Monday, 28 July 2014

The Pimlico Kid by Barry Walsh

It’s 1963. Billy Driscoll and his best mate, Peter ‘Rooksy’ Rooker, have the run of their street. Whether it’s ogling sexy mum, Madge, as she pegs out her washing, or avoiding local bully Griggsy, the estates and bombsites of Pimlico have plenty to fire their fertile imagination.

Billy is growing up and after years of being the puny one, he’s finally filling out. He is also taking more than a passing interest in Sarah Richards, his pretty neighbour. But he isn’t her only admirer – local heartthrob and rotten cheat, Kenneth ‘Kirk’ Douglas, likes her too – something drastic must be done if Billy is to get his girl.

When Rooksy suggests a day out with Sarah and her shy friend, Josie, it seems like the perfect summer outing. Little do they know that it will be a day of declarations and revelations; of secrets and terrifying encounters – and that it will change them all forever…

The Pimlico Kid by Barry Walsh was published by Harper Collins on 4 July 2013.

Set in Pimlico, London in the 1960s,  The Pimlico Kid is narrated by Billy Driscoll.  Billy and his mates live on a street inhabited by a bunch of vibrant characters who have been drawn so authentically by Barry Walsh. This is a story that is clearly written from the heart and I'd guess that it also part-memoir, as the novel buzzes with authenticity.

Billy and his friend Rooksy are normal adolescent boys who have discovered the joy of the female form, in the main, they are obsessed with breasts, and find themselves in many scrapes due to their increasing curiosity and the availability of places in the street where they can spy on their female neighbours - young and old.

However, Billy is at heart, a gentle and sensitive boy who loves to read. He has suffered with asthma for many years and this has meant that instead of taking part in all the rough and tumble games, he often has to stay indoors and rest. He loves the library and has a special friend in the librarian there.

Barry Walsh has structured The Pimlico Kid perfectly. Each chapter is a snapshot into Billy's life. Whether it is the joyous and light hearted street party, or the quite dark and more serious issue of domestic violence and abuse, the writing is incredibly perceptive and although it is very nostalgic, it is never sentimental.

The story of a summer in London. A coming of age story and a look back at recent history. The Pimlico Kid is engaging and vivid.

I met the author, Barry Walsh at the launch party for The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings earlier this year, and I'd like to thank him for sending my copy for review.

Barry Walsh grew up in the heart of the 'Great Metrollops' during the 60s and thought belatedly
that there might be a story in it. The result is The Pimlico Kid, a story of 'first love'. He is now writing his second novel.
When not writing, Barry enjoys cycling, watching Arsenal, holidays in France, listening to Neil Young and gazing at Audrey Hepburn's face. He is a trustee of the world's oldest youth club – St Andrew's – and believes that London might just be the centre of the universe. He is married with two daughters.

For more information visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @bjwalsh

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Living With It by Lizzie Enfield

One-year-old Iris is deaf. Her parents, Ben and Maggie, are devastated. So are their close friends Isobel and Eric.

Isobel knows that her decision, taken years ago, not to have her own children vaccinated against measles is to blame for Iris’s deafness. And Ben knows this too.
To make matters worse, Isobel is the woman he fell in love with in his twenties – the woman who married his best friend.
As he and Maggie start legal proceedings, Isobel’s world begins to unravel.

Living With It was published by Myriad Editions on 26 June 2014 and is Lizzie Enfield's third novel.

Lizzie Enfield has produced a cleverly woven story of family intricacies and the politics of friendship with the topical and controversial subject of the MMR vaccine.

When Ben and Maggie's small daughter Iris contracts measles from Isobel and Eric's teenage daughter Gabriella whilst on holiday in France, there is concern and worry. Isobel decided that her children would not have the MMR jab, therefore she knows that it's her fault that Iris is sick. After all, she knew that Gabriella's boyfriend had recently had measles, she knew that Gabriella's symptoms could also be measles, yet she went ahead and left Gabs with Iris and Maggie whilst everyone else went out and enjoyed their day.

Weeks later, Isobel and Eric learn that Iris is now deaf, she is deaf because she caught measles from Gabriella, and as far as everyone is concerned, she caught measles from Gabriella because Isobel didn't let her children have the MMR jab, and Isobel let Gabs and Iris spend time together.

Ben is angry, very very angry. He is determined that Isobel should pay the price and begins legal proceedings against Isobel and Eric.

Narrated in turn by Ben and Isobel, Living With It is an emotionally charged story that not only deals with the MMR controversy, but also looks at how past relationships can impact on current life. The fact that Ben and Isobel are ex-lovers and that Ben and Eric have been best friends since childhood causes even more difficulties for the main players in this story. The story is set over a few weeks and hearing the differing perspectives of Ben and Isobel during that time adds layers of speculation, distrust and a little bit of confusion for the reader. And that is not in a bad way at all, for me it made the story far more interesting.

My loyalties, as a reader, moved back and forth. I'd back Ben all the way, and then within a few pages, my sympathies would return to Isobel. Saying that, neither of these two characters were particularly likeable, hung up as they are with their own personal unresolved issues, as well as the tragedy of Iris' deafness.

Lizzie Enfield has created a vivid story with some interesting characters. I thought the children of the story were the best by far. Isobel's two sons are quirky and funny and really stole the whole novel.

A great story of modern family life, of mixed-up relationships with a cracker of an end chapter that may just turn the story completely on it's head for you.

Many thanks to Emma from Myriad Editions who sent my copy for review.

Lizzie Enfield is the author of two previous novels, What You Don't Know and Uncoupled, both published by Headline. She has a column in The Oldie and is a regular contributor to The Guardian and other national newspapers and magazines. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in various magazines. She lives in Brighton with her husband and three children.

For more information visit her website

Follow her on Twitter @lizzieenfield

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . . 
On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . . 
Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? 
Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton's debut novel and was published by Picador in hardcover on 3 July 2014.

The setting is Amsterdam in 1686 and Petronella (known as Nella) has arrived at her new home for the first time. She has recently married Johannes Brandt, but knows very little about him, having only met him briefly at their wedding ceremony.

Nella is greeted at the house, not by Johannes, but by his sister Marin and two servants. Marin is a domineering and possessive woman who thinks nothing of constantly interfering in the life of her brother and his new wife.

The Brandt family live their lives very differently, and Marin makes it clear that she is unimpressed by Nella's aristocratic background. The two servants are not how Nella expects servants to be; Cornelia is rude and cheeky and Otto is a freed black slave.

Nella's mother had made it clear what a wife could expect from marriage, but Nella's husband is not interested in her in that way at all, and Nella begins to throw herself into furnishing the wonderful miniature house that Johannes presents to her. And so, the Miniaturist of the title is engaged to send items to furnish the house and it is then that the mystery and intrigue about this family, and about Amsterdam begins.

Historical fiction is not my first choice genre, but every now and again, a book comes along that is set in an era that I rarely enter, in a place that I know little about and it is as if a spell has been cast on me and I'm transfixed throughout.  Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist has done this to me.

I have no idea if it is geographically or historically correct, nor do I really care. What I do care about is how the story made me feel, and how I was able to escape twenty-first century stress, and the horror that is going on in this world and immerse myself into Nella's world.

Amsterdam; I place I've visited once, and to be honest I thought it was all pretty tacky and not very nice - it was a flying visit to go to a Robbie Williams concert, many years ago and I've never felt any desire to return.  Jessie Burton's imaginative writing created a world of wintry streets and waterways; a city of intrigue and mystery, and I'm now hankering to go back and take a proper look around.

It is the characters in The Miniaturist that I loved the most, even the hateful Marin; a woman who surely has a hidden history that could be the basis of a whole new story?  Nella is sparky yet innocent and grows throughout the story to become a woman of force.

The intrigue and mystery is artfully done, and although there were aspects that were more obvious than others, sometimes the reader takes a little pleasure in working it out before the big reveal. However, there are many other twists and turns that remained a mystery, and this balances out the story perfectly.

There has been so much publicity about The Miniaturist, from the initial bidding war between publishers, to the marketing by Picador. The hardback has done extremely well so far and I was worried that I may be a little let down.  I certainly wasn't, in fact I was surprised by just how much I did enjoy it, given that a novel set in the 1600s would never be my first choice of book to read.

Jessie Burton has written a story that will interest and intrigue, in a setting that is wonderfully depicted and featuring characters who are complex but very believable.

Praise has to go to Katie Tooke, the Design Manager at Picador who has created the most wonderful cover for The Miniaturist - she actually commissioned a model maker to recreate the house, and designed the cover from that.  Katie has written a piece about the design on the Picador Blog.

My thanks to Sandra Taylor from Picador who sent my copy for review.

Jessie Burton was born in 1982. 
She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. 

She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.

For more information about Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist, visit her website
Follow her Pinterest page, and on Twitter @jesskatbee

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

Lately, Felicity just can't shake a shadow of uncertainty. 
Her husband Quinn is the kindest person she knows and loves her peculiarities more than Felicity feels she deserves. But suddenly it's as if she doesn't quite belong. 
Then Felicity experiences something extraordinary: a scent of perfume in the air which evokes memories that have been settled within her for a long time, untouched and undisturbed. As it happens again and again, the memories of a man Felicity hasn't seen for ten years also flutter to the surface. And so do the feelings of being deeply, exquisitely in love . . . 
Overwhelmed and bewildered by her emotions, Felicity tries to resist sinking blissfully into the past. But what if something truly isn't as it should be? What if her mind has been playing tricks on her heart? 
Which would you trust?

Where Love Lies is Julie Cohen's fourth novel and is published by Bantam Press (Transworld) on 31 July 2014.  Julie Cohen's previous novel Dear Thing was featured on Random Things in April 2013.

Felicity and Quinn make an unlikely couple. For Felicity, living in the small village where Quinn spent his childhood, having the neighbours know your business before you do, being part of a well-respected and very close family is so very alien to the world that she comes from. Raised single-handedly by her artist mother, with no siblings or father figure, Felicity sometimes feels as though she's teetering around the edge of her new family, she doesn't quite fit.

Despite these feelings, Felicity and Quinn are in love. They married after a whirlwind romance and their first year together has been filled with love. Quinn is a kind man and Felicity's quirky ways just make him love her more, he dreams of their future family.

When Felicity catches the scent of a very familiar perfume her life turns upside down. She cannot shake the memories of the heady days of a wonderful, if short and heartbreaking, romance with Ewan - a man she has not thought of, or heard from in over ten years.  When she visits an exhibition of her late mother's paintings she is confronted by the image of Ewan and her memories and emotions take over.

Felicity becomes overwhelmed by the memory of Ewan.

Where Love Lies is so much more than romantic fiction and at times I found it to be quite a difficult story to read. The emotion and feeling that is generated by Julie Cohen's incredible way with words can be a little overwhelming at times, and that is certainly not a criticism. To me, it's a sign of a very accomplished author when their words can leave the reader feeling a little breathless and quite shaken.

Felicity's memories of a the feelings of love that she experienced with Ewan all those years ago are the key to the whole story. Her determination to find Ewan and to recreate what she thinks she has lost becomes almost as consuming as the passion that she feels for the man himself.

Julie Cohen creates characters who jump from the page; ethereal, artistic Felicity; steady, dependable and heartbreakingly wonderful Quinn. Quinn's mother Molly; interfering, protective and ultimately hiding her own sorrow and then there's Ewan - the anti-hero, the subject of Felicity's obsession -  a man who appears selfish, self-centred, unkind - yet incredibly attractive and quite dangerous.

The thing that makes Where Love Lies particularly special and quite unique is that despite the obviously emotional, romantic theme to this novel, there is a twist to the story that will make the reader contemplate how love really works. Can our heart really rule our head? How can a particular smell touch our heart, or does it? Julie Cohen has explored the workings of our brain in fine detail, yet the story is not bogged down by this at all, in fact it actually makes the reader look at the characters in a different way.

Julie Cohen is an author who goes from strength to strength. Her stories have depth and substance whilst retaining the familiar themes of love, families and relationships.

My thanks to Tess from Transworld who sent my copy for review.   I'm delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Where Love Lies at the beginning of August and looking forward to welcoming Julie Cohen here to Random Things on Wednesday 6 August when she will be answering my questions.

I'm also looking forward to the launch party for Where Love Lies tomorrow evening in London. I'll be attending with my friend and fellow blogger Anne, who blogs at Being Anne.

Julie Cohen grew up in Maine and studied English at Brown University and Cambridge University. She moved to the UK to research fairies in Victorian children's literature at the University of Reading and this was followed by a career teaching English at secondary level. She now writes full time and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing.
She lives with her husband and their son in Berkshire.

For more information about the author and her work, check out her website
She has an author page on Facebook and is on Twitter @julie_cohen

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Monday, 21 July 2014

Kellie at Come-alive Cottage by Wendy Unsworth

Aunt kitty is a very unusual witch - every time she waves her magic wand something goes wrong! 
Come-alive Cottage is full of Aunt Kitty's gone - wrong spells, like the postman who has been turned into a Christmas elf, flowers that say 'sniff me!' and a watering can that gets grumpy when water goes up his spout!  

And when her aunt starts making spells with snakes, Kellie Culpepper has to jump to the rescue! 

This is the first adventure for Kellie at Come-alive Cottage and there are plenty more to come! 

A fun, read-aloud story.

I don't feature children's books on Random Things very often, but I was so taken by Kellie at Come-alive Cottage that I just had to share, and urge anyone who has small children who like stories to go out and get a copy.

This is a short book at just under 50 pages, but it is the perfect read-aloud story for young children. Packed full of the silliest of characters with the wildest of names and wonderfully illustrated by Frances Lee West.

It reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and Roald Dahl's The Twits, and I was really bewitched by the story and I just know that children will be entranced too.

Kellie, the heroine of the story, is the daughter of two explorers.  Her two aunts; Aunt Sillime and Aunt Kitty are perfectly bonkers, and Kellie spends a very unpredictable and exciting couple of days staying with Aunt Kitty in Come-alive Cottage.  Spells go wrong and watering cans get annoyed, postmen are shrunk and a python appears.

Welcome to the crazy, delightful and colourful world of Kellie and her family.  A joy, for both children and adults.

Wendy Unsworth was born and raised in Lincolnshire, England; her passions are her family, travel, beautiful gardens and reading and writing stories.

Wendy lived in Ndola, Zambia and Nairobi, Kenya throughout the 1980's and early '90's before returning to the U.K. to acclimatise back to the English weather in a Cornish cottage close to Bodmin Moor! The African continent has left a lasting impression; The Palaver Tree, her first novel in the Berriwood series is set in a fictional Central African country and Cornwall.

Wendy also enjoys writing for children.
Kellie at Come-alive Cottage is a fun, read-aloud story introducing Kellie Culpepper and her very unusual family who include explorers, a very silly aunt and a witch that can't stop turning into a cat!

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Saturday, 19 July 2014

21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff) by Steve Stack

A fond farewell to the many inanimate objects, cultural icons and general stuff around us that find themselves on the verge of extinction. 
We’ve all heard of the list of endangered animals, but no one has ever pulled together a list of endangered inanimate objects. Until now, that is. 
Steve Stack has catalogued well over one hundred objects, traditions, cultural icons and, well, other stuff that is at risk of extinction. Some of them have vanished already. 
Cassette tapes, rotary dial phones, half-day closing, milk bottle deliveries, Concorde, handwritten letters, typewriters, countries that no longer exist, white dog poo… all these and many more are big a fond farewell in this nostalgic, and sometimes irreverent, trip down memory lane.

21st Century Dodos was released in paperback by The Friday Project on 16 June 2014. The hardback was published in 2011, and this new paperback edition features an additional chapter that is dedicated to dodos that readers of the hardback have sent in to the author.

How can it be so hard to review a book that had me sighing and nodding in agreement all the way through? A book that started so many conversations in this house .... "Oh, do you remember ......";   "bloody hell, I've not thought of those for years .....";   "now I'm craving ....."

This is not a story, it's not fiction, nor is it a history book ~ well, I suppose it is in a way.  I defy anyone over the age of 35 to read this without exclaiming in joy at least ten times throughout.

I remember EVERYTHING in this book - every single thing. The shops on the High Street, and not just Woolworths, but Athena and Our Price and C&A (did every C&A smell a bit funny, or was that just the Lincoln branch?).  I remember the frustration of arriving in town at 2pm on Wednesday and remembering that it's bloody HALF DAY CLOSING.

Black Jacks and Fruit Salad chews at half a penny each; Spangles and sweet cigarettes; reading Mandy comic and always having a 2p coin so that we could ring Dial-a-Disc from the red telephone box.

21st Century Dodos brings back so many memories, and yes, I do look back fondly and it's easy to forget that this was mainly the 70s - the decade of very bad fashion mistakes, and terrible disco pants and rock stars who wore platform boots and glittery eyeshadow (and that was the men).

This is perfect book for one of those evenings or summer afternoon when you get all of your friends round, down a few bottles and start reminiscing about the 'good old days'. It will spark so many memories, so many conversations and I'd guess there would be a fair few arguments too.

This is funny and charming and will make you crave things that you'd not thought about in years. The writing is great, not stuffy or text-book like - it's easy and friendly and I loved it.  I loved every page.

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

Steve Stack is the pseudonym of a blogger and sometimes journalist. He is the author of one previous book, It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit which can probably still be found in bargain bookshops and Poundland if you wanted to add it to your toilet library. It is also available as a specially priced (i.e. very cheap) ebook if you are all very modern and own one of those new fangled devices.

If you want to contact Steve Stack, you can drop him a line at 

You can also pay a visit to his blog at Me and My Big Mouth 

Facebook :  21st Century Dodos
Twitter : @dodoflip

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Things We Never Say by Sheila O'Flanagan

Abbey Andersen's life in San Francisco is in serious danger of hitting a rut. 
She's pretty sure it doesn't get worse than being dumped by post-it note, and her current job is hardly the best outlet for her creative talents. 
Meanwhile in Ireland Fred Fitzpatrick is finding it impossible to keep his grown-up children and their families on side, and they're a demanding lot at the best of times. 
But when Fred asks solicitor Ryan Gilligan to contact Abbey about a long-buried family secret, things start to change dramatically. And not everyone affected is happy about it...

Things We Never Say is Sheila O'Flanagan's eighteenth novel and was published in paperback by Headline Review on 24 April 2014.

I have been a huge fan of Sheila O'Flanagan for many years now, she is one of those authors who I never tire of. I love discovering new authors and new genres, but there is something special about returning to a favourite writer, knowing that you will not be let down.

Things We Never Say is classic Sheila O'Flanagan, filled with her trademark, realistic characters with their Irish humour and eccentricities.

Abbey Anderson is based in San Francisco and is floundering a little. Her boyfriend has done a bunk without telling her. She's really not doing very well as an artist, she can't bear her job in the Gallery and her mother has taken her own life in a totally new direction.  However, Abbey is a great nail artist and she does have an adopted family in the shape of her mum's ex-boyfriend Pete, his new wife and their kids.

In Dublin, the Fitzpatrick family appear to be successful and wealthy with enviable lifestyles. Fred, the patriarch of the family worked very hard, building a successful business from nothing. He now lives in the house of his dreams, but at eighty-one years old and recently widowed, he's been spending more and more time thinking back over his life. He is haunted by something that happened fifty years ago, and is determined that he will make amends before he dies.

It is this decision that brings Abbey Anderson and the Fitzpatrick family together, with dramatic consequences and life-changing events.

Sheila O'Flanagan excels in creating characters that the reader can relate to and recognise. Things We Never Say is dominated by female characters who range from the ethereal Ellen to the money-hungry Zoey and whilst each character is flawed, this only adds to their realism.  Her male characters play more of a supporting role in this story, and again the men are a diverse bunch.

I enjoyed this story of family dynamics, mixed with topical issues such as the economic melt-down and the tragedies and suffering of the Magdelene laundries.

The perfect comfort read from an author who consistently delivers great stories.

Sheila O'Flanagan's latest book; If You Were Me was released in hardback by Headline Review on 3 July 2014, the paperback edition will be available in March 2015.

Thanks to the publisher who sent my review copy via Bookbridgr.

Check out some more reviews of Things We Never Say, from my blogger friends:
Being Anne
Crooks on Books

Sheila O'Flanagan's books, including Someone Special, Bad Behaviour and Yours, Faithfully, have been huge bestsellers in the UK and Ireland; they are all available from Headline Review. Sheila has always loved telling stories, and after working in banking and finance for a number of years, she decided it was time to fulfil a dream and give writing her own book a go. So she sat down, stuck 'Chapter One' at the top of a page, and got started. Sheila is now the author of more than fifteen bestselling titles. She lives in Dublin with her partner.

For more information check out her website
Follow her on Twitter @sheilaoflanagan
Check out her author page on Facebook

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