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 www.johyboyne.com
Follow him on Twitter @john_boyne



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon

When nine-year-old Katie’s gran comes to live with the family, Katie is forced to share a room with her moody big sister, Lou. They soon discover that Gran has an imaginary, mischievous friend, Mr. Nobody. Before long, stockings are found cooking in the oven and Gran is found wandering the streets in her nightie, singing along to Elvis. As Gran’s actions become even more peculiar, Katie begins to wonder if Mr. Nobody might actually be real. And why do her new friends, Margaret and Hugo, always appear just when she needs help?


Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon was longlisted in The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2014, and is self-published by the author.



Narrated in alternating chapters by nine-year-old Katie and her Gran Vera; Mr Nobody is an extremely well written story aimed at children and young adults.

Vera is widowed and it is clear that she is unable to continue to live by herself, so Katie's parents decide that she must move in with them. This means that Katie has to give up her bedroom, and share with her older sister Lou. Neither Katie or Lou are pleased at the thought.

Life for the whole family soon becomes one of chaos and upset, as Gran's antics become more and more dangerous and upsetting. Lou is hostile towards Katie. Mum and Dad keep falling out and Gran just blames everything on Mr Nobody.

Katie struggles to understand why her once-loving Gran behaves like she does. Sometimes she's so funny, she bursts into song and dances around. Sometimes she's very dangerous, she almost sets fire to the house. Sometimes she is embarrassing, she turns up at Katie's school wearing her bra over her jumper, and leaves suspicious brown marks on Katie's bedroom carpet. Sometimes she's frightening, she picks up a knife, she's not afraid to strike out.

Mr Nobody is a sensitively told account of how Alzheimer's Disease can affect a whole family. The strain on relationships, on friendships are plain to see, and Natalie Gordon has taken Katie's voice and given the view of a small child who sees things as they are. Katie doesn't really understand that her Gran is sick, things are hidden from her by her family, she's considered too young to understand. Yet it is Katie that is able to connect most with her Gran, despite the hurt and upset that is caused by her being in the house.

Mr Nobody is a great read, and although aimed at the children and young adult market, I really enjoyed reading it.

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

Natalie Gordon received her MA in creative writing from Lancaster University in 2013 and the following year she completed her debut children's novel, Mr. Nobody, which was longlisted in The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2014. It is written for children aged 9-12 and was inspired by her own childhood experience of having a gran who suffered from Alzheimer's.

When she's not writing children's fiction or dreaming up stories, Natalie works as a business writer and consultant. She lives in a beautiful corner of Cumbria with her husband, two daughters, one cat, one dog and two rabbits. 

To find out more, visit www.nataliegordon.co.uk

Find her Facebook Author Page and follow her on Twitter @NatalieGord



Monday, 13 October 2014

Return to Fourwinds by Elisabeth Gifford

One house. Two families. A lifetime of secrets. 
At Fourwinds they gather: Alice and Ralph, Patricia and Peter, to celebrate the marriage of their children. The marquee is on the lawn, breathing in and out in the summer heat. But the bride is nowhere to be seen. 
As both families are drawn together, the past floods through the corridors of the old house. What secret has Ralph been keeping from his wife? What is it about Alice's wartime encounter with Peter that has haunted her ever since? And what could have caused Sarah to vanish without a word to any of the people she loves? 
Moving from the orange groves of Valencia and the spacious houses of the British countryside to the post-war slums in the north, Return to Fourwinds is a sweeping, lyrical story of the things we tell and the things we keep to ourselves. Is Sarah's disappearance a culmination of the pressures that have kept the two families apart? Or can they work together to bring her back to Fourwinds?

Return to Fourwinds is Elisabeth Gifford's second novel, I reviewed her first book, Secrets of the Sea House here on Random Things in July 2013. I really enjoyed this author's first novel and was delighted to see a quote from my review printed in the paperback edition, so I was really keen to read Return to Fourwinds which was published by Corvus (Atlantic Books) on 4 September 2014.

Once again, Elisabeth Gifford has based her story on secrets.

These secrets have been kept within two families for decades and it is when two couples travel to Fourwinds; a house that played a major part in their stories, that the secrets slowly begin to expose themselves. Alice and Ralph's son Nicky is to be married to Patricia and Peter's daughter Sarah. It is clear that these two couples have shared memories from their past, but when Sarah disappears just before the wedding, these secrets can no longer be kept.

Elisabeth Gifford weaves a wonderful story, moving from 1981 Derbyshire back to Spain and England during World War Two, and she does this effortlessly, transporting the reader swiftly from the modern-day problems to the drama of life during the War.

The author has combined so many threads within Return to Fourwinds, dealing with complex and often dark and distressing issues expertly. She brings her characters to life with a flourish, whether dealing with the vulnerabilities of a young boy in a strange country, or the class distinctions of England and how they affect relationships.

Return to Fourwinds is based on real secrets recently uncovered in the author's own family history about a mysteriously awarded OBE during World War II, and it is knowing that this that adds so much to this compelling and intriguing story.

Huge praise from me to Elisabeth Gifford, her writing goes from strength to strength. I was immersed in this story, and felt that I was there, right in the middle of it all.

My thanks to Fran from Atlantic Books who sent my copy for review.

Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has written articles for The Times and the Independent and has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married with three children. They live in Kingston upon Thames.

For more information, visit her website www.elisabethgifford.com 

Find her Author page on Facebook   Follow her on Pinterest


Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Birthday Weekend at; The Bronze Pig, Bunty's Tea Room & Lindum Books .... Lincoln

Phew it's Sunday, and a lovely sunny Sunday it is too. We've had a hectic few weeks lately - a week in the beautiful little resort of Akyaka in Turkey, followed by a full-on work week and my birthday on Friday. 

I've wanted to eat at The Bronze Pig in Lincoln for so long now. I am a huge fan of food programmes and my all-time favourite show is Masterchef, I adore it. The Bronze Pig is part-owned by Eamon Hunt who did really well in the 2012 series of Masterchef, I so wanted our Lincoln boy to win, but he had some tough competition. The Bronze Pig has been receiving rave reviews ever since it opened, and my hint-dropping worked! Martin booked a table, we were in!

It was truly fantastic, everything that I expected, and more. From the moment that you walk through the door, to the moment that you leave you really do feel as though you are a very special guest. Front of house is part-owner Pompeo who guided us to a table in the window and explained that the table was ours for the night.

The Bronze Pig is not a huge place, it is cosy and intimate with quirky decorations and the most comfortable, quirky chairs ever.


A bottle of mineral water was placed on the table, we ordered a bottle of House Rose wine, and a beer for Martin and waited for our first course. I ordered the scallops; pan seared scallops on black pudding served with smoked bacon, blackberries and a blackberry sauce. Martin opted for the duck; smoked duck slices, served with coleslaw and syrup. My scallops were divine, cooked to perfection; coloured on the outside and sweet and juicy inside, the bacon was crisp and smoky, the black pudding texture was superb and the accompanying blackberries were tart, plump and succulent. Martin loved his duck dish too.

I was in heaven, and could hardly wait to see and taste my main course; Pork Tenderloin with Apricot ~ Pork tenderloin stuffed with apricot, wrapped in pancetta and oven roasted, served with almondine potato, broccoli, roasted apple slice and a star anise, cider and stock reduction. This was pork as I've never tasted it before! Tender and still with a hint of pinkness, wrapped in crispy pancetta and stuffed with the sweet apricots, the almondine potato was perfect - fluffy mash encased in a crunchy outside, it all melted in the mouth. My plate was completely cleared.  Martin went for the beef fillet, served rare to medium and it was beautifully cooked; a huge wedge of fabulous fillet, browned on the outside, the knife just glided through it to reveal a beautiful pink middle. This really is heaven on a plate!

We really needed a break before dessert, to appreciate the wonderful things that we had tasted so far, enjoy our drinks and take in the lovely ambience of this busy, yet intimate little place.

Pannacotta is one of my all time favourite puds, and my hazlenut pannacotta, with figs, blackberries and syrup certainly passed the test - and the 'wobble' test. Just the right consistency and sweetness and complimented by tart fruit and glossy, smooth syrup. Martin's chocolate delice was a masterpiece on a plate, he cleared every last spoonful and gave a huge chocolaty sigh at the end.

I was thrilled when Eamon himself came out from the kitchen to say hello, he'd been watching my Tweets throughout the day, and the meal. I'm afraid I probably gushed a little, especially as he actually knows my hero Gregg Wallace! I had a glass of Limoncello on the house for my birthday - Cheers Eamon!



Our evening at The Bronze Pig is probably one of the nicest food experiences that we've ever had, the service, the surroundings and of course, the food. I will be dropping some more hints in the hope that it's not too long before I return!

The Bronze Pig, 6 West Parade, Lincoln, LN1 1JT
The Bronze Pig on Facebook, and on Twitter       Eamon Hunt on Twitter


No visit to Lincoln is complete if you don't go to Bunty's Tea Room. I've talked about Bunty's before on Random Things, when I visited back in June. We do our best to pop in for one of their wonderful sandwiches, or a piece of cake - or both - whenever we are in town. It was my birthday, I HAD to go to Bunty's this weekend!

We arrived late afternoon, so a table was available straight away, be warned though, if you visit on a busy day, at lunchtime, you may have to queue. When we walked by on Saturday, there was a queue forming up Steep Hill.

One of the best things about Bunty's is the welcome, they remember their customers and they care. I'd been tweeting about my birthday, and cake, so our welcome was even warmer on this visit.

Seated at one of the tables, decorated with a Lincolnshire flag, some fresh flowers and lots of old photographs, I made my choice. A slice of the coffee and walnut cake - it had to be done. Martin opted for the fruit scone, with jam and clotted cream. I also had a pot of Bunty's own blended tea.

The cake was scrumptious! A huge portion that I thought would beat me, but it's just so moist and so fresh that I was able to eat every last piece - and it came with a candle, and they sang Happy Birthday to me ~ such lovely lovely people, they deserve all of their success. Oh, and if you are a tea drinker, and you like a good, strong cuppa, I'd certainly recommend their own blended tea - served in a beautiful teapot and good old-fashioned china cup and saucer. The perfect Birthday tea and cake!



Bunty's Tea Room, 18 Steep Hill, Lincoln
Bunty's on Facebook and on Twitter


I've also mentioned Lindum Books here on the blog before. Lindum Books has been open in the Bailgate of Lincoln for around six months now, and it's a smashing little bookshop. They've really got involved with events in the city, and have hosted author events and signings over the past few years.

This weekend was the start of the Books Are My Bag 2014 campaign, and Lindum Books were taking part. I was delighted to have a browse around the shop, chat to the owner and see all of the #booksaremybag totes carried by people in Lincoln.

BOOKS ARE MY BAG is a nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops. This collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors and is the biggest ever promotion of bookshops. For many people bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. In fact, 56% of all book buying decisions are made by consumers in a bookshop and high street bookshops (both chains and independents) still account for almost 40% of books bought by consumers. Yet, many high street bookshops are under threat.
The campaign launched in 2013 and was devised pro bono by M&C Saatchi and was inspired by the precepts of Lord Maurice Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought,http://tinyurl.com/k3nhufc
I was so pleased to be able to get one of the 2014 collector's edition of the Books Are My Bag tote, designed by Tracey Emin. I love it! I know that there are people who don't like it, or the design, but I think it's great. Of course, I had to treat myself to a shiny new book whilst I was there, and although I'm not a huge fan of Hilary Mantel's historical fiction, I have been intrigued by her recently released collection of short stories entitled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, so that was my birthday present to myself. I'll be sure to post my review when I've read them.



Lindum Books, 4 Bailgate, Lincoln, LN1 3AE
Lindum Books on Facebook and on Twitter


I had a really lovely birthday weekend. I love Lincoln and feel so lucky to live so close by. Maybe I've whetted your appetite for our wonderful city? If you get an opportunity to visit, please do - there's so much to see and we are very friendly!



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Pieces of You by Ella Harper

The perfect marriage.
A devastating secret.
An impossible choice.
Lucy was always sure of one thing – her future with husband and soulmate Luke. But after eight long, heartbreaking years trying to have a baby, that future is crumbling before her eyes.
When a terrible accident puts Luke into a coma, Lucy is forced to reassess everything she thought she wanted.
Then Stella arrives. A woman Lucy’s never met, but with a secret that will change her world forever . . .










Pieces of You by Ella Harper was published by Avon Books in paperback on 25 September 2014.


Lucy and Luke; one of those couples that are so in love, and so happy that it could be sickening. Great jobs, a lovely home, friends and family who adore them, what more could they want?
A baby.  They want a baby desperately, they've suffered so much over the past six years or so, miscarriage after miscarriage, little boxes of sadness. Nobody knows why they can't have a baby and IVF treatment is tough, but they are determined that their love for each other will see them through.

Then comes the day when Lucy's world is torn apart.

As Luke lies in intensive care after being involved in a serious accident, Lucy and his close family try not to think about what the world may be like without him. When Stella arrives on the scene, life gets even harder for Lucy.

Pieces of You is a story that is told in the present, by Lucy, Luke's sister Nell and his mother Patricia, with flash-back chapters that let the reader get to know Lucy and Luke and watch their relationship unfold. Personally, I wasn't a fan of Nell, or her story, for me it didn't really add much to the plot, she just annoyed me if I'm honest.

However, both Lucy and Patricia are emotionally intricate characters, with great voices and whose personal thoughts and emotions are really well written. As their relationship strengthens, bonded as they are by horror of Luke's injuries, the story takes a new turn and becomes deeper and at times, very hard-hitting.

Ella Harper has dealt with some very sensitive issues within Pieces of You, she writes extremely well and her characterisation is excellent. The supporting characters, most especially Luke's prodigal brother Ade are very well created and add tons to the story.

Pieces of You is by no means an uplifting, or happy story. It is quite heart-wrenching at times and really does give the reader food for thought.

A fine debut novel from Ella Harper. I look forward to reading more from her.

My thanks, as ever to Olivia Wilson and the publisher Avon Books for my review copy.


Ella Harper was an avid reader as a child with ambitions of becoming an actress. She acquired a BA in French and Russian Studies, before working in banking as an Assistant Vice President for eight years. It was on the commute into work that Ella discovered her love of writing and left her city job to become a full-time novelist. Ella lives in Essex with her husband and two daughters. Ella has also written novels as Sasha Wagstaff.

For more information about Ella, find her on Twitter @EllaHarperBooks and on Facebook at EllaHarper Author 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn

It wasn't every day you had the chance to track down the man who'd killed your mother.
In 1964, Andrew Combs' mother is killed in front of him. His father Harry vanishes soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later Andrew wants revenge. There's only one way he can let go of his past and become the man he wants to be: track down and kill his mother's murderer. His father.
But while Andrew thinks he knows what happened all those years ago, the truth is far darker. For Harry Combs turns out to be a man of many secrets.
As shadowy figures from Harry's past threaten his life, and Andrew inches closer to killing him, the two men find themselves playing a very dangerous game of life and death. And only one of them can survive.


The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn was published in paperback on 11 September 2014 by Pan Macmillan.

The Gentle Assassin is my first taste of this author's work, and I doubt very much that it will be my last. There is something quite brusque, even pithy about this author's writing, he writes concisely, creating scenes that are breath-taking in their realism and presence.

Harry Combs is the gentle assassin of the title. He has been on the run for many years and when he is finally tracked down by his son Andrew, he has to face up to what he used to be. Harry used to be a cold, calculating killer. He was hated by his father, his son wants him dead, and his wife drinks herself into oblivion on a daily basis.

When Andrew confronts him, a whole bag of worms is opened up, and past events and faces come back to haunt Harry. Father and son must team up together to protect themselves, whilst learning about each other as they do.

More than a crime novel; The Gentle Assassin is an in-depth look at the relationship between this father and son who only meet when the son is a grown man. It is violent and it pulls no punches, but it is also powerful and compassionate.

Ryan David Jahn writes with a brutality that can be quite unsettling at times, but the authenticity of his words, and his expert dissection of the human psyche is excellently done.

An author that I will certainly look out for in the future, I enjoyed The Gentle Assassin very much.

My thanks to Sam Eades from Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Ryan David Jahn lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife Jessica and two beautiful little girls, Francine and Matilda. His novels include Acts of Violence, which won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger, Low Life, The Dispatcher and The Last Tomorrow. His work has been translated into twelve languages.


Visit his website at www.ryandavidjahn.com for more information about him and his writing, or follow him on Twitter @RyanDavidJahn