Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

She's dead but she's the only one who knows what really happened; 

What your friends have said.

What the police missed.

Who attacked you.

So if you want the truth who else are you going to turn to?

You think you know people: Colette McBeth tells you what you don't know...

Published in ebook on 1 January 2015, and hardback on 24 February 2015 by Headline, The Life I Left Behind is Colette McBeth's second novel.  I reviewed her first; Precious Thing, here on Random Things in April of this year.

The Life I Left Behind is another psychological thriller, with a dark, twisty-turny plot narrated by characters who are both alive, and dead.

Eve has been murdered, and begins the story as her body is discovered. This discovery turns Melody's world upside down. She too was attacked by the same man, and left for dead, and the years since then have been hard. Afraid to leave the house, questioning herself and her relationships, the news that he has struck again is enough to tip her over the edge. The third narrator is DI Victoria Rutter, in charge of the investigation and part of the original prosecution; she too will question and wonder.

Don't expect to like the characters, I'm not sure that the author intends the reader to fall in love with them, I certainly didn't. Eve and Melody are intriguing though, and as Melody's life story unfolds, with flashbacks to the woman she was before the attack, I began to dislike her more and more, yet I was intrigued by her story and desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery.

This is what Colette McBeth does best; create mystery and tension. This is a very clever story, with the three viewpoints emerging at the same time, changing the reader's viewpoint, altering the emphasis and controlling the plot incredibly well. Having a dead narrator is not a new or unique selling point for a novel, in fact, for me it was a little off putting, as I'm one of the few people that hated Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, and I have no doubt that this will be compared (unfairly) with that novel. I'd advise readers to discard any preconceptions, any comparisons, and read The Life I Left Behind with fresh eyes, and enjoy it. I really did.

Colette McBeth was a BBC TV News Correspondent for ten years. She lives in West London with her husband and three young children.  She attended the Faber Academy Novel Writing Course in 2011. Her first novel, Precious Thing, was published in 2013.

For more information about the author and her writing, visit her website, check out her Facebook Author Page  or follow her on Twitter @colettemcbeth

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Emily St. John Mandel discusses Station Eleven

Back in August of this year,  I read and reviewed Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel - I really loved it, and it's been a real hit with most reviewers so far.

There's been so much buzz surrounding this new book, there's even a #StationEleven hashtag over on Twitter - check out some of the comments and reviews.

Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York.
Station Eleven is her fourth novel and begins with a dramatic end. The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%; by week two civilization has crumbled. Year twenty sees a band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.
 Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connects six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan - warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed prophet. 
Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world.
 But how does Emily go about writing such a well-received post-apocalyptic narrative? What are her inspirations and what are the secrets of her writing room? Watch this video to hear from Emily herself.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Public Battles, Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson

Yorkshire 1983. 
Miner's wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. At twenty-three, and trapped by domesticity, her future looks set and she wants more from life. 
Husband Rob is a good-looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they've always lived - where Mandy can't do anything other than bake cakes and raise her children. 
When Mandy's childhood friend - beautiful, clever Ruth - and Ruth's Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. 
Like in their schooldays, Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration - but Ruth isn't all she appears.  
As conflict with the Coal Board turns into war, the men come out on strike. The community and its whole way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons her dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. 
As the strike rumbles on, relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out just who she is - and who her true friends are.

Public Battles, Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson was published by Accent Press, in ebook in March 2014 and in paperback in October 2014, and is the author's second novel.

Set against the miner's strike in the early 80s, in a small Yorkshire pit town; Public Battles, Private Wars is a story of a community's fight to survive and one woman's personal journey.

Mandy and Rob married young, and had kids. They live amongst family and friends and Rob followed the rest of his family to work down the pit. Mandy has secret dreams, she wants to learn to type, she regrets her wasted schooldays, and knows that she could do more. Mrs Thatcher threatens to shut the pits, the men go on strike and Mandy uses her love of cooking to head up the soup kitchen. It's not long before she's the spokeswoman for the Action Group - travelling to London, giving talks, being interviewed by the newspapers - using her brain.

What should have brought her and Rob together seems to have pushed them further apart, and when Mandy's old school friend Ruth moves back into town, with her ex-soldier husband Dan, relationships seem to deteriorate even more.

Ruth seems to have it all. A good job, nice clothes, a great figure, money to spend, but Mandy senses that things are not all that they seem between Dan and Ruth.

Laura Wilkinson is great with words. Her fictionalised town of Fenley could be any of the small pit towns in South Yorkshire, her characters have real Northern grit, the language is spot on. This story is authentic and the setting is excellently portrayed.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that whilst Public Battles, Private Wars is set around the miner's strike, it is not wholly consumed by it. The story is more about the people, especially the women, and how they coped and how they grew during the twelve months that the men were out.

A well-written, compelling story with some great characters. Public Battlers, Private Wars is a story that looks at friendships, community, love and jealousy.

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

For more information about Laura Wilkinson and her writing, visit her website

Follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble

Monday, 27 October 2014

Long Way Home by Eva Dolan

A man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed.

DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder. Their victim is quickly identified as a migrant worker and a man several people might have had good reason to see dead. A convicted arsonist and member of a far-right movement has just been released from prison, while witnesses claim to have seen the dead man fighting with one of the town's most prominent slum landlords.

Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.

Long Way Home by Eva Dolan was published in paperback on 19 June 2014 by Vintage, and is the author's debut novel.

This is a bleak, violent, no-holds-barred crime novel that is exposes the darker side of the issue of migrant workers and their gang masters in the fens around Peterborough.

DI Zigic and DS Ferreira work on the Hate Crime Unit and when a man is burnt alive in a garden shed, their investigations reveal a complex and incredibly violent underworld in a fairly run-down and deprived Peterborough. Both of these Police Officers are from ethnic minority backgrounds, a fact that helps and sometimes hinders their investigations.

Be prepared for some pretty full-on, explicit scenes of cruelty and suffering in Long Way Home, but also be prepared for an extremely well written crime story that explores issues that many of us are unaware of. Eva Dolan writes with authenticity, her descriptive prose is excellent and her two main characters are very well formed. Zigic and Ferreira are complex characters, each with their own complications and distinct story, so different to each other, yet the perfect partners for investigation crime and getting to the bottom of things.

Eva Dolan, Zigic and Ferreira are welcome additions to the world of the police procedure series; new and exciting, great writing, fast moving plot and exploring a theme that has rarely been written about in fiction. This is gritty and real, often uncomfortable, sometimes shocking, but very impressive.

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

Eva Dolan is an Essex-based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player. 

Shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she was just a teenager, Long Way Home is her debut novel and the start of a major new crime series starring two detectives from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The second book in the series will be published in 2015.

Follow her on Twitter @eva_dolan

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles ** BOOK GIVEAWAY **

When Samuel wakes up on 1st January, he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing exciting or unusual - until a strange visitor bursts into his flat, determined not to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a young stray cat, leads Samuel to a strange encounter with Valdemar and his neighbour Titus, with whom he had previously never exchanged a word, and is the beginning of the incredible transformation that is about to occur in the secluded world he has built around himself. As a tender friendship develops out of these encounters, Samuel discovers, for the first time in his life, how small everyday acts can have the power to unleash a hurricane of feeling and awaken the heart from its slumber.

Love in Small Letters was written by Spanish author Francesc Miralles in 2010 and has been translated to English by Julie Wark and published her in the UK last month by Alma Books.

This is a quirky little story about Samuel, a solitary man who tends to isolate himself so that he doesn't get let down by people. It's New Year's Eve and Samuel is celebrating with twelve grapes; one for each chime of midnight. His lonely celebrations are disturbed by a cat who manages to get inside Samuel's apartment. It's funny how one small animal can then go on to change lives.

Mishima the cat seems to spark a real change in Samuel. The man who had never spoken with his neighbours now starts to make friends, he rediscovers the long-lost feelings of love that he really didn't feel that he would experience ever again.

Love in Small Letters is peppered with literary references and links to music and the art world, and although is just a short novel, it is a very satisfying story. Filled with eccentricity, cats and some extraordinary characters, this is a story that can easily be read in just a couple of sittings.

My thanks to Clementine from Alma Books who sent my copy for review.  I have one paperback copy of Love in Small Letters to give away. To enter, please complete the Rafflecopter widget below - sorry UK entries only please.   Good luck!

Born in Barcelona, Francesc Miralles has written many best-selling books and received several prestigious literary awards. 

As well as fiction, he has published extensively in the self-help, coaching and inspirational field. 

Love in Small Letters is his most famous and acclaimed book to date.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Death in the Family by Ryhaan Shah

When Mohammed Ahmad Ally dies, his family gathers for the religious rites and burial and recall the troubled relationship they had with him. 
He had lived by tradition and by his deeply held Islamic views, and his children, as he always said, were there to make him proud. 
He had been a dominant and domineering figure in their lives, had arranged the marriage of his elder daughter, Maryam, to the son of a good friend; had sent his only boy, Khalil. off to New York to study law; and had disowned his younger daughter, Dee, for marrying a Hindu. 
Even as friends and business colleagues remember Ally as kind and generous, his children and sister-in-law Hamida, his late wife's youngest sister, remember a different man, a man who had been authoritarian and bigoted. The family open up to each other and, in the process, resolve issues that had been seething below the surface of their own relationships with each other. 
Ally's death becomes a transformative event that leads them to renew their familial ties.

A Death in the Family is published in the UK by Cutting Edge Press.

Taking place over only a few days, A Death in the Family is an exploration of a grieving family's inner thoughts. Mohammed Ahmad Ally is dead and his children gather together in the family home to give him the funeral that a man who is so respected within the community deserves.

Ally's only wish for his children was that they should make him proud, it didn't occur to him that this younger generation may want different things from life. His traditional views, his Islamic faith were the driving force in his life, his children were expected to please him, to live their lives in his shadow ... to make him proud.

As the family gather together, not just his three children; Maryam, Khalil and Dee, but also his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, it becomes clear that Ally was a man who caused much sadness and distress throughout his life. His eldest daughter Maryam was bright, with dreams of being a teacher until a wealthy family offered marriage to their youngest son. Khalil and Dee have made their own lives across the ocean in New York, but  their choices caused heartbreak for all of them. Their beautiful and vibrant mother Ayesha died when Dee was just a small baby, her sisters and brother have always laid the blame for her death at Ally's door.

Ryhaan Shah takes the reader into the heart of this family, with characters who are vibrant and warm and whose grief is painful. Guyana is a wonderful setting, described so richly that the reader can almost hear the hustle and bustle, smell the food and feel the heat.

A Death in the Family is a story filled with regrets and sadness. The family look back over the years and discover so much about themselves and about their Father that they have denied for so long. Feelings are hurt, truths are spoken, lost love is found and wounds begin to heal as each character takes stock of the life that they have led so far, and makes plans for how they will make changes for the future.

Beautifully written, evocative and quite intense, A Death in the Family is a story that could raise questions for us all. It is a novel of revelation and understanding.

My thanks to Hatty from Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review.

Ryaan Shah was born and grew up in Guyana. She was educated there and in the United States, where she studied for a degree in journalism. For the next twenty years she traveled from the US to the UK and to the Cayman Islands, working in the field of communications and journalism. She returned to Guyana in 1997. 

Her first novel, A Silent Life was published in 2005 and has been the subject of several academic presentations at Caribbean Studies conferences in North America and Europe.

Twitter @CuttingEdgeBks    @PublicityCEP

Friday, 17 October 2014

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Odran Yates enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation to the priesthood. He goes in full of ambition and hope, dedicated to his studies and keen to make friends.
Forty years later, Odran’s devotion has been challenged by the revelations that have shattered the Irish people’s faith in the church. He has seen friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed and has become nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insulting remarks.
But when a family tragedy opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within a once respected institution and recognise his own complicity in their propagation.
It has taken John Boyne fifteen years and twelve novels to write about his home country of Ireland but he has done so now in his most powerful novel to date, a novel about blind dogma and moral courage, and about the dark places where the two can meet. At once courageous and intensely personal, A History of Loneliness confirms Boyne as one of the most searching chroniclers of his generation.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was published by Doubleday in hardback on 4 September 2014, the paperback edition will be released in May 2015.

When Odran Yates' father and young brother drowned off a beach during a family holiday, his life changed completely. This was the day when his family turned from five, to three. This was the day that his Mother turned to God and the Catholic Church, becoming more and more devout and zealous as the years passed. When Odran's Mother declared that he had 'the calling', he dutifully went off the the Seminary to undertake the seven long years of training to become a Priest.

Odran then spends the rest of his life doing as he is bid, just as he accepted his Mother's wish to have a Priest for a son, he then accepts everything that each Priest, Bishop, Cardinal and yes, even the Pope tells him. Odran is a naive, yet good man. He truly believes that he is working for God, despite the fact that he has spent most of his career as a teacher in Tenenure Boys School, rarely carrying out any of the traditional duties of a Parish Priest.

Odran tells his story over a wide time span, starting in 2001 and going back to his childhood, his early days as a Priest and the subsequent years right up to the present day. His very first words are:
"I did not become ashamed of being Irish until I was well into the middle years of my life."
It is this statement that paves the way in Odran's story. The scandal that rocked the Catholic Church to it's core has altered his life and altered the way that the rest of the world view the Church. Odran looks back to his younger years, and how the Parish Priest was revered in every town and village in Ireland. If the Priest visited any home, he would be given the last slice of bread, the most comfortable seat in the house. Any child or young person who gave their parents an ounce of trouble would be referred to the Priest for a talking to. Families attended weekly Mass, even if they really were not interested, for to be seen as non church-goers would only cause trouble for them. Odran was used to this world. He was used to people giving up their seat on the bus, bringing him food, listening to him, respecting his views.

It has to be said that not all Priests were involved in the scandal, not all Priests preyed on children, causing them physical and mental harm. Not all Priests were predators, greedy, bullies or criminals, but many of them were aware of what was happening. Odran is truly shocked by what he learns. He has blindly led a life surrounded by other Priests who he trusted and thought of as friends, he didn't know. Or did he? Did he really not question why a colleague was moved from Parish to Parish, never staying in one place for more than a couple years? Did he know, or did he choose not to know?

A History of Loneliness is a book that will both shock, anger and sadden the reader. John Boyne has got into the fabric of Odran's character, revealing a good but basically weak-willed man, a man who took the easy options, a man who is now more broken by the realisation that he contributed to the scandal with his silence, than by the actual things that happened.

A History of Loneliness is very Catholic, and very Irish. Having been brought up by an Irish Catholic mother here in England, and spent my summers in County Donegal with my very devout Catholic Grandmother, I recognise the language, the actions and the all encompassing hold that the Church had on the people of Ireland. I also recognise the shock and sadness that the revelations about the systematic abuse of children over many years brought to good, believing Catholics. My own Mother struggled so hard to deal with the news, becoming more and more upset as more atrocities were revealed.

This is a book that is harsh yet so so powerful. John Boyne writes intelligently, with emotion, yet is unsparing with his words, there is a lot of anger within the words. It is haunting and incredibly powerful writing.

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

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971. The winner of two Irish Book Awards, he is the author of seven novels, including the international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which was made into a Miramax feature film and has sold more than five million copies worldwide. His novels are published in over forty languages.
He lives in Dublin

For more information about the author, and his other novels visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @john_boyne