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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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport

On 17 July 1918, four young women walked down twenty-three steps into the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg. The eldest was twenty-two, the youngest only seventeen. Together with their parents and their thirteen-year-old brother, they were all brutally murdered. Their crime: to be the daughters of the last Tsar and Tsaritsa of All the Russias. 
Much has been written about Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their tragic fate, as it has about the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but little attention has been paid to the Romanov princesses, who – perhaps inevitably – have been seen as minor players in the drama. In Four Sisters, however, acclaimed biographer Helen Rappaport puts them centre stage and offers readers the most authoritative account yet of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Drawing on their own letters and diaries and other hitherto unexamined primary sources, she paints a vivid picture of their lives in the dying days of the Romanov dynasty. 
We see, almost for the first time, their journey from a childhood of enormous privilege, throughout which they led a very sheltered and largely simple life, to young womanhood – their first romantic crushes, their hopes and dreams, the difficulty of coping with a mother who was a chronic invalid and a haeomophiliac brother, and, latterly, the trauma of the revolution and its terrible consequences. 
Compellingly readable, meticulously researched and deeply moving, Four Sisters gives these young women a voice, and allows their story to resonate for readers almost a century after their death.

Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 27 March 2014.

I knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new world to enter.

Four Sisters is a history book, it's also a joint biography and I have been absolutely fascinated by this story. I don't know if it is all factually correct, I'm sure that the author has slanted the writing with her own perceptions, but nevertheless, this book is a fascinating read - well written and very easy to get lost in.

Alexandra, the Tsarina and granddaughter of Queen Victoria was always determined to create a warm and loving family for her four daughters. Her biggest mistake was to fail to take a bigger part in the life of the imperial court, and this decision alienated her from the Russian people. It was also this decision that probably sealed the fate of her and her beloved family.  Alexandra's love and overwhelming passion for her family did create a family who adored each other, but also created a family who were distant from their subjects.

It is clear that Helen Rappaport is both passionate and very knowledgeable about her subject, and she has recreated the life of this family so well. The longing for a son and heir is so strong, and when finally a boy child arrives, the sense of disappointment that he is clearly not well enough to take the throne is overwhelming.

Everyday life before the revolution for these four sisters was fairly ordinary. They developed crushes on young men, they relished being part of the war, whether it was by using their nursing skills or raising money, and most of all they enjoyed being part of a loving, solid family.

There are some wonderful illustrations in this book, my hard back copy really is a joy to own. The author has used letters and diary entries to create a colourful story that I really enjoyed and has certainly sparked an interest in this part of history.

My thanks to Philippa at Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Helen Rappaport is a historian with a specialism in the nineteenth century. She is the author of eleven published books, including Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy. She is also the author, with Roger Watson, ofCapturing the Light

For more information, you can visit her website at
Follow her on Twitter @HelenRappaport

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

Two women; two different worlds. 
Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold. 
Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control. 
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . . 
But what exactly does Nina want from her? 
And how far will she go in pursuit of it?

Her is Harriet lane's second novel and was published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson (an imprint of Orion) in hardback on 12 June 2014, the paperback edition will be released in January 2015.

I read and reviewed Harriet Lane's first novel; Alys, Always on Random Things in October 2012 and one of the comments that I made at that time was;

"Alys, Always is an excellent debut novel that is sparsely yet elegantly written, and leaves questions that may never be answered for the reader to contemplate."

Just like Alys, Always, Her is another elegantly written novel with an ending that made me shout 'fuck' as I desperately looked for the next page, and realised that there wasn't one, and that Harriet Lane had yet again left me wondering what on earth would happen in the next chapter, if there was one. But there isn't - it ends, suddenly and dramatically, and that is what really will make Her a memorable read for me.

Her is a portrayal of a toxic friendship that will chill the reader to the bone. Two pretty ordinary women; Emma and Nina meet quite randomly and a friendship is formed. The reader knows that they have met before, many years ago. Emma doesn't remember Nina at all, but Nina has remembered Emma for a very very long time and immediately seizes her chance to infiltrate Emma's life.

Nina is a master in manipulation. She learnt this skill at a young age when she made sure that her mother and father's relationship was fractured beyond repair.

Emma welcomes Nina's friendship because for the first time since she stopped work to become a full-time mother, she's found someone who likes her for who she is, not for what she's become - a mother, a wife, the person who cleans up, who worries about money.  Emma used to be someone, she had a successful career, she was a cherished wife and as much as she adores her two children, she's worn down by the constant demands on her time, the dwindling bank account and the shed door that's been falling off it's hinges for so so long.

Her is not a long novel, the hardback edition has just over 300 pages, but it's an intense and quite demanding read that is structured very well, but does take a little while to get used to.  Each scene and event is narrated separately in alternate chapters by the two women. The exact same happening, but told from two very different perspectives. This works, it works very very well and once the reader adjusts to the style, it's utterly compelling and very difficult to stop reading.

Harriet Lane has observed female friendships and created a relationship between these two characters that is horrific, yet will be alarmingly familiar to many readers. Two very different women whose lives could not be further apart, yet who want to be friends, albeit for very different reasons. Emma's chapters reveal the feelings of a new mother, the sense of the downtrodden, the worry, the guilt and the resentment. Nina's are a portrait in vindictiveness and revenge, disguised with generosity and smiles.

I am very very impressed by Harriet Lane's writing. She is so so clever and has produced a very intelligent psychological thriller that will certainly feature in my Top Books of 2014.  Her is a brilliant read - Bravo!

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

Before the publication of her debut novel Alys, Always, Harriet Lane wrote for the Guardian, the Observer, Vogue and Tatler.

She lives in north London with her husband and two children.

For more information visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @HarrietLane_

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Sad Men by Dave Roberts

All Dave Roberts ever wanted to do (apart from collect football programmes) was to work in advertising. More specifically, to work for the world's best advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. 
There was just one problem. Even when he managed to persuade someone to employ him, Dave's copywriting assignments were mainly for second hand car dealers and double glazing companies. And Leeds, Manchester and, bizarrely, New Zealand were a long way from Charlotte Street and Madison Avenue. This was the world of the Sad Men. 
In his sparkling new memoir, Dave tells the story of a life shaped by his love of adverts, from seeing the PG Tips chimps at the age of three to writing infamous ads such as the Westpac Rap and having David Jason plug a family restaurant. 
Bursting with brilliant ideas - and some pretty daft ones - it is the cautionary tale of a quest for advertising glory... and not quite ever getting there.

Sad Men was published by Bantam Press on 27 March 2014 and is Dave Roberts' fourth book.

There is no doubt at all that advertising is big business. A multi-million pound industy, with eyewatering budgets for some brands. I'm guessing that the average person will not recognise many names in the business, although there can't be many who haven't heard of Saatchi and Saatchi - the world's favourite advertising agency.

I'm a child of the 70s. There were three TV channels, and only one of those showed adverts. Before the days of 'record it and fast-forward through the ads' we had no choice but to watch them. TV advertising was so powerful in those days - one channel, a captive audience. Jingles and images stuck in the mind and became part of our everyday life.

There is a generation who when hearing the words 'Accrington Stanley', do not automatically think of a lowly football club. No, we think of milk, being drunk straight from the glass bottle by a kid wearing a football strip.  How many of us tried instant mashed potato for the first time and immediately broke out into maniacal laughter whilst jerking around in a strangely mechanical way and shouting 'for mash get smash'?  I was completely convinced that my Nana 'flew like a bird in the sky', purely because she ate Nimble bread.  I really thought that she had a hot-air balloon .... for those of you who just don't have a clue what I'm talking about ...... take a look;

There are programmes dedicated to old TV adverts. I've had endless nostalgic conversations with friends and family ...... .. 'hey, do you remember'   ...... 'what about ...' - we still know the jingles, we can act out the parts.  Whilst TV advertising can often still produce some amazing commercials, I doubt very much that any of the modern-day ads will feature so much when our younger generation start to look back on their life.

Dave Roberts is ad-obsessed and always has been. Not just TV advertising, but magazines, newspapers, trade press, bill boards and radio too. His ambition was to work for Saatchi and Saatchi and Sad Men is the story of how he tried to achieve that goal.

I have absolutely loved Sad Men. Dave Roberts is a good guy; he's sometimes made a few questionable decisions, but he's honest and his writing is so easy to read.  He has taken me on a pleasurable trip down memory lane, he's had me singing jingles that I've not heard for years. He has evoked memories of carefree, happy childhood days and he has made me laugh on quite a few occasions.

Despite the humour and the wealth of information about the advertising industry, there is an air of sadness and vulnerability in parts of his story, and it is his honesty about his disappointments and about where he thinks that he failed that made Sad Men such an enjoyable read for me.

Cheers to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Dave Roberts has been one of those annoying bike couriers, a security guard, a civil servant, a KFC chef who was fired for trying to steal a sample of the secret recipe, and a train driver - all before reaching the age of twenty. After that, he settled for a career in advertising, which was eventually cut short by illness, but not before accidentally winning a Silver Lion at Cannes. He now writes books, which all seem to have a theme in common: obsession .....

To find out more about Dave Roberts, and his books, visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @thebromleyboys 

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