Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Girl Below by Bianca Zander - Guest Review

Today I'm thrilled to introduce to you Lisa.   Lisa and I met online through our love of books and reading, she lives in Leeds which is not so far away from me.  We manage to meet up every few months or so, in fact we've had a lovely lunch and a good old catch-up today in Leeds.

Lisa blogs at The Book Addicted Housewife and is also on Twitter @scarletwhite21, this is how Lisa describes herself:
I’m a busy mum of four who depends on reading to help me escape the arguments of three teens and the constant flux of dirty clothes and messy bedrooms....
I’ve always been a reader, devouring books from an early age and in the last few years I have taken to reviewing like a duck to water.  I love reading an excellent book and sharing my thoughts on it with other people and, to me, it also means the book doesn’t just end when I close it.
Head in a book?  Better than head stuck in the ironing basket!

Lisa has been kind enough to guest review for me, and is talking about The Girl Below by Bianca Zander - published by Alma Books in February 2013 ~ huge thanks to Marina from Alma Books who sent this copy for review.

Twenty years ago Suki was a normal little girl with two parents, living in a flat in Ladbroke Gardens celebrating their move up in the world by throwing a party.  
It is this party, you could say, that changes Suki. Witnessing some odd goings-on with her parents friends and her babysitter that remain in Suki’s head for years after and then, at the persuasion of those same friends going into the old bomb shelter where she falls into the darkness and experiences something very, very strange.  It is these two things that, years later, Suki is constantly taken back to in her head.

Six months later her father leaves for a business trip, never to return and Suki and her mother have to leave Ladbroke Gardens, eccentric neighbour Peggy and her daughter, Suki’s babysitter, Pippa. 

Ten years later Suki’s mother dies and with no one else to turn to Suki embarks on a trip to New Zealand to find her long gone father.  
The reunion is not successful; Suki now has a step-mother and two half siblings.  Putting the pieces of the jigsaw together Suki realises that her father must have been having an affair and left her and her mother for this woman who makes it clear she doesn’t want Suki in their life.

Adrift, Suki forges some semblance of life in New Zealand, a life that revolves around meaningless relationships and drugs, for ten years when she suddenly decides to return to England and London.
Visiting her childhood home in Ladbroke Gardens, Suki recognises Peggy’s name on a doorbell and gains admittance to the old lady who, though ill, recognises her and it is through her that Suki is able to contact her old babysitter Pippa, a woman who fascinated Suki all those years ago.

Suki is finding it difficult fitting back in London.  People she thought were friends years ago no longer want to know her and she is constantly taken back to that time of the party and being trapped in the bomb shelter, experiencing it over and over as if she were actually there....What does it mean and what is wrong with her?
Pippa offers Suki a job and then a roof over her head but it is only when they go to Greece that Suki’s waking nightmare starts to make sense and her melancholy to lift.  Could it be that Suki really has been trapped for all those years?

This is a strange but fascinating book.  It isn’t always clear what is going on with Suki’s trips into the past.  Is she hallucinating, dreaming, have all the drugs made her psychotic...?  But it is clear that there is something in her past that needs resolving and that something has been holding her back for twenty years.  

Suki is a fraught character, very needy, not surprisingly, having been abandoned by her father and then losing her mother at a young age and this shows in the way she has clung to men in relationships that were not good for her, in the way she has used drugs as an escape; she comes across as quite desperate but utterly sad and lost and as such you can’t help feeling sorry for her.

The episodes where she wakes to see the men in the garden covering the bomb shelter or finds herself in the shelter in the dark are thought provoking and mystifying; lots of thoughts went through my mind about this but I came to the conclusion that it was such a terrifying episode that subconsciously part of her was trapped in the shelter for all those years and subsequent events, her father leaving, mother dying, kept her there in the dark, lost and alone and it is only when she finds some place in life that she can find closure with that nightmarish experience.  Maybe I’m wrong but as nothing is clearly explained we have to make our own conclusions....

Overall, I found it a fascinating book, it kept me intrigued and it was an easy read.  There is some humour with Peggy but mainly it is a story that is tense and that tension is palpable to the reader, making it in places an uncomfortable read, but all credit to the author for that because it makes you really imagine how Suki feels and the descriptions of the incident in the shelter are very atmospheric. Characters are well drawn if not very likeable but for me that was not a problem, I like a book where the characters are flawed and where you have to think about and question things and where all is not sweetness and light, so all in all this ticked all the right boxes for me and I’d certainly recommend it.

British-born Bianca Zander has lived in Auckland, New Zealand, for the past two decades.  An established journalist, she has written for numerous publications, including the Listener, the Sunday Star-Times and The Dominion Post.  She has produced radio shows and written works for film and television, including the dramatic short film The Handover, which was screened at the Chicago Film Festival.  The Girl Below is her first novel.

Follow Bianca Zander on Twitter @BiancaZander and on Facebook

The 80,000 Page View Giveaway!

I'm delighted that my dear old blog has passed the 80,000 page views mark.  Delighted and a little amazed to be honest.

I decided to start Random Things almost three years ago, back in March 2011, not really knowing what I was doing.  I never imagined how much I would enjoy blogging about the books that I read, but I love it, I really do.

My blog has opened so many doors for me.  I've been to publishing parties, to book launches, to publisher's offices.  I've met authors, booksellers and publishers.  I've been part of the Pan MacMillan Reader's Group panel and met some amazing book lovers, bloggers and book group leaders.  My reviews have been quoted in actual, real books and on author websites, and by publishers.

I've been able to read and review much anticipated books before their release date, and have made some great online relationships with authors and publishers.

To say a huge thank you to everyone who has followed the blog, read my reviews, sent lovely comments and generally supported me so far, I'm going to give away a bag of goodies.   There's bound to be at least a couple of books in there, maybe some postcards and book marks, possibly some chocolate?

Complete the Rafflecopter widget to enter - UK entries only I'm afraid.   GOOD LUCK xx

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce

When the herbalist appears out of nowhere and sets out his stall in the market square he brings excitement to Emily's dull midlands town. The teenager is enchanted - the glamorous visitor can be a Clark Gable to her Jean Harlow, a Fred to her Ginger, a man to make her forget her lowly status in this place where respectability is everything. 
However, Emily has competition for the herbalist's attentions. The women of the town - the women from the big houses and their maids, the shopkeepers and their serving girls, those of easy virtue and their pious sisters - all seem mesmerised by this visitor who, they say, can perform miracles. 
But when Emily discovers the dark side of the man who has infatuated her all summer, once again her world turns upside down. She may be a dreamer, but she has a fierce sense of right and wrong. And with the herbalist's fate lying in her hands she must make the biggest decision of her young life. To make him pay for his sins against the women of the town? Or let him escape to cast his spell on another town?

Published in paperback by Penguin on 26 September 2013, Niamh Boyce's debut novel The Herbalist has had huge success in her native Ireland.    The Herbalist won the 2012 Hennessy XO Award for New Irish Writing and just this week was the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year at the Board Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.

Set in a small town in Ireland during the 1930s, The Herbalist is an evocative and beautifully written portrayal of life during that time.  

The story is narrated in turn by four women; Emily, Carmel, Sarah and Aggie.  Four very different women, who each speak with a very different voice, but who are all connected by the arrival of 'The Herbalist' to their market square.

The pace of the story is slow, and gentle, with each woman's tale explored in detail.  The hidden secrets, the treatment of women and the impact of decisions come together to create a novel that, despite the almost poetic language at times, is really a look at the harsh reality of those times.

The depth of emotion is breathtaking at times, this is a heart-felt story that exposes the lack of choice of women in 1930s Ireland, and the treatment of those who did not conform.

I have no doubt that The Herbalist is the start of a magnificent writing career for Niamh Boyce.

My thanks to Catherine from Penguin, Ireland who sent my copy for review.

Niamh Boyce was awarded 'New Irish Writer Of The Year' in 2012, the same year in which her debut novel The Herbalist was a winner in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair Competition. 

Boyce's background is in visual arts and she now works as a librarian. She lives in the Irish midlands with her family.

For more information about Niamh Boyce visit Follow her on Twitter @NiamhBoyce

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Book Week Scotland 2013 - Who In Fiction Are You?

This week is Book Week Scotland 2013.   Yes, I know I live in Lincolnshire, which is in England, and not in Scotland, but whatever!    

The Scottish Book Trust are behind Book Week Scotland 2013 and are doing loads of promotion online.

Book Week Scotland is about celebrating books and reading in every part of life in Scotland.
Between 25 November and 1 December 2013, people of all ages and of all walks of life will be able to come together in libraries, schools, community venues and workplaces to share and enjoy books and reading. They will be joined in this celebration by Scotland’s authors, poets, playwrights, storytellers and illustrators to bring a packed programme of free projects and events to life.

Here's how to get involved online (taken from

 Book Week Scotland 2013 is here! You've gotta read like no-one's watching, buy books like you've never been skint and start each new book like you've never read a dud.
There's an overwhelming amout of events to go to but if you can't make it along to one - or if you suffer the misfortune of not living in Scotland - then why not join in online? Don't fear, the internet is here:-

  •  Take our literary personality test on Facebook. Find out who in fiction you are by answering our 12 straightforward questions. Your answers will determine your literary counterpart and personality.
  • Win books for your friends from Hive Stores. Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 you can win books for your friends on Twitter by following this simple tweet formula: A book + your friend's Twitter name + @HiveStores+ #BWSTweetaBook. Play every day (apart from Sunday).
  • Enter Pets Reading or if you don't have pets (or feel uncomfortable posing with a stranger's dog tied up outside the supermarket) enjoy our gallery of pets reading. One lucky winner will get an original illustration of their pet from top illustrator John Fardell.
  • Watch our Murals gradually unveil themselves online and on social media. We've created five murals around Scotland for Book Week Scotland 2013 based on five statements from a team of five top, Scottish authors. We'll unveil a new mural each day online and on Facebook.
  • Watch Mairi Hedderwick live on BBC Scotland for Authors Live at 11:00 on Thursday 28 November 2013. Beg an early lunchbreak from your boss to watch a 50-minute show about Katie Morag from one of Scotland's most beloved writers.
No-one can accuse you of not making the most of Book Week Scotland 2013 if you do all (or at least three) of the above. If they leave you wanting more why not delve into our blogs, Scottish book lists, make a resolution to start listening to our Book Talk podcast or check out our daily Storify (from Tuesday).

Happy Reading!

I took the Literary Personality test, and I'm delighted to be ........ Holly Golightly!!

You are Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Holly grabs life by the lapels and refuses to stop and mope. Audrey Hepburn found playing her tough, “an introvert playing an extrovert”, but she captures your inspiring, enthusiastic and outgoing nature perfectly.
With a gift of the gab, your ability to bring the best out in people and your lust for life make you great company. People who meet you want to be your friend. If they were to catch you on a bad day you might come across as indiscreet, flamboyant and hasty but, if you can focus on finishing the tasks you start, instead of moving on to something even more exciting, you can inspire us all.

Monday, 25 November 2013

25 Years ago today .....

Twenty five years ago today, my life changed completely.

I was twenty-two years old, still living at home in a small North Nottinghamshire village with my parents and my younger brother.  I was engaged to Ady, we'd been together since we were at school and were making plans for our wedding which was booked for April 1989.  We'd just bought a house, in a village nearby and were spending most evenings stripping wallpaper and trying to get rid of the awful red gloss paint that the last owner had thought looked wonderful on the radiators.

I was working as an Accounts Assistant at a firm in the nearby town of Retford.  I was an ordinary girl. I loved reading, music and clothes.  We didn't have much money, we went to the pub or visited friends - nothing out of the ordinary.  I was happy and healthy.

That evening we were at our new house.  Ady was stripping the bathroom walls, I was downstairs looking at the guest list for the wedding.  Then, out of the blue, all of a sudden, with no warning I got a pain.  It was a pain like nothing I'd ever felt before, and it wouldn't go away.  It was in my stomach, I felt sick and my tummy started to bloat.  It wouldn't go away.  I was scared and it hurt, it hurt a lot, and it wouldn't go away.

Ady bundled me into the car and drove me to the hospital, the pain was getting worse and I kept being sick. My tummy was so huge that I couldn't do my trousers up.

Most of that night is a blur.  I remember being asked lots of questions, I remember that it hurt and I remember that the Doctor thought I would be OK in the morning, but that they would keep me in overnight. The pain got worse during the night.  More Doctors and more questions and then in the morning they decided that they'd have to open me up and take a look to see if they could work out what was happening.

Mum and Dad arrived and I was whisked off to theatre.

I don't remember much at all about the next six or seven days.  I vaguely remember that it was my Dad's birthday, and I was worried that he wouldn't have his present.  I vaguely remember someone dying in the next bed.  I was in the Intensive Care Unit, I was hooked up to machines that made dreadful noises, I had tubes coming from all parts of my body.  I was very poorly.

My operation had taken hours.  When the Doctors told my parents what had happened, my Dad fainted.

When the Doctors opened up my stomach, they found that my small intestine had died and gone gangrenous. They had removed most of my small intestine, I only had nine inches left.  That's a lot of intestine to remove. Nobody knows why it happened, but my intestine had stuck together and formed adhesions which had cut off the blood supply.  Nobody really knew what would happen next, or if I would get better.

It felt like I was in hospital for a very long time.   I wasn't a very good patient.  I cried a lot and I felt sorry for myself.  I was in a ward with lots of elderly people, who were very sick, and they kept dying.  I wanted to go home.  I lived on orange flavoured ice cubes and the Doctor wouldn't let me go home until I ate some real food.  So I did, I stuffed myself and then I was sick.   They let me go home, it was the day before Christmas Eve.

Twenty five years later I am still here.    I went back to work two months after getting out of hospital, and got married two months after that.  My marriage didn't last, but I did.   I've travelled a long and rocky road over the last twenty-five years.  Thank goodness I didn't know back then how much I would be affected by that operation.    My bones are crumbling, including my jaw bone, so I lost most of my teeth.  I have osteoporosis and pernicious aneamia, I have d-lactic acidosis and fibromyalgia.  I am tired most of the time and I spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

The pain never really did go away, but I'm here and I am happy.  I have the most wonderful husband and best friend in Martin.  I work full time, I also do a few hours work for the local Parish Council, I do some volunteering.  I love blogging, I love receiving so many pre-publication books, I love going to publisher parties and book launches.   We have great holidays, I have the most fantastic family including a scrumptious nephew.

My life changed completely 25 years ago, but it didn't end, it just changed.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

Joan and I during one of our 'bookish' lunches
I'm really thrilled to welcome back Joan to my blog today.   Joan is a good friend of mine, we met online through our love of books, and despite living in different parts of the country, we have met in person quite a few times now.  Joan and I share many favourite authors and books in common.  Both of us know that if we've enjoyed a book, then the other will probably love it too.  

Joan reviewed The Child Who by Simon Lelic for Random Things back in October 2012.

Today Joan reviews The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont which was published in paperback by Corsair (Constable & Robinson) on 18 July 2013.    My thanks to Lucy from Constable & Robinson who sent the copy for review.

‘TheStarboard Sea’ is the debut novel of Amber Dermont, although she is already the published author of a collection of short stories called ‘Damage Control’. 

At the beginning of this novel we learn the back story of Jason Prosper, expelled from school at the age of eighteen and now starting a new term at Bellingham Academy, famed as a school of ‘second chances’ for students with nowhere else to go. With his rich father and behind him a life of privilege, Jason is on his way to Bellingham to start afresh, with the promise of the funding for a new hall of residence in turn for his acceptance as a student there.

Jason has had a very bad time and is guilt ridden following the death of his best friend Cal, who killed himself when Jason and he had become estranged following a minor disagreement after a life-long and intensely close relationship. Although Jason discovered Cal’s body hanging in their room he did not report what had happened.  Instead he kept watch from afar as someone else entered their dormitory and the furore began.

At Bellingham, Jason’s reputation preceded him. He and Cal had been talented sailors, matching each other perfectly and winning many competitions together. Indeed he had competed against Bellingham Academy in the past and Jason’s housemaster was keen to get him onside and teamed up with another promising partner.  This section of the novel is really interesting with fascinating information and details about technical issues, rules and regulations and best practice in sailing. There is no doubt that Jason had been well and truly bitten by the bug of sailing but the tragic death of Cal has certainly left him without much desire or ambition to start sailing competitively again. However he is persuaded to give it a go and following a sailing accident when Jason had to rescue his classmate and surely saved him from death, he decided finally to quit. However, grudges were secretly bourn against Jason and at a time when he was at his very lowest he found himself a target for reprisals.

Bellingham Academy also catered for female students and Jason soon builds up a friendship with Aidan, a girl with low self esteem, already damaged by her family situation and recovering from a dark secret infatuation that ended very badly. Gradually as they get to know each other they become close friends and as they spend more time together, their relationship built on mutual trust and understanding flourishes and they divulge secrets, which bring them to the verge of the utmost intimacy. With party invitations issued and a hurricane threatened, a series of very unlucky incidents result in another death that devastates Jason even more than Cal’s death and leaves him reeling and searching for the truth of what happened that night.

Within this story are issues about growing up, dealing with grief, searching for identity, learning to fit in, building and maintaining relationships, loyalty, learning to take responsibility, being truthful and taking the consequences of your actions. It is very sad in places but also very true to life and an excellent example of how a young boy finally becomes a man, albeit learning the lessons of life the hard way. I enjoyed this novel and found it compelling reading.
Amber Dermont received her MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she held the prestigious Teaching-Writing Fellowship. She is the author of Damage Control, a collection of short stories. She is currently the Charles Loridans Chair and associate professor of English and creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. The Starboard Sea is her first novel.
For more information on the author, find her on Facebook 
Or follow her on Twitter:@AmberDermont

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One single mum

With two jobs and two children, Jess Thomas does her best day after day. But it's hard on your own. And sometimes you take risks you shouldn't. Because you have to . . .

One chaotic family
Jess's gifted, quirky daughter Tanzie is brilliant with numbers, but without a helping hand she'll never get the chance to shine. And Nicky, Jess's teenage stepson, can't fight the bullies alone. 
Sometimes Jess feels like they're sinking . . .

One handsome stranger
Into their lives comes Ed Nicholls, a man whose life is in chaos, and who is running from a deeply uncertain future. But he has time on his hands. He knows what it's like to be lonely. And he wants to help . . .

One unexpected love story
The One Plus One is a captivating and unconventional romance from Jojo Moyes about two lost souls meeting in the most unlikely circumstances

The One Plus One is Jojo Moyes' eleventh novel and will be published by Penguin on 27 February 2014.

Meet Jess, a single mother who really does try her best.  Sometimes it seems that her best is just not good enough.  She has two jobs, and two children - and a huge, horse-sized dog named Norman.  Her son; Nicky - who is really the son of her ex Marty's ex partner (are you following?), is constantly beaten up by the local bullies.  Nicky wears black eyeliner, tight jeans and spends most of his life shooting virtual aliens in a world created on the internet.  Tanzie, or Constanza (to give her full name), is gifted and talented, a maths genius and Jess is determined that she will not follow in Nicky's footsteps to the local comprehensive school, and to a life of suffering created by bullies.
And then there is Norman.  Norman, the oversized dog, a mass of fur who drools and farts, sleeps and eats and protects his little family with unfailing loyalty.

Meet Ed.  An accidentally successful businessman.  Accidentally because he'd rather be back at the creating stage.  Ed enjoyed life when it was just him and his best friend Ronan, designing and creating software. Since the 'suits' took over the business and Ed and Ronan got rich, his life has felt a little bit like a dream.  Money seems to have brought him little except an ex-wife, an empty house and a flash car.

When despair hits Jess and she does something totally out of character, and Ed stops to help out at a road traffic accident one dark evening, they find themselves flung together at the beginning of a journey that will change all of them, forever.    And so, the reader accompanies them on their long and very slow journey to Scotland, driving no more than 40mph, stopping along the way for sandwiches and toilet breaks and coping with Norman's flatulence, Tanzie's travel sickness and a bad case of a dodgy kebab.

I've been a fan of Jojo Moyes for over ten years and I particularly love the diversity of her books, she doesn't write to a formula - she creates stories and characters that are often flawed, but always engaging, realistic and warm.
I have enjoyed every single one of her novels, I have a particular soft spot for The Peacock Emporium which was published way back in 2004, but my favourite of all is The Girl You Left Behind from 2012.  I was incredibly excited to receive a copy of The One Plus One from the Real Readers programme and started reading with huge anticipation.

I have to admit that it took me a while to get totally involved with this story, and with the characters of Jess and Ed, although I immediately fell hook line and sinker in love with the children, and with Norman of course. However, there is a scene between Jess and Ed, during their long journey to Scotland where they just click, and it was at that precise moment that I clicked too.  From that very moment on, I fell in love with the whole story, and from there I could hardly bear to put the book down for a moment.

Jojo Moyes writes with compassion and honesty.  She gets right into the heart of her characters, and their circumstances.  The reader grows to love these people and care for them and ache for them as they are thrown curveball after curveball, but continue to bounce back.   Jess has led a life of hardship and disappointment yet her belief that 'we will work something out' continues to shine through.  The children; Nicky and Tanzie, despite their difficulties remain positive about their future, and this is all down to Jess.  Ed is a good man, he's been shafted during his rise to success and has become jaded, but Jess and her family show him that there are still good, honest people in the world.

The One Plus One is a love story, it is a family story, it is a story of hope and most of all it is a story that shows that simple acts of kindness can make the power of difference, no matter how difficult things are. Jojo Moyes perfectly captures the tiny things in life that have the biggest impact, she expertly brings to life the blossoming of relationships.

I laughed, I sighed and yes, I cried.  When I closed the book for the last time I felt as though I'd lost a little part of me, that's how much this story and these characters will get under your skin.

The One Plus One is another triumph for an author who is, and deserves to be at the top of her game. Bravo!

Jojo Moyes was born in 1969 and grew up in London. After a varied career including stints as a minicab controller, typer of braille statements for blind people for NatWest, and brochure writer for Club 18-30 she did a degree at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London University. In 1992 She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to attend the postgraduate newspaper journalism course at City University, and apart from 1994 when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post, she worked at The Independent for ten years, including stints as Assistant news editor and Arts and Media Correspondent.
She has been a full time novelist since 2002, when her first book, Sheltering Rain was published. She lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, and their three children. She has won the Romantic Novelists' Award twice, and her book Me Before You gained the highest number of votes ever submitted in the Richard and Judy list.

For more information about Jojo Moyes and her books, visit her website, follow her on Twitter @jojomoyes

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Solomon's Tale by Sheila Jeffries : Review & Author Q&A

In the middle of a thunderstorm one Midsummer’s night, Solomon arrives on Ellen’s doorstep as a tiny, wet ball of fur. But as his new owner coaxes him back to life, it becomes clear he is no ordinary cat.

Wise beyond his years and with a spiritual connection to Ellen that links back to her childhood, this little black and white kitten becomes the family’s protector. As Ellen and her young son deal with homelessness and the loss of everything they hold dear, it is Solomon who brings light in the darkest of times.

The perfect gift for cat lovers this Christmas, Solomon’s Tale is the story of a cat who is the most faithful of friends. The perfect read for fans of A Street Cat Named Bob, this is an unforgettable tale of love and loss

Solomon's Tale by Sheila Jeffries is published in hardback by Avon on 21 November 2013.  This is a beautifully presented book.  The hardback version is just gorgeous, with a smattering of glitter on the cover that makes it look very festive and quite seasonal, a perfect gift for cat lovers.

This is a story that deals with some hard-hitting and quite emotional issues in a pretty unique style.  Solomon, the little kitten who is found by Ellen as a bedraggled bundle of fur is the narrator of the story. Ellen's family is struggling, things are tough and Solomon's presence helps to guide them through these tough times.  The voice of a cat as narrator does take some getting used to, but by the second chapter I felt that Solomon had found his 'voice' and the narration flowed perfectly from there.

The story is fiction with a theme of spirituality and healing, and I'll admit that usually I'm not keen on this sort of style or subject. However, Sheila Jeffries does make this work, and I believe its all down to having a cat as the narrator that makes this story so successful.

A book that will appeal to both adults and older children, especially those who may have suffered a loss in the family, it has a message and that message is clear. I'm certain that reading Solomon's story could help children who may find themselves in similar situations in their own family.

A warm and well-told story, quirky and different and will probably appeal most to cat lovers.

My thanks to Olivia, who sent my copy for review on behalf of the publisher.

I'm delighted to welcome the author, Sheila Jeffries here to my blog today.  I asked Sheila some questions, and her answers are below.   For more information about Sheila, please visit her website or follow her on Twitter @sheilajeffries1

Do you read reviews of your novels ? Do you take them seriously ?
Yes I read them. I'm interested in what effect my work has on people, so I take them seriously.

How long does it take you to write a novel ?
It varies, depending on the length and the amount of research involved. It can take six months to a year. I work best under pressure. Nothing motivates me like a deadline !

Do you have any writing rituals ?
I write in long hand, always, and edit in long hand. It feels more like my own creative process. I prefer to be in an armchair, and I need absolute peace. Sometimes I go off on my own to Cornwall and write intensively for a week.

What was your favourite childhood book ?
The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, the unabridged original which is SO spiritual, multi-layered, and full of amazing detail.

Name one book that made you laugh ?
Tommy Cooper's life story.

Name one book that made you cry ?
The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen.

Which fictional character would you like to meet ?
Freckles from Gene Stratton Porter's book Freckles

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present ?
Dry Dock, Book Two of The Celestial Sea Voyages by Marina De Nadous

Are you inspired by any particular author or book ?   
Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

What is your guilty pleasure read ?     
Gaining Ground by Joan Barfoot

Who are your favourite authors ?  
Tarjei Vesaas, Ben Okri, Kate Morton, Jean M Auel, Janet Frame, William Golding, D.H.Lawrence, William Yeats, William Wordsworth, William Shakespeare.

What book have you re- read ?  
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

What book have you given up on ?  

Sheila Jeffries has been writing since she was young and penned four children’s novels which were published before she left school. Written under her maiden name, Sheila Chapman, in the popular ‘pony story’ genre of the time, the books continued to sell worldwide until the eighties.

After studying at Bath Academy of Art, Sheila spent many happy years teaching in UK schools. She had eight more children’s novels published under the name Sheila Haigh, and her most successful book, Little Gymnast, was a best seller in America.

Solomon’s Tale breaks new ground in Sheila Jeffries’ writing career. It’s a book truly from the heart, and though it is fiction it is based on two real cats, Solomon and Jessica, who shared and enriched her life. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

One Day in Budapest by J F Penn

A relic, stolen from the heart of an ancient city. An echo of nationalist violence not seen since the dark days of the Second World War.
Budapest, Hungary. When a priest is murdered at the Basilica of St Stephen and the Holy Right relic is stolen, the ultra-nationalist Eröszak party calls for retribution and anti-Semitic violence erupts in the city.
Dr Morgan Sierra, psychologist and ARKANE agent, finds herself trapped inside the synagogue with Zoltan Fischer, a Hungarian Jewish security advisor. As the terrorism escalates, Morgan and Zoltan must race against time to find the Holy Right and expose the conspiracy, before blood is spilled again on the streets of Budapest.
One Day In Budapest is a chilling view of a possible future as Eastern Europe embraces right-wing nationalism. A conspiracy thriller for fans of Daniel Silva, where religion and politics intersect.

 One Day in Budapest  is my first taste of author J F Penn's writing, and at just 105 pages (in the print copy), it is an ideal way to sample her work. The novella features Dr Morgan Sierra from the ARKANE thrillers, but is stand-alone and can be read separately from the ARKANE series.

This is a story packed with action from start to finish and Penn has a real depth to her writing that is incredibly skilful.  There are not many authors who could produce such a vivid story, involving some well-drawn characters and incorporating great historical detail in such a few chapters.  One Day in Budapest really does deliver all of the above.

Morgan Sierra is a strong female lead character, just enough detail of her background is given to be able to understand just what sort of person she is, and why she finds herself in the middle of an explosive situation. The story is set sometime in the near future, the reader does not know the exact date.  The quite frightening thing about this is that one could really believe that the events were happening today, the plot is relevant to events happening in our own world and draws on horrific episodes from our not so distant past.

One Day in Budapest is a great introduction to J F Penn's writing.  It is skilfully written with a fast and believable story line that will please fans of thrilling, suspenseful fiction.

My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review.

Joanna Penn has a Master's degree in Theology from the University of Oxford, Mansfield College and a Graduate Diploma in Psychology from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
She lives in London but has spent 11 years in Australia and New Zealand.  Joanna worked for 13 years as an international business consultant within the IT industry but is now a full-time author-entrepreneur.
Joanna is a PADI Divemaster and enjoys travelling as often as possible.  She is obsessed with religion and psychology and loves to read, drink pinot noir and soak up European culture through art, architecture and food.

You can sign up for Joanna's newsletter and find out more on the ARKANE world at
Connect with Joanna online on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson

'Judy married Oliver and discarded her name without a second thought. She promised to love and honour him, and he promised to do all kinds of things until death parted them. Some years passed .....'
Judy Taylor married the first man who asked her, lives in the neighbourhood where she spent her uneventful childhood and adolescence, and still has the same friends she meet in primary school.  You could say she is settled and secure. Until the day she discovers a hard lump.
Following a series of nerve-racking tests, she's told that 'everything is absolutely normal'. But instead of the anticipated wave of relief, Judy realises that 'absolutely normal' is absolutely not what she wants. Deciding to stop taking the path of least resistance, she leaves her dependable husband and shocked friends behind, and embarks on a new life of uncertainty in Edinburgh. But is it too late to start again, and will she find what she's looking for? 

The Emergence of Judy Taylor is Angela Jackson's debut novel, the paperback edition is published by Canvas (Constable & Robinson) on 21 November 2013.  At the time of writing the Kindle edition is available for just 35p.

With its enigmatic cover that gives nothing away and the cover quote 'Heart-wrenching yet dryly funny', this is a novel that I was intrigued by.  I wasn't sure of the genre, or who the book is marketed at.

After finishing the story, I can honestly say that this story should appeal to any reader - male or female, single or married.  Although the lead character is female and the central theme is of relationships, this is a book that deals with the uncertainties in life, and cleverly approaches the hidden insecurities that many of us have, and how lives and worlds can change dramatically when one person is honest, both with themselves and with the others around them.

Judy Taylor and her husband Oliver appear, to their friends and family, to be happy.  It is a potentially life-changing incident that makes Judy take a long, hard and honest look at her life.  Her sudden realisation that this is not what she wants hits her hard.  She wants something else, but Judy doesn't really know what that something else it.   Her decision to leave Oliver and make a new life for herself in Edinburgh shocks everyone associated with her.   Oliver is angry and doesn't understand, her brother thinks she is selfish, her Mother is left to cope with her Father's steady decline into ill-health.

Judy can appear to readers to be selfish and ungrateful, but there are parts of her character and her situation that will probably really resonate with many of us.  Judy's brutal honesty, with herself and with the other characters does not make her the most likeable of characters and the reader could get annoyed by her and her actions, but she is a strong character and is determined that whatever the outcome, she will take this journey.

The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a very accomplished novel.  Angela Jackson takes the reader through the sometimes painful steps that Judy takes.  This is not a fast-paced, action packed story.  It is a slow uncovering of years of disenchantment, of facing up to reality and of dealing with how one's actions can hurt others whilst healing oneself.

I was very impressed by the sensitivity of the writing.   This is a powerful and often very moving story with touches of dry humour and some fabulous characters.

My thanks to Saskia from Canvas who sent my copy for review.

Angela Jackson was recently named one of UNESCO City of Literature's emerging writers, is a coach and lecturer in Psychology and Education, and runs the course 'Living Happily' at Edinburgh University.  She's written features for newspapers inluding the Guardian and Independent. Angela lives in Edinburgh and The Emergence of Judy Taylor is her first novel.
For more information visit, or follow Angela on Twitter @AngelaJ

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Tattooist by Louise Black

 Imagine a man who will be anything you want. Who will listen attentively to every word you say and intuit everything you don't.  A man willing to explore all the dark corners of your body and your mind.  A man who wants only your pleasure ......
Such is the charm of Fabrice, a tattooist toiling away in his own dark world in Paris. A modern alchemist, Fabrice is seeking perfection through transformation. He knows how to attract women, and he knows how to love them, but Fabrice wants total submission: if he can dissolve a woman's ego, melt it down, he will find gold. 

Erotic fiction is a genre that has never really been my thing.  Oh, I spent my late teens engrossed in the bonkbuster novels of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran and the like, and lapped them up, but the whole erotic slant has never really drawn me in.

Over the past couple of years, one would be forgiven for thinking that the only new books being published are erotic fiction, it has seemed on occasion that every high street bookshop has overstocked with piles of 50 Shade - esque fiction.  Wading one's way through tables filled with grey and black covers with artfully placed white things was really beginning to annoy me.  Then there has been the discussion, the debate, the incredible rise in fortune for EL James, and lately it has seemed to die down .... well, until the film is released I guess.  I expect the film tie-in paperback will be released and it will all start again.

So why did I choose to read The Tattooist?   Well, first it is published by Cutting Edge Press (and was released in hardcover in April 2012).  Cutting Edge is a publishing company that I admire; they publish some fabulous fiction which I've really enjoyed.   Secondly, this book was written in 2006, so not on the coat-tails at all, and Louise Black has been writing erotic fiction for years .... oh, and the cover is brilliant too - not a hint of black ..... or red!

What did I think?   Wow, just Wow!   This story took me and shook me up and deposited me down again, all a tremble and wondering just what the fuck happened?     The introduction is intense, it could be off-putting, it's hard and it's blunt.  The publisher has acknowledged that fact, and probably wouldn't include it in future prints.    And then we meet Fabrice, the tattooist of the story.  He has a shop in an up and coming part of Paris, and upon first meeting him, he appears to be bit of a catch.  Swarthy, intelligent, deep and understanding - what more could a woman want?

We meet three of Fabrice's clients.  Three women, very different, but alike in the fact that they have problems and want to be fixed.   Fabrice is a fixer, he charms them with his voice, his sensitivity and it doesn't take long before he charms each of them in the bedroom too.   Except that Fabrice doesn't always make it to the bedroom; anywhere that Fabrice chooses will do.   The sex is hard-core, explicitly described, possibly uncomfortable to read and very vivid.

Fabrice is a sadistic man, the three women are victims.  The reader's view of the characters change throughout the story.  Those who appeared weak and dirty become strong and mighty, and those that appear charming and sensitive become cruel and vindictive.

Darkness, sadism, alchemy and sex.  Sometimes bewildering, but so so forceful.  This is so much more than erotica - it's a powerful story with excellent narrative and quite scarily believable characters.

I enjoyed every whirlwind of a page and certainly recommend this novel, even if it takes you a little out of your comfort zone.

My thanks to Saffeya at Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review.

Louise Black was born in Devon.  After completing a Masters and a PhD on Georges Bataille she moved to France, where she currently lives.  Her short stories appeared in The Erotic Review for over a decade.  The Tattooist is her first published novel.    Follow Louise on Twitter

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt. 
1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.   When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration. 
As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War's darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle's call to fight for France.
Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days. 
A woman's unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.
Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat is the second in the L'Auberge des Anges series and follows Spirit of Lost Angels which I reviewed in September 2012.   Wolfsangel was published by Triskele Books on 17 October 2013.

Please don't think that you have to go away and read Spirit of Lost Angels first (although it's a great read and I'd certainly recommend it), Wolfsangel works extremely well as a stand alone story. This series centres around an angel talisman, carved in bone and passed down through generations of women of the Charpentier family - the women are healers and midwives.

The story is set in the small French village Lucie-sur-Vionne during the Second World War, the village is occupied by German soldiers whose presence cast a darkness over the community.  The villagers are determined that they will not lie down and surrender, and the Resistance fighters scheme to find ways to outwit the enemy.

Liza Perrat's writing is full of passion and realism, the reader is drawn into the action and becomes part of the village from the opening chapters.   The lead character; Celeste, has many difficult situations to deal with during the course of the story - her predicaments and her decisions are harrowing at times and leads the reader to consider how one decision can change the course of a life.   Entwined into the story are true events, and it is this that adds authenticity and also the shock factor.  The brutality of war, and of human behaviour is laid bare by the author who is not afraid to include the full horror of events that really happened.

Celeste is a brave character, a woman who wants to do her part for her country.  Her sister Felicite is another strong and courageous female, and both of them are excellently drawn as characters, but are also an example of the difficulties that women faced during these dreadful times.

Wolfsangel is a fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched novel that will thrill historical fiction fans. Liza Perrat writes elegantly, with feeling and authority.

Liza Perrat grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.
She has completed four novels and one short-story collection, and is represented by Judith Murdoch of the Judith Murdoch Literary Agency.
Spirit of Lost Angels, the first in the historical L’Auberge des Anges series was published under the Triskele Books label in May, 2012. The second in the series –– Wolfsangel –– was published in October, 2013, and Liza is working on the third novel in the series –– Midwife Héloïse – Blood Rose Angel –– set during the 14th century Black Plague years.
Find out more about Liza on her website, follow her on Twitter
Liza is a co-founder and member of Triskele Books, an independent writers’ collective with a commitment to quality and a strong sense of place.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Nightingale Nurses by Donna Douglas

'Pay attention please, nurses. The next six months will be the most important of your lives' 
It's the final year of training for three young nurses at The Nightingale Hospital. 
Helen is at a crossroads in her life as she battles with her domineering mother over both her love life and her future career. 
Dora can't stop loving Nick, who is married to her best friend, Ruby. But Ruby is hiding a dark secret with the potential to destroy Ruby's marriage. 
Millie is anxious about her fiance, sent to Spain to cover the Civil War, and things only get worse when she encounters a fortune teller who gives her a sinister warning. 
With war looming in Europe, and the East End of London squaring up to the threat of Oswald Mosley's blackshirts, the women of the Nightingale have to face their own challenges, at work and in love.

Published by Arrow Books on 24 October 2013; The Nightingale Nurses is the third in this series from Donna Douglas, following The Nightingale Girls (August 2012) and The Nightingale Sisters (April 2013).

Although The Nightingale Nurses can most certainly be read as a stand-alone novel, and the author gives enough background information to enable new readers to enjoy the story, I would definitely recommend that you read the first two books in the series first.

Once again Donna Douglas has produced a warm and quite captivating story featuring Helen, Dora and Millie; three student nurses who are from very different backgrounds but have found themselves living and working together for the past three years.

It is the final year of what has been three incredibly tough years, both professionally and personally for each of the girls.  Helen is still dealing with her overbearing Mother, a woman who cannot help but interfere in Helen's life.   Dora is distraught, her one true love is now married to her best friend and Millie is worried about her reporter boyfriend Seb who is overseas covering war stories.

The detail in this story is excellent, from the fashion, to the workings of a hospital to the political tensions caused by Moseley's 'Blackshirts' - the reader is firmly thrust into this changing world which is brought to life quite brilliantly.

I have really enjoyed the development of the characters in the Nightingale series, not just the three leading nurses, but the supporting cast has grown too.   It is probably Helen's mother who is the surprise of this story, still domineering and still obnoxious, but her past is gradually revealed to the reader which adds another dimension to both her character and the plot line.

Drama, love, laughter and many tears.  A finely tuned plot and some larger than life characters.  The Nightingale Nurse is a fine addition to the series and is my favourite so far.  I do hope that Donna Douglas will be writing more about the girls, I'm really keen to know where they go next.

My thanks go to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Donna Douglas has written a short Christmas story set in the Nightingale hospital which is published (ebook only) on 14 November;  A Child Is Born: A Nightingales Christmas Story.  50% of the royalties are being donated to  Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

Christmas Eve, 1936
On a foggy December night, a pregnant woman walks out in front of a trolley bus and is knocked unconscious.
She is rushed to the Nightingale hospital, and a healthy baby is delivered. But the mother claims to have lost her memory, and cannot believe that the child is hers.
It seems that the Nightingale nurses may need to perform a Christmas miracle.

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; or follow her on Twitter @donnahay1