Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Wthout A Trace by Lesley Pearse



Coronation Day, 1953.
In the Somerset village of Sawbridge, young shopkeeper Molly Heywood slips away from the celebrations to her friend's cottage and makes a shocking discovery: Cassie is dead and her six-year-old daughter Petal has vanished without a trace.
In her grief, Molly seeks help from her childhood friend George, now the village policeman, but no one can find Petal. The only clue is a letter from London, where Cassie once lived. Despite George's reluctance and her growing feelings for him, Molly resolves to go to London in the hope of discovering the missing child.
Arriving in the big city, Molly quickly learns it's a dangerous place for a country girl on her own. But there's hope too - in the Blitz-ruined East End, she unexpectedly finds friendship with strangers from Cassie's past and, with handsome, mysterious workman Charley, the possibility of something more.
However, the closer Molly gets to the truth, the more perilous her journey becomes. She has given up everything - her home, happiness and a chance at love - all to find Petal. But is she also risking her life?


Without A Trace is published by Michael Joseph in hardback on 7 May 2015 and is Lesley Pearse's twenty-third novel.

Lesley Pearse is a global No.1 bestlseller with fans across the world and sales of over 10 million copies of her books to date.   I have been a huge fan of Lesley Pearse for over twenty years, and have read all of her books. I will always remember sitting reading her novel Rosie on the morning of my wedding, in the Caribbean. My Mum says that Never Look Back is the best book that she has ever read, and I must admit that I do have a soft spot for Matty, the heroine of that story too.

Since I began this blog, I have reviewed a few Lesley Pearse books, including; The Promise (December 2011); Forgive Me (December 2012) and Survivor (February 2014).

Set in the 1950s and beginning on Coronation Day in 1953, Without A Trace is a story populated by colourful characters who the reader will really care about.

Molly Heywood lives in a small Somerset village. Molly is a kind, warm and loving girl despite living with her brutish, violent and critical father and her timid, nervous mother. Molly's sister Emily fled the family home as soon as she turned sixteen, and Molly longs to escape too, but would never leave her mother alone with that awful man.

Molly has befriended Cassie and her small daughter Petal. Cassie is a newcomer to the village, and is something of a mystery and is also the subject of village gossip. An unmarried mother with a mixed race child she dresses in tight skirts, dyes her hair bright red and holds her head high; Cassie is a breath of fresh air to Molly, despite her reluctance to reveal any personal details about her background.

When Molly finds Cassie dead in her small cottage, and little Petal missing, her world changes completely. The Police do not seem to be interested in finding Petal, or the murderer. Molly is determined that she will find Cassie's family, surely they will want to find Petal, to make sure that she is safe?

Lesley Pearse takes Molly and her readers to the riches of London's Oxford Street, and to the poverty of the the East End. Molly's trusting nature gets her into situations with people she never thought that she would meet, in places that are alien and so different to life in a sleepy village. Through all her troubles and sadness, Molly remains determined and strong. Her experiences with her abusive father have strengthened her character far more than she could ever have imagined.

Lesley Pearse deals with emotive issues within the story of Without A Trace. The 1950s were hard times despite the end of the War and people were still nervous of change and suspicious of anyone who may be different. Laws were still in place that actively encouraged prejudice and discrimination, and the author cleverly weaves these into Molly's story.

Twenty two books by Lesley Pearse have delighted me over the years, and I'm thrilled that Without A Trace is just as enjoyable as her previous books. Molly is another of this author's trademark strong women, the whole story is gripping, and compelling from the very first page.

Lesley Pearse is one of the greatest storytellers out there. Without A Trace is unforgettable, it is told from the heart and is really very very good.

My thanks, as always to Emma who sent my copy for review.

Lesley Pearse was told as a child that she had too much imagination for her own good. When she grew up she worked her way through many jobs - from bunny girl to nanny; from gift shop owner to dressmaker - and finally found her true vocation when she became a published author age 49. Since then Lesley has become an internationally bestselling author, with over 10 million copies of her books sold worldwide.

A true storyteller and a master of gripping storylines, there is no set formula for a Lesley Pearse novel although strong heroines and difficult circumstances are pervasive. Whether historical adventures such as Gypsy or Never Look Back or the passionately emotive Trust Me, Lesley is inspired by stories of courage and adversity and often gives voice to women lost in history. She is passionate about her research and her stories have taken her far and wide; from Alaska to the Crimea. 

Lesley has recently moved to the seaside in Torquay, Devon where she loves to spend time with her daughters and three grandchildren. Without A Trace also features many places close to Lesley's heart including Somerset, the East End of London and Rye in Kent, her father's hometown, where she spent many happy childhood holidays.

A fantastic speaker and committed and passionate fundraiser for the NSPCC, Lesley is a much sought after guest at literary lunches, library events and festivals up and down the country. Lesley was also selected as the first Ambassador for National Libraries Day 2014.

For more information, visit her website www.lesleypearse.com
Follow her on Twitter @LesleyPearse





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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea *** BLOG TOUR ***



In September 1870 a train leaves Manchester bound for London. On board is Lizzie Burns, a poor worker from the Irish slums, who is embarking on the journey that will change her forever. Sitting in the first-class carriage beside her lover, the wealthy mill-owner Frederick Engels, the vision of a life of peace and comfort takes shape before her eyes: finally, at nearly fifty, she is to be the lady of a house and the wife to a man. Perhaps now she can put the difficulties of the past behind her, and be happy?
In Gavin McCrea s stunning debut novel, we follow Lizzie as the promise of an easy existence in the capital slips from her view, and as she gains, in its place, a profound understanding of herself and of the world. While Frederick and his friend Karl Marx try to spur revolution among the working classes, Lizzie is compelled to undertake a revolution of another kind: of the heart and the soul. Haunted by her first love (a revolutionary Irishman); burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes; and torn between a desire for independence and the pragmatic need to be taken care of, Lizzie learns, as she says, that the world doesn t happen how you think it will. The secret is to soften to it, and to take its blows.
Wry, astute and often hilarious, Lizzie is as compelling and charismatic a figure as ever walked the streets of Victorian England, or its novels. In giving her renewed life, Gavin McCrea earns his place in the pantheon of great debut novelists.



Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea which is published in hardback by Scribe on 1 May 2015.






At the beginning of Mrs Engels, Lizzie Brown gives a warning about men. This warning perfectly introduces the reader to the character of Lizzie. She has been wonderfully crafted by Gavin McCrea, she is sparky and witty and quite incredible.

Mrs Engels is a work of fiction but is based upon Lizzie Burns. Lizzie was Irish and illiterate and also the long-time lover of Frederick Engels; a leading figure who wrote The Communist Manifesto.

This is novel that took me completely by surprise. I took a gamble on it and it paid off handsomely.
Gavin McCrea has cleverly told this story in Lizzie's voice and has brought her to life so very well.

Lizzie and Frederick move to London to be closer to Karl Marx. For Lizzie, this really is a whole new world, far away from the cotton mills of Manchester. Lizzie is an observer and a quick learner and although she appears to adapt to this new world, she remains uncertain about money and wealth. She has strong memories of her first love, she is often confused by her own feelings but gains confidence as the story moves on.

Mrs Engels introduced me to a subject about which I knew nothing. McCrea makes the subject of Communism both fascinating and easily understood, his depiction of Marx and Engels is powerful.

Mrs Engels is really atmospheric, the reader is transported to the streets of London during the nineteenth century. Historical fiction has never been my favourite genre, but every so often I do stumble across a gem, and this is one of those. Lizzie Burns is a fabulous character, I adore her!









Extract from Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Revolution has happened. In my parlour.
 
Chairs overturned. Empty bottles on the chimneypiece. Half-full glasses among the plants in the pots. Fag-ends in the necks of the lamps. The clod from someone’s pipe stuck onto Jenny’s horse painting, right where its bit ought be. And on the sofa, head to foot and snoring, their clothes screwed tight about them, morning wood standing up in their breeches: men I don’t recognise. 
Another fancy evening for the comrades. Another night spent with cotton in my ears and a chair against the door. And now another day spent with yesterday’s smoke clogging up my bad lung? 
Nay. There’s something wrong in this. I must get out. I must breathe the outside air, else I’ll be stuck here suffering in my heart the agonies of a caged animal till death and salvation overtake me. 
I’ll talk to Frederick, is what I’ll do. Unload my mind on him. And by my tone he’ll know I’ve neither leisure nor energy for debate. I’ll say the house is a problem I want no more business with. 
Give me a job, I’ll say. A proper purpose. I can no longer be happy living in a wife’s constraints. Put me to good use, send me out to do what I’m fit for. No matter how mean the task, I’ll perform it, as long as it brings me a distance from this place. 
And there’s this to be said too: outside in the world I’ll keep a good spirit, and will weather the severe judgements my public actions will draw down on me, for, if there’s any justice, there’s another world with no politics biding for me above.







Gavin McCrea was born in Dublin in 1978 and has since travelled widely, living in Japan, Belgium and Italy, among other places. He holds a BA and an MA from University College Dublin, and an MA and a PhD from the University of East Anglia.  He currently divides his time between the UK and Spain.

McCrea on Mrs Engels:  'As a writer, I am interested in the creation of the illusion of “mind,” and I wanted to give Lizzie a “mind” that appears larger, more forceful, more fully realized than those of the now-famous personages who surrounded her. I liked the idea of turning a slight historical figure into a massive fictional character.'  

For more information, check out his website www.gavinmccrea.com  
Follow him on Twitter @GavinMcCrea




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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn



In her bestselling autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn recalled the highs and lows of a thirty-year career in pop music. But with the touring, recording and extraordinary anecdotes, there wasn't time for an in-depth look at what she actually did for all those years: sing. She sang with warmth and emotional honesty, sometimes while battling acute stage-fright.
Part memoir, part wide-ranging exploration of the art, mechanics and spellbinding power of singing, Naked at the Albert Hall takes in Dusty Springfield, Dennis Potter and George Eliot; Auto-tune, the microphone and stage presence; The Streets and The X Factor. Including interviews with fellow artists such as Alison Moyet, Romy Madley-Croft and Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, and portraits of singers in fiction as well as Tracey's real-life experiences, it offers a unique, witty and sharply observed insider's perspective on the exhilarating joy and occasional heartache of singing.


Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn is published by Virago on 30 April 2015.


Tracey Thorn doesn't do nostalgia gigs; she doesn't attend them, or play them. I kind of agree with her, it's always a bit of a let down when you realise that your idols age too!  I did make an exception a couple of years ago though, and went  to see The Who - I didn't regret it.

Naked at the Albert Hall is the perfect way to do nostalgia, I loved every page of it and it took me back to my younger days. Reminders of those Elvis Costello songs that I loved so much, X Ray Spex and Siouxsie; two of my heroines, and now that I'm middle-aged I can actually admit to how much I loved Karen Carpenter's voice.

Tracey Thorn's first book Bedsit Disco Queen told her own story. Naked at the Albert Hall explains more about singing as an actual process. I wasn't sure that I was interested in lungs and throats and how they work, but she writes with such passion, and uses such wonderful phrases, and I was hooked.

There is an honesty about Tracey Thorn that is refreshing. So many pop stars appear false and gaudy, not Thorn, she really is quite upfront about what she sees as her own flaws. I like that, it makes me want to read more, and it made this book so much more enjoyable.

Tracey Thorn is wise and witty, and this shines through in her writing. She is a naturally talented writer, of songs and of books. A must read for fans.

My thanks to Ursula at Virago who sent my copy for review.


Tracey Thorn was singer and songwriter with Everything But The Girl from 1982 to 2000, and since 2007 has released three solo albums, Out of the Woods, Love and Its Opposite and Tinsel and Lights. She is the author of the Sunday Times top-ten bestselling memoir Bedsit Disco Queen.

Find out more about Tracey Thorn, visit her website www.traceythorn.com
Find her on Facebook 
Follow her on Twitter @tracey_thorn







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Friday, 24 April 2015

We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman



Do not miss me, because I will always be with you…I am the air, the moon, the stars. For we are all made of stars, my beloved... Wherever you look, I will be there.
Stella Carey exists in a world of night. Married to a soldier who has returned from Afghanistan injured in body and mind, she leaves the house every evening as Vincent locks himself away, along with the secrets he brought home from the war.
During her nursing shifts, Stella writes letters for her patients to their loved ones - some full of humour, love and practical advice, others steeped in regret or pain – and promises to post these messages after their deaths.
Until one night Stella writes the letter that could give her patient one last chance at redemption, if she delivers it in time…



We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman will be published by Ebury in hardback on 21 May 2015, the paperback release is 22 October 2015.  This is the author's twelfth novel, I reviewed her previous books; The Memory Book and Dearest Rose (now re-published as The Runaway Wife) here on Random Things.

Reading real books, and writing real letters; these are two things that I have spent my life doing. Some days I am glad that I am older, and that I probably won't be around when real books and actual letters that arrive in the post disappear altogether. Rowan Coleman has captured, within this story, the emotions that are instilled when a hand-written letter is received, the joy of receiving, the recognition of the time and effort spent on the writing and the ability to keep the letter for ever, and to cherish it when the sender may no longer be around.

The story is told in a relatively simple way, with multiple viewpoints. We are introduced to patients in the Marie Francis hospice, and to Stella, the nurse who cares for them during the long, lonely nights. Stella is the letter writer, or the enabler. The patients can share their secrets, their sorrows, their advice and their love, in their own words, Stella will write the letter and promises to post them when the sender has died.

Stella herself has lots to deal with. She loves her husband Vincent so much, she looks at him and sees the funny, strong, brave soldier that she married. Vincent looks at himself and sees a man who is no longer complete, he looks at himself and feels guilt and pain that he doesn't know how to share. He looks at Stella and wonders why she stays.

The reader also gets to know Hugh, he doesn't seem to be connected to the story, but Rowan Coleman gradually and expertly interweaves his narrative with Stella's, so creating a turning-point in Stella's life, and affecting Hugh and his mother profoundly too.

Dying, death, end of life, passing away; whatever you choose to call it, it will come to us all. It may be quick and unexpected, or drawn out and painful. It may happen too early, or tragically; whatever happens, the effect of death on everyone involved is enormous, and possibly one of the most difficult things that people have to deal with. We Are All Made of Stars is a sensitive look at the subject of dying. Rowan Coleman writes with tenderness and care, and some humour. Her characters are an eclectic bunch and painfully real, the reader will grow to love each and every one of them, The author treats the subject matter with respect and dignity, whilst still managing to captivate the reader during a story that is so rewarding.

Told in her distinctive style; We Are All Made of Stars is another triumph from Rowan Coleman. Existing fans will adore it, and readers who are new to her work will be spellbound.

I hope that readers will think about letter writing, even if they only sit down and write one letter. It could make so much of a difference to someone. It's almost like posting a big hug through somebody's letter box.


My thanks to Amelia from Ebury who sent my copy for review.


Rowan Coleman lives with her husband, and five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family which includes a very lively set of toddler twins whose main hobby is going in the opposite directions. When she gets the chance, Rowan enjoys sleeping, sitting and loves watching films; she is also attempting to learn how to bake.Rowan would like to live every day as if she were starring in a musical, although her daughter no longer allows her to sing...

For more information, visit her website www.rowancoleman.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @rowancoleman





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Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin‏



Back in March 2014, I read and reviewed a book called The Collected Works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved that book so much, it's wonderful.

The publishers also love the book, but it really didn't do as well as it deserves, so Abacus (LittleBrown) have changed the title and the cover and the paperback is published today (23 April 2015).


A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. His prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and just as he thinks things can’t get worse- someone leaves a baby at his store with a note attached to her asking him to look after her. 


"Who the hell are you?" A.J. asks the baby.

For no apparent reason, she stops crying and smiles at him. "Maya," she answers. 
That was easy, A.J. thinks. "How old are you?" he asks. 
Maya holds up two fingers. 
"You're two?" 

Maya is a burden A.J. does not want but when the time comes, he finds it impossible to hand her over to child protection services, instead choosing to care for her, himself.   

Suddenly, the children’s section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a number of local book clubs. Business has never been so good and A. J. finds himself an essential new part of his long-time community.  

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books--an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love. 


The Storied Life of A J Fikry is published on 23 April 2015 by Abacus in paperback.

Gabrielle Zevin is the author of one of my favourite Young Adult novels; Elsewhere. It must be six years ago now that I read it, yet I remember it so well.  I have since read a few more of her novels and was really excited when I heard about A J Fikry.   Just look at that cover - what book lover could resist it?

By the end of the first chapter of this warm, witty and clever book I was totally and madly in love with A J Fikry. By the end of the novel, I was completely besotted by him, and by his book store, his family, his friends, his home town.  There is nothing, just nothing in this book to dislike. It is most definitely a 'tingler' - a book that makes you tingle all over as you read.  I was part of the world of A J Fikry and I didn't want to leave.

A J is a book seller.  His wife died recently, he lives alone with just his books for company. His sister-in-law stops by every now and again to clean up after him when he's hit the bottle. He's miserable, he's grumpy and he's quite rude.  A J loves books, but only certain books, he's very specific about what he doesn't like, and when Amelia, the sales rep from Knightley Publishers tries to sell him some titles from their latest catalogue he makes sure she knows just what suits him;
'How about I tell you what I don't like?
I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, post-mortem narrators or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be - basically, gimmicks of any kind.  I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful   -   non-fiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter up my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to ............. "
Yes, he sounds like a complete arse doesn't he?  But no, he's not, he's lovable and he's honest. He's intelligent and he doesn't suffer fools. A J Fikry is my ideal man.  I'm not the only one who thinks so, despite his rudeness to her, Amelia finds herself attracted to him too.

AJ owns a very valuable edition of Poe's poetry, it is his pension pot and when it is stolen from his house after a particularly hard night of drinking A J is furious yet strangely resigned to his fate - he will remain on the island and continue to sell books. 

And then, a small child is abandoned in the book shop and A J sees a future. To everyone's surprise and dismay AJ decides that he will adopt this little girl and so Maya becomes his daughter, and his life changes.

I'm going to stop telling any more of the story now, you really do have to read it for yourself.  Its is wonderful.  The characters are vibrant and real, and created with such authenticity that it's hard to believe that this is fiction.

Book lovers, readers, bibliophiles - this is a book for you.  Written by a book lover for book lovers. AJ's favourite novels are a major part of his story - from his pithy reviews at the beginning of each chapter - that change in tone as AJ changes as a person, to the stories that he introduces to his daughter Maya and the novels that he recommends to the various book clubs that meet in his shop.

The Storied Life of A J Fikry is a tribute.  A tribute to book shops, to authors, to books.  A tribute to the grumpy man, and to how love and understanding really can mend a broken heart.

Read this novel and watch AJ change and grow, watch Maya develop into a strong and intelligent young woman. Watch the inhabitants of this small town rally around and discover that the happiness that they craved is under their noses. Watch how the power of literature can shape lives.

A story that will delight and thrill, and characters that will capture a part of you and won't let go.





Gabrielle Zevin was raised by parents who took her to the library like it was church. Her writing career began at age fourteen when an angry letter to her local newspaper about a Guns 'n' Roses concert resulted in a job as a music critic. Gabrielle is the author of eight novels, she is best known for her first novel, Elsewhere, which has been translated into 25 languages. She is also the screenwriter of the cult hit Conversations with Other Women.

@GabrielleZevin
#AJFikry                                      www.gabriellezevin.com
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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine



At the famous Patisserie Clermont in Paris, 1909, a chance encounter with the owner’s daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air.
But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.
Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words ‘Forgive me’. Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.








Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine which is published by Black Swan (an imprint of Transworld) in paperback on 23 April 2015.


The Confectioner's Tale is a story told in dual narrative, this does seem to be a very popular way of writing novels lately, and I do especially like the style. The combination of era and place is appealing and keeps the reader's interest.

The year is 1909, the location is France, and Guillerme du Frere is embarking on something of an adventure.
He is leaving Bordeaux to find work on the railways in Paris.

In 1988 in Cambridge, Petra Stevenson is working on her PhD and struggling. She is mourning her much loved grandfather, she is appalled that a well-known biographer is intending to expose secrets from her grandfather's past. Petra doesn't want to believe that he kept anything from her, but doubts are eating away at her. After all, she recently discovered an old photograph and on the back, in her grandfather's handwriting are the words 'Forgive Me'. Maybe there are skeletons in the Stevenson cupboard after all?  Petra is determined to investigate.

The story travels back and forth. From Guillerme, and his adventures in Paris, to Petra and her on-going quest to find out the truth, and gradually the two stories become one.

I have to admit that I did enjoy the Parisian story much more than the modern day one. Laura Madeleine has created a picture of early twentieth century Paris that is incredibly realistic, and the added bonus of the workings of a Paris patisserie is most alluring. The atmosphere that has been created with words is wonderful and I would almost swear that this book is calorific in itself!

Dual-time, romantic and mysterious. The Confectioner's Tale is beautifully written and so very descriptive. I enjoyed this novel very much and will certainly be on the look out for the next book from Laura Madeleine.



After a childhood spent acting professionally and training at a theatre school, Laura Madeleine changed her mind, and went to study English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge.
She now writes fiction, as well as recipes, and was formally the resident cake baker for Domestic Sluttery.

She lives in Bristol, but can often be found visiting her family in Devon, eating cheese and getting up to mischief with her sister, fantasy author Lucy Hounsom.

You can find her on Twitter @esthercrumpet    
Visit her website www.lauramadeleine.com










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Monday, 20 April 2015

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst



They told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?
I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you?
My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life.
This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead?
If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?



How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst is published by Headline on 23 April 2015 and is the author's debut novel.

Over the past few years there has been a steady rise in the amount of psychological thrillers written by female authors. It's taken a while, but I'm delighted about it and I think Jenny Blackhurst is a worthy entry to this stable of fine authors.

Susan Webster killed her three month old son. Smothered him with a cushion whilst she was in the midst of puerperal psychosis; a severe form of mental illness, brought on by childbirth. Susan can't remember anything about the day that Dylan died, she struggles to believe that she actually did it. She's been a patient at Oakdale, a psychiatric unit for three years and she has to depend on what the doctors tell her.

Susan is no more, she has served her time and become Emma Cartwright. Emma is free, she's making a new life for herself in a small Shropshire town. Emma will have to live with what she did to Dylan for the rest of her life.

When letters and parcels arrive, addressed to Susan, the terror and the doubts begin. Nobody should know who Emma is, only the authorities and her best friend Cassie should have any idea that she was Susan, and what she did. How can anyone send her a photo of a toddler, and claim that it is Dylan? Susan begins to think that she has never recovered, that she is still suffering from mental illness. It's only when she meets Nick, a journalist, that she begins to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Dylan didn't die. Maybe she didn't kill her baby. Maybe he is still alive .....

My goodness, I swore quite a lot whilst reading How I Lost You. It's one of those stories that you think you've sussed out, then bang ..... the author flings another couple of twists at you and you are left open-mouthed in shock!

Tense and clever and absolutely exhausting; How I Lost You is an incredibly good read. Jenny Blackhurst has created a plot that is scintillating and tense. Susan is not the strongest of characters, she can appear weak and gullible, often impetuous and difficult to warm to, but she is ably supported by a cast that are very well created, not least Cassie. Cassie is a bit of an enigma, she's strong and sassy and although Susan doesn't always recognise it, she's loyal and a real mate. Male lead Nick is handsome, smooth and fairly mysterious.

Nestled in among Susan's story are flashbacks narrated mainly by a guy called Jack. Jack is a complete and utter bastard, an evil manipulator who seems to have no conscience. This short excerpts from the past are quite mystifying at first - who are these boys? It's clear that this group of young men are linked to Susan's story, but the author very cleverly keeps the reader on their toes, only releasing the odd name every now and again. This extra dimension to the story adds even more tension and intrigue, especially as the reader slowly makes the connection between the then and the now.

There are some bad bad people in How I Lost You, and they do some bad bad things and even though I think I suspected almost every character at least once during this book, I didn't work it out at all. The conclusion races up and knocks you sideways, it's fast and it's daring and it's really very very good.

How I Lost You is not perfect, but it's very close.  I do think that the author has tried to fit every single idea she's ever had into one story, I've read quite a few debut novels where the author does this. There were a couple of very tiny niggles that I had and I'd loved to have known more about Cassie, but these really are just tiny little things. I would certainly recommend How I Lost You and really do look forward to reading more from Jenny Blackhurst.

My received my copy of How I Lost You through the Bookbridgr programme.

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children.

Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels - writing her own seemed like natural progression. 

Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son's birth, How I Lost You is Jenny's thrilling debut crime novel.

Follow her on Twitter @JennyBlackhurst





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Friday, 17 April 2015

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain



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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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