Friday, 23 June 2017

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant @SabineDurrant @MulhollandUK

A few little lies never hurt anyone. Right?
Paul has a plan. He has a vision of a better future, and he's going to make it happen.
If it means hiding or exaggerating a few things here and there, no harm done.
But when he charms his way on to a family holiday...
And finds himself trapped among tensions and emotions he doesn't understand...
By the time he starts to realise that however painful the truth is, it's the lies that cause the real damage...
Well, by then, it might just be too late.

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant was published by Mulholland Books in July 2016.

My hardback copy of Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year, I had heard great things about this novel and have enjoyed reading this author in the past. I always take some time out during the Summer months to catch up with the books that I've missed along the way, and this was my first of those reads.

Set on a fictional Greek island, but one that bears a remarkable resemblance to Corfu, Lie With Me is a masterfully written story of dark anger, intrigue and hidden secrets. The author sets her scene incredibly well, and her descriptive style transported me to Greece. As the lead character, Paul, arrives on the island, the sights, smells and sounds are magnificently portrayed - anyone who has visited a Greek island will recognise that first hit of hot diesel fumes mingling in with charcoaled meat, and the stonemasons and garden centres that dot the landscape of the outskirts of the cities.

Paul Morris is the lead character, and narrator of this intriguing and immensely satisfying psychological thriller. He's mid-forties, the author of one mildly successful novel and also one of the most hateful characters ever imagined.  The reader will hate him, the other characters dislike him, and I don't really think he actually likes himself; this is what drives this story; his total self-absorption. Paul uses people, he thinks he's clever and tries to manipulate people. When he bumps into an old friend, and then begins a relationship with Alice, he thinks he's hit the jackpot. Widowed Alice appears to be vulnerable and lonely and when she invites him to join her and her friends in Greece, Paul jumps at the chance.

The holiday doesn't quite begin as Paul would have wanted, and this is just the beginning of his misogynistic and appalling behaviour, which only gets worse throughout the holiday. As long held secrets and crimes are slowly uncovered, the tension in this clever author's writing increases right up to the surprising and unexpected ending.

Lie With Me is populated with characters that are complex and intricate, the plot is multi-layered, clever and intriguing. Sabine Durrant has produced an unsettling, disturbing and twisted story that plays with the mind and lingers for days after the final page is turned.

Sabine Durrant is the author of two psychological thrillers, Under Your Skin and Remember Me This Way.
Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles.
She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines.
She lives in South London with her partner and their three children.

Follow her on Twitter @SabineDurrant

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall @TorUdall @BloomsburyBooks @PhilippaCotton

After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life.
Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall.
Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed?
Harry's purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something - or someone - who will root him more firmly to the earth.
Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall is published by Bloomsbury in hardback on 15 June 2017 and is the author's debut novel.

There are some times when I really wish I hadn't started this blog, and this is one of those times. Why? Because, I know that I'm not able to do this book justice with my words. The beauty of this book, from the exquisite cover, through the incredible writing, right up to the final paragraph is outstanding, the characters are lingering in my head, in my heart.

Usually when I begin a new book, I dive in and read as much as I can straight away. The first two pages of A Thousand Paper Birds, entitled 'Audrey's Smile' stopped me in my tracks. I read it, I read it again, I read it out loud to my husband. These are two short pages of pure beauty; poignant, emotional and so effective, and really are a taste of the joys to come from this story.

This is the story of four adults and one child, set against the exotic and astonishing backdrop of Kew Gardens in London. The garden itself becomes a character, as this talented author describes the flowers, the peace, the joy and the sorrow that are found there. Jonah's wife Audrey is dead, he is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his young, beautiful wife. His grief is all consuming and is an extension of his relationship with Audrey, for they grieved together over the years, for the children that didn't arrive.

Chloe is an artist, Harry is a gardener and child Milly is a precocious and effervescent girl who finds joy in everything. These three characters hold the clues to Audrey's death, and to the events that led up to that tragic day when she crashed her car, and didn't come home.

I truly felt as though these characters were written for me! As they spoke, I nodded in agreement, I felt them, I understood them completely. I am a page-corner-bender, when I find a phrase or a line in a book that touches me, I bend over the page. Sometimes I am criticised for it, when I came across this conversation between Harry and Audrey, I sighed in appreciation;

"I've never understood why people get angry when someone turns down a corner. I bet some authors love to have their books underlined, doodled on - to be lived in."
"The book I'm reading at the moment is crinkled with bathwater. There are coffee spills, a greasy stain - perhaps mayo - ."
"So your own life has become part of the story?"
I have lots of folded corners in my copy, this book is packed with phrases and dialogue that took away my breath, and occasionally brought tears to my eyes.

A Thousand Paper Birds is so so intricate, so very perfectly balanced. There's a touch of magical realism that fits so smoothly into the story and the author handles the delicate subjects of death and grief so very well. Whilst some of the characters may be ethereal, their stories and feelings are human and authentic.

Tor Udall takes the process of grieving and handles it with delicacy and ease. These relationships are rich and crafted so very well.

A beautiful beautiful novel that should be savoured and treasured, and will be remembered for a long time. Stunning, Just stunning.

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

After studying theatre and film at Bristol University, Tor Udall co-founded a dance-theatre company and spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing.
Having won a competition at the age of nineteen, she directed a theatre piece for the Olivier stage at the National Theatre.
She also choreographed an opera for the Royal College of Music. She taught theatre and dance for several years and currently works part-time as an editor for a creative consultancy.
She lives in London with her husband and two young children.
A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel.

Follow her on Twitter @TorUdall

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A Manual For Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink @CathyReadsBooks @picadorbooks @CamillaElworthy

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was still a teenager, her happy family was torn apart by an unthinkable tragedy. 
In A Manual for Heartache she describes how she learnt to live with grief and loss and find joy in the world again. She explores how to cope with life at its most difficult and overwhelming and how we can emerge from suffering forever changed, but filled with hope.
This is a moving, warm and uplifting book that offers solidarity and comfort to anyone going through a painful time, whatever it might be. It's a book that will help to soothe an aching heart and assure its readers that they're not alone.

A Manual For Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink is published in hardback by Picador on 29 June 2017 and is the author's second book. I read and reviewed her first, The Last Act of Love here on Random Things in July 2015.

Life hurts .... yes, it does. Yes, it bloody well does, and often. Cathy Rentzenbrink begins her book with those two words, and wonders why we are surprised that life hurts us. I like to think we are constantly surprised each time life takes a great big bite out of us because, on the whole, we want to believe that life it great, and fun and full of wonderful things. And, yes, it is, but when it decides to turn against us, it hurts so much, and that hurt is often overwhelming, and hard to deal with. It's often difficult to believe that life will ever be pain free again.

My copy of A Manual for Heartache is full of turned-down page corners; marking some wonderful and wise words that I am determined to remember when life begins to feel sore. When Cathy Rentzenbrink published her first book; The Last Act of Love, she exposed her inner-most feelings, she was so brutally honest about how her brother's death affected her, her words within that book have stayed with me for the two years since I read it.

Writing that book didn't heal the author, or take away all of the pain. She's frankly honest within the pages of this latest book about her depression, and how it can floor her for days. She's also done a wonderful thing by sharing her own coping strategies here for other people. Those of us who have experienced personal heartbreak can only benefit from reading A Manual for Heartache, a book that the author herself describes as "a verbal cuddle, or a loving message in a bottle - tossed into the sea to wash up at the feet of someone in need."

Although this book is short and slim (and very beautifully presented), it is absolutely packed full of down to earth wisdom. Cathy Rentzenbrink's  understanding of the human psyche is not the result of years of psychological study, it is down to her truly empathic nature. She realises that some people find it very difficult to talk to someone who is going through heartbreak, she doesn't criticise but she offers solutions. She offers ways of making sure that we can truly care for someone in crisis without being patronising, or frightened ... but by being human, and kind and true.

I really do urge everyone to buy a copy of this book, read it and keep it. Every single one of us will find something in there that will help us, at some point in our life. If you are one of the 'one in four' who have a mental illness; if you lose a loved one, there is something to help you. It doesn't matter if your heartache is personal to you, or is the result of some far flung politician's decision, or due to a terrible story you saw on the news. The author talks about how feeling powerless doesn't mean that we can't do little things to make things feel better, and for me, this was the part of the book that had most effect. As I watch Question Time, or hear Trump's latest speech and feel my heart aching for our future, I will write down five good things about life, or eat cheese on toast, or kiss my husband, and hope that those small, good things will lessen the pain.

A Manual for Heartache is required reading, it is uplifting and wise and truly wonderful.

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

Cathy Rentzenbrink was born in Cornwall, grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in London, where she works as a writer and journalist.

She is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize

Follow her on Twitter @CathyReadsBooks 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong @rachelkhong @scribnerUK @jessbarratt88


Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he's moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. 
At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.  
Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is published in hardback by Scribner on 1 June 2017 and is the author's first novel.

Sometimes it is the smallest, slimmest novels that have the most impact. Nestled within the less than two hundred pages that make up Goodbye, Vitamin is a story that is so beautifully crafted, the characters within creep into the heart and tighten their hold with every page.

Ruth has agreed to move in with her aging parents for a year. Her mother is struggling to deal with her father's decline into Alzheimer's and for Ruth this is also a chance to escape the reality of the steady deterioration of her own life as her fiance prepares to leave their house to live with another woman.

Ruth has always adored her father, and the feelings are mutual. Her father has a notebook that he's written in for many years, he gathered up his thoughts about Ruth as she was growing up. He noted down the seemingly mundane; the funny things she said and did and told the pages just how much he loved his child. Ruth really didn't know the other side of her father. Her mother and brother know a different man. A man who drank, who was disloyal, who was difficult to live with, but to Ruth he was her adored father.

Ruth and her mother become obsessed with reading everything available that may help them to care for her father. Food, aluminium, scientific tests - all of them are read, digested and tried out.

There are bittersweet moments in this story that will tug at the heartstrings, but for me, it was the little snippets within that notebook that told of earlier lives that really made this novel. It was a clever way of informing the reader about the family in the past, and how they had moved on.

Rachel Khong is a skilled and imaginative writer. The writing is gentle and caring, and at times, so very very funny. It is intimate, tender and frank.

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

Rachel Khong studied at Yale and the University of Florida. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Believer, Pitchfork, Village Voice and Lucky Peach. In 2013, she was named one of Refinery29’s 30 under 30. 

Goodbye, Vitamin is her first novel.

Find out more at

Follow her on Twitter @rachelkhong

My Sister and Other Liars by Ruth Dugdall @RuthDugdall

Sam is seventeen, starving herself and longing for oblivion. Her sister, Jena, is mentally scarred and desperate to remember. Between them, they share secrets too terrible to recall.
Eighteen months earlier, Sam was still full of hope: hope that she could piece together Jena’s fragmented memory after the vicious attack that changed their family forever. But digging into the past unearthed long-hidden lies and betrayals, and left Sam feeling helpless and alone in a world designed to deceive her.
Now, in a last bid to save her from self-imposed shutdown, Sam’s therapist is helping her confront her memories. But the road to recovery is a dangerous one. Because Sam has not only been lying to her doctors: she’s been hiding dark secrets from herself.

My Sisters and Other Liars by Ruth Dugdall was published in paperback by Thomas & Mercer on 1 May 2017.
I'm a huge fan of Ruth Dugdall's writing and have read all of her previous novels and have reviews of The Woman Before Me (November 2013), Nowhere Girl (October 2015), and Humber Boy B (March 2015) here on Random Things.

My Sisters and Other Liars is a standalone novel and quite different to her previous works, however she continues to deal with serious, dark and complex issues within it, just as she does in her earlier books.
Set in a secure unit for young people with eating disorders, known by its inhabitants as Ana Ward, this is a dark, chilling and at times, very unsettling story. Not for the faint hearted, this is a book that centres around control.

Lead character Sam is just seventeen-years-old and living behind locked doors alongside other girls like her. They starve themselves, they want to be stick thin, they want to be in control. There are little things that they can do that allows them a tiny bit of control; from drinking gallons of water before weigh-in, to sneaking sachets of mustard so that they can purge themselves. Each of the girls have different reasons for wanting to control their body, and Sam's problems stem back to the night that her older sister Jena was brutally attacked and left for dead.

Ruth Dugdall's writing is ambitious and brave. She takes the reader to places and into situations that are uncomfortable to read about, and as Sam's story slowly unfolds, the horror of her life and the issues behind Jena's attack rise to the front.

The author cleverly uses Sam's consultations with her therapist as the narrative to the book. When Clive, the head of the department is introduced to the reader, he appears to be quite cruel, using a form of blackmail to ensure that Sam opens up to him. As the sessions continue, the reader begins to realise that Clive's form of therapy is incredibly effective; both for Sam, and for the reader.

The author's ability to create her characters appears effortless; they are complex and fully formed and each one of them plays such an important role within the story.

The subject matter is dark and dangerous, dealing with issues rarely tackled in fiction. Ruth Dugdall's writing is intelligent and gentle and the plot is twisted and gripping.  This is a compelling read, perfect for existing fans of this author, and a fabulous introduction to her work for new readers.

My thanks to the author and the publisher who arranged to send my copy for review.


Ruth studied English at university and then took an MA is Social Work. Following this she worked in the Criminal Justice System as a social worker then as a probation officer. Part of this time was spent seconded to a prison housing serious offenders. She continues to work within the Criminal Justice System, most recently in Luxembourg.
Ruth's novels are informed by her experience and are "authentic and credible".

Ruth's first novel, The James Version, is a historical fiction based on the actual murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in Suffolk. The story is re-told with a fresh light on who really killed Maria. 

Her second novel, The Woman Before Me, won the Debut Dagger in 2005. It is the story of Rose Wilks, a female stalker imprisoned for killing a child, who claims to be innocent. 

Her third novel, The Sacrificial Man, will be published in 2011. 
It is the story on an Internet suicide pact that goes wrong. 

Humber Boy B, set in Ruth's birthplace Hull, was published in 2015 as was Nowhere Girl, which is set in Luxembourg. 

Apart from The James Version, all of Ruth's books feature probation officer Cate Austin. "Probation officers have more face-to-face contact with criminals than any other profession," she says, "they are the unsung heroes of the Criminal Justice System."

Find out more at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @RuthDugdall

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell #BlogTour @Sarahlovescrime @OrendaBooks #MyLifeInBooks

A chilling, exquisitely written and evocative thriller set in the Lake District, centring on the obsessive relationship that develops between two writers... 
Bo Luxton has it all - a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers' retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops... Or does it?
Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell is published on 1 August 2017 in paperback by Orenda Books.  I posted my teaser review of Exquisite a while ago here on Random Things and I'm delighted to re-visit it here today as part of the Blog Tour, I also have a fabulous My Life in Books piece from the author herself.

My Life In Books ~ Sarah Stovell

I owned all of these – the slim hardbacks of each fairy tale, beautifully written amazingly illustrated. They were short enough for a child of around seven to manage on her own, and I used to read them to myself every night, apart from The Musicians of Breman because the cover was so frightening, I had to take it off the shelf and hide it somewhere I couldn’t see it. I loved these books and now, I understand how crucial fairytales are. They contain everything a good story needs and the best ones really do cast a spell over the youngest readers. Everyone should have a good grounding in fairytales. As an adult, I have been frustrated about the state of the traditional fairytale. The Ladybird editions are no longer as well written and the illustrations are cartoonish, and even the bigger collections seem to lack the lyricism of the vintage Ladybird ones. Happily, I recently managed to get hold of the whole collection of vintage Ladybird books on ebay for my children. They feel less passionately about them than I do, the ungrateful wretches.

I read this a lot when I was about 8. There was something about The Magic Finger that I was aware I didn’t quite understand, but which seeped into me anyway, and it’s to do with the sense of unthinking entitlement that humans believe they have to pillage the rest of the earth. I think this made a huge impression on me, though I would never have been able to articulate it at that age. It’s still with me – the desire to be able to point my finger at every bastard and turn them into a ducks.

Anne of Green Gables
I find it hard to put into words the impact this book had on me. I was ten the first time I read it and I read the whole series and cried when I reached the end, then went back and read them all again, over and over. Like Anne, I was a very lonely child with a huge imagination, and there was something in these books that just reached out to me and let me get lost in them. These were pivotal books in my development as a writer.

Wuthering Heights
I did this for A’Level English Literature. I was seventeen and completely swept away by it. The Yorkshire moors, the passion, the madness… I just loved it. I think I was a bit in love with Heathcliff, which was unfortunate, as it meant I spent many years after that looking for his image in other men. The raging madmen.

Another one I did for A’Level, another brooding protagonist I fell in love with. But how can anyone watch Hamlet and not be in love with him?

Sarah Stovell ~ June 2017 

Where to start? Where on earth?  Exquisite by Sarah Stovell is a book that took me by surprise, I was absolutely consumed by the story whilst reading it. The plot and the characters still lurk in my head. The voices of both Alice and Bo regularly pop into my mind, I ask myself questions about them, about their story. It’s a book that burrows its way into your soul, and clings on.

Two women, who at first introduction seem so very far apart. Bo, aged forty, is a successful novelist. She lives peacefully by the Lakes in Cumbria with her husband and her two small daughters. She’s confident, successful, intelligent and talented.

Alice, mid-twenties and drifting seems to be the complete opposite. Her boyfriend Jake is slovenly, lazy, keen on daytime parties and drink and drugs. She works, cash-in-hand at a language school. Her life seems to have no direction.

The common theme in Bo and Alice’s lives is writing, and whilst Bo has already carved out a great writing career, Alice can only dream of doing the same. Things may change when Alice is awarded a bursary to attend a Creative Writing course led by Bo.

Bo and Alice meet and immediately, the tension is ratcheted up by this very very talented writer and it soon becomes clear that these two women have another thing in common. They are both very damaged people, with pasts that haunt them and shape them and impact on their present.

What follows is a highly addictive, sophisticated and very twisted psychological thriller. The reader is exposed to the workings of the darkest of minds, and each page presents a question to the reader, although the answers are not always apparent.  The development of the intense and at times, very disturbing relationship that grows between Bo and Alice is so finely done, with some spectacular characterisation and surprising twists. The Lake District setting is beautifully portrayed and the contrast between that and Alice’s home town of Brighton is vividly done.

Throughout the story, the reader knows that something serious will happen, that is clear from the address of one of the narratives, however, it is not until almost the very end that we can be sure of the reliability of the narrators ...... or can we?

Exquisite deserves to be huge in 2017, it is quite extraordinary. At times uncomfortable, often shocking, but always compelling.  Sarah Stovell is hugely talented, Exquisite is an absolute triumph. 

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart.

She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. 

Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, is set in the Lake District.

Follow her on Twitter @Sarahlovescrime

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown @IsabelAshdown @TrapezeBooks @orionbooks #LittleSisterBook #DearSister

After sixteen years apart sisters Jessica and Emily are reunited. With the past now behind them, the warmth they once shared quickly returns and before long Jess has moved into Emily's comfortable island home. 
Life couldn't be better. But when baby Daisy disappears while in Jess's care, the perfect life Emily has so carefully built starts to fall apart.
Was Emily right to trust her sister after everything that happened before?

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown is published in paperback by Trapeze Books on 27 July 2017, the ebook was published on 27 April 2017.

I've always enjoyed Isabel Ashdown's writing, and my reviews of two of her previous novels are here on Random Things; Summer of 76 (July 2013) and Flight (May 2015).  I was very curious to read Little Sister, as it is clear that the author's new publisher is marketing her as an author of thrillers. Little Sister has the tag line "a gripping twisty thriller about family secrets and betrayals". I was really hoping that this was not going to be yet another psychological thriller, with a dark cover and small children on the cover, much the same as hundreds of other books currently on sale.

Yes, it does have a dark cover, and yes there are a couple of kids on the front, but this really is so much more than a bog-standard thriller story as once again Isabel Ashdown has carefully and cleverly created a cast of dysfunctional and tightly woven characters. These lead characters are the glue that holds the story together; each one of them is potentially unreliable and incredibly compelling.

The three-page prologue is shocking and draws the reader in immediately, the scene stays there, teasing and haunting as the story progresses. The first part of Little Sister is narrated alternately by sisters Jess and Emily. Reunited after many years of separation, the death of their mother has brought them back together. Emily welcomes the prodigal Jess into her family and Jess becomes invaluable as she takes on the task of minding Emily's toddler daughter Daisy, and is a listening ear to Emily's step-daughter Chloe. James, Emily's older husband welcomes Jess too.  Then Daisy disappears whilst in the care of Jess who had one of her 'turns', and as the search for the child becomes more desperate, the long-hidden secrets of the sisters relationship begin to seep through into the present.

Don't expect a police procedural story in Little Sister, in fact don't even expect to find parents weeping and wailing about their lost daughter. This story has none of that, and at first, I found that quite strange. Daisy's parents, whilst frightened and worried, appeared to be more concerned about themselves, and their relationships. This is the strength of the story, and showcases Isabel Ashdown's skilful writing perfectly. Her ability to untangle a character, to lay them bare, to expose them is outstanding, and the story really is about how the actions of the past, and the lengths taken to hide these can impact for years to come.

Little Sister is twisty, just as the tagline says, but the twists are unpredictable and out of the ordinary. The reader will doubt the characters, the reader will actually doubt themselves at times, as more surprises and shocks are uncovered, and loyalties alter and temperatures rise.

Shrewd and emotionally fraught, Isabel Ashdown has produced a memorable and powerful novel that is both unsettling and compelling. Highly recommended.

Isabel Ashdown was born in London and grew up on the Sussex coast. Her award-winning debut GLASSHOPPER (Myriad, 2009) was twice named as one of the best books of the year, and she now writes full-time, walks daily, and volunteers in a local school for the charity Pets as Therapy. She was recently appointed Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Chichester.

Isabel is represented by Kate Shaw of the Viney Literary Agency, London. See more at or follow her on Twitter @IsabelAshdown

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter @meganfnhunter @picadorbooks @CamillaElworthy

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z's small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.
This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter's The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter was published in hardback by Picador on 18 May 2017 and is the author's first book.

This is one of the most skilful, haunting and moving stories that I've read in a very long time. The writing is stark, almost staccato, straight to the point but wonderfully descriptive. Not quite a poem, but also not a novel, this is a work of great beauty that cannot fail to move the reader.

The story begins as the unnamed narrator's waters break, just as the waters have also taken over the whole of the country, a beautiful compare and contrast, both startling and clever.

The woman, and her husband R and their new-born baby, Z flee their home, and the rising water levels. They leave their London home for the relative safety of R's parents. For a time, they are out of danger, but the danger increases and the woman's narrative becomes more anguished and heartbroken.
As tragedy and chaos descend upon the woman and her family, her basic instinct is to protect her child, and to ensure that he is safe. She has no idea where will be safe, or who will help.

Imaginative, clever and brave. The End We Start From is a highly unusual, often devastating and incredibly readable book, The words have lingered in my memory for days after reading.

A story of hope, of survival, and most importantly of all, of love.

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

Megan Hunter was born in Manchester in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a BA in English Literature from Sussex University, and an MPhil in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and she was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award with her short story ‘Selfing’.
Megan’s first book, The End We Start From, is published by Picador (UK), Beck (Germany), Hollands Diep (Holland), and will soon be published by Grove Atlantic (USA), Hamish Hamilton (Canada), Gallimard (France), and Elsinore (Portugal). Rights have been acquired for film by Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company, SunnyMarch, and Hera Pictures.
Follow her on Twitter @meganfnhunter

The Cafe in Fir Tree Park by Katey Lovell #BlogTour @Katey5678 @harperimpulse #MyLifeInBooks

Maggie’s café is at the very heart of Fir Tree Park. Business is booming, her lemon drizzle is the stuff of legend, her children are happy and life is good. But she hasn’t had it easy. 
When her husband Clint was sent to prison, she had to raise Josh and Kelly alone. But Clint can’t hurt them now, and there’s no denying that Paolo, the Italian football coach she spies every weekend out on the green, is more than easy on the eye.
It may be summer outside, but a new arrival in Fir Tree Park sends an icy chill through the café…

The Cafe in Fir Tree Park by Katey Lovell is published by Harper Impulse on 26 May 2017 and is the author's second novel. I read and reviewed her first, The Singalong Society for Singletons here on Random Things   in December last year.

As part of the Blog Tour, I'm really delighted to welcome Katey here today. She's talking to us about the books that are special to her and make up her own 'My Life In Books'.

My Life In Books ~ Katey Lovell

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid reader.  I can’t begin to estimate how many books I’ve read in all – thousands upon thousands, and that’s not including re-reads.  With that in mind, when Anne invited me to share the books that have most impacted my life, an impending panic took over.  How on earth would I choose? In the end I managed to whittle over thirty years of reading into four books that have changed me, my life and my outlook.  Here’s my selection…

As a child and a teen, I was a big fan of series reads.  Firstly it was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, then I moved onto Sweet Valley Twins.  Eventually I progressed to Sweet Valley High and so started a love affair with YA that endures to this day. 
Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s American life was so very different to my own in semi-rural Wales, and I now realise the escapism was a huge attraction to me.  The plots always centred around friendships, relationships and the insular nature of community living, yet the continual dramas and melodramas had me hooked despite the formulaic style.
I sadly gave my copies to charity shops when I left home, but have started collecting the series again over recent years.

I first read this book when I was in my first year at university, around the same time I read Bridget Jones’s Diary and William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced?  Commercial fiction was taking off and I was lapping it up. 
Looking back, it was this book that started me dreaming about writing a novel myself, because I wanted to create likeable, fun characters like Jack and Amy.  The dual narrative also really appealed to me and is something I’m exploring in my Christmas novel, Joe and Clara’s Christmas Countdown. 
I was fortunate enough to meet Josie Lloyd after winning a writing competition, and told her how much this book influenced me.  In fact, I think I’m due a re-read…

A non-fiction book about an independent midwife in America, this was recommended to me by the student midwife who looked after me during the later stages of my pregnancy and postnatally.  Throughout my pregnancy I’d found it difficult to focus on reading, but once Zachary arrived my mojo returned and this was the first book I read as a new mum. 
At a time when I was already battling my emotions, this book brought me to tears on more than one occasion with its heartfelt honesty.  It’s a powerful memoir which I’d highly recommend.

This book had to be included, because it got me a job!  Back in 2004 I applied for a role promoting reading to under 5s.  It was a dream position for me, working with Rotherham Libraries and two local Sure Start centres to promote beautiful books. 
Part of the interview process required me to choose a book I’d use with a group of pre-schoolers and develop activities I could run that linked into its themes.  This was an obvious choice – there’s growth and development, and healthy eating, and having worked in education I was confident it was age appropriate, visually appealing and a timeless classic.
I love Eric Carle, and although this isn’t my favourite of his books (Brown Bear is!), this one served me well and had to be included!

Katey Lovell ~ May 2017 

Katey Lovell is fanatical about words. An avid reader, writer and poet, she once auditioned for Countdown and still tapes the show every night. Getting the conundrum before the contestants is her ultimate thrill.

She loves love and strives to write feel-good romance that'll make you laugh and cry in equal measure. 

Originally from South Wales, Katey now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and son.

Follow Katey's blog: Books With Bunny
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @Katey5678