It takes me as long as I'm allowed.  That sounds like an odd answer but I don't think writers are doing their job properly if they pronounce themselves satisfied with their work.  I will use every minute of every day to try and add value to my novels.  The trick is to budget the time you've been given and use it wisely.

Do you have any writing rituals?  Yes.  I drag myself into the office and force myself to re-enter the world I've created.  It gets easier to do this the more that world has been constructed.  Starting a new novel is the hardest time to avoid distractions.

What was your favourite childhood book?   Mmmm.  That's a long time ago.  I enjoyed many series of books. The Famous Five, Alastair MacLean, Agatha Christie.  I started attacking serious literature in 6th form.

Name one book that made you laugh?  Modern American satire has me squirming in amusement at the way some characters are skewered on their own pretensions.  Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections had me howling and I'm enjoying White Noise in the same way.

Name one book that made you cry?   Interestingly, I only get weepy about scenes I'm writing.  I often feel the lip wobble when winding up the desperations levels in the shattered lives of one of my characters, often the loneliness and despair at the heart of my central character DI Damen Brook.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?   Sherlock Holmes.  No explanation needed.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?  I try not to impose my taste on friends above a nudge in the right direction but if you forced me into a choice, I'd have to give Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, the book that highlights the insanity of war better than any other.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?  Thomas Harris turned me onto the value of crime fiction as a genre with The Silence of the Lambs and it still serves as a standard to which all thrillers should aspire.

What is your guilty pleasure read?   With writing so all-consuming I never feel guilty about reading at any time.  It's the only activity which justifies time away from the laptop.

Who are your favourite authors?   In the crime genre that would be Harris, Michael Connolly, Henning Mankell, RJ Ellory and Steig Larson.  In all genres, Franzen, Norman Mailer, Gore Videl, John Fowles, Truman Capote, John LeCarre amongst many.

Which book have your re-read?  Funnily enough I usually don't get round to re-reading because of the number of books I have yet to experience.  However, I did re-read The Poet by Michael Connolly as light relief after finishing The Unquiet Grave.  It wasn't as good as I remember, though I think most thrillers lose much of their lustre once the solution is known.

Which book have you given up on?   I usually grind it out to the bitter end but I had to give up on Labyrinth by Kate Mosse for reasons too numerous to mention.  The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg was another.  It seemed to be a thriller about baby-rearing so either I got the wrong end of the stick or the publishers put the wrong cover on.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Someone Else's Wedding by Tamar Cohen

I was delighted to receive a copy of Someone Else's Wedding, the third novel by Tamar Cohen which is published by Doubleday, Random House on 20 June 2013.

I adored both of Tamar Cohen's previous novels; The Mistress's Revenge and War of the Wives and was very much looking forward to seeing what she would produce next.    It's quite difficult to say that an author is a 'favourite' with only two novels to their name, but Someone Else's Wedding has confirmed that yes, Tamar Cohen is right up there as one of my favourites.

The author is skilled at dissecting relationships, a theme that runs through her novels quite clearly.  No more so than in Someone Else's Wedding which takes place over 36 hours, in a swish hotel where the guests have gathered to celebrate the marriage of Jamie and Lucy.    The central family, the Friedmans have all been invited, and it is Fran Friedman, the mother whose presence is felt strongest by the reader.   Fran and her husband Saul appear, on the surface, to be a happily married couple with two grown daughters.  Underneath though, they are struggling to come to terms with the loss of a much-wanted and anticipated 'late' baby.  Their little girl Molly was stillborn two years ago and this tragic event has changed their lives and how they see each other ever since.

The reader knows that the Friedmans are friends of the groom's family, but it soon becomes very clear that Fran and the groom; Jamie, share something more.   Tamar Cohen excels in leading the reader up the garden path, only to make a sharp turn just when you think you've worked it out.  

This story is a pretty intense read, there is a darkness and air of foreboding over the wedding celebrations, with secrets and lies just waiting to escape.  

Tamar Cohen portrays her characters brilliantly, none of them are incredibly likeable, not even grief stricken Fran, but each of them are vivid and realistic, even the bit-players that are on the sideline to the story.

I really do enjoy this author's unique style of writing, she turns what could be an ordinary, maybe predictable story into a compelling, sometimes quite chilling read.  

A hugely enjoyable read, great characters, clever pacing and enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged right to the very end.

My thanks go to Aislinn Casey who sent a copy for review on behalf of the publisher.

Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist who lives in London with her partner and three teenage children.  She is the author of the acclaimed The War of the Wives and The Mistress's Revenge.
Follow her on twitter @mstamarcohen

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sweet Home by Carys Bray

Published by Salt Publishing in October last year, Sweet Home is a collection of short stories by Carys Bray, and was the winner of the Scott Prize.

In Sweet Home we find a collection of 17 stories, all of them explore some dark issues in suburbia.  Themes of loss, motherhood, regret and hope are woven through this exceptional collection of tales.  Carys Bray has the ability to draw the reader in from the first sentence, not letting go until the end.   I often find short stories unsatisfactory, almost as if the author wants to write a full-length novel but just runs out of steam, this really didn't happen once in this collection.   Each story is the perfect parcel - sometimes funny, always on the dark side and all so very truthful.   Whether it is the bereaved mother, the alleged witch or the baby supermarket, each story is crafted so well, almost fairy-tale like - but definitely on the Grimm side!

Family based stories can often be sentimental or overly sweet, but not these. Carys Bray captures the stark realities of ordinary everyday life, but with grace and a touch of beauty.

Carys Bray
I was very impressed with Sweet Home and look forward to reading more from Carys Bray in the future.  My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

Carys Bray completed an MA in Creative Writing in 2010.  Her prize-winning stories have been published in a variety of literary magazines, in print and on the web.  She is working on her first novel and a PhD.  She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

For more information about Carys Bray, visit her website, or find her on Twitter or Facebook.  More information about Salt Publishing can be found on their website

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Nearest Thing To Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes

Sometimes a book comes along that totally blows the mind.   Nearest Thing To Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes has done just that, my head is spinning, my heart has been beating so fast that I thought it was going to burst out of my chest.  I've been so angry with the characters that I've actually shouted at them - out loud.

Published by Cutting Edge Press on 27 June 2013, there is no doubt that this is going to be one of my Top Ten Books of the year.  There were times when I was actually a little bit scared of turning over the page, this is a mind-bending psychological head-fuck of the highest order.  I loved it!

Set in a small Worcestershire village - a group of middle-class families are happy to welcome novelist Ellie into their tight-knit group.  Glamorous Ellie fits nicely into their glossy lives, with their fancy houses, smart cars and perfect gardens.  She tells them that she is here to write her next book, she's rented a cottage for a few months and is looking forward to getting some inspiration for her story.

Cass and Dan have been married for years, their only child Laura has gone off to university and Cass is happy to potter around the garden, growing vegetables, collecting eggs and making chutney.   Everyone seems to love Ellie - except Cass, she is the only one who feels uncomfortable around her.  And for very good reason.     Slowly and gradually, Cass sees her life unravel - her past insecurities come back to haunt her, but nobody else can see that this is all because of Ellie.   First her husband, then her friends and finally her daughter - all of them - beginning to doubt her, believing in Ellie, slowly driving her mad.

Elizabeth Forbes is an excellent author who has written a story that has twists and turns on every page, not once did I guess how this was going to end.  The suspense builds until at times, it is almost unbearable.  Cleverly weaved into the main story of Cass is Ellie's point of view - who do you believe?

Gripping, clever, tense and thrilling.  This really is a fantastic read that I could hardly bear to put down and the story is going to haunt me for quite a while.

With thanks to Saffeya from Cutting Edge Press for sending my copy for review.

Cutting Edge Press have a really interesting catalogue of books, check out their website, their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.  Elizabeth Forbes is also on Twitter.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Liberty Tree by Suzanne Harrington

Suzanne Harrington's The Liberty Tree was written for her children.    Those two children no longer have a living father, but by writing this book she has made sure that they will always know him - and her.

The Liberty Tree is not just the story of Leo, but the story of Suzanne Harrington too, and at times it makes for some very difficult reading.   Not difficult in the sense that the writing is bad, far from it, but difficult emotionally.  This is a powerful, raw and startlingly honest story that has been bravely written.

Suzanne Harrington was an alcoholic, and a drug user.  Her husband Leo liked to party, but knew his limits.  Leo was a small, worried man, Suzanne was a larger than life, devil-may-care type of person.  As Suzanne slowly disintegrated into the blurry life of the seasoned drinker, Leo disintegrated into himself.  They produced two children, they tried to provide a happy home, despite finding themselves homeless, despite the drink and despite the fact that deep-down they didn't love each other.

If I'd met Suzanne Harrington years ago, when she was a drunken wreck, I probably wouldn't have liked her, she was rude, she was selfish and she cared little for anything else except drink.  If I met Suzanne Harrington today, I'd want to hug her.    She has exposed every little part of herself in this memoir, she doesn't try to justify her actions, she is honest - with herself and with her children.

The Liberty Tree is a wonderful, wonderful read - I laughed, I gasped and yes, I cried.  I cried for Suzanne and for Leo and for their two children.   The story is not all sobbing and sadness though, it is also warm and funny and touching and I grew to love all of the players in this amazing story.

Suzanne Harrington's children are lucky.  Lucky to have a mother who has faced up to her failings, turned herself around and written this amazing account for them, something that they can treasure and be proud of for ever.

My thanks to Stacey from We Love This Book for providing my copy for review.

Suzanne Harrington
The Liberty Tree is published by Atlantic Books on 4 July 2013.   Suzanne Harrington can be found on Twitter.   Find out more about The Liberty Tree @AtlanticBooks #LibertyTree

Suzanne Harrington has at various points been a journalist, TEFL teacher, a dole claimer, a backpacker, a youth worker, a painter, a wardrobe assistant, a washer-upper, a pen pusher, a house cleaner, a comic
bagger, a market stall holder and a cake maker.  She is a columnist for the Irish Examiner and also writes fro the Irish Independent, Irish Times and the Guardian.  She lives in Brighton.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Story of Before by Susan Stairs

"I wonder today how no one else could see the bad thing coming.  Not that I knew back then what the bad thing was; and if I had - if I'd known one of us was going to die - would there have been anything I could have done to prevent it?  I play back in my mind, over and over.  The clues were all there."
These are the words of eleven-year-old Ruth, the narrator of The Story of Before.   Ruth and her family have just moved into their new Dublin home, away from the house that her Daddy grew up in which became too small for them when baby Kevin was born.   Kevin arrived early, on the day that they moved to the new house, he lived there for all of his life.

Ruth can often tell that something is going to happen, just little things usually, but this time things feel different; whatever is going to happen is going to change their lives, but Ruth doesn't know yet what it will be.

Susan Stairs has created an extraordinary voice in Ruth, she narrates this story with the innocence of a child, but the insight of someone so much older.  The sense of both the 70s era and the insular neighbourhood of the Dublin suburb are beautifully observed, the reader is transported smack bang into times when children had more freedom, the summer was long and hot and parents didn't have to worry.

Although this is a story of heartbreak and tragedy and features much sadness and the problems that families tend to hide behind their front doors, it is also Ruth's story.   Her family is strong, her parents love one another, her older siblings are close and Ruth feels a little left out.  The arrival of baby brother Kevin, is a turning point for her, along with trying to fit into the already closely formed friendship groups on the new estate.  Ruth makes many mistakes along the way.  Choosing the wrong boy to befriend ultimately leads to the incident that will shape the family for ever more.

The Story of Before is an engrossing read that I really found difficult to put down.  I found myself living Ruth's life for her and hoping against hope that her instinct that something bad would happen was wrong.

This is an outstanding debut from Susan Stairs that will keep the reader turning the pages late into the night.

Susan Stairs

The Story of Before was published by Atlantic Books on 4 June 2013 in trade paperback, it is also available as an ebook.   My thanks to Corinna Zifko from the publisher for sending a copy for review.

Born in London, Susan Stairs has lived in Ireland since early childhood.  Involved in the art business for many years, she has written extensively about Irish art and artists.  She received an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Davy Byrnes Writing Award in the same year.  She lives in Dublin with her family.  The Story of Before is her first novel.
For more information about the author and her work, visit Facebook here, or Twitter here

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Trespasser by Paul Doiron

Trespasser by Paul Doiron is the second of his series featuring Game Warden Mike Bowditch, set in rural Maine.  Trespasser was published by Constable & Robinson's C&R Crime in May 2013.  The first in the series; The Poachers's Son was released in January.  You can read my review of it here.

"While on patrol on foggy March evening, Mike Bowditch receives a call for help. A woman has reportedly struck a deer on a lonely coast road. When the game warden arrives on the scene, he finds blood in the road - but both the driver and deer have vanished. The details of the disappearance seem eerily familiar. Seven years earlier, a jury convicted Erland Jefferts of the rape and murder of a college student and sentenced him to a life in prison. But when the missing woman is found brutalized in a manner that suggests Jefferts may have been framed, Bowditch receives a warning from state prosecutors to stop asking questions.

For Bowditch, doing nothing is not an option. And as he closes in on his quarry, he suddenly discovers how dangerous his opponents are, and how far they will go to prevent him from bringing a killer to justice."

Just like The Poacher's Son, this next instalment is a gripping well thought out and expertly paced thriller story.  Our hero, Mike Bowditch is a little older and a tiny bit wiser - having learnt a great deal in the first story about his father and their relationship.  However, Bowditch is still young and at times he is still hot-headed, often acting on his instincts, rather than with common sense.   These traits make Bowditch a realistic and likeable character, someone who is passionate about his work and has a strong sense of justice.

The plot line is cleverly put together, at times complicated, but with each strand of the story meshing together to create an exciting thriller with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Paul Doiron
As the mystery unfolds, so does the character of Bowditch along with his partner Sarah and his Warden colleagues.  Again, Doiron has brought to life the wonderful Maine countryside, with it's beauty and wildlife and it's bleakness and share of criminals.

I enjoyed every minute of this story and look forward very much to reading the next in the series.

As always, my thanks go to the Constable & Robinson C&R Crime team for providing my copy for review.

More information about Paul Doiron and his books can be found at this website here, on Facebook here and on Twitter here