Tuesday, 30 April 2013

**Givaway Time** The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway - Interview and Book Giveaway

In January this year I was lucky enough to read an early review copy of Bee Ridgway's debut novel The River of No Return, you can read my thoughts here.

I have a paperback advance reading copy to give away, please enter by completing the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post.

The River of No Return is a brilliantly escapist and enchanting debut novel about forbidden love by Bee Ridgway and will be published by Michael Joseph, Penguin on May 23 2013. 

Featuring a time travelling Marquis and a mysterious organisation called The GuildThe River of No Return has the same magical and indefinable atmosphere as The Night Circus or The Snow Child. Impossible to pin down in terms of genre, this is cracking, good quality, story telling at its best. A book that demands to be read, talked about and shared, it was born from Bee’s desire to include everything she loved in one novel. 
Bee worked for a year in features at Elle Magazine in the US and went on to Cornell for a doctoral degree in English Literature. She is now a Professor of American Literature at Bryn Mawr university and the book is interwoven with subtle literary echoes from her favourite books. Bee is super intelligent and lots of fun to be around. She lives with her partner in Philadelphia and this is her first novel.   Find out more about Bee and the book at www.beeridgway.com
Bee kindly agreed to answer some questions for me, here we go:
What are you reading at the moment?  I just this morning finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. They gave it to me when I visited the Penguin offices in London and it kept me laughing on the plane all the way back to Philadelphia.  It's a wonderful comic romance, both hilarious and humane.  The male hero and narrator is on the Aspergers spectrum, and has a very difficult time reading other people's emotions or feeling empathy in a conventional way.  His perspective makes the experience of reading a romance marvellously off-kilter, and as a reader you learn to empathise, and even love, in a new way
Do you / will you read reviews of your novel?  Do you / will you take them seriously?  Yes, and so far it is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. The River Of No Return is my first novel, and it has only been out there for people to read and critique for a few weeks.  Learning how to read reviews and how to process them emotionally is proving to be a bit difficult.  No, rephrase. It is TERRIFYING.  But while the emotional side of it is hard, the fact is that I have been a professional book reviewer for years.  Once I get over the initial butterflies in the stomach, I can recognise when a review is going to be helpful to me. This is only partly because I need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down!  It's also because - and I've learned this from years of teaching - it is easier to learn from the position of what is strong but could be made stronger, than from the position of what fails and is simply bad.  BUT - and this is very important - reviews are for readers, not writers.  I do read them and I try to learn from them, but I also think it is a privilege to see them at all.  I am not the audience for which they are intended, and if someone out there really didn't enjoy my book, I am sorry for it, but fair enough.  Different strokes for different folks!
How long does it take to write a novel?  All in all it was fifteen months between first sitting down to write and sending in the final page proofs.  I have never worked so hard in my entire life - the book went through many revisions - but I have also never had so much fun.
Do you have any writing rituals?  I didn't have an outline for my novel.  I tried to write every day until I hit a cliffhanger, either an emotional or an action-based one.  Sometimes that would be a ten or a fourteen hour writing day.  Then I would go to sleep, telling myself to figure out what came next in my dreams.  Almost invariably I would wake up fired up and ready to keep writing.  Once I was in the revision stage (or stages - it was completely overhauled and expanded several times) that completely changed.  But for getting that first draft down I wrote from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.

.  Check out the video below where Bee talks about her novel.

What was your favourite childhood book?  I had/have dozens and dozens.  I doubt I will ever read with quite such a feeling of magic and transporting joy as I did when I was a kid.  But let's see,  I think I was on a continuum between traditional masterpieces like C S Lewis' The Magician's Nephew (my favourite in the Narnia Series) and Daniel Pinkwater's far edgier Lizard Music, which is a surreal adventure about a misfit boy in a gritty magical version of Chicago.  Although now that I think about it, The Magician's Nephew is about a misfit boy in a magical verison of England so maybe not so different after all.
Name one book that made you laugh?  I love being surprised into a good laugh.  But the book that mde me laugh the most is a little-known 1948 memoir by Betty MacDonald called The Plague And I.  I found it in a charity shop in Sevenoaks and I picked it up because I have a secret love of plague literature.  Like for instrance, Daniel Defoe's A Journal Of The Plague Year.  Not a funny book, Mr Defoe's.  But amazing.  So I picked up this old, falling-apart green-and-white Penguin paperback thinking "this will be nice and grim".  It's about the year MacDonald spent flat on her back in a tuberculosis sanitarium outside of Seattle, Washington. Which does not sound funny, I know.  But trust me.  I laughed so hard my sides ached for a day and a half.
Name one book that made you cry?  I'm an easy crier, just like my Dad - so it isn't necessarily a gauge of anything!  But I had a real cry during the first scene of Elizabeth Fremantle's The Queen's Gambit.  It is written form the perspective of Catherine Parr's second husband, as he lies dying.  She gives up his pain and his passion in its entirety for a few pages, and never returns to him ..... you know you will lose him even as you begin to know and love him.
Which fictional character would you like to meet?  Jo March.  I'd like to give her a piece of my mind!
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?  All of them?  I mean, it's amazing that people write books, and they they invite people into them.  I'm also impressed by readers.  I love borrowing a book from a friend or the library and reading in the wake of other readers - other voyagers into the unknown.  But the question was about a particular book or author, and I suppose that today I am inspired by Philip Red Eagle. My novel is a big, frothy time travel story set mostly in London of 1815 .... it couldn't be more distant in tone and subject from Red Eagle's serious, emotionally harrowing time travel stories in Red Earth: A Vietnam Warrior's Journey.  His path to writing the two novellas in that volume was difficult.  Writing literally saved his life and I will always find that utterly humbling and incredible.
What is your guilty pleasure read?  When I'm feeling blue I reach for my beautiful old rag-eared paperback copies of Georgette Heyer that I collected from charity shops when I was living in the UK.  Especially her early novel, These Old Shades.  Surely someday the well of pleasure will run dry. But I hope not.
What book have you re-read?  See above!  But actually there are many to which I return again and again, both for pleasure and for my work.  I'm a professor, and I have to read the books I teach over and over again.  Each re-readig is a new experience.  I teach a class three or four times before I feel I've wrung it dry. Next year will be my last time teaching a course called American Girl.  It is a class that asks why girls and girlhood are so important to pre-suffrage American literature.  So of course we have to read Little Women, a book that I love and hate in equal measure.  I hope that this next time I teach the novel I will finally be able to reconcile my feelings.  But I think irreconcilable feelings was Alcott's goal when she wrote that dastardly book, darn her!
What book have you given up on?  There are a lot and most often is isn't the author's fault.  When it is something that I would say was a 'fault' with the book it's usually because it is a genre convention that just isn't to my taste.  I read a lot of books that fall under the umbrella of 'romance', but I'm picky about it, and I don't enjoy every variant of the genre.  For example, I just don't like romances where the heroine has to contend with another woman who wants to bring her down out of jealousy. Basically the evil stepmother plot really bugs me.

I'd like to say a huge thanks to Bee for answering my questions and giving such interesting answers
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Foodie Penpals - April 2013

Foodie Penpal reveal day is here again!   This month I sent my parcel to Kieran in Brighton, it was a Lincolnshire themed parcel.  I spent a lovely morning at our local farm shop Uncle Henry's choosing some delectable Lincolnshire goodies to send.  The parcel included some Plum Bread and Poacher Cheese, along with some Scrubbys vegetable crisps and an assortment of spices.  Kieran has been in touch and was very pleased with his parcel.

My parcel came from Anna who blogs at The Campervan Diaries Foodie Extra.  Anna is from Mansfield which is not too far away from here.  She and her family were due to attend a Campervan event very near to my home so last weekend my wonderful parcel was delivered by hand.  How nice to actually meet a Foodie Penpal in the flesh.

What an amazing parcel!  This certainly was one of the nicest and most considerate parcels that I've received since joining Foodie Penpals.

Anna is an amazing lady, she has a young son, she volunteers at an organic vegetable project, she grows fruit and veg in her own garden, she forages for ingredients and she creates some amazing food.

I opened up my parcel to find an assortment of lovingly made goodies along with a selection of cheeses that Anna had bought whilst holidaying in Wales the week before.  Every one of the cheeses are delicious, and how lovely to try some new flavours.  There was a Welsh Brie (this was my favourite), Welsh Chedder, Welsh Hard Goat's Cheese (I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, goat's cheese is not usually my cheese of choice, but this one is lovely) and a Welsh Blue.   To go with the cheeses Anna had included a selection of her home-made biscuits; cheesy biscuits, digestive biscuits and oatcakes.   They are all delicious, but the cheesy biscuits are addictive - they are flaky and light with a real kick of heat, incredibly moreish!  The oatcakes go so well with the Welsh Blue and I must admit that I've been eating the digestives on their own, accompanied by a cup of tea!

Also in the parcel was a couple of jars of Anna's home-made preserves - a chutney and a rhurbarb and vanilla jam.  The jam is just to my taste, not too sweet and the vanilla adds a special touch.

I was really delighted to receive such a thoughtful parcel, Anna has put a lot of work into making April's Foodie Penpal parcel extra special.

Thanks Anna xx

If you'd like to join the Foodie Penpal programme, check out the joining instructions here.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Nightingale Sisters by Donna Douglas

The Nightingale Sisters by Donna Douglas was published this week by Arrow Books at Random House and is the second in the series.   The first, The Nightingale Girls was released in Autumn 2012 - you can read my review of it here.

The Nightingale Sisters takes up the story of the three student nurses that readers met in the first book; Dora, Millie and Helen, although Helen does not seem to feature quite so much in this one.  Also featuring heavily is the new night sister Violet Tanner - a woman with a secret past that she does everything she can to hide.

Set once again at the Florence Nightingale Teaching Hospital in the east end of London, the three girls are now in their second year of training.   Dora comes from a tough east end family and times are hard at home.  When her step father up and left the family, only Dora was relieved, but she can't tell anyone why. As her mother and siblings struggle to cope at home, Dora struggles to cope with her own personal heartbreaks.

Millie is the daughter of a wealthy family and engaged to Seb.  She also has feelings for Helen's doctor brother William and feels torn between them.  Her inner struggles begin to impact on her work at the Hospital and she begins to question all that she had believed in.

Once again, Donna Douglas has written a warm and engaging story with characters that are so easy to care for.  There are some really serious themes running throughout the novel, from domestic violence to the effects of poverty, and the harsh realities of working class life are portrayed excellently.    Each character has their own story, and each story interweave to create a compelling, compassionate, sometimes funny and often heart-breaking read.    It is clear that once again Donna Douglas has meticulously researched her subject, creating an authentic account of life on the wards of a large teaching hospital.

A completely satisfying read, I enjoyed it even more than the first book. There is plenty of scope to continue the series and I'm looking forward to the next one already.

My thanks go to the author for sending a copy for review.

Donna Douglas lives in York with her husband and daughter.  Besides writing novels, she is also a very well respected freelance journalist under her real name, Donna Hay.  For more information on Donna, please visit her blog here, or follow her on Twitter here.

Friday, 26 April 2013

A Fucked Up Life In Books

The web seems to have been overwhelmed by book bloggers recently, I'm not complaining because I'm one of them, so how could I moan?  One of the hardest things about having such a choice of reviewers is finding just the right ones to follow, finding someone who thinks along the same lines and whose reviews you can really believe and trust in.   @Bookcunt is one of my favourite bloggers.  She's controversial, she's outspoken and she's very sweary!   I've followed her reviews for ages, I've read her Tweets for ages, but it is only in the past couple of months that I've actually interacted with her.  To be truthful, I was scared of her! She's so feisty and so cool that I didn't know what to say to her, so I said nowt!    We kind of bonded over Caroline Smailes' latest novel; The Drowning of Arthur Braxton.  We both loved the book, we both love Caroline - that brought us together.  I'm not scared of her any more.

When The Friday Project offered to send me a preview copy of her book, I jumped at the chance.  I read it over last weekend.  She made me cry.

A Fucked Up Life in Books tells her story, from childhood to the present time.  Each significant episode in her life is associated with the book that she was reading at the time.  I love this concept, I love the fact that Howard's End is the only book she has read whilst having sex (I'd love it even more if her partner had been called Howard!).  That's one of the funny moments.   There are quite a few funny moments, but there are many poignant moments, and these are the moments that really resonate.  These are the moments that expose her vulnerability, her emotions and her sadness.  These are the moments that have made BC the lady she is today, the reasons why she is so sweary, and the reasons why she is quite special.

I don't know who BC is.  I know she works in publishing and she is in her late twenties.  I want to know more, and I really think that this could be just the start for her writing career.

The book is full of swearing, at times it is crude and to the point.  Anyone who thinks that they'd be shocked? Then don't read it.    However, I'd really recommend that you do read it.  It's powerful stuff.

Huge thanks to The Friday Project for my preview copy of the book which will be released as an eBook in May.    

Oh, and I've been invited to the launch party in May.  I'm going to meet her!  I really don't know what I'm going to say to her ........ I'm beginning to feel a tiny bit scared again!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Art of Leaving by Anna Stothard

Back in January 2011, I read The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard, my review is here. The Pink Hotel was longlisted for the Orange Prize and is currently being adapted for film.  

Anna Stothard's latest novel, The Art Of Leaving was published by Alma Books on 28 March 2013.

Leaving comes naturally to Eva Elliott: she spent her childhood abandoning schools and cities. Now she enjoys the thrill of saying goodbye much more than the butterflies of a first smile or kiss. There s so much more potential in walking away, and Eva has a dangerously vivid imagination. During a rainy summer in London, where Eva lives in a rackety Soho flat with her boyfriend, she dreams of exit strategies. She becomes fascinated by a golden eagle who has escaped the Zoo to roam the city, and thinks up stories about the ghostly figure of a girl who lurks in the window of a strip club opposite her office. When a beguiling stranger called Grace turns up in Eva s life armed with a conspiratorial smile and an unsettling secret, Eva is left unsure what is in her head and what is reality. In this haunting story about exits and departures, Anna Stothard reveals that love has its fault lines and freedom comes at a price.

The story is set in Soho, London - not the most beautiful of settings, but Anna Stothard's writing transforms this dreary part of the city into a sensual, often mysterious place with her wonderfully descriptive writing.  She creates an almost magical fantasy world from what is in reality a run-down nightclub called The Scorpio Club - a place about which Eve, the lead character,  dreams up stories of a long magician's assistant.  Eve herself is something of an enigma.  The reader really never quite understands her.  Eve enjoys endings, her life has been a series of endings and she remembers each one in fine detail.

This is a slow, yet intriguing story that centres around place and character rather than plot line.  Anna Stothard uses brilliantly evocative phrases that conjure up a world that is almost bewitching at times.

My thanks to Alma Books for sending a copy for review.

Anna Stothard lived in Los Angeles for two years, studying at the American Film Institute, before returning to London. She has written weekly columns in The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph, as well as articles in other newspapers. Her first novel, Isabel and Rocco, was published in 2004, followed by The Pink Hotel in 2011, which was longlisted for the Orange prize and has been translated all over the world. She lives in Chalk Farm, London
To find out more about Anna Stothard, visit her website and blog here, you can follow her on Twitter here

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Published on 23 May 2013 by Harper Collins, The Shock Of The Fall is Nathan Filer's debut novel.

It is a story of grief and pain, and of how different people deal with them.  It is a story of a family destroyed by the loss of two sons - one who is dead, the other who is trapped in the ever-changing world that is mental illness.  It is a story about love and hope, about forgiveness and about understanding.  It is a story that is not true, but is very real.  It is a story that pulls the reader in from the first few startling sentences and does not let go until the very last word.

Matthew is the remaining son, his brother Simon was killed in an accident ten years ago when the family were on a caravan holiday.  Matthew has suffered every single day since that accident.  His relationship with his Mother and Father broke down as he descended into a life of drug-taking and mental illness.  Matthew has always blamed himself for the accident and the fact that he sees and hears Simon everywhere and everyday only makes him feel worse.  Why doesn't anyone else believe that Simon wants Matt to come and play?

Nathan Filer's writing is accomplished, mature, realistic and shockingly accurate.  Matthew is flawed, he's ill, he's vulnerable and he is honest.  The descriptions of his experiences in a psychiatric ward are harrowing at times, the other patients, the staff, the environment, the boredom.  Sleep, eat, smoke, watch TV - and again, sleep, eat, smoke.

Matthew has flashes of self-perception, he knows that he is ill, he can work the drugs system, he knows that he must have his depot injection, and he knows what effect that has on him.  Matthew is capable of love.  His wonderful grandmother, otherwise known as Nanny Noo, is the only person who really 'gets' Matt, the only one who allows him to be himself, never giving up on him, never judging him and always loving him.  Their relationship will bring a lump to the throat, it is just beautiful.

Nathan Filer - photo from nathanfiler.co.uk
Nathan Filer is a registered mental health nurse and it is clear that he has drawn upon his experiences when writing this novel.  This is the real and true picture of mental health and its effects.  I spent 8 years working in a high secure forensic psychiatric hospital myself, I worked on a male admission ward so can honestly say that  The Shock of the Fall completely nails it.  Despite what other literature, films and TV shows may try to portray, there really is nothing pretty or glam about a ward full of very ill people.  This is brave writing, honest writing and pretty astounding writing.   I am full of admiration for Filer and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

Ants - from www.nathanfiler.co.uk

Nathan Filer has a brilliant website; www.nathanfiler.co.uk.  You can also follow him on Twitter here

With thanks to Harper Collins publishers for providing copies for the Random Things Reading Group to review, you can read more of the group's reviews at www.readinggroups.org

Book Launch - More Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops by Jen Campbell

I was really honoured when Constable & Robinson  invited me to the launch party for Jen Campbell's More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.  I travelled down to London on Thursday afternoon and spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around the shops before making my way to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street for the event.

I've heard many things about Daunt Books and was so looking forward to actually visiting at last. Wow! What an amazing bookshop, it's so gorgeous, an original Edwardian shop with oak galleries and a beautiful glass ceiling.  I was in raptures. All the books are arranged by country, it really is a delight and I've promised myself a return trip very soon.

The event soon got underway, with lots of nibbles and wine.  It was great to meet up with Sam from Constable & Robinson at long last, and good to have a chat about blogging and publishing.  I was able to have a quick chat with Jen Campbell and she was happy to sign my copies of both of her fabulous books.

Jen Campbell grew up in a small village in the north-east of England. After studying English Literature at Edinburgh University, she moved to north London where she now works at an antiquarian bookshop.

Her first book, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshopswas published in 2012 and was a Sunday Times Bestseller. The sequel, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, was published April 2013. 
Jen is also a published poet and short story writer. Her poetry pamphlet The Hungry Ghost Festival is published by The Rialto.. 

Both books are laugh-out-loud funny, and also, if I'm honest, a tiny bit frightening.  Weird is certainly the right word to describe some of the things that Jen has either overheard, or has actually been said to her.  I'd be scared, very scared.  I've spent the past few days reading some of these out to my husband, we have squealed with laughter, but we've also cringed in places.   Anyone who loves books will have to prepare themselves for some of the just downright unbelievable utterances that are in this book!

A couple of tasters for you:

"Did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?" 

"I'm just going to run to the store to do the weekly food shopping. I'm just going to leave my sons here, is that okay? They're three and five. They're no trouble."

"What books could I buy to make guests look at my bookshelf and think, 'Wow, that guy's intelligent'?"

Customer: "Have you read every single book in here?"
Bookseller: "No, I can't say I have."
Jen Campbell
Customer: "Well, you're not very good at your job, are you?" 

I'd really recommend both of these books - they are wonderful and bound to make anyone smile (or grimace occasionally!).

Find out more about Jen Campbell here, her blog is here.   There's also a Facebook page for 'Weird Things' which you can like here  

Friday, 19 April 2013

Lovely Friday Randomness!

Today has been a lovely day.   It's only 11am, it's raining and it's cold, but today has been a lovely day!

I was upstairs, sorting some emails, writing a report for funders and the doorbell went.  I skipped downstairs (well, in my head I skipped, I actually didn't really!), opened the door and the postie handed over a small parcel.   Mysterious thinks me - why is that fabulous Angi Holden sending me a parcel?   She does owe me a postcard for a book review that she's doing for me, so why a parcel?

I opened it up, and oh! little skips of joy.  Angi has sent me a mermaid!  A lovely mermaid from the top of a cupcake, and not just any old cupcake, but one from the launch party of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes (I reviewed it, you really should read it, my review is here).

Look at my lovely mermaid (top picture), the bottom picture shows those clever cakes from the launch party.

I was sad that I missed the launch party, but I had work commitments.  Now I'm happy - I have a mermaid.

Thanks Angi xxxxx

I was also really lucky enough to win a goody bag from Wish List (part of Hodder & Stoughton), which arrived yesterday.  I love the design of the bag, I love cloth bags full stop.   So, a new cloth bag filled with books is the perfect prize for me!       Cheers Wish List!

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley - Blog Tour & Giveaway

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley was published by Tinder Press at the end of last month.  I read and reviewed it back in August last year and enjoyed it very much.   If you'd like to know more about what I thought of the story, you can read my review here

I have a hardback copy of Amity & Sorrow to give away to one follower, there's also a funky #godsexfarming badge up for grabs.   Entry to the competition is open to everyone, just fill out the rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post - Good luck!

Peggy Riley is a writer and playwright. She recently won a Highly Commended prize in the 2011 Bridport Prize and was published in their latest anthology. Her short fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio and published in "New Short Stories 4", Mslexia Magazine (Third prize - Women's Short Fiction Competition 2010), and as an app on Ether Books. Her plays have been commissioned and produced off-West End, regionally, and on tour. She has been a festival producer, a bookseller, and writer-in-residence at a young offender prison. Originally from Los Angeles, Peggy now lives on the North Kent coast in Britain.

I'm delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Amity & Sorrow and welcome Peggy to 'Random Things' - she has been kind enough to answer a few questions:

What are you reading at the moment?  I am just finished 'Instructions for a Heatwave' by fellow Tinder Press writer, Maggie O'Farrell.  I love her characters and her big, big heart.

Do you read reviews of your novels?  Do you take them seriously?   I do read them, because it's still a novelty, but also because I am very grateful for the time and thought that bloggers and reviewers give to reading books and writing about them.  Even when I might not like their response to mine, for it is not a book that will suit every reader, I get some insight into what I've written through the experience the reviewer has had while reading.  Amity & Sorrow is too dark for some readers, while for others the rhythm of the writing is too 'slow'.  Everybody brings her own expectations and tastes to a book.  It's not always the right time to read it.  I take all reviews seriously, wherever they come from, but I try very hard not to take them personally.

How long does it take to write a novel?   The short answer is - as long as it takes.  Every writer is different.  We write at different speeds under different circumstances.  I write and rewrite a lot of drafts before I begin to edit or think about it being read.  Every novel is different as well, so each is written differently - even by the same writer.  My second novel required a great deal of historical and science research, so the planning has taken as long as the writing.  It took a long time to write Amity & Sorrow, because I was learning how to write fiction.  I was learning to move away from writing plays, which I was used to.  The second novel has been quicker to write, but as the story is more complicated, the editing is much slower.  You have to just set targets and deadlines and hope to meet them.

Do you have any writing rituals?   I write in a little log cabin at the bottom of my garden, the Blue House. I roll up the curtains, boil the kettle, and fire up the Calor gas heater before I can do anything.  Then I do morning pages on line, 750 words of automatic writing to clear my head.  Then I turn on the playlist that feels like the writing I need to do, and I begin.  Having written all that, I can see how very many rituals I have.

What was your favourite childhood book?  Oh, so many!  "The Dark is Rising", second in the fantastic five book sequence by Susan Cooper, was very important to me.  I was also rather obsessed with "A Wrinkle in Time".

Name one book that made you laugh?   I tend to laugh more at a book's cleverness or at a great twist, even if it isn't funny.  I laughed a lot while reading Michel Faber's "The Crimson Petal and the White".  It's not a particularly funny book, but it is dead clever and pure delight.

Name one book that made you cry?   I can't think of one.  I'm not sure I can ever escape that deeply into a book, into text.  I'm much more likely to have a quiet blub to music, whether in concert or as underscoring in film or theatre.  I'm not sure what that says about me.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?   I'm tempted by Little Red Riding Hood's Wolf and Hansel and Gretel's Witch, but I suppose I should choose a character who won't want to eat me.  I'll choose the Mad Hatter, then, if I get to be Alice.  Wonderland would be rather splendid, if I can only avoid the Queen of Hearts.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?   Amity & Sorrow owes a great deal to John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath", which casts a long shadow over any writing of the Oklahoma Panhandle or the Dust Bowl.  In rereading it, I was struck again by his dazzling skill with language, both in the Joad Family chapters and in the alternating propaganda chapters.  It was groundbreaking in 1939 and it feels incredibly modern still.  It's made me want to reread everything of his now.

What is your guilty pleasure read?    I love a good thriller.  Who doesn't?  I love a book where the pages seem to turn themselves and the hours drift away.  I still remember the visceral thrill of reading "Silence of the Lambs" and Michael Connelly's "The Poet".

Who are your favourite authors?   Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor.  I should stop there.

What book have you reread?  Other than "The Grapes of Wrath", the last book I remember rereading is "Jane Eyre".  I can't get enough of that book.  It taps into something really primal and secretive,  I can't quite put my finger on it.

What book have you given up on?   I give up on books all the time and I think there's no shame in it.  It's usually because the book isn't the right book at the right time.  I had to start "Wolf Hall" several times before I had the headspace to read it.  On holiday, it was the exact right book at the right time and then I devoured it like a greedy thing.

My thanks to Peggy for giving such insightful and interesting answers to my questions.

Thanks to Tinder Press, I have a hardback copy of Amity & Sorrow to give away, along with a really funky #godsexfarming badge.   The giveaway is open internationally and will end at midnight on Friday 25 April 2013

Enter below, and good luck!

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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chilled To The Bone by Quentin Bates

I've been so looking forward to catching up with Officer Gunnhildur.  Chilled To The Bone by Quentin Bates is number three in  the series of Icelandic murder mystery stories that feature Gunna as the lead character.    Frozen Out (2011) and Cold Comfort (2012) are the first two books, you can read my thoughts about those here.

Chilled To The Bone was published by Constable & Robinson's crime imprint C&R Crime on 18 April 2013.   Although this is number three in the series, it could be read as a stand alone, but personally I would advise anyone to start with the first novel.

Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir finds herself heading up what starts as a fairly straightforward investigation.  A local businessman is found dead in a hotel bedroom, there is no evidence that this was a murder but as Gunna makes more enquiries, she finds herself slap-bang in the middle of something that is beginning to get dangerous.  It appears that there is a bondage ring operating in the city.  It seems that this is not the first time a wealthy businessman has been found in an incriminating position in an upmarket hotel yet people are loathe to speak out - they seem very scared.   At the same time, local Government officers are making a fuss about a mislaid laptop, putting pressure on Gunna and her department to pull out all the stops to find it.
Quentin Bates has produced an intricate, finely plotted detective story which has some really menacing undertones.  Gunna is an amazing lead character; realistic and bold, with secrets of her own that yet again Bates has refused to fully disclose.  There is something compelling about this character, she has a history that is very slowly being revealed throughout the series in snippets and leaves the reader wanting to know what? why? how?

As in both of the previous novels, I do sometimes become a little muddled by the long, and quite strange looking Icelandic names of the character - but of course, for realism, they have to be included, and as the story progresses the reader does get to know the lead players very well.

A fast-paced crime novel, with great characters, a clever plot and a smattering of humour.  Bring on the next instalment!

I was lucky enough to meet author Quentin Bates at the launch party for C&R Crime a couple of months ago, it was great to chat to him about Gunna and her exploits, although he wasn't giving anything away about her secrets.

Although born in the UK in 1962, through a series of coincidences Quentin Bates found himself working in Iceland in his gap year. The gap year then became 10 years, during which time he managed to get himself married, produce a family, and generally go native in Iceland. The family then moved back to the UK in 1990 where Quentin became a full-time journalist on a commercial fishing magazine. Frozen Assets was born through the author's own inside knowledge of Iceland and its society, along with exploring the world of crime. He and his (Icelandic) wife frequently return to Iceland, where they have manyfriends, including several in the Reykjavik police.

Check out Quentin Bates' website at http://graskeggur.com/  You can follow him on Facebook here , and his Twitter account is here

My thanks to Quentin Bates for sending me a signed copy of the novel.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Originally written in Dutch, The Dinner has been translated for the English market and was published by Atlantic Books in August 2012.

There is nothing remotely likeable about any of the characters in The Dinner - not one of them, not even the waiters in the restaurant where the story plays out.    Two couples meet for dinner in an expensive, upmarket restaurant.  The story is narrated by Paul, and at first it seems that he and his wife Claire are the more reasonable couple.  They seem pretty average, married with a 15-year-old son.  The other couple; Serge and Babette are glamorous, rich and well-known, it was Serge who was able to get a table in the restaurant at short notice, it is Serge that the other diners try not to stare at.  It soon becomes clear that Paul and Serge are brothers and that throughout their lives, Serge has been the one who shone brightest.

At first the reader empathises with Paul.  How annoying to be the brother of someone who puts on all of these airs and graces, who considers himself to be just that bit better than others.   It doesn't take long though before Paul's true character comes to the fore.  He's not quite the nice guy that he'd like everyone to believe.  There are flashes of violence and aggression in there, although he does his best to reign this in.

The real reason for this dinner soon becomes apparent.  Their children have committed a terrible act and these adults must decide how this will be dealt with.   The reader learns more about the background to this family through a series of recollections, phone-calls and secret meetings in the garden of the restaurant.  The more that is learnt, the more I began to dislike this family very much.

This is a cleverly written story that does engage the reader, but for me it lacked something essential.  I couldn't believe in it.  I couldn't believe that four adults would plot and scheme to protect children that had done something so terrible.  Paul is a deeply flawed character and it is clear that those flaws have been inherited by his son Michel.   Michel seems to care very little about what he has done, although this is not surprising as his father relates his own tales of violence with very little emotion.

The Dinner is the perfect choice for a reading group with much to debate and discuss.  It is an easy read, and at times it is a distressing read.  The author is skilled at creating character and tension.

Herman Koch, born in 1953, is a Dutch writer. He was a renowned television actor on the series Jiskefet and a former columnist for the newspaper VolkskrantThe Dinneris his sixth novel and has already won the prestigious Publieksprijs Prize in 2009. Herman Koch currently lives in Amsterdam.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

Does anyone else get that tingly feeling when they are just a few chapters into a book and they just know that they are in for an amazing read?  I don't get it very often, although over the past few months I've discovered more tinglers than usual and One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is one of those.  I'd never heard of the book, or the author before and made sure that I didn't read any reviews of the novel before I started to read it, so I really had no idea what to expect.  I certainly didn't anticipate a tingly moment!

We meet Emily/Cat on the London to Manchester train.  In Manchester she is Emily, qualified lawyer, happily married to Ben, mother of a small son and living the good life.  Emily's only dark spot in her life is her twin sister Caroline, they have never really got along together and are different as chalk and cheese.
It is clear that this is not an easy journey for Emily, she is not heading out for a spot of shopping, or to see the sights or meet a friend.  She is leaving everything behind. When she gets to London, she becomes Catherine or Cat.   Emily is running away, nobody knows that she has left or where she is going, in fact Emily herself has no clue where she will live or how she will get by.  All that she does know is that she has to get away.

When Cat takes a room in a run-down, filthy shared house she finds a friend in Angel.  It is Angel that saves her, who looks after her and never questions her.  Angel has her own skeletons in the cupboard too and senses that there is more to Cat than she is revealing.

Although it may sound like a cliche; One Step Too Far really is difficult to put down.  Tina Seskis is an extremely clever author, she has produced a story that is so intricate and tightly plotted that the reader really has no choice to keep reading ..... just another chapter, and another, and another.

Although Emily/Cat is the lead character, she gives little away and the reader never knows the reasons why she has chosen to run away.  We know that she is desperately unhappy, but apart from problems with her twin Caroline, it is hard to understand why she has made this decision.   The clever structure of the novel allows us to learn a little bit more, piece by piece as the author begins to introduce the other characters and their own version of events.    Starting from the birth of the twins Emily and Caroline, from the point of view of their parents, right up to the day that Emily left Manchester.  This really is an incredibly clever way of telling the story and entices the reader on every page.

We learn just how distressing Caroline's actions have been for the whole family, how each of them have been shaped by her addictions, her behaviours and her wicked tongue.   Angel too tells her story in short, sharp bursts, revealing just why she has chosen the life that she has.

Since finishing the book, I've read some existing reviews of One Step Too Far and have noted that some other readers really didn't like the character of Emily/Cat.  I do like her, I don't like some of the decisions that she made, but once her back story is revealed these decisions don't seem quite so random.  There is a vulnerability to her that she tries her best to overcome.

Not once did I guess how this excellent story would turn out, there were times when I thought that I'd got it all sussed, but Tina Seskis throws another spanner in the works many times, causing the story to take twists that I could never have imagined.  It is these twists and turns that make the book so engaging, and made me keep reading and reading until finally every layer fitted together and at last the real story emerged.

Kirk Parolles
One Step Too Far is intriguing and compelling, it is paced well and will most certainly stay in my head for some time.   I was very impressed by the plot and by the writing and will look forward to Tina Seskis' next novel.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Tina Seskis and Kirk Parolles for sending an advance copy for review.  Too Step Too Far is published in the UK by Kirk Parolles on 15 April 2013.

Tina Seskis
Tina Seskis grew up in Hampshire, the daughter of an airline engineer and a sales rep. She studied business at the University of Bath and then worked for over 20 years in marketing, advertising and online, with varying degrees of success. Before that she did a variety of other jobs including door to door encylopedia selling in the US, industrial relations for Ford in Halewood, Liverpool, and selling bacon butties with her granny in the Halfway Hut at Wentworth Golf Club.

Tina never intended writing a novel. She wrote One Step Too Far over a two month period in summer 2010 and then gave up writing entirely for well over a year, before writing her second novel A Serpentine Affair in autumn 2011. Her third book (working title Collision) is due for completion in 2013, and is the coming together of a key character from each of the first two novels, if Tina can make the plot work.

Tina lives in North London with her husband and son.

For more information about Tina and her writing, visit her website at www.tinaseskis.com.   

She has a Facebook page here  and her Twitter account is here 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley - Blog Tour

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley was published at the end of March by Tinder Press.

I was lucky enough to read a preview copy way back in August last year.   You can read my review here.

Next week sees the start of the Blog Tour for Amity & Sorrow with 18 bloggers all talking about the book.

I will be hosting the Blog Tour on Friday 19th April.

The author, Peggy Riley will be answering some questions about her writing and her reading.

I'll also have a hardback copy of Amity & Sorrow and a #godsexfarming badge to giveaway - the competition will be open to everyone.

'Amity & Sorrow, grace and hope, honor and innocence, bliss and deliverance - all of this from one beautifully nuanced story about the nature of family and the power of faith. I savored every word' (Lori Lansens, author of The Girls )

'A startlingly original, intelligent and beautiful first novel that I found riveting from page one. I can only wait with great anticipation for what comes next from Peggy Riley' (Michael Connelly )

Please come and join us as we talk about Amity & Sorrow.  You can join in the discussions on Twitter too, look out for #godsexfarming

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar is published today (11 April 2013) by Pan Macmillan and is her second novel.    Her first novel The Playdate was published early last year, and was one of my favourite reads of the year.

This is a dark, sinister and at times, downright scary read.   Kate's life has been a succession of terrible events.  Her parents died in a car accident and her husband Hugo was killed five years ago.  Kate is convinced that she is cursed and will do anything possible to ensure that she and her son Jack are safe.  Kate and Jack move from London to Oxford, to be near to Hugo's parents and sister.  Kate is completely obsessed with statistics, she can't make any decisions without thinking about the 'numbers' that creep into her brain.
You have 55% chance of dying if you are hit by a car at 30 miles per hour.
40% of catering staff do not wash their hands after going to the toilet.
Kate knows the statistics for everything and this is preventing her and Jack leading normal, everyday lives.  By trying to protect Jack, she's harming him.  Jack is an unhappy little boy, gentle and sensitive, he hates the way that his mother pretends to be carefree, he can see in her eyes that she is faking it.

Hugo's family are at the end of the line with Kate, they are grieving too but they cannot bear to see how unhappy she is making little Jack.   The battle lines are drawn and Kate really has to prove to them that she is a good mother.

When Kate meets Jago, a Scottish University professor by chance one day, she is amazed to find that he understands her, and can help her to overcome her fears.

The cleverest thing about this story is that the reader knows that Kate's fears are actually real. Although Kate's paranoia is totally over the top, Louise Millar has ensured that the reader can empathise with her.  Only we know that danger is lurking, that Kate's fears are real, she's not going mad at all.

Louise Millar weaves a story that keeps the reader gripped from the opening lines.  There are twists and turns all over the place, the biggest and most shocking being towards the end.  I certainly didn't see it coming, and that for me, makes the perfect reading experience.  I love it when a book shocks and surprises me and this one certainly did that.

There is no doubt that Louise Millar is an excellent author and has now produced two very well-written, suspenseful novels that are a must-read for any fan of psychological thrillers.
Louise Millar

Louise Millar was brought up in Scotland. She began her journalism career in mainly music and film Kerrang!, Smash Hits, the NMEand Empire. She later moved into features, working as a commissioning editor on women's magazines. She has written for Marie Claire, Red, Psychologies, Stella (Telegraphmagazine), the Independent, theObserver, Glamour, Stylist andEve.
magazines, working as a sub-editor for
She lives in London with her husband and daughters.
Louise Millar can be found on Twitter here, and on Facebook here

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Death In The Baltic by Cathryn J Prince

Although the majority of the books that I read are fiction, I do try to read a couple of non-fiction titles each month.  The subjects can vary, I enjoy biographies and travel books and over the past couple of years have started to read more historical non-fiction.

When I was approached by Palgrave Macmillan to read and review Death In The Baltic by Cathryn J Prince I was intrigued by the blurb and readily accepted.  I'm so pleased that I'd not seen the cover before then, in my opinion, it's the one thing that really lets this book down.
In all honesty, I found the cover very unappealing and I really doubt that I've have given it more than a passing glance if I spotted it on a shelf.

Dwarfing the record set by the Titanic, the worst maritime disaster in history resulted in the unreported deaths of more than 9000 German civilians in the twilight of World War II.
In the final days of World War II, German civilians were in a panic.  The Third Reich was in free fall and the Allied forces were closing in from all directions. With the Red Army quickly advancing from the east, Berlin planned an eleventh-hour exodus for upward of 10,000 women, children, and the elderly using a former cruise ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Sent off into the icy waters of the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945, they were soon found and fired upon by Soviet Navy submarines.  The ship sank that night, taking an estimated 9,400 victims to their deaths.
In Death in the Baltic, award-winning author Cathryn J Prince reconstructs this fateful day to shed light on one of the greatest tragedies of World War II.  She explores why, despite the immensity of this disaster, both East and West kept this story hidden for 65 years.  While the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania are well-known tragedies, the Wilhelm Gustloff has been nearly forgotten by history, and Prince examines how that silence continues to affect survivors today.
Drawing on interviews with those who escaped the Gustloff, as well as the letters and diaries of those who perished, this is an important and absorbing account that finally gives this World War II tragedy its rightful remembrance.

Everyone knows the story of the sinking of the Titanic, and most people would think of it as the greatest maritime disaster of all time.  The majority of  passengers were rich and famous, there have been countless books, films and TV programmes retelling the story of the Titanic.    Yet when the Wilhelm Gustloff sank in  1945 and around 9400 people lost their lives, nothing was made of it despite the fact that these too were civilians - ordinary people who were fleeing their homes before the Russians invaded and took it all away from them.  

This really is a shocking fact.  For many reasons the details of this awful disaster have been kept covered up by both the East and the West.  The Allied countries had suffered dreadfully during the War, it would be very hard for them to muster up any compassion about this tragedy.  The Germans wanted it kept under wraps, and the Soviets destroyed many of the remaining records.

Cathryn J Prince has done an amazing job in researching the facts about the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Her book is a mix of hard facts, taken from the records that did survive and also interviews with survivors and family members of those who died.

At times I felt a little bogged down by some of the more strategic facts, but they are essential to the whole story.  On the other hand, I was fascinated by the stories that were told by the survivors and the families of the victims.  Many of these people have never felt able to talk openly about their experiences before, some of them were made to feel ashamed, others were not believed.  These were ordinary citizens, victims of war, just like the victims in the Allied countries.  They too had lost their homes, had suffered under the Nazi regime and were continuing to suffer.  Germany had lost the war, the Red Army were advancing and the chance to escape on the Wilhelm Gustloff was their last and only chance.

Death on the Baltic does make for fascinating reading, at times it's just a little dry, but on the whole it is a well written, well researched book about a little known disaster.

Death on the Baltic : The World War II sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff  by Cathryn J Prince is published by Palgrave Macmillan on 9 April 2013.   Many thanks to Katy at Palgrave for sending an advanced copy for me to read and review.

For more information about the author, visit her website at www.cathrynjprince.com