Friday, 23 May 2014

A Summer To Remember by Victoria Connelly

Nina Elliot is tired of her life. She’s not sure how it happened but, somewhere along the way, she lost track of where it was all going. 
So one fateful day, she makes a brave decision: she’s going to leave it all behind. Taking a job deep in the English countryside, Nina does just that. Ensconced at the Old Mill, she settles into daily life with the Milton family, where she works as a researcher for author Dudley. 
With endless summer days stretching out ahead of her, Nina couldn’t be happier. But her quiet life is soon interrupted when the handsome Milton boys return home – for they plan to make sure this really is a summer to remember…

A Summer to Remember by Victoria Connelly is published by Avon Books on 5 June 2014.

This is Victoria Connelly's ninth novel. She has also written five books in the Austen Addicts series, and somehow, her books have passed me by before now.

A Summer to Remember is a perfect Summer read. Full of glorious sunshine, beautiful countryside, a rogue or two, and a couple of heroes - it was made for reading by the pool, or in the garden in the sunshine.

Nina has taken the plunge at last. Sick to death of being reduced to a hiccuping wreck by her boss and feeling totally unloved by her long term partner, she's given both of them the boot. She's not sure what she will do next, but whatever it is, it will be on her terms. She's going to leave the damp, dark flat she's currently renting too.

When Nina bumps into Olivia Milton at the local supermarket, it seems that her luck may be changing. Ten years ago Nina babysat Olivia's two youngest sons.  Dudley; Olivia's husband is writing a novel and is in dire need of a secretary. Nina always loved the Miltons, and their warm and welcoming home at the Old Mill. This really could be the answer to her prayers.

The long hot summer is ahead of Nina, she buckles down and starts trying to organise the chaos that is Dudley's study. She's also given the task of walking Ziggy; the Milton's untrained, totally bonkers Labradoodle - dealing with Dudley's fierce temper is easy compared to trying to keep Ziggy under control.

And then there are the two Milton boys. Now grown into handsome men; Dominic and Alex compete for Nina's attention, confusing her and making her wonder whether she ought to leave.

There are some great characters in A Summer to Remember. I love Dudley and his tentative experiments with the world wide web. There's Freya, the gardener, who yearns for a glance or a kind word from Dominic. Arrogant Alex, and dreamy Dominic, and Nina herself - wonderfully formed, realistic, but a little bit daft now and again.

Oh, and Justin ........... who is Justin?   Read it and see, I'm saying no more!

A really easy to read, happy, summery novel. Full of fun and joyful characters. There's no great passion, just a gentle, but well put together romance in a setting that will make you yearn for long summer days and sultry evenings.

My thanks to Olivia Wilson who sent my copy on behalf of the publisher.

Victoria Connelly was brought up in Norfolk and studied English literature at Worcester University before becoming a teacher in North Yorkshire. 
After getting married in a medieval castle and living in London for eleven years, she moved to rural Suffolk with her artist husband and ever-increasing family of animals. She has had three novels published in Germany – the first of which was made into a film. 

To find out more about Victoria Connelly please visit and her Facebook page    
Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaDarcy

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cold Steal by Quentin Bates

A successful housebreaker who leaves no traces and no clues as he strips Reykjavík homes of their valuables has been a thorn in the police's side for months. 
But when one night the thief breaks into the wrong house, he finds himself caught in a trap as the stakes are raised far beyond anything he could have imagined. 
Gunnhildur Gísladóttir of the Reykjavík police finds herself frustrated at every turn as she searches for a victim who has vanished from the scene of the crime, and wonders if it could be linked to the murders of two businessmen with dubious reputations that her bosses are warning her to keep clear of.

Cold Steal by Quentin Bates was published by Constable & Robinson on 1 May 2014.  Cold Steal is the fourth in the Officer Gunnhilder series, I reviewed the previous three books here on Random Things; Frozen Out - January 2011; Cold Comfort - April 2012 and Chilled To The Bone - April 2013.

Officer Gunnhilder Gisladottir, or Gunna as she is affectionately known, finds herself in the midst of yet another murder mystery.  A businessman has been shot dead, and Gunna must investigate his affairs. In doing that she also has to track down a very successful and as yet, unidentified housebreaker who has been on the Police radar for some time now.

Quentin Bates has yet again delivered a complex, well-written story that is as intriguing as it is exciting. Gunna's character develops more with each new episode of her story, and the reader learns more about her and her family, as well as following her through an incredibly difficult case. I like Gunna as a heroine. She's down-to-earth, sometimes very funny, intelligent and witty. She has a family problems and she has a difficult job, but she's always real. 

I was particularly interested in the inclusion of characters from Iceland's immigrant population, giving a different take on life in the country as they have to deal with language and culture that is not their own.

This is an intelligently written, complex thriller. Gritty and violent at times and of course those almost impossible to read and pronounce Icelandic names that have become a trademark of this series.

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

Although born in the UK in 1962, through a series of coincidences Quentin Bates found himself working in Iceland in his gap year. The gap year then became 10 years, during which time he managed to get himself married, produce a family, and generally go native in Iceland. The family then moved back to the UK in 1990 where Quentin became a full-time journalist on a commercial fishing magazine. Frozen Assets was born through the author's own inside knowledge of Iceland and its society, along with exploring the world of crime. He and his (Icelandic) wife frequently return to Iceland, where they have many friends, including several in the Reykjavik police. 

For more information visit his website at or his Facebook page
Follow him on Twitter @graskeggur

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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Twin Truths by Shelan Rodger

Jenny and Pippa are twins. 
Like many twins they often know what the other is thinking. They complete each other. When one of them disappears, the woman who is left behind must rebuild her life alone as she tries to find out what happened to her soul mate.
Her journey of discovery takes her to Argentina, Brazil, Greece and the UK. The truths she discovers about herself, her sister, their mother and their absent father are profound and deeply shocking ...

Twin Truths by Shelan Rodger is published by Cutting Edge Press in June 2014.

Truths. What is the truth? How do you know if the story you are being told is the truth? Maybe the person who is telling the story thinks it is the truth. Maybe they know that it isn't.

The reader meets Jenny, one of a pair of identical twins, in Argentina where she teaches English. Jenny tells many variations of the truth, depending on who she is talking to, and how much she wants to shock them. Jenny is in therapy, we are not sure why at first, and we certainly don't know if she is telling the truth. She soon ensures that her therapist becomes part of her life in a way that he never intended, but like most people around Jenny, he seems to fall for her stories.

Something bad happened to Jenny, something bad that involved her twin Pippa and when we meet Pippa, we hear her truth. Identical twins, but identical truths? Wait and see!

That's all I can say about the characters and the plot, any more and I'd tell too much.  Twin Truths is a complex, challenging and at times, difficult read. It is a story that examines relationships, devastation, loss and connections, it explores the bond between siblings and most importantly, between twins. That seemingly unbreakable connection that threads itself through everything that these women do.

Shelan Rodger is an author who conjures up evocative pictures with very few words, but each word is carefully chosen to form passages that are quite beautiful.

Twin Truths is a novel that will divide readers. It's difficult, yet satisfying.  A novel that sort of wraps itself around you and doesn't let go until the very last word.

A huge thanks to Hatty from Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review.

Shelan's life is a patchwork of different cultures. Born in Nigeria, she grew up among the Tiwi, an aboriginal community in Australia, and moved to England at the age of eleven.
After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina, where she spent nine years teaching and setting up a language school. 
Another chapter in England was followed by six years in Kenya, where she got involved in learning and development, with an emphasis on anti-discrimination. 
She now lives in Spain, working in international education - and writing.
Follow her on Twitter @ShelanRodger

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J B Morrison

Frank Derrick is eighty-one. And he's just been run over by a milk float. 
It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active. But now he's broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. Frank lives with his cat Bill (which made more sense before Ben died) in the typically British town of Fullwind-on-Sea. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid cold callers continually knocking on his door. 
Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank's extra ordinary life. She reminds him that there is a world beyond the four walls of his flat and that adventures, however small, come to people of all ages. 
Frank and Kelly's story is sad and funny, moving, familiar, uplifting. It is a small and perfect look at a life neither remarkable nor disastrous, but completely extraordinary nonetheless. 

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Aged 81 by J B Morrison is published by Pan Macmillan on 5 June 2014.

A first floor flat with possibly the only steps in the village. Tinned spaghetti, junk mail, cold-callers, charity shop pens and a cat called Bill. Those are the things that make up Frank's life. He does venture out; to Fullwind Food & Wine,  where he stocks up on spaghetti and cat food, the local charity shop to add to his collection of china animals and  DVDs, and on the bus to the big Sainsburys. Frank never actually gets as far as Sainsburys though, he gets off at Greyflick House and visits his friend; ex punk and star of the picture postcard Smelly John.

Frank is a widower, his wife Sheila died some time ago. His only daughter, Beth, lives in America with her husband and daughter. Frank's days are long, starting when he hears the first plane of the morning fly over the village, and ending as darkness falls again. Frank doesn't do much during the day, although he makes sure that he know what the date is.

A nasty incident with a milk float leaves Frank in need of a little extra care. Despite his determination that no 'Robin Williams in a dress' is going to start giving him a bath, his world is soon turned upside down by Kelly Christmas.  Kelly has a very straight fringe, is unable to park her little blue car and somehow gets herself right under his skin. In fact Frank doesn't know what he's going to do when he's better, and Kelly will no longer visit. And so, Frank embarks on a scheme to raise the funds to pay Kelly himself.

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Aged 81 had me laughing out loud so many times. It's one of those books with some great one-liners and I found myself reading these out to my husband all the way through the book. The novel raises some really interesting questions and also reminded me of things that I've often pondered myself. Why do we assume that everyone in a retirement home wants to listen to 1940s sing-a-long songs? Will we suddenly stop listening to the music we love as middle-aged people and turn to the music of our own grandparents?  As someone who has been to see both The Who and Black Sabbath, live in concert this year, and looked around the audience, and noted the age of the majority of the fans; I'm hoping that I'll spend my retirement years still blasting out a bit of AC/DC and some old-school punk.

Frank's story is not only very funny, it's touching and warm too. J B Morrison has a way with words that draws the reader in so completely, and Frank becomes the centre of your world. With characters that are perfectly formed, such as the wonderful Smelly John, and the obnoxious Albert Flowers, this is a moving and uplifting tale that made me laugh and also made me feel a little sad.

The cover blurb compares this to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, unlike most people, I really didn't like Harold Fry. I found it overly sweet and a little too 'moral' for me. Give me Frank Derrick any day - he's really more my kind of guy.

Huge thanks to Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Born in London ages ago to his two parents, Frank and Jenny, J.B. Morrison is a musician and already the author of two novels -Storage Stories and Driving Jarvis HamGoodnight Jim Bob is an autobiographical account of his ten years as singer with punk-pop band Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. That was when he was called Jim Bob. Like in The Waltons. With Carter USM Jim Bob had 14 top 40 singles and a number one album. He played all over the world, headlined Glastonbury and was sued by The Rolling Stones. He’s also made a ton of solo albums and written the screenplay for a film. Plus he was in a musical, in 2010 at the Edinburgh Fringe. Is there no end to his talents? Yes. Everything not mentioned here. Don't ask him to put up a shelf or cook you dinner. The shelf will fall off the wall and you won't like the food. J.B. Morrison has just finished his third novel.

For more information about the author, visit the website
On Twitter @mrjimbob   and   @Mr JBMorrison

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Monday, 19 May 2014

Lincolnshire Foods ~ King's Garden Gourmet Kitchen

One of the best things about living in Lincolnshire is the food.   Lincolnshire has been voted the UK's Foodie Capital  and it's not just all about sausages!

From cheese, to award-winning pork products, Lincolnshire has it all. The local council do a great job in promoting the county's food producers too, producing a magazine and  dedicated websites Love Food Lincs and Select Lincolnshire.

Members of Love Food Lincs are awarded the Select Lincolnshire badge, and if you see that logo on any
products, or in a local cafe or restaurant you can be sure that you are going to get some great quality food.

Last week, I received a box of samples from King's Garden Gourmet Kitchen, based in Grantham, Lincolnshire.

King's Garden produce a versatile range of dressings and marinades. The range can be used for dipping, glazing, stir frying, roasting .....  the possibilities are endless.   The products can be traced right back to the seed (all the main ingredients are sourced within 10 miles, from local farmers).  King's Garden have a strong relationship with the farm shops and delis/cafes that sell their range - they are not just a business, they really are foodies who care.

Each product is hand made and hand bottled without a preservative or additive in sight, they even hand zest the oranges!

Their products are vibrant, versatile and free from colourings, flavourings and preservatives. Products have a 12 month shelf life and is best stored in an ambient temperature.
Not only do these taste fabulous, but they are healthier and safer too. High in omega 3, 6 & 9, vitamin E, and containing half the saturated fat of other oils, plus it can be used up to 220 degrees C, so really safe to cook with.

Just a few ideas of how to use the products:

  • salad dressing
  • stir frying
  • glazing
  • dipping
  • cooking sauce 
  • marinade
There are eight different flavours to try; Original, Caraway, Chilli, Garlic, Lemon, Orange & Ginger, Raspberry & Mint, Balsamic.   The Orange & Ginger flavour was the winner of a Great Taste Award in 2013.

New to King's Garden this is a range of nut free and dairy free Pesto sauces; Original, Garlic and Chilli.

Over the past few days, I've been trying out these really lovely products, and they really are so versatile. I especially enjoyed the Balsamic as a salad dressing and used the Lemon as a glaze for my chicken souvlaki - they are delicious.  Subtle, not overpowering at all, and add an extra zing to the dishes.

The Balsamic is a 10 year old oak aged Modena vinegar with no added caramel (unlike the majority of Balsamic dressings). This keeps the product the original dark colour and gives an amazing taste.  The Balsamic has been entered into the Great Taste Awards 2014 - good luck!

The Lemon is very summery and fresh and bursts lemon flavour.  It's really well balanced with a gentle flavour.

I was really impressed by the Pesto too, it's so fresh and colourful looking, and unlike some bottled Pesto it's thick and not in the least watery.  I made a really simple dish with the Garlic Pesto.  I roasted some veggies, then put some of the Pesto underneath the skin of chicken leg pieces, popped them on top of the vegetables and roasted them all together - and for a little extra flavour I drizzled some of the garlic marinade over the chicken as it cooked.   It was just delicious.  

All of the Pestos are nut free, cheese free and rennet free, making them suitable for vegetarians and anyone who has a nut or dairy allergy.  I don't think there is another Pesto that is free from both.  The Garlic Pesto is not overpowering at all, and again this one has been entered into the 2014 Great Taste Award - it really deserves to win!

I'm so looking forward to trying out the rest of my samples.  If my first experiments are anything to go by, I'm in for a real treat.

A few ideas that I have up my sleeve for the products are:

  • Garlic - marinade chicken, cook, slice and wrap with a salad
  • Chilli - glaze sausages and grill
  • Original - mix with cous cous
  • Lemon - with salad and fish
  • Orange & Ginger - pour over gammon and grill, or stir fry pork
  • Caraway - pour over vegetables and roast
  • Raspberry & Mint - with roast lamb
  • Balsamic - glaze a salmon fillet
The whole range is stocked countrywide, not just in Lincolnshire - lucky you!   

Check out the King's Garden website at to find out more about the products and where you can buy them locally.

King's Garden also have a Facebook page, and you can follow them on Twitter @KingsGardenInfo

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Soldiers' Wives by Fiona Field

This page-turning soap opera interweaves the stories of three women trying to get to grips with military life. 

Chrissie, orphaned young, finds solace in her career as a medic in the regiment, but will love for a married man prove her undoing? 

Maddy, a brilliant Oxford graduate, is bogged down with a fretful baby and a super-ambitious officer husband. Will she be able to stand life as a regimental wife? 

And Jenna - glamorous, bad girl Jenna, who doesn't believe in rules and regulations. Will she destroy her husband's career? Or will it destroy her?

Soldiers'Wives by Fiona Field is published by Head of Zeus in paperback on 22 May 2014.

Three women, very different women, who find themselvs flung together because of the Army. Each of these women play their own individual role in Soldiers' Wives; a story that reveals the intricacies of living in a military community.

Chrissie is dedicated to her career in the Army, she's training to be a medic and takes it very seriously. Determined to stay fit and active, and to be a success, she tries her best to fight her feelings for a man who is really out of bounds.

Maddy is struggling.  Struggling with life in a new posting, with a new baby, and with the expectations that come from being married to an officer. Maddy really feels as though her own life and career have been forgotten, are of no relevance and no importance and that her main role is to be the model, supportive officer's wife.

And finally; Jenna.  Jenna has her own agenda. She refuses to conform to expectations, she is strong-willed and determined, but can't see the danger that lies ahead.

Soldiers' Wives is an easy to read, often funny and very human look at life on the patch. The author spent time in the Army herself, was married to a soldier and her son has served in Afghanistan. Her inside knowledge shines through in her writing, creating a totally believable and intriguing insight into what Army life is like for the women who serve, or are there because of marriage.

The three characters are cleverly created, with each of them giving a different perspective of the often stifling and claustrophobic way of life. Whilst the story centres around the military life, the three lead women clearly still have worries, concerns and feelings that every wife, mother and lover has, whether in the military or not, and it is this that makes the book so accessible to all readers. Despite the use of Army slang, Solidiers' Wives is a story with themes that are familiar to all.

Well paced, great characters, some fabulous dialogue; Soldiers' Wives is an enjoyable read. The author brings the camp to life.

My thanks to Becky from Head of Zeus who sent my copy for review.

Fiona Field joined the army at eighteen, married a bomb disposal expert at twenty-one and then, at twenty-six, got thrown out for getting pregnant.
Her youngest child is a soldier just returned from Afghanistan.
She began writing a column for army wives magazine and is now a full time novelist.
Follow her on Twitter @fiona_field

For more information about Head of Zeus, visit the website
Follow on Twitter @HoZ_Books

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Friday, 16 May 2014

The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman

In The Unwitting betrayal comes in many forms.
At the height of the Cold War, words are weapons and secrecy reigns. These are challenging times to be a writer and a wife, as Nell Benjamin knows only too well.
One bright November day in 1963, the dazzling young president arrives in Texas and Nell receives a phonecall that overturns the world as she knows it. In the shocking aftermath, whilst America mourns, Nell must come to terms with both a tragedy and a betrayal that shatters every illusion of the man she thought she knew better than anyone else.
Resonant, illuminating and utterly absorbing, The Unwitting is about the lies we tell, the secrets we keep and the power of both truth and love.

The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman was published in the UK on 8 May 2014 by Picador (Pan Macmillan).

Set during the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s; The Unwitting is the story of Charlie and Nell Benjamin, both are successful in their respective careers. Charlie is a magazine publisher, and Nell is a writer.

The story opens on the day that President John F Kennedy is assassinated whilst visiting Dallas, this tragic event shocked the world, but for Nell it changed everything. Her world is shattered by the betrayal that she uncovers. She believed in her marriage, in her husband. She thought she knew everything about him, and about their life.

The story skips back to the time when Nell and Charlie met and fell in love. They are both complex characters, a little out of the ordinary, with strong beliefs that keep their relationship vibrant. Along with their numerous friends and associates, they find themselves caught up in the paranoia and moral questions that make up the Cold War. McCarthyism, JFK, protest marches and questionable media reports are examined in detail within the story, the research is impeccable and the attention to detail can be challenging at times, but portrays the tensions of those times perfectly.

The Unwitting appears to be a curious title for a novel, but it soon becomes clear that there are many who were unwitting during these times, and so the title becomes as clever as the rest of the story.

There is a delicacy about Ellen Feldman's writing that is quite intriguing, the focus of the story is politically charged world-changing events, yet the overwhelming feeling is that of the love story, of the personal betrayals and the incredible hurt.

An evocative and compelling read from an author who writes beautifully and creates characters who the reader can believe it.

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

Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and Next To Love.

She lives in New York City with her husband.

For more information about the author, visit her website

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Thursday, 15 May 2014

A Flash of Lightning by Tony Drury

Jessica agrees with her mother; it's time she had a baby. She's given up looking for the right father.   
City financier; Matthew, has raised £6 million to make a film. Now it's gone missing and his neck is on the line. 
Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Rudd has learned that there are terrorists planning to murder 400 people. She doesn't know where or how and now her brilliant career is threatened.   
Will DCI Rudd uncover the terrorist plot in time to save the nation? 
Who has taken the film money? 
Will Matthew find the love of his life and a new mother for his daughter? 
And why is The Great Train Robbery on everybody's mind?

A Flash of Lightning was published by City Fiction on 21 November 2013 and is Tony Drury's fourth novel.

This is really two modern-day stories featuring Matthew, a high-flying financier, working in the City and Jessica who is in her late-thirties, works in a bank and knows that it's time to have a baby. The second couple are DCI Sarah Rudd and her husband Nick - and both stories run alongside narrative that goes back to 1963 and tells of the Great Train Robbery.

A Flash of Lightning is packed with action, and detail. From the wheeling and dealing of the City money houses, to the intricacies of a terror plot; the detail is precise and maybe just a little too much at times. Whilst I appreciate that the author wanted to make his story as authentic as possible, there were a couple of times during the story where I would have preferred a little more plot action than background information.

However, this is still an easy read, and the romance threaded throughout is welcome and softens the story somewhat, although Matthew and Jessica's idea of romance can sometimes be questionable!

I especially enjoyed the snapshots that went back to the 1960s, and followed the plot of the Great Train Robbery, this adds a touch of intrigue to the story as the reader wonders how and why this is connected to the main story - all becomes clear towards the end, and is cleverly done.

I enjoyed A Flash of Lightning. Tony Drury writes well and has an authentic voice. Personally, I could do without quite so much detailed explanation about finance deals, but many readers will appreciate this as an added dimension to the story.

My thanks to Cathy Wright from City Fiction who sent my copy for review.

Tony is a corporate financier based in the City of London, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers and a Member of the Securities Institute. He has written extensively over the years and is particularly well known for his financial and political books. He blogs weekly for - both in his name and that of his alter ego, Mr. Angry.
He decided to pursue his love for fictional novels by becoming a Romantic Thriller Writer and in May 2012 released his first book 'Megan's Game' which is being released as 'Megan's Game' - The Film. Due for cinema release in 2016.
Tony is also notching up a few credits;
He is a fully elected member of the Romantic Novelists' Association. His second novel 'The Deal' was published in October 2012 and was included in the goody bags given out at the Cosmopolitan Magazine's Ultimate Woman of the Year Award in 2012.
He is also the author of six financial books and in 1998-2006 he built St. Helen's Capital into the most successful PLUS Markets corporate advisory business. In 2004, he raised funds to get Quercus, the publisher of Stieg Larsonn's trilogy 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' off the ground.
Tony has since gone to write 'The Deal', 'Cholesterol', 'A Flash Of Lightning' and 'The Lady Who Turned' is scheduled for a summer release.

For more information about the author, visit his website
Visit his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter @mrtonydrury

More information about City Fiction can be found at

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

On 22 November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas, wearing a pink suit that was one of his favourites. But as Jackie was greeted by ecstatic crowds that sunny morning, nobody could have dreamt just how iconic the suit would soon become. 
In The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby has written a novel imagining the life of the garment that became emblematic of the moment the American Dream turned to ashes. Kate is an Irish seamstress working in the back room at Chez Ninon, an exclusive Manhattan atelier entrusted with creating much of Jackie's wardrobe. 
Kate and the First Lady share roots in rural Ireland, and although their lives could not be more different, Kate honours their connection by using the muslin toiles for each piece she sews for Mrs Kennedy to fashion an identical garment - in a different fabric - for her own niece. 
Then comes the terrible day that pictures of Kate's handiwork, splashed with the president's blood, are beamed all over the world.  
The Pink Suit is a fascinating novel about politics, fashion, history and the people who have a hand in it - from the backrooms of a Manhattan dressmaker's to the Blue Room at the White House.

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is published in the UK by Virago (Little Brown) in hardback on 5 June 2014.

The story opens with one of the most memorable events of the last century. That day in Dallas, November 1963 when the assassination of President John F Kennedy shocked the world. Described almost in slow motion, this passage is a powerful introduction to The Pink Suit.

As America, the world and the First Lady try to come to terms with what has happened, the iconic pink suit that Jackie Kennedy was wearing that day is whisked away.  It was never cleaned, it lays in the National Archives still splattered with her husband's blood.

Kate is an Irish immigrant, she works in the back-room of a New York couture house; designing and cutting clothes for the wealthy. Kate never meets the customers, but she feels that she knows them intimately by the clothes that she lovingly creates for them. Kate made that pink suit, copied from a Chanel design, exactly as the 'Wife' asked.

This is Kate's story and is based on fact, and although her story is interesting, for me, the strongest aspect of the story was when the author tells about the fashions. Her descriptive writing is beautiful and conjures up the colours and the feel of the fabric so well.  Kate's story fits in nicely and does give a snapshot of life in the fashion business in the 60s, but is overshadowed by the beauty of the clothes she creates.

Overall, I did enjoy The Pink Suit. It's a quick and easy read featuring an icon of our times. My main niggle is that the author did not use the Kennedy's names throughout the story. Jackie remains the Wife throughout and this really began to irritate me.

The Pink Suit is a unique and interesting look at life in a world dominated by one family, one murder and one item of clothing.

My thanks to Emily Burns from Virago (Little Brown) who sent my copy for review.

Nicole Mary Kelby is the critically acclaimed author of four previous novels, including White Truffles in Winter. She lives in St Paul Minnesota and will be spending a year as an International Writer in Ireland in 2014 at the Sirius Arts Centre and teaching at University College Cork.

For more information, visit her website  Follow her on Twitter @nmkelby and check out her Facebook page.

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Monday, 12 May 2014

The Book of You by Claire Kendal

Clarissa is becoming more and more frightened of her colleague, Rafe. 
He won’t leave her alone, and he refuses to take no for an answer. 
He is always there. 
Being selected for jury service is a relief. The courtroom is a safe haven, a place where Rafe can’t be. 
But as a violent tale of kidnap and abuse unfolds, Clarissa begins to see parallels between her own situation and that of the young woman on the witness stand. 
Realizing that she bears the burden of proof, Clarissa unravels the twisted, macabre fairytale that Rafe has spun around them – and discovers that the ending he envisions is more terrifying than she could have imagined.

The Book of You by Claire Kendal was published in hardback in the UK by Harper Collins on 24 April 2014, the paperback will be released early next year.  The Book of You is Claire Kendal's first novel.

This is one hell of a scary story, the creepiness of Rafe really does seep into the brain whilst reading and I for one, became more than a little jumpy whilst I was reading it. Prepare to find yourself peering around corners and off into the distance, who knows who is following you?

Clarissa is a vulnerable woman. Just out of a very difficult relationship during which her failure to conceive battered her feelings of self-worth almost beyond repair, she's frail and suffering.  Rafe is a colleague, someone who she never really took any notice of until the party for his book launch. That night, Clarissa slept with Rafe. The memories are a little hazy, she felt terrible afterwards and was really concerned by the marks and bruises on her body.

Rafe is obsessed. He is convinced that he and Clarissa have a future; that she adores him. Everywhere that Clarissa goes; Rafe is there. His behaviour includes stealing her empty yoghurt pot to sending expensive gifts. He ingratiates himself with her closest friends, managing to make them think that Clarissa is unhinged.

The information leaflets from the stalker organisations advise that Clarissa should record everything, and so she begins 'The Book of You'; a notepad in which she records every painful details of Rafe's obsession.

When Clarissa is called for jury service, she is relieved. This is her chance to get away from Rafe, in a place that he can't get to her. However, the court case brings it's own terrors for Clarissa. Some of the details are startlingly like her own situation and witnessing how the defending solicitors treat the alleged victim only shows Clarissa just how difficult it can be to be believed ... by anyone.  The spell in the court room also introduces Clarissa to Robert; strong, handsome, hero fireman. Robert is the total opposite of Rafe, and Clarissa soon finds herself welcoming their daily chats .... and more.

Claire Kendal has very cleverly portrayed the increasing terror and frailty of Clarissa. She writes with ease, keeping the story moving along quickly and using Clarissa's diary notes along with narrative from the present time to create more depth to the plot.

The frustration felt by Clarissa as Rafe ups his game and his behaviour becomes increasingly more bizarre and more terrifying is felt by the reader on every page. The author is excellent at creating tension and unease, and although Clarissa is clearly at the very edge and often makes dubious choices, the reader really does shout for her along the way.

The Book of You is tense and chilling. It is fast paced and oozing with suspense and fear. With an ending that leaves the reader guessing, this is a very good psychological thriller. Claire Kendal is certainly an author to watch out for.

Claire Kendal was born in America and educated in England, where she has spent all of her adult life. The Book of You is her first novel. It will be translated into over a dozen languages. Claire teaches English Literature and Creative Writing, and lives in the South West with her family. She is working on her next psychological thriller.

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Friday, 9 May 2014

Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman

'This is the first memory I have of my mamma, the first sweet memory. Sometimes her laughter bursts into my head and I hear her call me - my name full and round in her mouth. Frustratingly though, as with all the memories I have of her, Mamma's face - always her face - blurs under the pressure of my focus.' 
Shifting Colours is a story of secrets, love and loss. 
Set against the violent backdrop of apartheid South Africa and then the calm of late twentieth century Britain, the novel traces the lives of Celia and Miriam - a mother and daughter separated by land, sea and heart-rending circumstance.

Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman is published in the UK by Allison & Busby on 22 May 2014.

Celia Mphephu is black. She works as a maid for Mr & Mrs Steiner. It's the early 1960s in Johannesburg, South Africa. Celia's six-year-old daugher Miriam happily follows her mother around the house as she works, unaware of the differences between them and the Master and Madam.

The young Nelson Mandela burns his passbook and young black men join the anti apartheid protests. The tension between white and black brings more violence and fear and the Steiners decide it is time to leave South Africa and make a life in England. When they approach Celia and offer to adopt young Miriam, take her to England and give her a better life and education than Celia could ever dream of, she knows that as much as she loves her little girl, she really doesn't have a choice. With no job, a husband who has deserted the family and three more children to support, she has to make this heart-breaking sacrifice and let her beloved daughter go.

Miriam is excited by the thought of a 'holiday' to England, with the promise of lots of books, a new school and plenty to eat. She is only six-years-old and doesn't realise that she will probably never see her mamma again. Cold, dark, wet Norfolk is a shock to Miriam. Thousands of miles away from the segregation of apartheid South Africa, she finds that English people can be just as intolerant about colour and race as those in her homeland. Lonely and miserable and pining for her family, she realises that life with the Steiners is not at all what she expected. It is only the love of her friend Zelda Patel, and Zelda's warm and welcoming family that make life in England bearable.

Miriam knows that one day she will return to South Africa, she will find out the truth of why her mamma gave her away.

I haven't read many novels set in South Africa. Of course I know about apartheid, about Nelson Mandela and the ANC.  I remember the 'Free Nelson Mandela' campaign, and the day that he walked free from prison. I saw him become South Africa's first black leader. I knew of segregation and of the inequalities and horrific treatment of black people in their own land, but I didn't really understand.

Fiona Sussman is an extraordinarily gifted author. Shifting Colours is a novel that brings South Africa to life. The words are exquisite and beautifully woven and the depiction of a country divided by horror and brutality is masterful.

At its heart, this is the story of Celia and Miriam's relationship and how their love for each other is so strong that even the thousands of miles that separate them cannot alter it. The devastation felt by Celia when Miriam leaves for England is so powerful, and as Celia suffers time and time again it begins to become almost unbearable to read her sorrowful story.

"Parts of me simply fell away - the Celia I'd lived for so long - the maid, the char, the black, all dropping off me like ill-fitting clothes. I hesitated, then stepped into this madam's sweet-smelling house a woman."
These are Celia's words as she steps into the home of a white woman who treats her as an equal - for the first time in her life.  These words are stunning and are just a tiny taste of the brilliance of the story.

Miriam's experience in quiet, leafy Norfolk is a sad testament to the racial prejudice of England in the 70s. She suffers at the hands of not just the school bullies, but her new mother too.

Shifting Colours is an extraordinary and powerful story of brutality and degradation, yet is it also a story of the pure and beautiful love between mother and daughter.

I was utterly transfixed by this novel, reading it in two sittings during a long train journey. Fiona Sussman is enormously talented. Shifting Colours is compelling and haunting.  I can't recommend it highly enough - go read it now!

My thanks to Lesley from the publisher, Allison and Busby for my review copy.

Growing up in a publisher's home in South Africa, Fiona Sussman fell in love with language and the written word at an early age. Her family's house was always filled with manuscripts, books and colourful authors. This was during the apartheid era, and witnessing the brutal regime at work sensitised Fiona to the issues of injustice and racial prejudice. The illness and untimely death of her father led her to persue a career in medicine and work as a GP.
She emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand in 1989 where she still lives with her family, juggling her time between writing and running the charity hospital she and her husband established.

Find out more at  and her Facebook Author Page

Publishers Allison and Busby     Twitter @AllisonandBusby

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Before The Fall by Juliet West

A great war. 
A powerful love. 
An impossible choice. 
I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the river, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can't escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under. 
1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London's East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together. But when Hannah takes a job in a café, she discovers a glimpse of freedom away from her needy young children, her spiteful sister and desperately ill father. 
While the conflict drags on, Hannah battles with the overwhelming burden of 'duty'. She has sacrificed so much for a husband who left her behind, a husband who may never come home. Then, when she meets Daniel - thoughtful, intelligent, quietly captivating - Hannah finds herself faced with the most dangerous of temptations . . 
As the war grips tighter and bombs fall down upon the streets, the stakes for the couple grow ever higher. Soon Hannah and Daniel will realise just how precarious their happiness is, as their destiny rushes towards them . . . 
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a twist that will leave you breathless, Before The Fall, inspired by a true story, hurls you into a London torn apart by the First World War and paints a vivid and haunting portrait of one woman's struggle.

Before The Fall by Juliet West is published by Mantle (Pan Macmillan) on 22 May 2014 and is the author's debut novel.

Hannah Loxwood always dreamt that she would get out of the East End. She practised her handwriting, she was determined to get a good job and make something of her life. Like many girls before her, she instead found herself replaying her mother's life.  Pregnant; a quick wedding and within a couple of years a mother of two young children. Her dreams shattered.

Daniel is not like the other young men in the neighbourhood. Having had a glimpse into the life of the gentry and introduced to the literary greats such as Thomas Hardy, he is a dreamer and a thinker. His young wife died, his children are away living with their Aunt, he spends his days working on the shipyards and his evenings reading and imagining what could have been.

When Hannah's husband George joins up, she is forced to move back home, to live alongside her bitter sister, her lascivious brother-in-law and her parents. Her father is sick, sometimes he doesn't recognise Hannah, he thinks she is her late Aunt Beatrice who took her own life by jumping from a bridge.

Hannah and Daniel's paths cross when they meet in the cafe where Hannah takes a job. That meeting is the beginning of a love story that will soften the hardest of hearts, a love story that becomes more of a battle for these two people who know that they have found their true soul mate.

Based on a true story, Before The Fall is a beautifully created story of the lives of those left behind whilst the battles rage in Europe. Juliet West paints a brutally honest, startling landscape of war-torn London and its inhabitants. Her female characters are vividly drawn and lead the story so well; the central male characters are a mixed bunch of sick, elderly and intense men who ably play a supporting role.

Hannah and Daniel's relationship evolves slowly and their fear of reprisal is paramount throughout. To betray a serving soldier during this most vicious of wars is looked upon as a betrayal of the whole country, the men serving abroad are heroes and those left behind are expected to respect that at all costs. But life doesn't work like that, people still fall in love no matter how hard they try not to and Hannah and Daniel's love is pure and true and they cannot ignore it.

Juliet West's writing is as powerful as it is poetic, she creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere with words. The complexities of forbidden love, the effects of war on the community, the sense of duty and utter hopelessness is portrayed skilfully and most beautifully.

Before The Fall is a love story to break hearts; passionate and evocative.  I adored it.

Juliet West worked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she won the Kate Betts' Memorial Prize.  
Before The Fall, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel writing competition in 2012.
Juliet also writes short stories and poetry, and won the H E Bates short story prize in 2009.
She lives in West Sussex with her husband and three children.

To find out more, visit her website:
Twitter @JulietWest14

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Broken by Tamar Cohen

Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl's schooling. 
How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model. 
Best friends don't tell lies. 
They don't take up residence on your couch for weeks. 
They don't call lawyers. 
They don't make you choose sides. 
Best friends don't keep secrets about their past. 
They don't put you in danger. 
Best friends don't always stay best friends.

Tamar Cohen is one of my favourite authors. Her debut novel; The Mistress's Revenge was one of the first books I reviewed here on Random Things, back in April 2011. I adored it and have made sure that I've got hold of early copies of her books ever since.  I reviewed her second; The War of the Wives in August 2012, and her last one; Someone Else's Wedding in June 2013.  I was so excited to receive a copy of The Broken which is published by Doubleday (Transworld) in hardback on 22 May 2014. I wasn't disappointed, in fact I'd go as far as to say that The Broken is her best novel yet.

Four friends; Dan and Sasha, Josh and Hannah. Two couples who are the best of friends, their daughters are the same age, they share the same interests, they laugh together, eat together and enjoy each other's company. Despite the fact that Dan and Sasha live in a more expensive part of London, in a bigger house and that Sasha doesn't work but spends most of her time spending Dan's hard earned money, they really are the best of friends. Josh and Hannah work hard in ordinary jobs and struggle to fit everything into their tiny flat but Dan and Sasha are generous friends; helping out with childcare at the last minute, treating them to lunch and weekends away - doing what friends do.

When Dan shockingly announces that he is leaving Sasha after eight years of what seemed to be a happy marriage, the other couple are put in a really difficult position. Determined not to take sides, both Josh and Hannah struggle to come to terms with the breakdown of their friend's relationship.

Very quickly, things spiral out of control. Bitterness and resentment, accusations and hints of violence begin to take over the lives of the two couples. Dan and Sasha's crumbling relationship exposes cracks in Josh and Hannah's marriage too, making them aware of their own faults and problems. Eventually none of them know who or what to believe, or just how this is going to end.

Tamar Cohen has written a brilliantly gripping and chilling story in The Broken. With clever twists and turns in each chapter and the addition of pages from the diary of a small girl dotted in between the current happenings, she leaves the reader on a knife edge throughout. I found myself frantically turning the pages, whilst holding my breath with anticipation of what was going to be revealed next.

As with her previous novels, Tamar Cohen has created characters that are flawed and often unreliable, but always incredibly realistic. Each of the four main players can appear selfish, annoying and at times weak, however this only adds volumes to what is an excellently crafted novel that packs a punch that left me reeling.

Many readers will recognise the effects that relationship failure can have on people who we really thought we knew inside out, and also how this can affect our own feelings, emotions and relationship. The hysterics, the grieving, the battle to get back what is lost and the depths that people will go to to hurt each other are all played out in this incredible battle of the spouses.

There is a darkness that lurks just beneath the surface of the main plot line of the story, with evidence that both Sasha and Hannah have experienced trauma in their earlier lives, and it is is knowledge that makes the reader question almost everything that is said and done by both characters. The revelation at the end of the story delivers an almighty OMG moment that ultimately changes the whole story for the reader.

Tamar Cohen is an exciting author who can build suspense expertly. Her characterisation is brilliant, her imagination and plotting is almost genius.  The Broken is a superb psychological suspense thriller, I loved every page of it.

Huge thanks to Leanne Oliver from Transworld who sent my copy for review.

Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist. A later starter to fiction (and to other things besides), The Broken is her fourth novel; her previous three novels, The Mistress's Revenge, The War of the Wives, and Someone Else's Wedding, are also published by Doubleday. She is a Writer in Residence at Kingston University and lives in North London with her partner and three (nearly) grown children, plus one very badly behaved dog.

Follow her on Twitter @MsTamarCohen

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Friday, 2 May 2014

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

For generations, the Campbells have lived happily at Dulough, an idyllic, rambling estate on the windswept coast of Ireland. But upkeep has drained the family coffers. 
Faced with the heartbreaking possibility of having to sell, John Campbell makes a very difficult decision; to keep Dulough he will turn the estate into a tourist attraction. 
He and his wife, daughter and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a small, damp caretaker's cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family, and when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings are forced to the surface. 
As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complex and fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and the legacy that remains when family secrets are revealed.

Black Lake by Johanna Lane was published on 1 May 2014 by Tinder Press and is the author's first novel.

The story is set on the fictional estate of Dulough, situated deep in the desolate countryside of County Donegal in Ireland.  Dulough was built in the mid 1800s by an incomer; Scottish landowner Philip Campbell. Campbell built the house and gardens in this spot after searching for the ideal place, he cruelly evicted the tenant farmers who had previously toiled on the land, not caring where they would live once he had turned them out of their homes.

Campbell's ancestor John Campbell, his Dublin born wife Marianne and their two children Kate and Philip continue to live on the estate, but times are hard. The Celtic Tiger has bitten and John has had to sacrifice many things in order to stay on the estate. After doing a deal with the Irish government, the family now reside in a small cottage on the estate whilst tourists and visitors wander around the big house as tour guides give them a potted history of the place.

Johanna Lane tells the story using the voices of the family which enables the reader to learn the facts, but through different eyes which adds a depth to the story that may have been missing from a single narrator.

The Campbells have to deal with tremendous loss throughout this novel. They lose their home, they see their belongings packed away and replaced by things that the Government officers consider to be more fitting to the surroundings. Signs appear in their garden informing them of what each plant is called - the plants that they planted, and grew and nutured - and notices telling them to keep off the grass - their grass.  The biggest and most tragic loss has the most impact on the family, and although it is obvious from the start of the novel what has happened, it is not until almost half way through that the reader learns of the circumstances.

I was totally immersed  by this beautifully told story of loss and family. Each of the characters are intricate and detailed in their creation; the contrast between the well-mannered and dignified John and his emotional and sometimes flamboyant wife who love each other, yet don't seem to know each other is expertly done. Young Philip's sense of loss is palpable, he struggles to come to terms with this new style of living and creates his own hideaway, somewhere of his very own, and it is this which ultimately becomes the downfall of the family.

Johanna Lane incorporates the history of the area into the story with the introduction of the diaries kept by the first Philip Campbell's wife. From these, Marianne discovers the true horror of the evictions, and how the local people suffered first through the Famine and then by being banished from their homes. It is this truth that contributes to Marianne's eventual breakdown, and the knowledge that John hid these facts from her for so many years, in fact he lied about the history of Dulough.

For me though, the true star of Black Lake is the wild desolate beauty that is Donegal itself. Johanna Lane has captured the dramatic landscape, the windswept bogs, the majesty of the mountains and the incredible aura of this area perfectly. My mother is from Donegal, her childhood home is not far away from Glenveagh National Park - the place that Dulough is based on. I spent every summer in Donegal, exploring the countryside, dodging the rain, traipsing through the springy heather, and be assured that Johanna Lake has expertly painted this wondrous and most beautiful of places, just reading it brought back memories so vivid that I could almost smell the turf burning.

A beautiful story, so wonderfully created that deals with unbearable losses and burdens, with intricate family dynamics in a setting that perfectly hosts the story.

My thanks to Tinder Press - my review copy of Black Lake came via

Johanna Lane was born in Ireland and studied English Literature at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she was awarded the Hemingway Prize for her short fiction. Upon graduating, the University awarded her the Robert T. Jones Graduate Fellowship to study in the U.S. and she chose Columbia's Creative Writing MFA programme. There, she was one of six students from the School of the Arts selected to teach undergraduate writing. As a work in progress, her first novel, COMING IN FROM THE SEA, was short-listed for the University of East Anglia's Charles Pick Fellowship. She teaches composition and creative writing in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @Johanna_Lane

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