Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Giveaway! Books and Chocolate

Happy Easter everyone!  

 I don't think many of us will be spending Easter without our coats and scarves this year,  here in Lincolnshire the sun is shining but it's still really cold.  It is lovely to see the sun though - at long last.  The clocks go forward early tomorrow morning and British Sumertime will begin - here's hoping that we do get some nice weather this year.

Over the past few months I've been honoured to have been able to read some of Pan Macmillan's new releases, before their official publication dates.  Two of my very favourites have been The View on The Way Down by Rebecca Wait and The Promise by Ann Weisgarber.   These are both wonderfully written, quite stunning novels - very different in style, but the impact that they both have had on me has been huge.  I am positive that these two books will be on my Top Ten Reads for many many years.

I'm really delighted to be able to offer beautiful hardback copies of these two fabulous novels as prizes on the blog today, and as it's Easter, I'm going to send the lucky winner some scrumptious chocolate too.

Both of these books are published by imprints of Pan Macmillan; The Promise is from Mantle and The View On The Way Down is from Picador.

Here's a little more information about both the of the books

The View On The Way Down by Rebecca Wait.

This novel will open your eyes and break your heart.
It is the story of Emma’s two brothers – the one who died five years ago and the one who left home on the day of the funeral and has not returned since.
It is the story of her parents – who have been keeping the truth from Emma, and each other.
It is a story you will want to talk about, and one you will never forget.
Publication Date: 11 April 2013
I reviewed The View On The Way Down back in December 2012 -  you can read my thoughts here 

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

From the author of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, 
shortlisted for the Orange Award for New 
Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize. 
The Promise is a heart-breaking story of love, loss and buried secrets, 
which confirms Weisgarber as one 
of the most compelling literary voices writing today.
Publication Date: 11 March 2013 
I reviewed The Promise in January 2013 - read what I thought here 

The giveaway prizes are:  A hardback copy of The Promise,  a hardback copy of The View On The Way Down and some chocolate goodies.   To enter the competition, please use the Rafflecopter form below, entries will be accepted until the closing date of 7 April 2013.

Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella

Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella is the classic novel that inspired the film Field of Dreams.  Originally written and published back in 1982, Shoeless Joe is part of the backlist of Kinsella's books acquired by HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project and was published by them on 14 March 2013.

The Friday Project is to publish a new novel by W P Kinsella called the Butterfly Winter, and his eight other backlist titles will follow in 2014.

So, back to Shoeless Joe.  I have to hold up my hands to two things.  First, I've never seen the film Field of Dreams and second, I know nothing about baseball.  This is a novel about baseball, but it is also most certainly a novel of love and dreams and how a person's power of belief can make things happen.

Ray Kinsella lives on a remote farm with his wife Annie and their small daughter.  Ray is obsessed with baseball.  Most of his life events are connected in some way to the game, he remembers his father according to the baseball stories that he told him.  Most of all, Ray is obsessed with Shoeless Joe - his hero who was banned from the game after the match-fixing Black Box Scandal in 1919.   One day, when looking out across his land, Ray hears a voice

"If you build it, he will come"

So, Ray builds it, and he comes, and so do other baseball legends.  Ray then takes a trip across the country and helps the author JD Salinger overcome his pain.

W P Kinsella
This novel has a somewhat dream like feel to it, with Ray taking the leading role.  There are very few characters within the story and personally I would have loved to have known more about Ray's wife Annie.  The small glimpses of her were not enough, I wanted to know why she adored Ray so much - maybe it's because Annie wasn't that fond of baseball either that I was more interested in her.  Ray's total obsession becomes a little tedious at times.  I often struggle with magical realism in novels, it has to be done so well for me to engage with it, or has to be a subject matter that I really love.

There is no doubt however that WP Kinsella writes in an almost poetic way, with beautiful and descriptive language and despite the subject matter I found the novel quite a satisfying read.  I will most certainly look out for more by the author.

My thanks go to Sabah from The Friday Project for sending a copy for review.

Cemetery Girl by David Bell

Cemetery Girl by David Bell will be published in the UK by Penguin Books on 23 July 2013.  The novel was originally written and published in 2010.

There does seem to have been a glut of 'missing child' stories recently, and it can be difficult for an author to make a well-used plot stand out and be different from all the rest.   David Bell has achieved this, and achieved it very well.   Although the central theme of Cemetery Girl is a missing girl, there is so much more to this novel.

Tom and Abby Stuart's daughter Caitlin has been missing for four years, she disappeared without a trace whilst walking the dog when she was twelve-years-old.   The opening chapters of the novel are intense, the reader is thrust right into the middle of a marriage that has completely broken down.  Tom and Abby have drifted so far apart.  Tom is convinced that Caitlin is still alive, he 'sees' her, he can't let go.  Abby has ordered a memorial stone and organised a service of remembrance to celebrate Caitlin's life.  Tom resents the comfort that Abby seeks from the Church, and especially from Pastor Chris. Tom is not ready to move on, he needs to find out what happened to his daughter.
Then, suddenly, things start to move.  A stripper reports that she saw Caitlin in a strip club accompanied by an older man.  Detective Ryan starts to move the case and within a few days Caitlin is discovered walking down a street looking thin, and dirty and tired.   The Caitlin that is returned to her parents is not the same happy, cheerful Caitlin that disappeared four years ago.  Instead they now have a sixteen-year-old foul-mouthed daughter who makes it clear that she wants to return to the man who took her, she says she loves him.
Tom is almost driven mad by the thoughts of what has happened to Caitlin during those four years and is determined to uncover every single sordid detail, and to ensure that this man spends the rest of his life behind bars.

David Bell
There is no doubt that this is a well thought out story, with a completely different perspective on the missing child scenario.   However, I did find the first half of the book became a little complicated - there are a lot of different characters introduced, some who seem to be a little tokenistic.  For example, Tom's half-brother Buster is a stereotypical police suspect - he has 'form' and I never felt that his relationship with either Tom or Caitlin was realistic, and maybe included just to add another twist to the story.  This didn't actually spoil the story for me by any way, but it did kind of annoy me.

At times, some of the characters appeared to do something that was completely out of character, especially Tom.  It was difficult to understand his motives towards the end of the story, although these scenes certainly made for an exciting and page-turning read.

I would certainly read another book by David Bell, his ideas are original and his writing style is very accessible and makes for easy and enjoyable reading.

Cemetery Girl Book Trailer

View the trailer of David Bell's thrilling novel Cemetery Girl.

For more information about David Bell and his novels, visit his website  His Facebook page is here, and you can find him on Twitter here

Monday, 25 March 2013

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This has probably been my most anticipated new release for a very long time.  Like many people, I was totally awestruck by Hosseini's first novel The Kite Runner.  His second; A Thousand Splendid Suns is up there in my Top Five Books, I was astounded by the story.   Bearing this in mind, and despite my delight at acquiring a pre-publication copy of And The Mountains Echoed, I was a little nervous that I may be a little disappointed.

Khaled Hosseini's fans do have to wait a long time between books, its been five years since A Thousand Splendid Suns.  I can truthfully say that this is certainly worth that very very long wait.

This is a story that spans generations, yet starts and finishes with the same characters.  In 1952 a father and his two young children are travelling across Afghanistan, father has been promised some much needed work.  The children; Abdullah and his little sister Pari are happy to be together, they adore each other and Abdullah has become more of a parent than a brother to Pari.   When their mother died just after giving birth to Pari and then their father re-married and new half-siblings joined the family, Abdullah took on the protection and care of Pari.  Neither of them can know that this journey will be the beginning of heartbreak that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

With heart-breaking realism, Hosseini tells the tale of a family split apart by poverty and desperation.  From the small rural villages to the large bustling cities of Afghanistan, the writing transports the reader into the heart of the story, experiencing the sounds, the smells and the changing political landscapes.  From immense poverty, to the greatest riches.  From the modest and humble, to the arrogant and the proud, the cast of characters are a triumph.

That one event in Kabul in 1952 leads on to many others, including characters and settings from Paris, to the Greek Islands and back to Afghanistan.   Characters who appear, on the face of it, to be so different and so diverse are all connected in one way or another to the day that a loving father told his two small children the story of farmer Baba Ayub - it is this story, and its meaning that is threaded through the whole novel and which eventually turns from a fable to the truth.

Whilst And The Mountains Echoed does not have the shock-factor of Hosseini's two previous novels, it is still a very important epic story that will leave a mark on anyone who reads it.  The cast of characters is huge and the narrative often slips back and forward, which can at times, appear a little disjointed.  However, this really does not detract from the story, or from the wonderfully evocative writing.

Once again, Khaled Hosseini has produced a story that will break hearts and leave his fans, new and old, gasping for more.

My very grateful thanks go to Bloomsbury who sent a pre-publication copy for review.  And The Mountains Echoed will be published here in the UK on 21 May 2013

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980.  His novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were international bestsellers, and have sold over thirty-eight million copies.  The graphic novel of The Kite Runner was published in 2011.  In 2006 he was named a U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency.  He lives in Northern California.

To find out more about Khaled Hosseini, visit the website here. The Official Khaled Hosseini Facebook page is here

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

I was honoured to be asked to take part in the Blog Tour for Ellen Sussman's novel The Paradise Guest House, published on 21 March by Canvas, an imprint of Constable & Robinson.

I read and reviewed Ellen Sussman's last novel; French Lessons back in December 2011.  What impressed me most about that novel was the author's ability to tell quite an intimate, fairly complicated story in such a sparse style.

This is the story of two quite isolated people; Jamie and Gabe.   Flung together in the aftermath of the terrible terrorist attacks on the island of Bali, they only spent a couple of days together before going back to live their separate lives.  One year later, Jamie is returning to Bali for a remembrance ceremony.   Her scars are not only on the outside, she is suffering and haunted by feelings of guilt.  Guilt that she was unable to save her boyfriend on that awful night, and guilt about leaving Gabe so suddenly, with no explanation.

When Jamie lands in Bali, she is welcomed into the home of another victim of that night and befriended by a young boy who helps her to see just what is important to her.   When she finally finds Gabe again, it is time for both of them to face up to their past and think about their future.

Just like French Lessons, this novel is fairly short at just over 250 pages.  Despite this, the story is vivid and well-paced.  Ellen Sussman doesn't waste one word. There are no flowery descriptions or pages and pages of unnecessary dialogue.  The story is told in sparse, yet descriptive language which transports the reader straight to the heart of the island of Bali.  The culture, the people, the sights and sounds are brought to life expertly.  Jamie and Gabe are complex characters, each have had their own sorrows in the past and both of them have chosen alternative lifestyles in order to cope with these.    Ellen Sussman spent time in Bali whilst researching this novel and this is apparent throughout the story, she has captured the tastes and flavours of the island whilst also portraying the sadness and despair that remains amongst the people who live there.  The terrorist bombings in what should be a place of peace and tranquility has left a mark on its people that will be hard to overcome.

I enjoyed The Paradise Guest House very much.  I think that Ellen Sussman is a talented author who is able to capture a sense of place incredibly well.
Ellen Sussman

As part of the Blog Tour, I'm really delighted to welcome Ellen Sussman to Random Things Through My Letterbox today.  Ellen has kindly answered some questions about her reading and writing habits.

What are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading The Fault In Our Stars, a wonderful novel that started out as a book for young adults and has now found an adult audience.  It's wonderful, but I can't stop crying!

Do you read reviews of your novels?  Do you take them seriously?
I do read them.  Sometimes I think I shouldn't - I take them too seriously!  I care so much about what my readers think of my books.  In my mind, the writing process isn't over until someone reads the novel.  I love hearing from fans - that means even more to me than reviews.

How long does it take to write a novel?
It takes me about a year.   I write a first draft in about 6 months and then I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Do you have any writing rituals?
Yes.  I'm a much disciplined writer.  I work from 9 - noon 5 or 6 days a week.   I don't answer the phone or check email while I'm working.  I can't quit until I've written 1000 words.  I'm a very tough boss!

What was your favourite childhood book?
As a young girl I loved Charlotte's Web.   Later on, The Catcher in the Rye.

Name one book that made you laugh?
A new novel called Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  It's wonderful and very funny.

Name one book that made you cry?
The Fault in our Stars!    Also, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Jay Gatsby

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I'm inspired by every book I read!   I read all the time and I always ask myself, how did the author do this?  So I'm learning all the time.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
I don't really believe we should feel guilty about anything we read.

Who are your favourite authors?
I love Jennifer Egan and Ann Patchett.

What book have you re-read?
I'm not big on re-reading novels.  There are too many great novels out there waiting for me.

What book have you given up on?
I have a 50 page test.  If I'm not hooked by page 50, I move on.  Unfortunately, I move on a lot!

Huge thanks to Ellen Sussman for answering my questions.  I must say that I agree on the guilty pleasure read answer - never feel guilty, that's my motto.  Read what you like, when you like and be proud!

I'd like to thank Emily Burns from Constable & Robinson for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour and for sending a copy of The Paradise Guest House for review.

Follow Ellen on Twitter @EllenSussman.  More information can be found on her website here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Flappers by Judith Mackrell - Pan Macmillan Reading Group Panel

A change of direction for the Pan Macmillan Reading Group Panel this time.  We moved away from fiction and read Flappers by Judith Mackrell.

Judith Mackrell is the Guardian's dance critic and is the author of four other books, all non-fiction, and all based around dance.

Flappers, sub-titled 'Six Women of a Dangerous Generation' is a multi-biography.  Judith Mackrell follows six women from the 1920s who between them were the faces of this generation.

Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka were either adored or scorned by the public.  They were women who broke the mould, who dared to be different, to be independent and to be noticed.

I was instantly intrigued by the thought of reading about these six women, especially Diana Cooper as her family home; Belvoir Castle is not far away from where I live and I'd also recently read The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey which had aroused something of a fascination with the strange, almost dysfunctional Rutland family of Belvoir.   Judith Mackrell has cleverly interwoven the six separate stories by only allowing each women two chapters each.  Each has one chapter in the first half of the book, and one chapter each in the second.  I thought this was an excellent way of keeping the reader's interest in each of the women.

There is no doubt that these six women caused chaos and controversy everywhere that they went.  With the exception of Josephine Baker, each of them came from rich and privileged backgrounds and were able to use their contacts to achieve their aims of wealth, fame and, to some extent beauty.  Surrounding themselves with the beautiful people of the day, dancing in the fashionable clubs and wearing the highest fashions, these women broke boundaries.  Not for them, the stay-at-home, traditional female role, their aim was to shock, whether that meant taking drugs, lesbian love affairs, sleeping around or dancing naked in public.

Each woman, in their own way was damaged to some extent, and although Judith Mackrell has relayed documented facts in this book, her writing does not try to force an opinion upon the reader.  It becomes our choice as to whether we can forgive such awful behaviours because of things that may have happened to Zelda, or Diana, or Tallulah in the past.

Beneath the glamour and the excess, the tragedy and the fame, this is the story of how six women changed the world for a little while.  They were a new breed; daring and explicit and paved the way for women, especially in show-business and in art.  Regardless of what we may think of their behaviour, there is no doubt that they made being female more equal and probably easier for generations to come.

Judith Mackrell
The Pan Macmillan Reading Group Panel had a lively debate about this book.  We particularly found it interesting to compare and contrast the six women and their lifestyle to celebrities of today.  Comparisons ranged from Kerry Katona, to Katie Price to Courtney Love.  There were also the parallels to the 1960s and also to some extent the 1980s, with the money, the drugs and the complete hedonism of that decade.  Another comparison that would apply to the 1980s is the fact that the behaviours peaked before a Depression or Recession.  We wondered just how far women would have moved forward without the disruption of financial collapse.

We all agreed that we would recommend Flappers to reading groups, even if groups do not traditionally read non-fiction this is written in such a style that it could almost be fictional.  It most certainly isn't a dull list of times and dates, it's an entertaining and educating read.   Groups that have enjoyed books such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Suspicions of Mr Whicher would certainly enjoy this.
Our advance proof copies did not have any illustrations, but the Pan Macmillan assure us that the finished edition will include photos - all of us agreed that this is essential.  We all admitted to Googling pictures of the women whilst we were reading as Judith Mackrell's descriptions are so well written that as a reader you find yourself dying to look at real photos.

Diana Cooper                        Nancy Cunard                 Tallulah Bankhead

Zelda Fitzgerald                      Josephine Baker                   Tamara de Lempicka

Flappers is published in hardback by Pan Macmillan on 23 May 2013.

I'd like to say a huge thanks to Jodie Mullish who co-ordinates our Panel Group meetings so well, to Philippa McEwan, Publicity Director at Pan Macmillan for telling us more about how the book came to be. We were so lucky that Judith Mackrell came along to our meeting and discussed the book with us, it was fascinating to compare what we thought to what she had wanted to achieve - huge thanks to Judith.
As always, Sandy Mahal from The Reading Agency led our debate with some fascinating questions.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Cat Food and Human Biscuits!

A very very random couple of items popped through my letterbox at the end of last week.  On Thursday morning I opened a package to find an eight-pack of Kit Kat biscuits.  I had no idea where they had come from, but they were very welcome.  I found an email later that day to tell me that I'd won them through a prize draw - I don't remembering entering it though.

Last weekend, Martin and I went to York for his birthday and whilst we were there we visited the York's Chocolate Story - a fairly new attraction in the city.  It's really good fun, with a tour and interactive displays, and lots of chocolate tasters.  The Kit Kat is one of the most successful chocolate bars ever to come out York and was developed after consulting with local people who said they wanted a chocolate bar that they could take in their lunch box and eat a bit now and save some for later.  I must admit that I do love Kit Kats, but am not keen on all of the new flavours that are introduced.   We think that we've got some odd flavours here in the UK?   That's nothing compared to what's available in Japan!

Sweet Potato Kit Kat                               Soy Sauce Kit Kat                                              Apple Vinegar Kit Kat         

Oh, and then on Friday morning, the letterbox went again, this time it was food for Costa and Nero.  A trial pack of Sensations Sauce Surprise from Felix

Costa and Nero are possibly the fussiest cats I've ever come across and drive me to despair with their squeaking for food.  They start a new brand, lap it up for a day or so, only to turn their noses up at exactly the same food the very next day.  They loved this new food and lapped it up - how long will that last?

Nero and Costa                                 Felix Sensations

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Three Sets of Books to be Won - Alma Books

I read and reviewed Dancing To The Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin earlier this week.  The novel is published by Alma Books, you read my review here.

Dancing To The Flute is just one of Alma Books' recent publications from great contemporary writers.  To celebrate these publications, Alma Books have three sets of books to be won.  Each set is made up of a copy of the following books:

Dancing To The Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin
An unforgettable story of three young friends making their way in the world – told with warmth, music, clarity and simplicity: it speaks directly to the heart.

Abandoned as a young child, the street urchin Kalu has, against all odds, carved out a life for himself in rural India. One day, a travelling healer overhears Kalu playing a melody through a rolled-up banyan leaf and encourages him to build on his raw musical talent. This chance encounter will lead Kalu on an amazing voyage of self-discovery.

A colourful evocation of India and its people, Dancing to the Flute is a magical, heartwarming story of a country’s joys and sorrows, the nature of friendship and the astonishing transformative powers of music.

The Scent of Lemon Leaves by Clara Sanchez
Having left her job and boyfriend, thirty year old Sandra decides to stay in a village on the Costa Blanca in order to take stock of her life and find a new direction. She befriends Karin and Fredrik, an elderly Norwegian couple, who provide her with stimulating company and take the place of the grandparents she never had. However, when she meets Julián, a former concentration-camp inmate who has just returned to Europe from Argentina, she discovers that all is not what it seems and finds herself involved in a perilous quest for the truth.

As well as being a powerful account of self-discovery and an exploration of history and redemption, The Scent of Lemon Leaves is a sophisticated and nail-biting page-turner by one of Spain’s most accomplished authors.

The Art of Leaving by Anna Stothard
A haunting story about saying goodbye – showing that even freedom may have its cost after all

Leaving has always come naturally to Eva Elliott: the daughter of a pilot, she spent her childhood abandoning schools and cities. Now an adult, she enjoys the thrill of saying goodbye much more than the butterflies of a first smile or kiss. There’s so much more potential in walking away, and Eva has always had a dangerously vivid imagination.

During a rainy summer in Soho, when a golden eagle escapes London Zoo to prowl the city and a beguiling stranger begins appearing around town armed with a conspiratorial smile and a secret, Eva discovers that endings just aren’t as easy as they used to be. Is it a flirtation playing out amongst the crumbling offices, clubs and alleys of Soho, or something much darker? The line blurs in this haunting story about exits and departures…

The Girl Below by Bianca Zander
After ten years in New Zealand, Suki returns to London, to a city that won’t let her in. However, a chance visit with Peggy – an old family friend who still lives in the building where she grew up – convinces Suki that there is a way to reconnect with the life she left behind a decade earlier.

But the more involved she becomes with Peggy’s dysfunctional family, including Peggy’s wayward sixteen-year-old grandson, the more Suki finds herself mysteriously slipping back in time – to the night of a party her parents threw in their garden more than twenty years ago, when something happened in an old, long-unused air-raid shelter…

For details on how to win this fabulous prize, see below:

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Dancing To The Flute

Dancing To The Flute is Manisha Jolie Amin's debut novel and will be published in the UK by Alma Books in March 2013.

Told in four parts, the story is themed around the Indian raag (raag: a musical form or a composition in this form; the word 'raag' means 'mood').  The author has structured the story so that each part mimics each part of a raag; starting slowly and gathering pace as it progresses.

The reader is introduced to Kalu; a street-urchin with no family.  A little boy who lives on the streets of a small rural town in India.  Kalu spends his days running errands for the local shop-keepers and trying to find enough food to stop his belly from growling.   Kalu has two friends; Malti - a young girl who works for Ganga B and Bal, a boy who is even poorer than Kalu and was sold by his family and tends to the buffalo flock.
Kalu has a special talent.  He can make magical music from a flute that he fashions from the leaves of a tree.  It is this talent that gets him noticed by a travelling healer, and ultimately changes his life.

Dancing To The Flute is both evocative and colourful, the reader is transported to the small, busy, hot and dusty rural Indian town by the author's wonderfully descriptive writing.  The sounds, the smells, the heat are conveyed perfectly.  Each character is drawn with skill and compassion and soon become so familiar that they feel as though they are part of your family.

This is a story about finding a place in a world that can appear to be cruel and frightening, it's about finding trust again after being let down, and it's about the power of friendship.   Kalu's story is filled with hope, for himself and for his friends.  Despite Kalu's success, his two friends remain closest to his heart, and their troubles and their pain is felt as much by him as by them.  It is a journey of discovery for the three young friends, often tinged with sadness, but always with love.

Manisha Jolie Amin has brought to life not just the three main characters and the accompanying supporting cast, but also the area of rural India.   The story is beautifully written, unfolding slowly and gradually building up to become a very entertaining and enjoyable read.

Manisha Jolie Amin was born in Kenya and moved to Australia with her family when she was five.  Sydney is her home, although she travels frequently to both India and England to visit family. Manisha lives with her husband, son and cat.  Dancing To The Flute is her first novel.   For more information about Manisha take a look at her website at  
She also has a Twitter account here, and a Facebook page here

I'd like to thank Elisabetta Minervini from Alma Books for sending a copy for review.  For more information about Alma Books, take a look at their website at, or on Twitter here, and Facebook here

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier's seventh novel and is the first time that she has set one of her historical stories in the USA.    Although the heroine of the story; Honor Bright is most certainly English, the story takes place in Oberlin, Ohio.    It is 1850 and Honor and her sister Grace have emigrated to Ohio in the hope of making a new life.  Honor was heartbroken when her intended husband found an new love, and Grace is due to marry her fiance Adam Cox who has already started to make a new and successful life in America.  Honor and Grace are Quakers, and have been brought up in a modest community in Dorset.

Sadly, Honor arrives in Ohio alone as Grace dies from the Fever during the journey.  Relying on the goodwill of strangers, Honor makes her way to the small settlement of Oberlin to join Adam Cox and his recently bereaved sister-in-law Abigail.  It becomes clear to Honor that she is not truly welcomed by Abigail, and that Adam Cox finds the situation both awkward and difficult to deal with.   Honor marries a local man, Jack Haymaker and goes to live with him and his family.

Tracy Chevalier
Honor finds a true friend in milliner Belle, although her slave-catcher brother Donovan is not such an ally and displays a unhealthy amount of interest in this quiet and modest Quaker girl.   Through her friendship with Belle, Honor soon finds herself involved with the Underground Railroad - a network of people who were sympathetic to runaway slaves who were trying to find freedom in North America or Canada..  The Fugitive Slave Act had been passed and it was illegal to assist a runaway slave, there were heavy penalties to be paid if caught.   Quakers were anti-slavery and wanted to assist the runaways, but their moral dilemma was that to do so would be to break the laws of the land.   The Haymaker family forbid Honor to assist the runaways, and this is the start of the breakdown in their relationship.  Throughout these times, Honor finds some comfort in her quilt-making, she is a fine seamstress and putting together these small pieces of material bring her some peace and make memories for her.

Tracy Chevalier has captured the sense of 1850s Ohio so well, her descriptions of both the place and people really do jump from the page, from the intense heat, to the bitterly cold winters.  The food, the fashions and the small settlements are wonderfully drawn.

This is not a fast-moving story by any means, it is gently drawn out and each character is formed steadily.  Honor, although the lead character, is not the most interesting, she can sometimes appear holier-than-thou and often is portrayed as appearing superior to those around her.  Belle, the milliner, on the other hand is a strong, feisty character, a woman who is colourful and interesting with firm principles and morals.   Belle's slave-catcher brother Donovan is something of an enigma - on the one hand he is a cruel man, and every now and again, he shows a little vulnerability.

This is a powerful novel that is full of detail about the early days of America, about how things were changing and how ordinary people tried to change things for the good.  It is an interesting look at the way of life for Quakers as settlers in a new land.

Tracy Chevalier has a ease to her writing that captures the reader's imagination so well.  I have no doubt that existing fans of her novels will enjoy this story.

The Last Runaway is published in the UK on 14 March 2013 by Harper Collins.

For more information on this story and the background, and Tracy Chevalier's other books, check out her website here.   Her Facebook page can be found here, and her Twitter account here

Thursday, 7 March 2013

C&R Crime Launch Party & Giveaway of The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron

Publisher Constable and Robinson recently consolidated it's crime fiction into a single imprint; C&R Crime - with a new logo and it's own website at

C&R Crime launch included  the publication of The Circus, James Craig's fourth novel in the Inspector Carlyle series and The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron.

I was delighted to be invited to the C&R Crime launch party which was held on 28 February 2012 at The Gallery at the Crypt, St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square.

I travelled down to London by train early that evening and found my way to The Crypt which was a fantastic location for a Crime Party - wonderfully atmospheric, with dark nooks and crannies everywhere.

I really enjoyed the party and met up with some other book bloggers and publishers.  There were so many authors there, it was really lovely to hear MC Beaton give a speech - she's just about to publish her 106th novel - what an amazing lady.   I spotted Cath Staincliffe across the room, but was never able to actually get through the crush to say hello.  I did meet Quentin Bates - I'm a huge fan of his novels and it was great to meet him at last, after being Facebook friends for ages.  Poor man, I grilled him about the next book in his series.

I really enjoyed the evening and was delighted to come away with a lovely goodie bag full of exciting new releases from C&R Crime.

I'm really delighted to be able to offer a hard back copy of The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron - I reviewed it a while ago, and you can read my thoughts here.

It's really a fabulous read and I'm already looking forward to the next book in the series.   To be in with a chance of winning a copy of The Poacher's Son, please fill in the form below, the giveaway will be open for seven days.    


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Gorgeous George & the Zigzag Zit-faced Zombies by Stuart Reid

Hey, what a title!   My Little Big Town are the Hull publisher that produce the Tiny Twisted Tales series that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago (see what I thought here).   They also publish the Gorgeous George series by Stuart Reid and illustrated by Calvin Innes.   The Zigzag Zit-faced Zombies is follow up to Gorgeous George & The Giant Geriatric Generator.  I love these titles, in fact I really love these books!

Beware though, if you are a parent, do take a look through the stories before handing them over to your little ones to read.  This story has some pretty gross themes - there are loads and loads of bogies - described explicitly, enough to make your stomach turn over, but children will adore the writing - especially little boys.

Nose picking, zombies and lots and lots of bogies - all illustrated perfectly by Calvin Innes.  Stuart Reid has created a world that is stomach-churning at times, but so funny, so engaging and just perfect for slightly older children.

Gorgeous George has his own webpage, check it out at - you can find loads of information about the author, the books and all of the characters.

Stuart Reid does lots of school visits, a list of the schools that he is due to visit can be found on the website too.

You can like him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter

My thanks to Katy at My Little Big Town for introducing me to the world of Gorgeous George and the snot zombies!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Home Front by Kristin Hannah - a guest review

I'm really delighted to welcome a guest reviewer to Random Things today.   I've known Josie now for around six years or so, and although we've never actually met in the flesh, we are connected by our love of books.  We often love the same stories.  Josie started her lovely blog Jaffa Reads Too at around the same time as I started Random Things.   She is ably assisted in her blogging by the lovely Jaffa - famous in book circles as a very well-read cat.   Please take a little time to visit Josie and Jaffa's blog, you can find it here.

Josie and Jaffa - what a handsome pair!

Josie kindly agreed to review Home Front by Kirstin Hannah which was published by Pan Macmillan here in the UK in August 2012.

Here's what Josie and Jaffa thought of Home Front:

Jolene and Michael Zarkades seem to have everything, two beautiful girls, a lovely home and established careers, and as both of them take part in work they enjoy, they give the impression that they are content with their life together. However, bubbling under the surface are hidden tensions and disharmony, which once voiced cannot be unspoken. When Jolene is unexpectedly deployed to Iraq as part of her duties as a helicopter pilot, Michael is left to juggle, not only his career as a successful lawyer, but he must also learn how to hold his fragile family together in the most difficult of circumstances.
What then follows is an empathetic and perceptive look at military service and how it affects the lives of those who are left behind. The apprehension of those personnel who are fighting in a war zone is handled with great sensitivity, and yet what really shines throughout the narrative is the way in which the ‘ordinary’ lives of those who are left behind at home is altered beyond recognition.
Home Front is an incredibly emotional read, mostly the story doesn’t shy away from addressing the real issues of war, and even as the devastation caused by post traumatic stress is described as an ever present problem, there are also personal losses which must be analysed and forgiven. Kristin Hannah has a great capacity for recording the finer points of family life. She describes the overwhelming devastation suffered by families in the wake of unadulterated loss with great compassion, and yet it is in the minutiae of small details where the point is really rammed home, that war has the capacity to hurt and destroy even the most stable of families.
Overall, Home Front is a difficult book to enjoy, I sobbed through most of the last third of the book and to be honest I felt emotionally wrung out, not just by the story which was gut wrenching in places, but also because ultimately, the theme of grief, love and forgiveness shines through like a beacon of hope.

I'm so pleased that Josie enjoyed Home Front, her review really has whetted my appetite for the story.

Thanks so much Josie and Jaffa xx 

A Parachute In The Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary

Annemarie Neary was born in Northern Ireland, educated at Trinity College, Dublin and now lives in London.  A Parachute in the Lime Tree was published in 2012 by The History Press Ireland, and is her first novel.

During World War II, Ireland remained neutral and the war was referred to as the 'Emergency'.  The story of A Parachute in the Lime Tree is set during the days after the blitz of Belfast.  The four main characters of the story are: Oskar whose parachute becomes caught up in the lime tree; Kitty who discovers Oskar; there is Elsa who is Oskar's sweetheart and has fled to Ireland, and Charlie, a medical student.

Annemarie Neary's beautifully written novel brings each of these characters to life, their lives and their stories effortlessly interweave together and the novel gives a fascinating insight into life in Ireland during the war.  Although primarily set in Ireland, the story really starts in Berlin where the reader is introduced to Oskar and his family, and where his love for Elsa is made plain.

Each character has their own unique voice, and their own opinions about the war.  This adds much to the storyline, creating some interesting perspectives within the storyline and going some way to explain the character's behaviours.

Annemarie Neary

In a nutshell, A Parachute In The Lime Tree is a very accomplished, very enjoyable and very perceptive debut novel.   It is a story of hope and love and is neither predictable or formulaic, but is quite unique and may leave the reader with a lump in the throat.

I was delighted to receive a copy of The Parachute in the Lime Tree from the author, and send her every good wish for the continued success of the novel.  I will look forward to reading more from Annemarie Neary in the future.

To find out more about Annemarie Neary, and her writing, check out her website here.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Love In The Afternoon and other delights by Penny Vincenzi

Fans of Penny Vincenzi's novels will know that she usually serves up huge, sweeping stories that span generations and are usually at least 600 pages long, and often around the 800 page mark.  I adore her novels, they are the absolute perfect escape from daily life and usually feature glamour and glitz.  I got a surprise when her latest book, Love In The Afternoon and other delights dropped through my letter box a couple of weeks ago.   As always, the cover is beautiful, it's pure Vincenzi, but it's so slim!  Just under 200 pages.

Love In The Afternoon was published by Headline on 14 February 2013 and is a collection of ten short stories, some articles about life in general and then, at the back, a glimpse of her new novel.    I have something of love/hate relationship with short stories.  When they are done well, I love them, but must admit that generally I tend to feel a little let down by them.  I wondered just how Penny Vincenzi would fare, a short story is a long way from her trademark lengthy novels and she acknowledges in her Introduction how difficult it can be to write a successful short story.

In my view, Penny Vincenzi really has no need to worry.  Unlike other collections of short stories, there were none of these that I wanted to skip, none of them that I didn't enjoy and each one was a satisfying read.  I really love Vincenzi's world - she always creates characters that seem so realistic, even if they tend to live in a world of glamour and beauty and luxury.  These stories are all themed around love, but are not all romantic.  They explore every emotion that can be associated with a love affair, from jealousy to lies to passion and as the title of the collection indicates, they really are a delight to read.

There are ten short stories in all which are followed by a collection of Vincenzi's articles and snippets all about life.  There is her opinion of motherhood and how it can change a marriage; what she thought of the 1980s, and a really lovely insight into what it was like to work for Marje Proops.   And then, to really tantalise the tastebuds, included right at the end of the book, is the first chapter of her next novel.

Penny Vincenzi

I enjoyed every one of the stories, and the articles and despite my initial reservations, I was not disppointed in the least by this book, in fact I'd really love to read more of Vincenzi's short stories.

Spend a very pleasurable few hours reading this book, I don't think you will be disappointed.

My thanks go to Georgina Moore, Publicity Director of Headline Books for sending a copy for review.

Find out more about Penny Vincenzi at her website here, her Facebook page is here and her Twitter account can be followed here

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Foodie Penpals - February 2013 Reveal Day

My Foodie Penpal parcel is one of the most anticipated items to come through the letter box every month.  I get really excited wondering what delights will be inside the box this month.   I get equally excited when I'm shopping for items to send to my penpal.  This month, I sent a box of goodies to Alex who lives in Portugal and blogs at Trending Recipes - if you'd like to see what I sent to Portugal, check out the blog post here.

My sender this month was Vicki who lives in Somerset.  Vicki emailed me a couple of weeks ago to see if there was anything I particularly liked or disliked, she obviously took on board my reply, as everything inside of her parcel was just perfect.

So, what did I get this month?

A bottle of Cider, anyone who knows me well will know that my tipple of choice is cider.  I'm not a big drinker but I do love a glass of Cider, and Somerset Cider is amongst the best.  This is a bottle of Reveller from Orchard Pig.  The bottle design is really retro and quirky.

Chedder Cheese.  Oh how I love cheese, one of my biggest guilty pleasures.  Vicki sent a block of mature Chedder made by Greens of Glastonbury which are based near to where Vicki lives.

And to go with the chedder .....  a jar of home-made green tomato chutney, made by Vicki herself, and to serve with those?   A box of Bath Water Biscuits made by the Fine Cheese Company.  This really is my perfect snack - usually a late night indulgence.  I'm really looking forward to sampling these.

Vicki also included a sweet treat, and one that I've not come across before.  A 9 Bar, Vicki says that she loves these.  It's a wholefood seed bar with a chocolate flavour covering.  I think this will be perfect for my morning coffee break when I'm working.

And finally, another item that is home-made by Vicki and that I've not come across before.  It's a traditional middle eastern dip called DUKKAH, Vicki made it by toasting cumin, coriander, sesame seeds and hazelnuts.  It can be used as a seasoning or to dip bread in after dipping in oil first.  It smells divine, I've just put it into a jar and am going to buy some speciality bread tomorrow and give it a try.

Thanks so much to Vicki for such a well thought out parcel, full of some great products.  I'm really going to enjoy these.   If you'd like to join the Foodie Penpal programme, check out the joining instructions here.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Way back in 2005, I read Jodi Picoult's The Pact and was really blown away by the story, and her writing.  I then went on to read all of her back catalogue within the next year, and wait (in)patiently for her new releases.

Jodi Picoult fans will be familiar with her themes of court-room drama and moral dilemmas, she really is a master in this genre, never quite spelling out the ending, and always leaving the ultimate decision about what happens for the reader to decide.

The Storyteller is published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton at the end of March in the UK and is a step in a different direction for Picoult.  Whilst still concentrating on moral issues, the court-room drama is missing this time.  However, this really doesn't matter, for this novel concentrates on one of the most distressing and atrocious periods in the history of man - the Holocaust during World War II

The reader is gently introduced to Sage Singer in part one of the novel.  Sage is a lonely girl, badly scarred from a car accident, grieving badly for her Mother who died three years ago and in love with a man who is married to someone else.  Sage hides herself away from the world, working nights in a Bakery - replicating the bread recipes handed down from her Father, speaking only to her co-workers and the other members of the grief group that she attends.   It is at the grief group that Sage meets Josef; a well-loved member of the local community, now in his nineties and missing his wife who died some time ago.  Josef doesn't judge Sage by the scars on her face and appears uninterested in them, they soon form a close friendship, with Sage visiting Josef in his home.

The Storyteller seems at first a gentle, easy to read, well thought out story - with characters that are realistic, if  a little flawed, and at times a little annoying.  Then - Wham!, Josef drops his bombshell.  He wants Sage to help him to die, he confesses to having been an SS Officer during the war, and claims that he has murdered many Jews whilst working in the concentration camps.   Sage's family is Jewish, her Grandmother Minka is an Auschwitz survivor, although she has never spoken about her time there.

Sage struggles with Josef's confession, she is horrified that her friend could be a mass-murderer and makes contact with Leo Stein from the Department of Justice.  Leo has spent his working life tracking down Nazi war criminals.

Part Two of the novel tells Minka's story, from her happy childhood with loving parents to the horrors of being persecuted by Nazi officers - first in the ghettos of the town in which she lived, and then in the concentration camps.   Reading Minka's story is harrrowing, and painful, and emotionally draining.  The depth of Jodi Picoult's research shines through in her descriptive writing and nothing is covered up or hidden.  The experiences, the conditions, the smells, the sounds are all perfectly portrayed and I defy anyone to read Minka's story all the way through without having to take a break.  The language is so emotive and the scenes conjured up are so realistic that my breath was taken away on more than one occasion.

Threaded through the whole novel is another story - one of beasts and creatures that can tear a human from limb to limb and features a young girl who works in a bakery.   This story was written by Minka and at first it seems to be just a fairy-story, not until later, does the reader realise that in fact, this too is Minka's story and how she dealt with the horrors that were around her on a daily basis.

The final part of the story concentrates on Sage, and her dilemma about what to do about Josef.  Leo Stein is sure about what should be done, but Sage struggles so much with Josef's confession.  Once more, the ending of the novel allows the reader to debate internally whether the conclusion was the right ending - and makes one ask oneself 'What would I have done?'

Jodi Picoult

I would be wrong to say that I 'enjoyed' The Storyteller, the subject matter is too harrowing to be classed as enjoyable.  However, I am so very very glad that I've read it - it made a huge impact on me.  There is a lot of fiction that concentrates on World War II, and the horrors of the concentration camps, but this story really is incredible.   Jodi Picoult creates voices that really do speak to the reader, and characters that are not conventional, yet could be our neighbour.

The Storyteller is haunting and raises so many questions.  The writing, the sense of place and the characterisation is superb.   It is an immense story and I'd recommend it highly.

Jodi Picoult will be touring the UK during March and April 2013, to speak about The Storyteller - details of the events can be found here