Monday, 29 February 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Claire Fuller

My Life In Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm delighted to welcome Claire Fuller to Random Things today.  I read and reviewed Claire's hugely successful debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days here on Random Things back in January of last year. 

This beautiful novel won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and was nominated for the 2015 Edinburgh First Book Award and the 2016 Waverton Good Read Award. 

I've always been a huge reader of whatever I could lay my hands on. When I was growing up I visited my local library every day while waiting for my lift home from school, selecting books from both the children's and adult sections. My Dad also had quite a few books and I was allowed to read whatever I liked.  
Here are some from that time, as well as novels I've read more recently.

Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan     This is a book from my Dad's shelves. It's poetry, but in no way comic - it's mostly from when Milligan was undergoing treatment for depression, and includes drawings by him and his daughter. I suppose I must have been seven or eight when I was reading this, which seems strange now. I recently bought myself a copy, and although looking at it again was nostalgic, I'm afraid to say that the poems don't bear too much re-reading. 

James Reeves Complete Poems for Children   This was a book my Dad bought me in 1977 for my birthday when I was ten. 

It's the only book from childhood that I still have and it's inscribed by him.

I have to admit that I would look at it more for the wonderful illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, rather than the poetry. 

Phenomena: A Book of Wonders by John Michell and Bob Rickard   This is a non-fiction book my Dad had on his stud shelves. I loved it. Showers of frogs, spontaneous human combustion, phantom music, strange disappearances - this book has them all. With pictures. 

Even just writing about it now, makes me want to go and buy it. Many of these things must have worked their way into my subconscious and are coming out in my novels and short stories, which  often includes slightly creepy happenings. 

The Railway Children by E Nesbit    Another childhood memory and actually a massive cheat, because I only read the book for the first time last year when my editor, Juliet Annan at Fig Tree / Penguin gave me a copy.
My memory is (as is Peggy's - the narrator in Our Endless Numbered Days) from the vinyl album, which is a recording of the film from 1970. The album belonged to my sister, and although I was allowed to play it whenever I liked, I desperately wanted it to be mine. And just like Peggy I can still recite chunks of it. 

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas   When I was fifteen I was Mrs Ogmore Pritchard in a school performance of Under Milk Wood and I fell in love with the play's words and rhythm.

At the after-show party, behind the door in one of the music practice rooms, I kissed Organ Morgan.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood   I'm a bit picky with my Attwood, but this I loved. I read it when it was published in 2003, probably with many other books - all of which I've forgotten. 

But Oryx and Crake has stuck with me for its story telling and setting more than anything else.

The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns   I could choose any of Comyn's books: Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (which features in my second novel, Swimming Lessons), or Sisters by a River. 

I was introduced to Comyn's work by my librarian husband fairly recently and I searched out and read all eleven of her books. She's a bit like an English Shirley Jackson; odd things happen and nobody blinks an eye.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson   If I had to pick one novel that made me want to to write one myself it would probably have to be this. And I do go on about it far too much. 

It's quirky and odd. It has one of the best narrators ever written: Mary Katherine Blackwood, I love you. 

Legend of Suicide by David Vann   This is quite a recent read - perhaps from six years ago. It's a collection of interlinked short stories, or maybe each could be seen as a retelling of the same story.

Sukkwan Island is a novella within the book, and it had a huge influence on my first novel. Vann's stories are dark, he lets bad things happen to his characters, all the while describing the magnificent landscapes they inhabit.

Wildlife by Richard Ford   I'm picking this for my final book not so much because of the content, although the story is interesting (the falling apart of a marriage from the point of view of the teenage son), but for Ford's writing style.

Sometimes when I'm writing a first draft nothing works - the words don't flow, my style is too flowery or simpering, so I pick up Wildlife, open it at a random page and read some of Ford's words. They will always re-set me and start me going again in the right direction.

Claire Fuller is a novelist and short fiction writer. For her first degree she studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving. She began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. Claire has a masters in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester.

Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published in the UK in February 2015 by Fig Tree / Penguin, by Tin House in the US in March 2015, as well as seven other publishers around the world.

Her second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in the UK in early 2017

Claire's short fiction has been published in Vintage Script, From The Depths, After The Fall and The Rattle Tales Anthology.  One of her stories was shortlisted for the Brighton Prize, whilst another, Baker, Emily and Me won the BBC Opening Lines competition, and was broadcast on Radio 4.

Claire lives in Winchester with her husband and two children.
For more information, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireFuller2


Friday, 26 February 2016

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier **** BLOG TOUR ****

Ohio, 1838
James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life there is harsh, and as swamp fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts.  James patiently fowns his sweet-tasting 'eaters' while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from 'spitters'. This fight over apples takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and all the way across America.
California, 1853
Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the reasons he left behind everything he loved.

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier is published in hardback on 8 March 2016, by The Borough Press and is the author's eighth book. The paperback edition will be released in October.

In April, Reader, I Married Him is published, an anthology Tracy Chevalier has edited in celebration of Charlotte Bronte's bicentenary. The collection contains short stories by over 21 of the finest women writing today. Contributors include Lionel Shriver, Sarah Hall, Helen Dunmore, Salley Vickers and Tessa Hadley, who all use Jane Eyre's famous words as a springboard for their own flights of imagination in a wide variety of tones and approaches.

I was honoured to be asked to take part in the Blog Tour for At The Edge of the Orchard and welcome everyone here today, for the first stop of the tour. I am a huge fan of Tracy Chevalier and have read all of her previous novels, I've been very excited about this one since I heard about it late last year.
What fascinates me most about Tracy Chevalier and her writing is the fact that in every one of her books I've been introduced to a subject, or a place that I knew nothing about before. Whether is is Mary Anning, discovering fossils on the beach in the early 1800s (Remarkable Creatures, 2010), or Griet the young Dutch girl who became the model for the artist Vermeer (Girl With A Pearl Earring, 2001), this author's writing always captivates me. She totally immerses her readers into the time  and the places of her stories, and she has done it once again in At The Edge of the Orchard.

The Goodenough family have moved to the Black Swamp, with the hope that they can establish an orchard of apples. If they can nuture enough trees to satisfy the authorities, then they can claim the land, and James Goodenough's legacy will remain.
The Black Swamp is a harsh and brutal place to raise a family for any couple, but for the ill-matched James and Sadie is is proving almost impossible. Tracy Chevalier's description of life in this alternately frozen, or boiling hot environment pulls no punches. Swamp Fever is rife and it is heartbreaking to hear James describe how he digs some graves before the undergrowth becomes too dense, for the children that he know will not make it through the season. Five of the Goodenough children have already died, it seems inevitable that those won't be the last.

James and Sadie are not good parents. James is stern and quick with his fists, he struggles with his inner thoughts, he knows that he feels affection for his children, especially Robert, but is unable to show kindness or love. Sadie is a drunk who is determined that James will plant more 'spitters' than 'eaters', she longs for the escape that a bottle of applejack brings, and constantly taunts her husband, and is cruel to her children.

The story is told via James and Sadie's voices, and these voices are colourful and vibrant. Tracy Chevalier's impeccable research echoes throughout this quite brilliant, evocative and enriching story.

The story moves forward fifteen years to California, where Robert Goodenough is travelling, trying his hand at different things, making a living, but always remembering his family back at the Black Swamp. The heartbreaking series of letters that Robert sends back home, every New Year's Day are exquisite in their simplicity, but also so very moving and there is a whole story written between the lines.

From the intricacies of apple growing, tree grafting and harvesting, to the collection of plants and seedlings in the American forests, and the shipping of these to the UK, At The Edge of the Orchard educates and thrills. Subjects that could easily be dry and of no interest suddenly become as fascinating as anything that I've ever read about, and the trees and plants are such an important part of this story, there are times that they seem like characters themselves.

A unique and compelling story that looks at broken family, and the ties that bind them coupled with fine historical detail with descriptions of new towns and brutal lives that are vividly and quite brilliantly portrayed. I was loathe to put this novel down for even one minute, and was so sad to turn the final page. I'd love to imagine that Tracy Chevalier may take up this story once again some day, so that the reader could follow Robert and his family on their journeys.

At The Edge of the Orchard is brutal yet tender, educational and evocative. Tracy Chevalier is a first-class author and this is quite possibly, her best novel yet.

Huge thank toThe Borough Press who sent my copy for review

Tracy Chevalier is the author of seven previous novels, including the international bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring. Renowned for her rich evocations of periods past, Girl With A Pearl Earring was her second novel and in 2004 was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. To date it has sold 5 million copies globally. Her other titles include The Last Runaway, Remarkable Creatures, Burning Bright, The Lady and the Unicorn, Falling Angels and The Virgin Blue.

To read more about Tracy Chevalier and her titles, visit her website
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @Tracy_Chevalier


Thursday, 25 February 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Amanda Jennings

My Life In Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm thrilled to welcome Amanda Jennings to Random Things today, it's a special day for Amanda as her third novel, In Her Wake is published by Orenda Books today. I reviewed her previous novel, The Judas Scar  on Random Things in April 2014, and was honoured to have the opportunity to read a very early copy of In Her Wake, I reviewed it in January; here's a taster from my review:

"In Her Wake is psychologically chilling, but it is also a beautifully observed story of a journey of self-discovery. Amanda Jennings' words are alluring, persuasive and so incredibly elegant, the reader is carried along effortlessly into Bella's world. Her characters scream with realism, her settings are well observed and precise and the insight into the human mind and the power of family relationships is both unsettling and convincing."

When I was asked to write a piece entitled 'My Life in Books' I squealed with delight. What lovelier way to spend time, thinking back over all those books that have made a particular impact on me. Obviously it's hard for any book lover to narrow down their list of favourite books and doing so feels disloyal because there are so many that should also be included. But here are nine of those which have stayed with me, and the reasons why. Thank you, Anne for allowing me to share them.

For The Love of the Horse (Jinny of Finmory) by Patricia Leitch   I was obsessed with horses as a child. I drew them, dreamed of them, and sucked up this series of books by Patricia Leitch as fast as I could. What's not to love? Jinny moves from a dreary, grim town to the remote Scottish Highlands. She has to ride to school (did you hear that?! She has to ride to school!!) on a scruffy pony called Bramble. Then along comes a beautiful, untrusting and wild Arab mare called Shantih who escapes from a circus and is tamed by Jinny. Jinny then gets to gallop her across the moors feeling the heat and power of this magnificent animal beneath her. This is everything my childhood dreams were made of. 

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper   Susan Cooper showed me what it was to be transported by magic carpet to another world. I must have been about eleven when I read the first in the series, and it was the first time I lost myself fully in the pages of a book. 
This was a world I wanted to live in. Will Stanton's world, where real life collides with fantasy, where prophesies, legends, and the ultimate battle between good and evil swept me up and carried me away. Bliss.

Animal Farm by George Orwell    This allegorical gem from George Orwell was the first book to make me cry. I cried in class as we took turns to read aloud. I didn't care if anybody saw my tears, all I cared about was Boxer being carted away, his innocence and loyalty, abused and manipulated. It was a knife in my gut.
Just remembering this passage now has made me cry all over again. 

The Beach by Alex Garland  I read this book whilst feeding my first daughter. I saved reading it for night-feeds and would pick it up when she woke and put it down as soon as she finished. I'd travelled around Asia before going to university, and the places are people Alex Garland described felt wonderfully familiar. I loved how he played with the idea of utopia and examined the fragility of society. 
But mostly this book reminds me of those quiet hours in the middle of the night spent happily reading while my tiny new baby peacefully fed.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee   Soon after we got together, my then-boyfriend, now-husband was appalled when he found out I hadn't read this and thrust his well-worn copy at me, insisting I read it. Everything about this story of prejudice, hypocrisy and justice transfixed me, and the thought that this man loved it so passionately only made me love him more.
I gave him a copy of the book which is signed by Harper Lee for our first wedding anniversary, and it's one of the few material things I'd save in a fire.  We gave one of our daughters the middle name Scout, in honour.

Flowers In The Attic by Virginia Andrews  As a teenager I read every horror book I could get my hands on. Stephen King and James Herbert were my favourite, but it was this series by Virginia Andrews that was my true guilty pleasure. Twisted, dark, evocative and highly addictive, I couldn't get enough. My mother, a true liberal who never stopped me reading anything, read a few chapters and proclaimed it a 'horrific' book. 
I always wanted to be a rebel, but it's hard to be a rebel when you come from liberal parents, so continuing to gleefully read this series was the closest I came. That and ignoring her disdain for The Cure. 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak   This beautiful, ambitious, tragic, thought-provoking, extraordinary book by Markus Zusak, is the book I wish I'd written.

Toast by Nigel Slater  I love food and I love to cook. I have recipe books piled up beside my bed and read them for pleasure. Nigel Slater's passion for food drips from every word of this delicious memoir told through his childhood memories of food.
Nostalgic, evocative, moving and exquisitely written.
I could read and reread it again and again. Food and beautiful words ... not sure it gets much better than that!

Amanda Jennings lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband and three daughters.
In Her Wake is her third novel. She's a regular guest presenter on BBC Berkshire's weekly Book Club, and enjoys speaking at literary festivals, libraries and book clubs.
When she isn't writing she can mostly be found walking her dog and dreaming of being up a mountain or beside the sea.
She writes a blog and is an active user of social media.

Find out more about Amanda Jennings, and her books at her website
Follow her on Twitter @MandaJJennings


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts by A K Benedict

Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight - only for her to find she doesn't want it.
Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker.
Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.
Tracing the source of these messages leads Maria and Jonathan to a London they never knew. To find the truth they'll have to listen to the whispers on the streets.
Shot through with love and loss, ghosts and grief, this compelling tale from the author of The Beauty of Murder will leave you looking over your shoulder and wondering what lurks in the dark. 

Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts by A K Benedict is published by Orion on 25 February 2016.

I haven't read A K Benedict's first novel, The Beauty of Murder, but was intrigued by both the cover and the blurb for this one, it sounds like a quirky, different, out of my comfort zone sort of read. I read the book whilst travelling to and from London on the train, and it certainly made the journey pass quickly. However, I have lots of questions about the story line, it left me feeling a little perplexed and not wholly satisfied if I'm honest.

The descriptions of the city of London are wonderfully done, I was totally hooked by the antics of the mudlarks on the shores of the Thames. The author paints a brilliantly realistic picture of those treasure hunters, scrabbling about in the mud and the tide, hoping to discover some treasure. The lead character of Maria is something of a enigma, and I have to admit that Maria, coupled with the mudlarkers give a feel of a historical novel. I really did feel at times that I was in Victorian London, there's something quite Gothic-like about the setting and the the people.

So, it often came as something as a shock when Maria said or did something that put her firmly in the modern day, I kept creeping back to murky, dark and olde-worlde London town.

The plot of Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts is complicated, with many characters and enough red herrings to feed a store full of hungry Ikea shoppers. Maria is multi-layered, quite odd and at times just downright annoying. Jonathan Dark, on the other hand is a dream of a character, I liked him and his humility and feelings of helplessness and despair, very much.

So, Maria is being stalked and Jonathan has seven days to catch the stalker. He's already failed to catch the guy once, and this troubles him very much. The race to stop another killing leads to the discovery of The Ring; an underworld criminal organisation, populated by celebrities and people of power. There are also encounters with undertakers who gossip freely with ghosts, and with the ghosts themselves.

There's a lot going on in this book. It's not the sort of novel that can be read in small chunks, you really need a good couple of hours to get your teeth into it and to keep ahead of the complicated plot line.

I admire AK Benedict for her imagination and her creativity. Her writing is atmospheric and creates a wonderfully realistic sense of place. However, there was just a little bit too much going on for me and I felt that the characters were jostling for space and time. Even so, this is an original and well written story that entertains and keeps the reader on their toes.

My thanks to the publisher Orion for sending my copy for review.

A K Benedict read English at Cambridge and Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. She lives in Hastings and writes in a room filled with teapots and the severed head of a ventriloquist's dummy. She did have a blow-up pirate but punctured it.

Alexandra was the front-person of an underground indie band, and has composed music for film and television. Her short stories and poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Best British Short Stories 2012.  Her first novel, The Beauty of Murder, was published in 2013.

Find out more about the author and her work at her website
Follow her on Twitter @ak_benedict


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell

On the morning of Lily's twenty-fifth birthday, it's time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.
Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum's life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan, now a pilot, has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie's intentions.
Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily's friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again....

You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell was published in hardback by Headline on 28 January 2016, this is the author's twenty-seventh novel. I've read most of Jill Mansell's books over the years, and have reviewed three of her previous novels here on Random Things; Don't Want To Miss A Thing (February 2013); The Unpredictable Consequences of Love (June 2014), and Three Amazing Things About You (January 2015). I enjoyed this author's writing very much, her books are always uplifting, always romantic and always very funny and this one did not disappoint in the slightest.

You and Me, Always is Jill Mansell at her very best, she's an author who is confident in how she writes and knows exactly what her fans want. She stays true to what she knows best, and this story is everything that I expected, and all that I wanted.

The female characters take the lead in this story. Strong, yet vulnerable, funny and loyal, here are a bunch of women who you'd really want to have on side, in any argument. Although Lily is the main character, and this is her story; Patsy is my favourite. I just loved her, a little bit older with a heart that has been battered about and torn up a bit, but who, deep down just wants to love and be loved. She's the village hairdresser, and everyone in Stanton Langley knows her story; they know about the husband who left her, they know about his new relationship, and unfortunately most of them know everything about the online dating disasters that seem to be happening more regularly.

Patsy, along with Lily and Coral form the backbone of You and Me, Always. Yes, there are plenty of male characters, and some are fabulous, and some are not so wonderful, but not one of them is a patch on these three women.

It's not all fun and games and laughter and jollity though. Jill Mansell has created an intriguing back story for her characters, with Lily's dead mother at the centre. When Lily reads the last birthday letter left by her Mum, on the morning of her twenty-fifth birthday she feels deep sadness, but the words that she reads also spark a determination to find out more about her Mum's early life. Whilst Lily is wondering about her family history, Patsy is sheltering someone from unwanted attention.

Worlds collide, and people who would normally never meet become mixed up together. Old well-kept secrets are revealed and there are tears and laughter all around.

A fabulous story, extremely well-written by an author who continues to create the most wonderful characters. Long-term fans will be delighted, and new readers will be hooked.

My thanks to Headline and Bookbridgr who sent my copy for review.

Jill Mansell lives with her family in Bristol. She used to work in the field of Clinical Neurophysiology but now writes full time.
She watches far too much TV and would love to be one of those super-sporty types but basically can't be bothered. Nor can she cook - having once attempted to bake a cake for the hospital's Christmas Fair, she was forced to watch while her co-workers played Frisbee with it!

But she's good at Twitter!

Sign up for Jill Mansell's newsletter at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @JillMansell


Monday, 22 February 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Richard Mason

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have made a lasting inspiration on their life.

I'm delighted to welcome author Richard Mason to Random Things today. Richard published his The Brown Stuff, in November of last year.  
debut novel,

I reviewed The Brown Stuff here on Random Things ~ it's funny, and rude and I loved it!

Richard shares the titles that make up his Life in Books:

Return of the Jedi by James Kahn:  By the age of ten I was already an established fan of Star Wars. 

So when this came out in 1983 I just had to read it. 

This will be the first proper book that I ever read and I have lost count of how many times I re-read it, back in the day.

The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader:  I became passionate about martial arts after seeing Jackie Chan demolish a gang of Hell's Angels in The Cannonball Run (1981 movie). So, when the opportunity to read about the highly secretive Ninja came about, I leapt at it.

This book was huge with very small writing and not really aimed at the age group I was when I bought it, so it took a few years before I eventually read it.
This was the first book that I purchased myself. 

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell:  As I grew older, my writing needed to mature and so my reading of Marvel's Comics had to take a sideline. I had the urge to read a more grown-up novel, to see how it really should be done.
Postmortem was recommended by a colleague and I loved it. 

I then bought everything ever written by Patricia Cornwell but in my opinion, Postmortem is still the best of them.

Keane: The Autobiography by Roy Keane:  As a lifelong fan of Nottingham Forest, Roy Keane was one of the greatest imports and then exports in club history. A true rags to riches tale of a young man in Irish football, spotted and bought by the twice-in-a-row European Cup Champions, before movig on to captain Manchester United during their famous 1999 treble season.
Roy Keane made me believe that if you really wanted it, you could get it.

This was the first autobiography that I purchased. 

Batman Year One by Frank Miller:  From Adam West and Burt Ward, through to Christian Bale and even the soon-to-be Ben Affleck, I've always loved Batman. It went against the grain for me because I was a Marvel boy and Batman belonged to DC.  The darker the Bat story, the more I enjoyed it, and when Frank Miller wrote Year One, this was truly THE ONE.

This was my interpretation of how graphic novels should be - dark, moody, crime noir and exactly the kind of work I wished I could produce, until ....

Sin City by Frank Miller: .... My favourite graphic novel of all time. Sin City broke the mould and Frank Miller died with this what he probably wasn't allowed to do with a Batman story - whatever he wanted. 

"The Hard Kill Goodbye", "A Dame to Kill For", "The Big Fat Kill" and "That Yellow Bastard" are books to be read one after the other. I cannot pick my favourite because they should never be separated and all together, they make up Sin City. 

Daredevil Yellow by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale:  The one is included because Daredevil has always been my favourite Marvel character and I didn't want him to become second fiddle to Batman or Sin City in the comic book stakes.

A blind lawyer by day and a kick-ass super hero by night - nuff said!

61 Hours by Lee Child:   Who says you can't judge a book by its cover?  I kept seeing this cover everywhere and eventually succumbed. I didn't care who wrote it or what it was about, I just had to read it. The 14th Jack Reacher book was my first and again, I went on to purchase the rest after reading it. 

I was also one of the unhappy fans when it was announced that Tom Cruise (5 feet tall and 100 pounds) would play Reacher (6 feet tall and between 220 - 250 pounds). Hmph!

Ice Station by Matthew Reilly: Now this is how to write non-stop actin. This is a book that literally leaves you out of breath. Matthew Reilly is famous for his fast paced stories, and this was one of his early examples.

Again, this led me to read his other books, but as this was my introduction to Reilly's awesome character, Scarecrow, it became a personal fave.

Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly: The same author as above, but introducing a different character and a different story. This is the first part of an excellent Indiana Jones style trilogy which took me back to the great on-screen adventures of the early eighties.

Once again, fast paced action and adventure that Matthew Reilly had got me used to. 

A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin:  I had already watched the TV series before stepping into the gargantuan books. This enabled me to keep a basic grip of what was going on before the information was doubled, trebled and quadrupled in size. Despite the novels containing millions of pages, I found them to be exciting, fast paced and not long and drawn out.

These kind of books would have scared me ten years ago, whereas now, I just can't wait for the next one to come out.

It shows me that I've come a long way since reading Mr Tickle.

About the author, Richard Mason:
I was born in Nottinghamshire, England in 1973 and grew up on a healthy diet of Marvel Comics, cheesy American TV series, music, movies and very few books. My tastes haven't moved on too far, although I don't read the comics any more, but I do enjoy the Marvel movies and TV shows.

Despite not being a great book-lover as a child, I always loved a story, whether in a comic panel, on TV, or writing my own, it didn't matter.
My first written stories were about the superheroes that I followed and I wish that I still had them, so I could sell them to Marvel .....

My debut self-published novel The Brown Stuff is out now and is the first book of a black humour trilogy.
My usual writing genres are crime, thrillers, action, adventure, conspiracy, so when the black humour reared its sarcastic head, I embraced it.  I have a broad sense of humour and this allowed me to produce a piece of work with few boundaries. What started as a collection of hand-written short stories 7 years ago soon developed into a full story, with two more books to follow in this trilogy, and maybe more after that!

I work full-time, have a very young son and a very supportive partner; they are my motivators and a huge part of my life, and my writing has to take a slight back seat. This gave me the opportunity to delve into self-publishing after many knock-backs from publishers and literary agents.

My hobbies, away from my writing, still involve music, movies, American TV shows, UFC and football. The dust continues to gather on my Marvel comic collection.

Follow Richard Mason on Twitter @RichardMason73
Find his author page on Facebook 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

'I was quite a cheerful person, you know, in spite of what happened to us.'
In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, she never spoke to him again.
'But You Did Not Come Back' is Marceline's letter to the father she would never know as an adult, to the man whose death has enveloped her life. With poignant honesty, she tells him of the events that have continued to haunt her, of the collapse of their family, and of her efforts to find a place in a changing world.
This is a breathtaking memoir by an extraordinary woman, and an intimate and deeply moving message from a daughter to her father. 

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, translated by Sandra Smith,  was published in hardback by Faber & Faber on 21 January 2016.

This slim book is just 100 pages long, but every single word, on every single page hurts. It is painful to read, it is painful to know that the words are true. It is painful to close the book, once finished and remember the events that changed history, that should never be forgotten. But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens describes the horror experienced by the prisoners  of Auschwitz-Birkenau, her words are stark and severe, but haunting and honest.

Marceline and her father were arrested in 1944, France was occupied by the Nazis and the family were Jewish. Taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were forced apart. They never spoke again.

Eventually, Marceline did return home. Her father did not come back. This beautifully written book is her letter to her father. In it, she details the horror of life in the camp, her despair that she cannot recall every word of the last note that her father managed to send to her, and the ever lasting impact of those years on her, and the rest of her family.

I'm not going to go into detail here about the things that Marceline witnessed in the camp, we are all aware of what went on behind those fences, under the noses of the locals. Many of us though will not have thought about what happened to the survivors after the liberation of the camps. How many of us considered how they would carry on living their lives with the images of what happened to their fellow human beings, carried out by their fellow human beings indelibly etched into their brains?

Marceline's words are honest and brutal. She blames herself for living, and I think, there have been times when she has blamed her father's death for the break-down of the rest of the family.

Please, sit down in a quiet spot and read these 100 pages. Then, take some time to reflect on our world, our history and our resilience.

Haunting, passionate, honest and enlightening. But You Did Not Come Back should be read by everyone, and remembered.

My thanks to Rachel from Faber who sent my copy for review.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens was born in 1928. She has worked as an actress, a screenwriter and a director. 

She directed The Birch Tree Meadow in 2003, starring Anouk Aimee, as well as several documentaries with Joris Ivens.

She lives in Paris.