Friday, 17 April 2015

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street, and feels impelled to return it to its owner. 
The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. 
But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. 
Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain was published by Gallic Books in paperback on 5 April 2015, and was translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken.

A short story, a novella, a novel?  The Red Notebook has only 159 pages, so I guess it could be described as any of these, but there is no doubt that it is a beautifully written, heartfelt story that really captivated me from the very first page.

It's a simple tale. A young woman; Laure is attacked just outside her apartment in Paris, the mugger flees with her handbag. The next day, her handbag is found abandoned on the top of a rubbish bin by local bookseller Laurent. Nothing in the bag can identify the owner, but inside there are lots of very personal items including a small red moleskin notebook containing the random thoughts of the owner.

Laurent is intrigued, and becomes determined to find the woman who has lost her bag. Meanwhile, the reader becomes aware of what is happening to Laure, and to go into too much detail would spoil this really charming little book.

Laurent is a delightful character, he's determined and a little bit stubborn. He takes risks and at times he can be a little selfish, although I really don't think he means to harm anyone. The reader learns so much about both Laurent and Laure, and whilst I'm not big on romance, here is a couple of characters that I was really rooting for, and hoping so much that they would find each other.

So, do they? Well, that's not for me to tell, please do go out and buy a copy of this refined and elegant story. It transports the reader onto the streets of Paris alongside wonderful characters who form part of a really delicious story.

My thanks to Sophie at ed public relations who sent my copy for review.

My friend Josie who blogs at Jaffa Reads Too has also reviewed The Red Notebook - please do go and take a look.

Novelist, journalist, screenwriter, director, collector of antique keys, Antoine Laurain was born in Paris in the early 1970s. After studying cinema, he began his career directing short films and writing screenplays. His passion for art led him to take a job assisting an antiques dealer in Paris. The experience provided the inspiration for his first novel, which was awarded the Prix Drouot in 2007.

Published on the eve of the French presidential elections of 2012, Antoine Laurain's fourth, fairytale-like novel The President's Hat was acclaimed by critics, readers and booksellers, who awarded it the Prix Landerneau Découvertes. It also won the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, a prize which celebrates the enjoyment of reading. The President's Hat has been adapted for television in France.

In the UK, The President's Hat has been a Kindle top 5 bestseller and a Waterstones Book Club choice. In the USA, Antoine Laurain was selected for the ABA's 'Indies Introduce Debut Authors' for Fall 13.
His next novel, The Red Notebook, was published in spring 2015.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

No Regrets by Bernard O'Keeffe

What would happen if you spent a year accepting every invitation that came your way? Rick is about to find out...
He’s had a bad year. Sarah, his wife of nearly twenty five years, has walked out on him to move in with Colin. Perhaps they simply grew apart, perhaps the magic was no longer there, or perhaps, as his friend Jerry suggests, Rick has become boring. ,
This nagging thought, together with too much beer on New Year’s Eve and shock at the sudden death of his college friend Alex, leads Rick to a New Year’s resolution... To make the most of the time he has left, and show himself and his old friend Jerry that he is not boring, he will undertake a peculiar challenge: for a whole year he will accept every invitation that comes his way.
Any invitation. No excuses. No regrets.

No Regrets by Bernard O'Keeffe is published in paperback and ebook.

What an interesting idea for a story. No Regrets is quite different to my usual choice of book, but I was intrigued by the premise, and although it has taken quite some time to read it, I have enjoyed it.

Rick is in the pub with his mate Jerry It's New Year's Eve and life is not really going as planned. His wife has walked out on him, and is living with Colin, a P E teacher and one of his old university mates Alex was hit by a car and is dead.  Jerry seems to be implying that Rick is boring and that's why Susan walked out, Rick is outraged and determined to prove that Jerry is wrong.

They come up with a pretty ridiculous plan. Rick will not refuse any invitations that he receives, for the next twelve months. He will go to the parties that he usually avoids, he will do some sport, and even attend the college reunion. Rick thinks that this will be easy .............. think again Rick!

Bernard O'Keeffe's writing is comedic and refreshing. He creates some very awkward situations for Rick to engineer himself out of. Some invitations seem pretty straightforward, but Rick soon finds that one invitation leads to another, and another. He gets himself into quite a few scrapes.

Running through the comedy and propping up this story is the more serious story of Rick's marriage, and why it is failing. We also meet his two children and see the effect of the break-up on them.

I'll admit that I'd worked out just why Rick's wife left him long before he did which didn't bother me, but reinforced my assessment of Rick's character. He's pretty clueless really, but so damn stubborn. Despite some pretty hairy situations, he is determined to stick to the 'no regrets' challenge.

No Regrets is an entertaining read. The plot is simple and easy to follow and Rick is a bumbling, but loveable character, if a little dense!

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

Bernard O’Keeffe teaches at St Pauls’ School, where he was Head of Sixth Form for many years. 
He graduated from Balliol College Oxford and worked in advertising before becoming a teacher; he was Head of English at Radley College before he moved to St Paul’s. 
He has reviewed for The Oxford Times and Literary Review and is an editor of The English Review
He has few claims to fame, but counts playing football with Nick Hornby, having lunch with George Best, teaching members of Mumford and Sons and Noah and The Whale, embarrassing himself on TV with a very stupid quiz show answer, giving Clare Balding interview practice, and nearly being recruited as a spy as amongst his most significant. 
He lives in Barnes with his wife and two children.

For more information, check out his website
Follow him on Twitter @BernardOKeeffe1

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish

My name is Amber Fraser. I've just moved in at Number 40, Lime Park Road. You'll come to think of me as a loving wife, a thoughtful neighbour and a trusted friend.
This is a lie.
When Christy and Joe Davenport are handed the keys to Number 40 on picture-perfect Lime Park Road, Christy knows it should be a dream come true. How strange though that the house was on the market for such a low price. That the previous owners, the Frasers, had renovated the entire property yet moved out within a year. That none of the neighbours will talk to Christy.
As her curiosity begins to give way to obsession, Christy finds herself drawn deeper into the mystery of the house's previous occupants - and the dark and shocking secret
that tore the street apart . . .

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is published in paperback and ebook by Penguin on 21 May 2015, and is Louise Candlish's eleventh novel.

Louise Candlish is an author that I've enjoyed reading for many years. I would have sworn that I'd read most of her books, but looking through my lists it seems that I've only read Since I Don't Have You, and Other People's Secrets.  I read them way before I started blogging, but I checked on Goodreads and I gave them both five stars. I've had a look on my to-be-read shelves, and there are a couple more of her novels lurking on there. I think it's time to bump them up the pile!

I was really happy to find that The Sudden Departure of the Frasers had been chosen as the book of the month by the Curtis Brown Book Group ~ the synopsis is wonderful, the book is big and meaty at 500 pages. I dived in and didn't come up for air for quite some time! I was also sent a copy of this one by Lovereading as part of the Lovereading Review Panel.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is a story of modern sacrifices, of the quest for the perfect home, and of how top-notch postcodes and gleaming kitchens can often disguise fractured people and broken relationships. Readers who are currently house-hunting should approach this novel with caution, it may make you change your mind about what is important to you!

There is a secret on Lime Park Road. Christy and Joe Davenport cannot believe that they have actually bought their 'forever' house. The small flat that they left seems miles away, this is their dream, and at such a bargain price too. However, there does seem to be something a little strange about the neighbours. Christy feels snubbed and agitated by the residents and their response to her. Maybe there is a reason why their beautiful home with it's copper bath imported from Mexico was so cheap. Why did they never meet the Frasers during the purchase of the house, and why is there no forwarding address for them?  It becomes very clear that everyone on the street adored Amber Fraser, it's pretty odd that none of her so-called friends know where she moved to.

Ahh, Amber Fraser. Probably one of the most beautiful and generous characters ever created, but also one of the most flawed, but absolutely compelling too. Amber tells her story in alternating chapters, alongside Christy.

This is a totally gripping read, the mystery of why the much-loved, wealthy and seemingly happy Frasers moved out of their beautiful home is central, and the clever way that Louise Candlish slowly reveals the story is spellbinding. Amber and Christy are developed extremely well, two women with nothing in common except for a house, and for me, that house took on a character all of its own. It is the show home of Lime Park Road, the house that everyone else aspires to, yet it has secrets within its walls that creates a darkness and almost sinister feeling for the reader.

Let's talk about Rob. In Christy's story he is a shambling, bearded, rude and surly man who everyone else on the street tries to avoid. He can be very offensive, he's often frightening, yet Christy's new neighbours are loathe to talk about him. In Amber's story, which take place only a few months previously, Rob is a popular, handsome man. The women of the street flirt with him, he's a much-welcomed guest at parties, he's a very popular guy. These contrasting views of the same character are central to the mystery of the Fraser's sudden departure, and when the reader finally finds out the truth it is shocking and cruel, and quite honestly, given the damaged characters involved, it's shouldn't be quite as much a shock as it is.

This is a subtle mystery, that is woven so incredibly well. Louise Candlish adds a hint of terror and darkness to her characters and the plot is engaging and unique.

I have little in common with the characters in The Sudden Departure of the Frasers, and it is a fascinating insight into the world of eye-watering mortgage payments, interior designers, and the battle to have the best. The story will almost make the reader consider just how much sacrifice should be made in the quest to find the perfect home.  I've never craved a large house (or a large mortgage), I'm pretty happy with my tiny semi-detached in an average rural market town. Getting a glimpse into this other world through this excellent story has been eye-opening and convinced me that it really doesn't matter where you live, you will always be who you are.

Huge thanks to the Curtis Brown Book Group and to Lovereading for sending my copy for review.

Louise Candlish studied English at University College, London, and worked as an editor and copywriter before writing fiction. She is the author of eleven novels, including the bestsellers SINCE I DON'T HAVE YOU and THE DAY YOU SAVED MY LIFE, all published in the UK by Sphere. 

Though her stories are about people with complicated lives and dark dilemmas, Louise tries to live her own life without drama, in South London, with her husband and daughter.

Read her blog at or follow her day-to-day at

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

The 1992 Los Angeles Riots: six days of looting, arson, assault and murder. America's second largest city in chaos.
In All Involved, Ryan Gattis weaves a heart-stopping narrative from the perspectives of characters whose stories of the riots were never told. In six sections, each covering a single day, we follow the intersecting lives of seventeen people: gang members, firefighters, nurses, law enforcement officers and graffiti artists, every one changed for ever.
Though the events of All Involved are fictional, every word is infused with authenticity and intimacy. A propulsive and ambitious novel as electrifying as the television series The Wire, this is a mesmerizing epic of crime and opportunity, race, revenge and loyalty.

All Involved by Ryan Gattis is published by Picador on 21 May 2015.

All Involved ~ slang for someone participating in gang activity

All Involved takes place over six days during the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Here we are, over twenty years later and America seems to be experiencing the same kind of emotions and reactions to the same kind of incidents, all over again. As yet, there have been no large-scale riots, but it is clear that feelings are still running high, and I doubt it would take much more for rioting to break out once again. I guess that Delgado; a lead character, may be pretty spot-on with his guess of another riot taking place in 2022 "or before, I dunno".

All Involved is a potent, addictive, disturbing and violent story. Ryan Gattis explores the underbelly of Los Angeles, and it is so obvious that he has really really done some fine research. I'm no expert on gang-land politics, but for me, this novel feels right. The author doesn't hold back at all, the reader is enveloped from the start, into the violence and fear that ruled the streets. The descriptions of both the crimes committed and the reasoning of the people committing them are brutal and overwhelming, and certainly not for the faint hearted.

Whilst there is no doubt that All Involved is a work of fiction, Ryan Gattis has talked to many people involved directly in LA in 1992, and from these conversations, he has created a mix of characters. These are people that live in what could be described as a parallel universe, so unlike anything that the majority of us will ever experience. Despite this, and despite the fact that I personally would run for miles in the other direction if I ever came face to face with a character from this book, the author finds something within each one that makes them appear more human.

No sixteen-year-old girl that I ever came across acts like Payassa; she's unforgiving, calculated and violent, yet the reader cannot help but kind of understand her, and her actions - even if admitting to liking her may be going just a little too far.

All Involved is told in different voices, but each story overlaps, and some characters appear in another character's part. This is a great tool that creates a sense of familiarity for the reader, almost a little bit of ownership.

All Involved is not easy, it's dangerous and dark and complicated and horrific at times. However, it is intuitive and bold and could easily spark off some riots of it's own making.
Ryan Gattis doesn't make this an easy read by any means, but he has created a 'must-read'. Prepare yourself for some heart-wrenching moments as you watch hunted and desperate characters destroy their home, and themselves, bit by bit.

Ryan Gattis is a writer, Creative Writing lecturer, co-founder of a publishing collective and a member and Creative Director of a street art collective. 

He earned an MA in Creative Writing Prose from UEA and currently lives in Los Angeles.

Follow him on Twitter @Ryan_Gattis

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

Two young boys.
Trapped underground in a bunker.
Unable to understand why they are there.
Desperate for someone to find them.
Slowly realising that no-one will...

Five years later, the boys' bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome's career begins. 

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this...

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary is published by Headline in trade paperback and ebook on 23 April 2015, and paperback on 30 July 2015. No Other Darkness is the second in the DI Marnie Rome series, the first; Someone Else's Skin, was published in February 2014.

I won my proof copy of No Other Darkness in a Goodreads giveaway, and although I've not read the first in the series, I had no difficulty in following this story at all. Sarah Hilary provides snap shots of what has happened to her characters throughout this story, which is very useful, but doesn't feel intrusive.

The opening paragraph of No Other Darkness is pretty brutal, and horrifying, and so very sad. There is no getting away from the fact that the central crime in this novel is one that going to shock the reader. Dead children, murdered slowly, left underground to die, on their own, in the dark. It's a horrible crime and even though it's clear that DI Rome is an experienced detective, with some pretty upsetting personal issues of her own, she is shocked, and upset and determined to find out who these boys were, and who did this to them.

Sarah Hilary's characterisation is pretty spot on. Here are a team of police officers who are individual and excellently formed. I kept waiting to come across the 'rogue' copper, the one that usually pops up in police procedurals, but there isn't one, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie shown by the team, their combined feeling of shock and the energy that they put into their investigation.

There's a theme within this story that is not often talked about. I can't talk about it either, if I did, then you'd know how and why the two boys died, so I can't do that. Lets just say that this is a damn good story with a plot that races along at a furious pace. The twists and the turns within the storyline keep the reader hooked, right up to the very dramatic closing chapters, when more shocks and surprises are exposed.

No Other Darkness is intelligently written, it deals with some emotional issues. It also has a darkness to it, it made me feel a bit grubby when I was reading it, as though I'd stumbled upon some else's secrets that I really shouldn't know about.

I'd certainly recommend this book. Sarah Hilary's writing is impressive. I will be interested to read the next chapter in DI Marnie Rome's story.

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. 

She's also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN was her first novel, NO OTHER DARKNESS is her second.

Follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Hilary  Check out her Blog 

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Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson

Annie has a secret. But if she's not going to tell, we won't either. It's a heart-breaking secret she wishes she didn't have - yet Annie isn't broken, not quite yet. Especially now there's someone out there who seems determined to fix her. 
Kate has run away. But she's not going to tell us why - that would defeat the point of running, wouldn't it? It's proving difficult to reinvent herself, however, with one person always on her mind. 
Scratch beneath the surface and nobody is really who they seem. Even Annie and Kate, two old friends, aren't entirely sure who they are any more. 
Perhaps you can work it out, before their pasts catch up with them for good... 
A gripping and unpredictable story of two young women running from their pasts. 
We defy you to guess 

The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson is published by Penguin in paperback and ebook on 9 April 2015.

Where to start? Where on earth to start? It's not often that I am left speechless, but oh my goodness, words totally failed me when I came to the end of this extremely clever and quite captivating story. Lucy Robinson is one hell of a talent, she's created some characters, made a plot and then smashed the reader straight in the face with a great big unexpected twist.

I started reading The Day We Disappeared with no preconceptions at all, I vaguely thought that it would be a kind of romantic comedy, and the early chapters seemed to prove that. There's certainly a lot of humour in Robinson's writing, and romance features quite heavily.

I can't say much about the story, it's one of those books that would be so easy to spoil in a review, and I'm damned if I'm going to spoil this one for anyone. Let's say that it's a story of secrets, of friends, of family and of running away. Both Kate and Annie are well-formed characters with their own problems, their own demons, things that have shaped them. Lucy Robinson doesn't disclose these secrets easily, so I'm certainly not going to either.

Take two scarred and vulnerable women. Hide them away from their family, their friends, and from themselves really. Create two new worlds for them - an eventing yard and a city business, populate both of these with charismatic characters and then add some darkness to the plot. Deal with some pretty scary and very serious issues, and deal with them sensitively and compassionately, but keep the humour going too.

That is exactly what you've got from The Day We Disappeared, and I loved it. It's one of those books that stay there, in the corner of your mind, niggling away, making you think and wonder, and yes, making you feel a little bit uneasy.

This really is perfect storytelling, warm and funny, and mysterious and downright terrifying in places.

My thanks to Francesca at Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Lucy Robinson is the author of The Greatest Love Story of All Time, A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger and The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me.
Lucy worked in theatre and then television documentaries before starting a blog for Marie Claire about her laughably unsuccessful foray into the world of online dating. She did not meet a man during this time but she did become a novelist; every cloud has a silver lining.
She now lives in Bristol with her partner.

For more information about Lucy Robinson and her writing, visit her website
Find her on Facebook    Follow her on Twitter @Lucy_Robinson

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Friday, 3 April 2015

Afternoons in Ithaka by Spiri Tsintziras

A charming memoir of self-discovery, family, connection and the power of a tomato. 'I remember crusty just-baked bread, rubbed with juicy tomato flesh, swimming in a puddle of thick green olive oil. I am seven years old. I sit on a stool in my grandmother's house. 
It is the height of summer in a seaside village in the south of Greece. We little Aussies devour 'tomato sandwiches' as the family chats and laughs and swats flies ...' 
From the first heady taste of tomatoes on home-baked bread in her mother's village in Petalidi, to sitting at a taverna some 30 years later in Ithaka with her young family, Spiri Tsintziras goes on a culinary, creative and spiritual journey that propels her back and forth between Europe and Australia. 
These evocative, funny and poignant stories explore how food and culture, language and music, and people and their stories help to create a sense of meaning and identity.

Afternoons In Ithaka by Spiri Tsintziras was published by ABC Books / Harper Collins on 26 February 2015.

From the beautiful cover, to the delicious sounding blurb about it, this book could have been written especially for me. I am a huge fan of Greece - the people, the food, the stories, the sunshine - everything about that wonderful country delights me. I'm also passionate about food, about great ingredients and how to use them, so a book that combines Greece and food really is my idea of perfection.

Spiri Tsintziras grew up in Australia, her parents emigrated from Greece and made their home thousands of miles away. Despite this, her childhood and her upbringing was Greek - her Mother speaks very little English, her Father is traditionally over-protective, and she was surrounded by members of her extended family and natives of Greece.

Afternoons In Ithaka is a pure delight to read. Set out as part memoir, part recipe book and part history, it is quite unusual, but makes a change from other books in the same genre. Spiri is a talented author, she writes with ease and becomes something of a friend to the reader. This is her coming-of-age story and she hides nothing. The reader accompanies her as she rebels against her overbearing father, as she discovers men, as she flits from place to place. She often disappoints her family, they would have liked nothing better than for Spiri to settle down with a nice Greek boy whilst she was still very young. Instead, Spiri led her own life, she was determined to see things and do things, and although, in the end, she did conform (well, almost - her husband is Maltese, not Greek!), she had many adventures over the years.

Whilst Spiri's life story is interesting, it is the food element that really made the book. Her descriptions of her Mother,her Grandmother and her Aunt's food, and the recipes included alongside are wonderful. Mouth watering and oh so familiar. I think that I've tasted most of the dishes that she describes and the craving for proper Greek tomatoes; red and lucious and juicy was absolute torture to me. I could almost smell the lamb on the spit, the souvlaki and the herbs, and I was dreaming about the sweet honey dripping cakes and pastries.

Afternoons In Ithaka is a fabulous read, even if you've never been to Greece you will still love this one. Food and culture, mixed with current affairs and language and music - a winning combination. I enjoyed every page.

My thanks to Tina from the wonderful website Trip Fiction who sent my copy for review.

With a keen interest in people and their stories, Spiri Tsintziras has a background in social work and freelance journalism and has worked in marketing, publishing and policy roles for more than fifteen years. 

She has had numerous stories about food, family and connection published in The Age, and is the co-author of Parlour Games for Modern Families, the winner of the Australian Book Industry Award Book of the Year for Older Children 2010. 

Spiri lives in Melbourne with her husband, two kids and a bunch of pets.