Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts, none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton whose only traces remain in a few tantalisingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?
As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph - and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth's . . .

The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan will be published by Penguin on 15 January 2015,

The novel opens with a short prologue, narrated by Alice in 1936 and sets the scene for the fairly long and complex story to follow.

Alice then goes back four years, to 1932 when she finds herself left heartbroken by a man. Her mother quickly arranges for Alice to move to Fiercombe Manor, safely away from the prying eyes and cruel words of friends and neighbours.

Fiercombe Manor is as far away from the busy, lively streets of London as Alice can possibly imagine. She spends her days polishing silver and taking walks through the house and the grounds, whilst battling the oppressive heat of the summer which seems to make the Manor and its occupants all the more mysterious.

There are many mysteries within the walls of the Manor house, and Alice finds it difficult to get clear answers from anyone about the previous occupants of the house. She is aware of a presence in the house, she is frightened by aromas and glimpses of shadowy figures, she stumbles across abandoned rooms and secret drawers, and soon becomes obsessed with the story of Elizabeth Stanton; once lady of the manor, and now rarely mentioned.

Interwoven with Alice's account of her summer at Fiercombe is Elizabeth's own story. Some chapters are dedicated to Elizabeth and her family, and some of her background is discovered in Alice's story, through old letters and a diary that Alice discovers.

Kate Riordan has created an epic story in The Girl in the Photograph, her writing is atmospheric and very descriptive, and although her female characters are large, it was the depiction of the houses and the estate that captivated me the most. The air of mystery and sadness that pervades the walls of Fiercombe Manor is so well done, making the house the lead character of the story.

I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth's story, which touched on quite personal and controversial issues, especially for the period in which it is set. There are some shocking practices regarding the treatment of mental health during the late 1800s that add another dimension to the story. I wasn't so keen on Alice as a character and felt that she lacked depth. She's young and naive, but not incredibly likeable and I found some of her behaviour quite annoying, it really was Elizabeth that saved Alice's part of the story for me.

The Girl in the Photograph is enjoyable, and well written with a good plot that reaches a surprising conclusion. There were parts that dragged for me, especially during Alice's story, but on the whole it's a good story and the sense of place and descriptive passages are excellent.

My thanks to Real Readers and Penguin who supplied my copy for review.

Kate Riordan is a journalist who has previously worked for the Guardian and Time Out.

She is now freelance and lives in Cheltenham

For more information about the author, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @KateRiordanUK

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

Their future is written in the stars . . .
Maia D'Apliése and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, 'Atlantis' - a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva - having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue to their true heritage - a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began . . .
Eighty years earlier, in the Belle Epoque of Rio, 1927, Izabela Bonifacio's father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is working on a statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela - passionate and longing to see the world - convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski's studio and in the heady, vibrant cafés of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.
In this sweeping epic tale of love and loss - the first in a unique, spellbinding series of seven books, based on the legends of the Seven Sisters star constellation - Lucinda Riley showcases her storytelling talent like never before.

The Seven Sisters is the first book in a new series of seven novels based on seven sisters and was published by Pan Macmillan in hardback, trade paperback and ebook on 6 November 2014.  I've been a huge fan of Lucinda Riley's writing for a long time now, and have reviewed some of her previous novels here on Random Things; The Girl on the Cliff (January 2012), The Light Behind the Window (July 2012) and The Midnight Rose (December 2013).  I was really excited to learn that Lucinda Riley had embarked on this ambitious project - seven novels in total, and all about the same family. I was hugely disappointed that I was unable to attend the event that she hosted to introduce her fans to the series, but delighted to have received a pre-publication copy of The Seven Sisters for review - my thanks to Lucinda, her PA Olivia and the team at Pan Macmillan.

The seven sisters of the title are the D'Apliese sisters; there are actually only six of them, so that's the first mystery of this story. These women were all adopted as babies and brought up by the incredibly wealthy Pa Salt, on a beautiful estate in Geneva, Switzerland.  Pa Salt has always been something of a mystery, a wealthy single man bringing up six beautiful adopted daughters, with no partner, just his trusted housekeeping staff to assist him. None of the girls really know how Pa Salt made his fortune, but each of them have had a happy and full life, they are loved and they love each other.

The sisters are summoned home when Pa Salt suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Just like his life, Pa's death and the arrangements after it have been precisely organised and each sister is left a letter and a clue to their true heritage. This first story is Maia, the eldest sister's story.

Maia discovers that her roots are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and she travels there to the crumbling mansion that appears to be connected to her. It is in Rio that Maia's story really begins to come together and Lucinda Riley has cleverly weaved Maia's modern day story together with that of her great-grandmother Izabela Bonafacio.  Also woven through this incredible novel is the story of how the statue of Christ the Redeemer was constructed, first in pieces in Paris, and then transported by boat to Rio where it was built piece by piece on top of the Corcovado mountain.

The two cities; Paris and Rio are exquisitely drawn, the contrast between these two places is amazing, yet both of them are tantalising, and reading about them made me want to visit both of them. Izabel's time spent in the Montmarte area of Paris, populated by the bohemian artist community comes alive on the pages, with famous and familiar names taking centre stage. The contrast of Rio - the old, the new, the wealth, the poverty is exceptionally well done too.

Maia and Izabela's stories are strikingly similar, with a theme of love and loss running through them both, and as Maia discovers more about her birth family history, she also realises more about herself, finally admitting to herself that some secrets can never be kept forever, and that she does not have to pay for one mistake for the rest of her life.

The Seven Sisters is moving and absorbing, and I was absolutely transfixed by it. Please, don't be put off by the length of the book, it's over 600 pages, but I can assure you that these pages fly by and before you know it you will be at the end of the story and wishing so much that you had the next instalment ready to read next. Lucinda Riley is incredibly talented, her storytelling is precise and thrilling, she artfully combines the modern day story with events from history and has created something incredibly special. I'm desperate to read the next in the series.

My friend and fellow blogger Anne has also reviewed The Seven Sisters, you can check out her review on her blog Being Anne.

Author's Note: The Seven Sisters series is loosely based on the mythology of The Seven Sisters of The Pleiades, the well-known star cluster in the famous belt of Orion. From the Mayans to the Greeks to the Aborigines, The Seven Sisters stars are noted in inscriptions and in verse. Sailors have used them as guiding lights for thousands of years and even a Japanese brand of car, Subaru is named after the six sisters....
Many of the names in the series are anagrams for the characters that populate the legends, with relevant allegorical phrases used throughout, but it is not important to know anything about these to enjoy the books. However, if you are interested in reading more about Pa Salt, Maia and her sisters, then please visit, where the many legends and stories are revealed.

Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland and travelled extensively during her childhood, particularly to the Far East. Moving to London, she became an actress, working in film, theatre and television. At twenty-four, she wrote her first novel based on her experiences as an actress. Then went on to write seven further novels that have been translated into fourteen languages.

For more information about Lucinda Riley and her books, visit her website, visit her Facebook Author Page, follow her on Twitter @lucindariley

Friday, 14 November 2014

Getting Colder by Amanda Coe

They were colour-supplement darlings of the 1980s: Patrick, the sexy, ferocious young playwright, scourge of an enthralled establishment, and Sara, who abandoned her two children to fulfil her destiny as Patrick's beautiful, devoted wife and muse.
Thirty-five years later, Sara's death leaves Patrick alone in their crumbling house in Cornwall, with his whisky, his writer's block and his undimmed rage against the world. But bereavement is no respecter of life's estrangements, and Sara's children, Louise and Nigel, are now adults, with memories, questions and agendas of their own.

What was their mother really like? Why did she leave them? What has she left them? And how can Patrick carry on without the love of his life?

Getting Colder was published by Virago on 6 November 2014 and is Amanda Coe's second novel. I reviewed her first book; What They Do In The Dark here on Random Things in September 2011.

The cover blurb suggests that Getting Colder is 'savagely funny and perceptive'. Whilst I agree that this story is incredibly perceptive, for me it was a very sad story with characters and a plot that I would really find difficult to class as 'funny'.

When I read What They Do In The Dark three years ago I was left reeling by the authenticity of Amanda Coe's writing, set as it is in both a setting and an era that is really familiar to me. Despite the fact that it's over three years since I read it, the story had stayed with me. I was expecting more of the same from Coe in Getting Colder. This isn't the same, not by any means, it feels more grown up, mature and more in depth. The shocks are there, but are more subtle and the characters are more intense with a depth that adds volumes to the plot.

This is a story about a family. An unusual family who have drifted apart over the years but are brought together when the mother dies. Sara left her two children Nigel and Louise thirty-five years ago, she met and fell in love with Patrick, was swept away by his glamour and fame, the arty world that he occupied. Her two children were damaged by this, but have also hankered for their mother's love.

Nigel and Louise arrive at the home that Sara shared with Patrick for many years. A home that was always know to them as 'the house', not a second home for them, or a place of happy memories. Patrick seems distraught by Sara's death, he's loud, brash, grumpy, rude and unwelcoming. Nigel is cautious, wary and just a little frightened of Patrick. Louise is older and fatter, a mother of two, unsure of herself and desperately looking for some signs that her mother did love her, did miss her, did regret what she did.

Added to this mix of unhappy, not very pleasant characters is Mia. Mia arrived unexpectedly, hoping to interview Patrick, unaware that Sara has died. Mia is a grasping dreamer, she sees opportunity in the most unlikely of places, she is a schemer and a planner, but even Mia finds the melancholy air of Patrick's house and it's visitors very hard to bear.

Getting Colder is not a fast-paced story, it gently unfolds to reveal the inner feelings of each of the characters. Don't expect to love any of the characters, with the exception of Louise's son Jamie, I certainly didn't like any of them. I'm not sure that the reader is expected to like the characters, and it takes nothing away from this excellent story - who says that all characters should be warm and friendly and likeable anyway?

This is an exploration of fractured family relationships, it looks at ego and self-perception and the fragility of the human being. Moving slowly and quite gently, Getting Colder is cleverly and quite beautifully written.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review

Amanda Coe’s screenwriting credits include ShamelessMargot, about Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev, and As If, an acclaimed teen drama series. 
In 2013 she won a BAFTA for the BBC Four adaptation of John Braine’s Room at the Top, and she is currently working on a pilot for HBO. 
Her first novel, What They Do in the Dark, was published by Virago in 2011. 
Her latest, Getting Colder, also from Virago, is a savagely sharp survey of decades of family havoc wrought by a washed-up angry playwright.

Follow her on Twitter @amandjacoe

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher : Stories by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is one of Britain’s most accomplished and acclaimed writers. In these ten bracingly subversive tales, all her gifts of characterisation and observation are fully engaged, summoning forth the horrors so often concealed behind everyday façades. Childhood cruelty is played out behind the bushes in ‘Comma’; nurses clash in ‘Harley Street’ over something more than professional differences; and in the title story, staying in for the plumber turns into an ambiguous and potentially deadly waiting game.
Whether set in a claustrophobic Saudi Arabian flat or on a precarious mountain road in Greece, these stories share an insight into the darkest recesses of the spirit. Displaying all of Mantel’s unmistakable style and wit, they reveal a great writer at the peak of her powers.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a collection of short stories by Hilary Mantel and was published by Fourth Estate on 25 September 2014.  There are ten stories in total, written between 1993 and 2014 and all have been previously published elsewhere; in newspapers, magazines and other short story collections.

I put my hands up and admit that I bought this book because of the title! I'm not a fan of Hilary Mantel's writing despite the fact that she's won the Man Booker Prize twice, I tried with Wolf Hall, I really did, but I failed miserably. I also sometimes struggle with short stories and often feel let down by them, so all praise to the publisher who chose the title story, it intrigued me enough to buy the book.

I'm afraid I'm still not a convert - not to Hilary Mantel's writing, nor to short stories - but I did read them all, and although I can't say that I actually enjoyed this collection, I can appreciate the absolute brilliance in her writing.

Each story is led by a female character, and each of these women are waspish and somewhat venomous, there is a harshness to the characters that flavours all of the stories. Hilary Mantel excels in creating a setting that the reader can almost feel, smell and see; from the grubby back street guest house to the dusty roads of a Greek island. Mantel's skill in creating these places and allowing the reader to become part of them is so very skilful.

The fairly horrible characters and the fabulous sense of place aside, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by these stories. They just end, suddenly, and although I'm not a reader who demands that all the endings in stories are tied up neatly, in fact I am partial to an ambiguous ending, these stories left me feeling a little bit empty and wondering if I'm more than a little bit stupid! There are reviewers and critics who have raved about this collection, and I guess the title and the author herself are both great discussion points.  Not for me though, I really don't have a lot to add to the debate, all I can really say is that I've read them!

Hilary Mantel is the author of thirteen books , including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving up the Ghost. 

Her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring up the Bodies have both been awarded The Man Booker Prize - an unprecedented achievement.

For more information visit the author's website and her Facebook Author page

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Nightingale Christmas Wish by Donna Douglas ** BLOG TOUR **

It’s Christmas at the Nightingale Hospital 
Sister Blake is revisited by a face from the past. 
Will buried secrets stop her from being happy? 
Lonely Helen Dawson has new responsibilities and trials, but is she looking for love in all the wrong places? 
And Matron puts the Nightingale first, even before her own health. 
With war looming large, will Matron and the Nightingale survive? 
With new hardships, new loves and new heartbreak, will anyone get their Christmas wish?

A Nightingale Christmas Wish by Donna Douglas was published by Arrow on 6 November 2014 and is the fifth instalment in the Nightingale series.  I've been a fan of this series from day one, and am delighted to be hosting the Blog Tour for the latest novel here on Random Things today.

You can catch up with my reviews of the first four books in the Nightingale series; The Nightingale Girls (September 2012); The Nightingale Sisters (April 2013); The Nightingale Nurses (November 2013) and Nightingales on Call (April 2014).

Although it has Christmas in the title, this is not really a traditional seasonal read, the story takes place around Christmas time, but it's not all magic and gifts and singing carols around the tree by any means. Set in 1938, with the threat of another World War looming, the reader finds themselves amongst old and familiar friends at the Nightingale Hospital.

One of Donna Douglas' real strengths is her ability to continue this series whilst making sure that any
new readers can pick up the back story of each character easily. She gives just enough information to give an insight into each character without repeating the story for readers who are familiar with the setting and the characters.

The story concentrates mainly on Sister Helen Dawson and junior nurse Effie - two completely different characters, yet both well drawn and realistic. Helen has endured great sadness in her life, and her work is fast becoming her replacement for a happy personal life. She puts everything she has into being a dedicated nurse, but there is a sense of loneliness about Helen, and those closest to her find it difficult to get to know the woman behind the nurses uniform. Not so Effie, she wears her heart on her sleeve, she's determined, impetuous and loyal.

There is an incredible amount of research behind this series, the sense of place is excellent, and it is amazing to see how far our medical services have travelled in what is relatively such a short space of time.

I really do enjoy the Nightingale series, and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Donna Douglas lives in York with her husband and daughter.  Besides writing novels, she is also a very well-respected freelance journalist under her real name, Donna Hay.  

For more information about Donna; 
please visit her blog; or follow her on Twitter @donnahay1

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Prophecy of Bees by R S Pateman

Moving to Stagcote Manor was meant to be a fresh start for Lindy and her teenage daughter Izzy. A chance at a new life in the country after things went so wrong in London. But for Izzy it is a prison sentence.
There's something about the house that she can't quite put her finger on. Something strange and unnerving. As Izzy begins to explore the manor and the village beyond its walls, she discovers the locals have a lot of bizarre superstitions and beliefs. Many of them related to the manor . . . and those who live there.
When Izzy begins to investigate the history of the estate, her unease deepens to fear as the house's chilling past finally comes to light.
The Prophecy of Bees is a tense, gripping psychological suspense novel that explores the dark power of superstition and folklore.

The Prophecy of Bees by R S Patemen is published by Orion on 20 November 2014, and is the author's second novel. I was incredibly impressed by his debut novel; The Second Life of Amy Archer and reviewed it here on Random Things back in October of last year.

Izzy is not impressed by her mother Lindy's decision to move them out to Stagcote Manor, out in the middle of nowhere, away from the bright lights of London. Lindy is determined that she and Izzy will have a fresh start. She wants to re-build their fragile and almost shattered relationship, she wants to move on from the death of her husband; Izzy's father. She wants Izzy to concentrate on her studies, and keep away from goth-boys who sing in bands.

Izzy is determined to hate Stagcote Manor, she has that determination that teenagers seem to do perfectly. It doesn't matter to Izzy if it is a beautiful house in wonderful surroundings, she is going to hate it.

Izzy soon finds herself caught up in local tales of curses, she initially mocks when she's told that the bees in the hives must be told what is going on, if they are not told then something terrible will happen. It seems that something terrible will happen around every corner in this odd, insular village and Izzy, despite her mockery and misgivings, starts to believe that there really is a curse upon her new home.

The Prophecy of Bees is a cleverly woven story of superstition and fear, of witchcraft and beliefs that have been handed down generation by generation. It is also a modern story of the difficulties between a mother and her daughter, with dark and difficult issues raised and dealt with very well.

There is a dark, brooding feel to this novel. The author excels in creating a setting and characters that are so creepy and sinister and Stagcote Manor itself has a malevolence about it that will send shivers down the reader's spine.

This is a powerful story. It is a story that haunts the back of your mind when you are not reading it and consumes you when you are.

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

Check out the excellent trailer for The Prophecy of Bees:

R.S. Pateman has been a copywriter working with some of the UK's largest ad agencies and companies. 
He lives in London.
Find out more at  
Follow R.S. Pateman on Twitter @rspateman

Friday, 7 November 2014

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

There is a boy out there, and he's wearing a silver collar .....
Easter 1955 and Britain waits for a hanging. Dieter Sugar finds a strange boy in the red gardens at crumbling Sugar Hall - a boy unlike any he's ever seen.
As Dieter's mother, Lilia, scrapes the mould and moths from the walls of the great house, she knows there are pasts that cannot be so easily removed. Sugar Hall has a history, buried, but not forgotten. 
Based on the stories of the slave Boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray. 

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray was published by Seren Books in paperback on 25 September 2014.

Liliana Sugar and her two children; Saskia and Dieter have moved into Sugar Hall. The hall is old, and crumbling, it's cold and full of strange objects and dark rooms, there are rats and damp. Sugar Hall is a shock for all of them, they are used to their cheery little flat in London, surrounded by friends and noise and bright lights. Liliana is a widow and her children are fatherless, the locals are curious about this German sounding woman and her two very different children. Only Juniper and John really make them welcome.

Dieter meets a small boy in the garden and it is this meeting that will change the life course of each member of this small family. This is not ordinary little boy, this is a boy with a past, with grudges, with anger, with a score to settle.

Tiffany Murray has a unique and intriguing way with words. Sugar Hall is most certainly a ghost story, but it is also a tale of long-gone slavery and sugar plantations, with hints of murder and scandal. At times the complex plot can become overwhelming in its intricacy, yet this does not take away anything from story at all. There is a sense of unease and impending disaster that hangs over each page which only urges the reader to read on, faster and with an urgency until they reach the quite shocking and somewhat unexpected ending.

Sugar Hall is a book that left me with some unanswered questions, yet the more I think about the story, the more I think that I understand. This is one of the beauties of the story; the ability of the author to create a multi-layered mystery that can be both confusing and satisfying, yet never frustrating.

My thanks to Sarah at Seren Books who sent my copy for review.

Tiffany Murray grew up in haunted houses in Scotland, Wales and Herefordshire. Her novels Diamond Star Halo and Happy Accidents were shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and the London Book Award, and Diamond Star Hale was a Guardian book of the year. Her work has drawn comparisons to Stella Gibbons and Dodie Smith.

Tiffany has been a Hay Festival International Writing Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar, and her academic posts have included Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of South Wales.

Follow her on Twitter @tiffanymurray

SEREN is an independent publisher with a wide-ranging list which includes poetry, fiction, biography, art, translation, criticism and history. Many of their books and authors have been on longlists and shortlists for - or won - major literary prizes, among them The Costa Award, the Man Booker, the Desmond Elliott Prize, The Writer's Guild Award, Forward Prize, and TS Eliot Prize.       Twitter @SerenBooks     Seren Books on Facebook