Saturday, 30 January 2016

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.
When Leah Oliphant-Brotheridge and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-Levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.
Ruth Oliphant-Brotheridge, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn't want to be found?

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald is published on 4 February 2016 by Faber and Faber.

So, Viral is the book with that opening line. The line that the publishers wanted the author to change. The line that will be the deciding factor when the big supermarkets look at it, and think about stocking it on their shelves. The line is a shocker, there is no doubt of that, but it's also an extremely good hook, it's also relevant, and it's also actually not that offensive at all. Compare it to the content of best-selling novels such as Fifty Shades, or to stuff that goes on in computer games, and it's actually quite tame.

But, the line is a conversation piece, and yes, I admit it is the reason why I wanted to read Viral. I wanted to know what the rest of the story was like; the writing, the plot, the characters ... I wanted to know more about it than just the first line. I'm really glad that Helen Fitzgerald stuck to her guns, and continued with that first line, because by God, the other lines in this story are excellent. This is a book that will send shivers down your spine, it's not frightening in the usual sense, but it's bloody scary when you realise that this really could happen to anyone.

Su and Leah, sisters, eighteen years old, just finished their A Levels, going to Magaluf to party. Su and Leah don't really get along. Su wants to love Leah, but Leah is determined to be the biggest bitch possible. Su was adopted as a baby, from North Korea, and Leah came along soon afterwards - the miracle baby; her parent's natural child, the one that they thought would never be born.

Su is bright, studious, wants to be a doctor. Leah is bubbly, popular, rebellious and determined to make Su's life a misery. However, the deal is that if Leah wants to go to Magaluf, then Su has to go too. Their mother Ruth has made that clear from the outset, Su will go, even though she really would prefer to stay at home, and Leah will put up with it.

By the end of the holiday, one of the girls is the star of an online video, watched by thousands, shared by thousands. No, not Leah, the party girl, but quiet, virginal Su. Suddenly she's known everywhere, but not for something to brag about, no the camera captured her sucking twelve cocks in Magaluf, in exchange for one sweet, sickly orange alcoholic drink. Su's life changes, forever.

The ease in which the video goes viral is crazy, it takes no time at all. The impact on Su and her family is absolutely massive, and whilst the video itself is the catalyst, the fallout has obviously been brewing for a long time.

Helen Fitzgerald gets under the skin of her characters and exposes their inner weaknesses so very well. Ruth, the girls mother is one hell of a creation, she's intelligent and well-respected but there is a hidden, dark side to her that is terrifying to observe. Her ruthlessness and determination is quite astounding and her responsive actions give so much away about this family and its dynamics.

Viral is a roller coaster of a ride. It's a portrait of a family, it's a documentary about the power of social media and it's blisteringly good. Revenge and tragedy, self-discovery, bravado and vulnerabilities, all of these and so much more.  I have huge respect for Helen Fitzgerald's writing.

My thanks to Sophie from Faber who sent my copy for review.

Helen Fitzgerald is the best selling author of Dead Lovely (2007) and nine other adult and young adult thrillers, including My Last Confession (2009), The Donor (2011) and most recently The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

Helen has worked as a criminal justice social worker for over ten years.

She is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria, Australia.
She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.

For more information about Helen Fitzgerald, check out her website
Follow her on Twitter @FitzHelen


Thursday, 28 January 2016

My Life In Books ~ Joanna Cannon #GoatsAndSheep

My Life In Books is a new feature for 2016 on Random Things.  I'm inviting authors to share with us their list of books that are special to them, and have made a lasting impression on their life, for whatever reason

I'm am thrilled to welcome Joanna Cannon to Random Things today, she's my first My Life in Books guest author, and in fact, this feature was her idea, so huge thanks to Joanna.

Today is a very special day for Joanna as her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published by Borough Press on this very day. I've been shouting about #GoatsAndSheep for quite a while now, it's a wonderful story, brilliantly written, and I just know that Joanna is going to have so much success with it.  My full review is here on Random Things, here's a taster:

"The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is quite extraordinary. It is a very special novel that should be savoured. There are passages, sometimes just a line, that will make the reader stop and re-read, purely to delight in the way that the words are put together. This is an ambitious story, but also a beautiful story.
A triumph, a joy, a gift to the reader."

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is published today (28 January 2016), in hardback by Borough Press.

So here goes, these are the books that make up Joanna Cannon's 'My Life in Books', in her words;

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
A very predictable choice to begin with, but is there anyone who wasn't influenced by Narnia? As a child, I was fortunate enough to visit my local library at least once a week, and (along with my second title), this was one of the books I always borrowed. Every Tuesday. Without fail. My parents had very 1970s fitted bedroom furniture, and my father's wardrobe was long and L-shaped. I would often crawl to the very tail of the L, sit amongst the overcoats and the three-piece suits, and wait for Mr Tumnus to come and rescue me.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
As the only child of an only child, the idea of growing up with three sisters was extremely appealing, so Little Women was the other novel that I took out each week. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my local library. Without it, I would never have found the stories, and without the stories, many years later, I would never have found the words. It's very easy to underestimate the power of reading. Not only is it the best way for a child to understand an often confusing world, it also provides a refuge for those of us who didn't find it especially easy to make friends. Even now, most of my favourite people live within the pages of a novel.

Empty World by John Christopher
I have no idea where this book came from, but I read it several times as a child, It's a YA, apocalyptic story about the Calcutta Plague, which wipes out the entire population, leaving only a handful of teenage survivors. I often had wild, and worryingly lengthy, fantasies about what I would do if this ever happened in real life. These mainly involved toy shops, Angel Delight, and a world without schools. I'm not entirely sure I thought it through ....

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett
If there was one person who has influenced my writing, my reading (and therefore, by default, my life), it's Alan Bennett. I watched Talking Heads as a child, and it was the first time I really understood the power of words. When the characters spoke, I knew exactly who they were within the first few lines, and it felt as though someone had opened a door in my mind. I decided, even then, that if I could manage to harness just a little of that power, I would have achieved something worthwhile in my life.

Jaws by Peter Benchley
This book started what became a life-long fascination with, and the fear of, sharks. And I don't just mean a vague interest, I mean at least one evening a week, I find myself on YouTube, watching footage of Great Whites and being beautifully terrified. I have no idea what the attraction is, but I read somewhere that it's a primitive fear to be consumed whole by another creature. And the theme tune. Obviously. One bar of that theme tune and I am GONE.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks' brilliant collection of case histories is one of the many books that fuelled my love of psychiatry. I had always been interested in narrative (going back to the wonderful Alan Bennett), but I find a fractured narrative even more fascinating. However, having left school at fifteen, with one O-Level, I never thought for one second I would be able to pursue psychiatry as a career. However, one thing I have learned, is that there is always another door. I found that door in my thirties, when I went back to college, took some A-Levels, and won myself a place at medical school.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce
Before I could specialise in psychiatry, I had to work through a series of medical and surgical rotations as a junior doctor. I think these were the most stressful times of my life. I saw things which will stay with me forever, and met people I will never forget. Many of the patients I cared for were palliative and, as someone who tends to absorb things very easily, the only way I could deal with it, was to find something positive in each day. The story of Queenie Hennessey is set in a hospice, and not only is Rachel Joyce's writing breathtakingly beautiful, she also manages to capture this positivity in her novel. Also, I have never cried so hard and for so long, over the ending of a story. It's just perfect.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
When I first read The Shock of the Fall, I had no idea Nathan was a specialist mental health nurse. However, it wasn't long before I realised that whoever wrote this story had a very intimate knowledge of life on a mental health ward. If you've ever wondered what working in psychiatry is like, this is the book you need. It's brilliant and clever, and incredibly moving. It also won an award for changing views on mental health. I can't imagine anything more wonderful than that, can you?

The Girl Who Couldn't Read by John Harding
I adored this book. I was distraught when it finished (as I was with its equally marvellous predecessor, Florence and Giles), but that isn't why I've included it. The reason it's here, is because it was an "I don't usually read" novel. One of a growing number, I'm delighted to report. I think it's very easy to walk a safe corridor of reading; to stick with authors we know and genres we enjoy. This book was very kindly sent to me by Borough Press, and it sat on my shelf for a while - purely because "I don't usually read". It turned out to be one of the best stories and one of my most enjoyable books. Books, like life, should be free from "don't-usually", you never know where your don't-usually might take you.

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
I think all authors have a novel which inspired them to write. This is mine. The prose is so clean and fresh, and clever. I am truly in awe of Sarah Winman, she has an incredible talent, and when I read this novel, I knew I wanted to try to write my own. It's a little like watching Wimbledon, though. It makes you want to get out there and play tennis, but when you find yourself on a court, it's a lot bigger and scarier, and harder than you think. But I persevered. Working as a doctor and trying to write was very tough at times. It involved 3am alarm clocks and writing in my car in my lunchbreak, and acres and acres of self-doubt, but it was all worth it. When I found out Sarah had quoted on my book, I may have cried a bit. Actually, I cried a lot. Very loudly and unattractively, and filled with so much joy.

Borough Press discovered Joanna Cannon through the WoMentoring Project - a programme set up in 2014 by author Kerry Hudson to match mentors from the publishing industry with talented up and coming female writers.

Joanna Cannon is a psychiatric doctor, and her interest in people on the fringes of society and the borders of sanity has inspired her writing.

She lives in the Peak District and The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is her first novel.

For more information about Joanna Cannon, and her writing visit her website and blog,

Follow her on Twitter @JoannaCannon #GoatsAndSheep


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Where love is your only escape ....
1911: Inside an asylum at the 
edge of the Yorkshire moors, 
where men and women are kept
apart by high walls and barred windows.
There is a ballroom, vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week,
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
it is a dance that will change
two lives forever.
Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

The Ballroom is published by Doubleday (Transworld) on 11 February 2016, and is Anna Hope's second novel. Her first novel, Wake, was published in January 2014. I reviewed it on Random Things and I adore it, I chose it as one of my Top Reads of 2014.

There are some books that appear, at first glance of the blurb, to be one thing, and then, when you start to read, and read and read, you discover layers and layers of different stories, told from different points of view and dealing with so many complex and emotional issues. The Ballroom is one of those books. It is a story of innocent love. It is also story of horror and obsession and insanity and power.

Set in an asylum on the edge of the desolate Yorkshire moors during a heatwave, the sense of place and time is overwhelming, there is a humid, almost oppressive feel to the writing that seeps into the brain whilst reading, and adds a depth to the characters and the setting, and the whole plot.

Anna Hope has based her story on that of her Irish great-grandfather, and she writes with compassion and conviction. Her characters are perfectly created; the lead figures of John and Ella are wonderful. Strong, Irish John who has suffered loss and tragedy and young Ella, the victim of a violent father and incarcerated after breaking a pane of glass. Appearing alongside these two, the other patients in the asylum including cultured, out of place, bookish Clem, and the assortment of staff members, from the unbalanced and on-the-edge Doctor Fuller to the sadistic, patient-turned-guard Brandt.

The Ballroom charts John and Ella's love story, their attraction begins at the weekly dance that takes place in a beautiful ballroom that is so out of place in this stone walled asylum that is so bleak and dour everywhere else. The dance is a ray of light and hope that breaks up the hard work of the rest of the week. John spends most days digging graves for the patients who have lived most of their lives behind these walls and will spend their eternity within the grounds. Ella washes dirty laundry and scrubs, day in and day out.  Doctor Fuller believes that music is a therapy, and may help his patients, even though he also believes the poor, uneducated, lower classes are responsible for all insanity, and that this could only be prevented through segregation or sterilization.

Anna Hope's writing is powerful and touching. Her story is distressing at times, yet it is so very important, and most of all, it is beautiful and affecting. To deal with so many serious issues whilst keeping a simple and joyous love story at its heart is surely the sign of a brilliant author.

I have been carrying John and Ella's story around in my head for the last twenty-four hours, it whispers and lingers and has made a huge impression.

The Ballroom is exquisite, unusual, horrifying and quite quite beautiful.

My thanks to the publisher who provided my copy for review.

Anna Hope was born in Manchester and educated at Oxford University and RADA.

She is the author of the acclaimed debut Wake.

The Ballroom is her second novel and is inspired by the true story of her great-grandfather.

Follow her on Twitter @Anna_Hope


Monday, 25 January 2016

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

When Mary Davidson, the eldest daughter of a whaling family in Eden, New South Wales, sets out to chronicle the particularly difficult season of 1908, the story she tells is poignant and hilarious, filled with drama and misadventure.
It's a season marked not only by the sparsity of whales and the vagaries of weather, but also by the arrival of John Beck, an itinerant whaleman with a murky past, on whom Mary promptly develops an all-consuming crush. But hers is not the only romance to blossom amidst the blubber.
Swinging from Mary's hopes and disappointments, both domestic and romantic, to the challenges that beset their tiny whaling operation, Rush Oh! is a celebration of an extraordinary episode in Australian history when a family of whalers formed a fond, unique alliance with a pod of frisky killer whales - and in particular, a killer whale named Tom.

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett is published in hardback by Virago Press on 4 February 2016.

After a glut of crime, psychological thrillers and contemporary fiction over the past few months, I found it a little difficult at first to settle into this story of the life of a whaling family in 1908 New South Wales, Australia. However, Shirley Barrett's writing is marvellously engaging, and it really wasn't that long at all before I found myself firmly immersed in Mary Davidson's story.

George 'Fearless' Davidson is famous in Australia, but I have to admit that his story, and the whole whaling industry is something that I had never come across before. However, Shirley Barrett has created such a wonderful voice in young Mary that I found myself totally entralled and caught up in the life of this unusual family.

Mary is funny and bright, she's taken on a lot of responsibilities during her short life. Things are not easy for her and her family, yet her humour and capacity to see the best in things shines through. Mary's clumsy and naive attempts to attract the attention of new crew man John Beck are endearing, and the reader can't help but cheer her along.

I don't want to mislead anyone though and it is to be remembered that Rush Oh! is so much more than just a coming of age story. Whaling is not a gentle occupation, it involves violence and can be brutal at times, and Shirley Barrett perfectly incorporates this into her carefully researched and elegantly written story.

Along with her superbly created human characters, the author also expertly brings to life Tom, the leader of the pack of Killer Whales. The almost magical connection and co-operation between Tom and the other whales, seemingly working in partnership with the men of the whaling crew is quite stunning.

Rush Oh! is a striking story which captures the era and the history so well, from the food, to the language to the landscape.

My thanks to Ursula from Virago, the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Photo from
Shirley Barrett is best known for her work as a screenwriter and director. Shirley's first film, Love Serenade, won the Camera D'Or (Best First Feature) at Cannes Film Festival in 1996. The script for her most recent film, South Solitary, won the Queensland Premier's Prize (script) 2010, the West Australian Premier's Literary Prize 2010.
Rush Oh! is Shirley's first novel.
She lives in Sydney, Australia

For more information about Shirley Barrett and her work, visit her website


Friday, 22 January 2016

Breathe : stories from Cuba by Leila Segal *** BLOG TOUR ***

A beautifully observed collection of short stories, Breathe takes the reader beyond the artificial glamour of guidebook Cuba to paint a real and uncompromising portrait of modern-day Cuba.
Segal captures the joy, discontent, love and everyday dreams that lie beneath the facade of this beautiful and complex country.
With sparse and revealing prose, Breathe vividly portrays a series of encounters between Cubans and tourists, deftly exposing cross-cultural tensions and inequalities. The stories give voice to the marginalised, and will resonate with any reader who feels their 'difference' - whether through religion, culture or colour.
Written from the perspective of an outsider, Breathe is remarkable for its insight into everyday life in Cuba, and draws on the time that the author spent living in a rural community in the remote West of the island.
This is Cuba as you have never seen it before.  

Welcome to my spot on the Blog Tour for Breathe : stories from Cuba by Leila Segal, published by Flipped Eye Publishing in paperback on 21 January 2016.

Breathe : short stories from Cuba is an elegantly written collection of nine short stories, told from the perspective of tourists and outsiders about Cuba and its people. Like most people, when I think of Cuba, I imagine Havana with its colourful buildings and ancient cars, I think of cigars and I remember Castro. My impressions of Cuba have been formed by what I've seen via the media. Leila Segal's story collection gives the reader the gift of seeing life in this vibrant, yet troubled country from the inside.

The stories are set between 2000 and 2004, not long before the the end of Castro's long reign as President, and its people are poverty stricken and food is short. Despite these hardships, it is clear from Segal's writing that there is joy and warmth and love to be found amongst the hardships.

The writing is clear and direct, but has a poetic quality and each story is like a tiny painting, giving a glimpse into the often hidden and misunderstood lives led by the Cubans.

I often struggle to contact with short stories, usually preferring a full-length novel that enables me to get to know the characters and the locations in more detail, yet I didn't feel that way about this collection at all. These stories, whilst short, are full of detail that instantly make the reader feel at home, and each one is a satisfying peek into places that are rarely written about.

Leila Segal's passion for this intriguing country shines through in her writing, her intimate knowledge of the West of the island is obvious, and she effortlessly packages up the smells and the sounds, and the heat and throw them out to be caught by her readers.

I enjoyed reading this collection, I enjoyed getting to know more about the hidden parts of Cuba, the collection is beautifully written, informing and satisfying.

My thanks to Eve from Midas PR who invited me to take part in the this Blog Tour and who sent my copy for review

Born in London, of Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian descent, Leila trained as a barrister before working in journalism for several years, becoming features editor of Jewish News and a writer for the Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent.

In 2008, Leila lived in the Israeli city of Jaffa, where she led the Jaffa Photography Project, with Arab-Jewish collective Sedaka Reut, using word and image to bring together Arab and Jewish teenagers in workshops exploring their relationship to each other and to the land they both call home.

Leila founded and directs Voice of Freedom, an organisation that works with formerly trafficked women. Voice of Freedom enables women who have escaped their captors, and sometimes given evidence against them, to use text and photography to talk about their lives.

Breathe : stories from Cuba is her debut collection for which she received a £5000 grant from the Arts Council England.
She does regular readings in London.

To find out more about Leila Segal and her work, visit
Follow her on Twitter @leilasegal

Flipped Eye Publishing:   Flipped Eye engages audiences that may not otherwise have contact with the arts. It showcases ethnic minority voices - and targets those communities as it promotes the work. It publishes both poetry and short story collections.
Authors published by Flipped Eye include the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, winner of the African Poetry Prize in 2013 and the first Young Poet Laureate for London, and Inua Ellams, Nigerian poet and playwright, whose one-man play Black T-Shirt Collection played at the National Theatre

Follow Flipped Eye Publishing on Twitter @flippedeye


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Our Song by Dani Atkins

This is the story of Ally and Charlotte, whose paths have intersected over the years though they've never really been close friends. 
Charlotte married Ally's ex, and first true love, David. 
Fate is about to bring them together for one last, dramatic time and change their lives forever.

Our Song by Dani Atkins is published by Simon & Schuster, in paperback on 28 January 2016, the ebook is released on 21 January.

Our Song is the first of Dani Atkins' books that I've read, and if this one is anything to go by, then I've missed out on some real treats, I will be rectifying that!

It's very rare that I actually cry when reading a book. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a hard heart, it's just that I tend to well up at visual images; news stories, film and TV, rather than words on a page. Our Song made me beal (a Lincolnshire term!!).  I finished reading it late last night, just as my husband came downstairs and asked if I'd like a cup of tea. I couldn't answer because of the tears, the snot, and the lump in my throat. He was alarmed, and later, when he'd ensured that I wasn't in pain, and that I hadn't had some bad news, he said that in over 20 years and probably thousands of books, he'd never seen me react in that way to a story.

Our Song begins on a cold winter morning, Joe is walking through the park when he does something incredibly brave and selfless, at the same time, David is doing a spot of Christmas shopping, determined to find something special for his wife. This should be just an ordinary day in the lives of two couples, but the events that happen change everything, for all of them.

Ally, Joe's wife answers the door to two police officers, and Charlotte, David's wife answers her phone to hear a distraught shop assistant telling her that David has collapsed. David and Joe have both been taken by ambulance to the local hospital, the women rush to their husband's bedside, in shock, unbelieving, desperate to make sure that they are OK.

Our Song is a story of chance, and coincidence, and it soon becomes clear that these two couples are not strangers. They have a long and turbulent history, although it is years since any of them last met.

Dani Atkins writes with such warmth and emotion. The reader is immediately immersed into the lives of the four main characters, she snares you in and it really is very difficult to put this book down at all. The author cleverly takes the reader back and forward through the stages of the character's lives and relationships, gently unfolding the events that have made each of them who they are today.

The characters are so beautifully drawn that it is impossible not to feel as though you actually know them. They are not perfect, well, maybe Joe is ..... oh, I am SO in love with Joe, but they are flawlessly created. Their behaviour is consistent, their longings are heart-wrenching, their story is incredibly powerful, emotional and very moving.

Our Song is a book that will remain in my memory for a long time. It shows how one single act of kindness can have a massive effect on so many people, and how one selfless act can change the course of many lives. Dealing with first love, and friendship, growing up and regrets, this really is a beautiful novel.

My thanks to Sara-Jane from Books and the City who sent my copy for review.

Dani Atkins was born in London in 1958, and grew up in Cockfosters, a suburb of north London. She moved to rural Hertfordshire in 1985, where has lived in a small village ever since with her husband, two (now grown-up) children, one Siamese kitten and a soppy Border Collie.

Dani has been writing for fun all her life, but following the publication of her novels Fractured (published as Then and Always in the US) and The Story of Us in 2014, now writes for work. This is her third novel.

Connect with Dani on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @AtkinsDani   #OurSong


Monday, 18 January 2016

What A Way To Go by Julia Forster * BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY *

1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson's parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents' club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents' broken hearts ....
Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music and pubertym divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart. 

What A Way To Go by Julia Forster was published by Atlantic on 7 January, I'm really happy to welcome you to my spot on the Blog Tour for this funny and quirky debut novel.

You'll find my thoughts on the book, a guest post from the author, entitled 'Mail Order Queen', and a chance to win a signed copy of What A Way To Go.  Entry is simple, just complete the competition widget at the end of this post.

What A Way To Go is a beautiful and vivid homage to the 1980s. Julia Forster introduces the reader to Harper and her broken-up, on the edge, very nearly mad, family.

Although Harper is just twelve-years-old, she has more sense than most of the other adults in the book. She's kooky and funny and smart, she's also a young girl - almost woman, who is dealing with the break up of her parents' marriage. Nowadays, that's not unusual, but back in the late 80s it was still quite rare to have divorced parents.

Julia Forster writes Harper's story with such authenticity, and although I was much older than Harper in 1988, I recognised so many of her experiences, I too lived in a small village in the East Midlands, just like Harper's Dad and the setting felt so familiar to me, with the elderly neighbours and the village fairs and the feeling of boredom and freedom combined. And, coincidentally, there was also a mental hospital nearby, that I saw everyday from my bedroom window. Harper's attempts to ensure that everyone around her is OK are at times very funny, but also allow the reader to see straight into her soul. She's a fixer; whether it is being the only person who talks to the 'strange' elderly lady, or the attempts to find new love for both of her parents, or even allowing her wannabe Vidal Sassoon babysitter to practice on her hair.

Although this is a joyous and quite innocent look at a young girl growing up, it also deals with some very emotional and important issues. Harper takes these in her stride, the adults in her life seem to see her as one of them, rarely hiding the current dramas from her, but it is the slow reveal of events years ago that is so cleverly done, and that create a depth to this novel.

Harper and her supporting cast of wonderfully created characters are captivating from the first paragraph and this author has carefully and skilfully developed them all, incorporating humour and high spirits with affection and emotion.

What A Way To Go is an accomplished debut from an author who I am sure we will be seeing lots more of.


I'm delighted to welcome Julia Forster to Random Things today, she's put together a wonderful guest post for us to enjoy:

Mail Order Queen
It was during the final day of my studies for a Master's degree that I had an idea for a novel. I scribbled it on the back of my A5 diary for 2001. It would follow the story of two friends: Sebastian, an eight year-old boy struggling with dyslexia and Page, an up-town, ten year-old girl. They both lived in Manhattan's Upper West Side, but would move with their families to swanky apartments in Venice. A field trip was clearly required. With my last £300, I booked a flight to JFK, pounded the streets of New York City for five days and fell in love. Well, who wouldn't?
Boomeranging back to my Mum's house, a few days later, I now had the full whack of a £2000 overdraft. I also had a few more letters after my name; I was well on the way to being able to make quite a good anagram out of it, actually. But the gravity of the situation was this: while I may have had an exotic concept for a book in my head, the novel was clearly not going to earn any royalties whilst it was still a fiction between my ears. I had to get a job. And quickly.
The next day I drove to Bath, pressed the buzzer at the door of a children's picture book publishers, placed my CV on the manager's wooden desk and smiled. While I was getting back into the car, my phone rang. I had a job: for the next year I was coronated as the Queen of Mail Order.
It was my job to draft the copy for the mail order catalogues which advertised children's board books, picture books and anthologies. I'd also liaise with the designer, source thousands of names and addresses and manage their mailing across the UK. Not only that, but I was the person who took the order for the books when the phone rang. I was a walking closed loop system. I saw ISBNs and expiry dates in my sleep.
Many years later when I wrote my debut novel What A Way To Go, I gave one of the main characters the job of writing catalogue copy for an advertising agency. Mary is a single Mum living in the East Midlands with a part-time job, depression and a rented house which is being sold from under her feet. Far less exotic than the book set in America and Italy, but by the time I began to write What A Way To Go I had been in the school of hard knocks for more than a decade. 
Rather than exploring foreign landscapes, I had travelled full circle and was more intrigued by far smaller and more intimate canvases. In What A Way To Go, I dug into the emotional and internal landscapes of underdog characters, those who are battling against the odds.
In the novel, we see the story unfold from the point of view of twelve year-old straight-talking Harper. It felt fitting that it should be this young and ebullient protagonist who emboldens her mother to go for a new job. To finish with, here are the two of them in a scene where the odds begin to stack in Mary's favour:
 'I've been offered a promotion,' Mum says. 'Staff copywriter. Full time.'
'That's brilliant Mum! Congratulations.'
'I'm not going to take it, Harper. I don't think I'm clever enough. Then there's fitting in my OU course which I'm already behind on. And then there's you. It would be longer hours, H, and I struggle to keep up with all the laundry, gardening and cleaning ....'
I'm not about to offer to do all four of these things, but I can make my own raspberry jam sandwiches for my packed lunch, I tell her. I don't need looking after any. Plus Mum's always telling me not to be 'crippled by self-doubt', and that I should 'feel free to be my own person'.
Mum's not convinced.
'What's more important?' I ask. 'Keeping your job of keeping on top of the housework?'
'It's not even our house, Harper.'
Thinking on my feet now I say, 'Ah, but that's why you should take it. You'd get a pay rise?'
'That's negotiable.'
'Well, then,' I say, 'Neg-o-tiate.'
Mum laughs, but I'm deadly serious. 

What a great guest post; my thanks to Julia for writing this for us.  I'd also like to thank Sophie Lambert at Conville & Walsh, Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity and Atlantic Books for sending my copy for review, and for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour.

You can win a copy of What A Way To Go, signed by Julia Forster. Entry is open to UK readers only by filling out the competition widget below.

Good luck!

A Signed Copy of What A Way To Go by Julia Forster

Julia Forster was born and raised in the Midlands. Her own parents divorced when she was five, at a time when it was still relatively unusual. Much of her childhood was spent spread between two family homes and coping with the emotional lives of two very different parents, and her experiences inform the story of Harper Richardson and her family.
Julia studied Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick and has a Master's in Creative Writing from St Andrews. While at Warwick, she was awarded the Derek Walcott prize for creative writing. She works in publishing, but has also been a magician's assistant in Brooklyn, a nanny in Milan and a waitress in Chartres.
Julia now lives in Machynlleth, mid-Wales with her husband and two children.

Find out more about Julia and her writing at her website
Follow her on Twitter @WriterForster


Sunday, 17 January 2016

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

A perfect life .... until she discovered it wasn't her own.
A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella's comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a serious of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life.
Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family - and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.  

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings is published by Orenda Books; ebook 10 February 2016, paperback 1 April 2016, and exclusive limited edition hardback, signed and numbered, available from Goldsboro Books in February.

In Her Wake is the author's third novel and follows the highly successful, Sworn Secret (Canvas, August 2012), and The Judas Scar (Cutting Edge Press, May 2014). I read and loved The Judas Scar and reviewed it here on Random Things when it was published.

I can't remember the last time that I read a book in one sitting, my eyes are tired and red-rimmed this morning, I picked up In Her Wake at around 9pm last night and read the final page at just before 2am this morning. I dreamt about the book, the story has haunted me all day today. It is almost as though In Her Wake was written just for me; the story ticks every one of my requirement boxes, and although it is still only January, I have no doubt whatsoever that this novel will be in my top reads of the year.

From the atmospheric, evocative and completely gripping first paragraph, to the very last full-stop, In Her Wake totally and utterly hooked me.

Bella and her husband arrive at her childhood home. Her mother is dead and she has to try to comfort her grieving father. It is clear from the outset that Bella's relationships with the men in her life are fraught and quite brittle. It was her mother who dominates her childhood memories, whereas her father remains a distant, shadowy figure. A man who she never felt quite at ease with.

Bella's husband David is a controlling man, snappish and judgemental, with his implied criticism and his apparent lack of empathy.

Henry, Bella's father appears to have aged many years. He is just a shell of the man that she remembers. The house where Henry and Elaine brought up Bella, and that was Elaine's sanctuary and hiding place is colder without her. The soul and raison d'etre of both the family members left behind and the bricks and mortar of the house has vanished.

And then, Bella suffers another tragedy, and in the aftermath she learns that everything that she thought she was is a lie. Henry and Elaine hid more from her, and the rest of the world, than she can comprehend. The family had been bound together by a series of terrible and cataclysmic secrets and lies, and Bella knows that if she is ever to understand, or to find peace, she must try to unravel the complex and tangled mystery that Elaine began, and has left .... in her wake.

Bella finds herself in a small Cornish seaside town, following the cryptic clues that her father gave to her, and discovering far far more than she could ever have imagined. She meets people who are linked to her, people who have suffered because or her family, yet these are people that she didn't know existed. These people know more about Bella than she does; they know more about who Bella really is, who she was, where she came from.

In Her Wake is psychologically chilling, but it is also a beautifully observed story of a journey of self-discovery. Amanda Jennings' words are alluring, persuasive and so incredibly elegant, the reader is carried along effortlessly into Bella's world. Her characters scream with realism, her settings are well observed and precise and the insight into the human mind and the power of family relationships is both unsettling and convincing.

In Her Wake deals with family, with power, with desperation and with the mysteries of the human brain. It is is novel that will shock, yet also delight the reader. A powerful page-turner from an author who goes from strength to strength.

Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books who invited me to read this very early copy of In Her Wake.

Amanda Jennings lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband and three daughters. In Her Wake is her third novel. She is a regular guest presenter on BBC Berkshire's weekly Book Club, and enjoys speaking at literary festivals, libraries and book clubs. 

When she isn't writing she can be mostly found walking her dog and dreaming of being up a mountain or beside the sea.
She writes a blog and is an active user of social media.

Find out lots more about Amanda, her books and her blog on her website
Follow her on Twitter @MandaJJennings


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Night Blind by Ragnar Jonasson *** BLOG TOUR ***

Siglufjordur: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.
Ari Thor Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him.
The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman - shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thor to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will.
Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dares not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.
Dark, chilling and complex, Nightblind is an extraordinary thriller from an undeniable new talent.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson is published this month, in paperback by Orenda Books and is the second novel in the Dark Iceland series. The first instalment in the series about Ari Thor, Snowblind was published in paperback in June last year.
Both Snowblind and Nightblind are translated from Icelandic by Quentin Bates.

There is something very special about Ragnar Jonasson's writing, his words are beautifully put together, his plot is clever and tight and compels from the first page. Quentin Bates has masterfully translated this story from the Icelandic and between them they have delivered a mystery story that chills the spine, and baffles the reader in its complexity.

The opening chapter sets the scene perfectly for the rest of the story. A Police Inspector in a small, quiet village in northern Iceland is investigating an old derelict house when he is brutally shot. The village of Siglufjordur is rocked by this event, in fact the tremors are felt throughout the whole country. Things like this do not happen here.

Ari Thor, the other local policeman should have been on duty that night, but was home in bed with flu. He is put in charge of the investigation, and whilst he too is shocked by the events, he can't helping thinking that this could be his chance for promotion, and also that he could have been the victim.

Nightblind is a short novel at just over 200 pages, yet it is packed to the brim with engaging characters. This is a story that is driven by many many pasts. Each of the characters, from lead man Ari Thor, to the elderly lady living in the village has their own story, and those stories shape this novel. The dark secrets kept by the characters reach out and touch each other, and the reader, and create a depth to this crime novel that enhances the main plot line so very well.

Ragnar Jonasson describe the landscape, with the biting winds and bitter chills beautifully. The cold seems to seep through each line of the story, bringing this almost always dark village to life so very well.

Nightblind is a very impressive crime novel. The twists and the turns, the slowly revealed secrets, the interwoven mystery diary; all of these combine together seamlessly and will delight and thrill any fan of crime fiction.

My thanks to Karen from Orenda Books who sent my copy for review.  I also have a beautiful limited edition signed copy from Goldsboro Books.  Nightblind was Book of the Month at Goldsboro.

Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jonasson was born in Reykjavik, and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at the Reykjavik University Law School.
In the past, he's worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines.
Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers' Association) in Reykjavik, and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir, selected by the Guardian as one of the 'best crime-writing festivals around the world'.
Ragnar Jonasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and he is currently working on his sixth.
He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters. Ragnar's debut thriller Snowblind became an almost instant bestseller when it was published in June 2015, and rights have since been sold worldwide. Blackout will be published by Orenda Books in 2016.

Visit him at or on Twitter @ragnarjo

Quentin Bates escaped English suburbia as a teenager, jumping at the chance of a gap year working in Iceland. For a variety of reasons, the gap year stretched to become a gap decade, during which time he went native in the north of Iceland, acquiring a new language, a new profession as a seaman and a family before decamping en masse for England.
He worked as a truck driver, teacher, netmaker and trawlerman at various times before falling into journalism largely by accident. 
He is the author of a series of crime novels set in present-day Iceland (Frozen Out, Cold Steal, Chilled to the Bone, Winterlude and Cold Comfort), which have been published world-wide.
He's currently working on translating the next title in Ragnar Jonasson's Dark Iceland series: Blackout.

Visit him at or on Twitter @graskeggur


Monday, 11 January 2016

The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien *** Guest Review ***

October 1396.  Attending the marriage of Richard II, King of England, Joanna of Navarre encounters Henry Bolingbroke, the Earl of Derby.
Their attraction is immediate and mutual, despite Joanna's marriage to the much older John, Duke of Brittany.
Several years later, Henry has been crowned King of England having overthrown the tyrannical Richard, and the recently widowed Joanna is surprised to receive a proposal of marriage from him. To accept means losing her sons, and abandoning her Regency of Brittany, but unable to discard her still-strong feelings for Henry, Joanna reluctantly agrees.
However, life in England is not what Joanna had expected. Accustomed to having her previous husband's ear, and a say in matters of policy, she is shocked to find herself shut out of politics and regarded by many as an enemy for her Breton heritage.
Henry is distracted by rebellions from all corners of the country, and the repeated attempts upon his life lead him to suspect everyone - even his wife.
Both are too proud to confront the distance that is growing between them, Alone, and with no one to confide in, can Joanna overcome her pride and make amends with her husband? And if the two reconcile, can Henry maintain his hold upon the Crown and establish himself as rightful King? 

The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien is published by Mira Books on 14th January 2016, in hardback.

Louise @jaustenrulesok
I am delighted to welcome Louise Wykes as a guest reviewer today on Random Things. Louise regularly reviews for other blogs and can be found on Twitter  @jaustenrulesok   Here's Louise's fabulous review of The Queen's Choice;

As a fan of historical fiction, I was excited to start this book that covers a period of history that I am not familiar with. This book details the marriage of Joanna, Duchess of Britanny and Henry IV of England which slightly before the period I usually read in, that of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I,
Joanna is the daughter of the King of Navarre and though her father arranged her marriage to John, Duke of Brittany, who is several years older than her, she is happy and content enough in her life which is outwardly successful with a respectable marriage and plenty of children to carry on the family name,  However, into her calm, ordered erupts Henry Duke of Lancaster (who will eventually go on to be King Henry IV) and all of a sudden, Joanna's ordered world is turned upside down when she realises that she has fallen in love for the first time in her life.
This is not a fast paced story, but that does not mean that it is not interesting. It is enlightening as to how a woman in history was not necessarily free to follow her heart, and at times, could be at the mercy of men's desires or whims, even if she was the Queen of England. The reader is fully immersed in a first person narrative of Joanna's life and state of mind as she tries to work out how to live her life, balanced between what she desires and her public duties. And although the novel is historical, it shows that Joanna was a woman who was ahead of her time as she was not content to be just a passive participant in Royal life. The descriptions of Joanna's inner torment as she tries to navigate the treacherous corridors of power in the English Court are vivid and intimate.
This is a fascinating read, filled with glorious historical detail which really transports the reader into such a different period of time. The book was an absolute pleasure to read, and I highly recommend it. I will be looking to read more of this author's work.

Thanks to Louise for such a great and detailed review, also many thanks to Sophie from ed Public Relations who sent the copy of The Queen's Choice for review.

Anne O'Brien 
Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master's in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years where she taught History.
Leaving teaching - but not her love of History - Anne turned to novel writing and her passion for giving voice to the oft forgotten women of the medieval era was born.
Today Anne lives in an eighteenth-century cottage in Herefordshire, an area steeped in history and full of inspiration for her work.

Visit Anne online at
Find Anne on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @anne_obrien 


Friday, 8 January 2016

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Mary North, a newly recruited teacher, resolves to stay in London at the outbreak of the Second World War. A number of the city's evacuated children have been returned, quickly and quietly, because the countryside 'doesn't want them'. What good is it to teach a child to count, Mary wonders, if you don't show him that he counts for something?
Across the city, Tom Shaw has decided to give the war a miss, But his quiet world is shattered when his best friend Alistair signs up to fight, trading his art restorer's brush for a rifle.
Moving from Blitz-torn London to the Siege of Malta, this is an extraordinary and unforgettable story of love, prejudice and incredible courage. 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is published by Sceptre (Hodder) on 21 April 2016.

I have been a fan of Chris Cleave's writing ever since I read The Other Hand in 2008, I have also read and enjoyed his first novel Incendiary (published in 2006), and his last novel, Gold (published in 2013).

I love how different every one of his books are, his subjects, settings and eras are never the same and I was delighted to hear that his latest book was set during the Second World War.

There are books that make the heart beat so fast, there are books that have passages that just have to be read aloud, to anyone who happens to be nearby at the time, there are books that are so emotionally stunning that you have to put them down, walk away and do something else before you can pick it up again and continue to read. Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a book that made me do all of those things. I know it's only the first week of a new year, but I honestly do think that I've found one of my top books of the year, maybe one of my top books of all time. It is stunning.

The story spans the whole of the Second World War, beginning in London and crossing the seas to France and to Malta, before ending back in a very different London.

Mary North is an eighteen-year-old girl from a privileged background, her father is a politician, her mother is a wife. They are waited on by silent servants who carry silver trays of gin fizz. Mary is polite and pretty, and educated, but she is not a conformist. When war is declared, she leaves her finishing school and joins up. Although she would really rather be a spy than a teacher, she knuckles down to her assignment and creates an unusual learning environment for the very few children still in the City. These are the waifs and strays, the children who were evacuated, but have been returned, much like a faulty radio, or a mouldy piece of cheese. These children are the slow, or the crippled, or the black. Mary loves them all, she nutures them and advocates for them. She risks the wrath of her father and the family name by associating with the undesirables.

Meanwhile,  Tom Shaw has made the decision that he will ignore the calls for young men to go to war. He will remain in London and run his schools. His best friend and flat mate Alistair is an art restorer at the Tate and Tom assumes that he too, will stay in London. Tom is making a batch of blackberry jam when Alistair announces that he has joined up. He will do his Officer training and go and fight for his country.

Tom and Mary's paths meet as they carry out their war work, and Everyone Brave is Forgiven is their story, and Alistair's story, which turns into Mary and Alistair's story,  and also the story of Zach, Zach is a young black boy, he and his American father live in London where his father performs in the theatre as a minstrel.

Chris Cleave writes beautifully, his story is taken from the memories that his grandfather shared with him about his time in Malta during the war. The story is so very very observant, the characters are warm and witty, and totally believable.

The author does not shy away from the total horror of war, both at home and on the battlefields, and there are passages that took my breath away. The meticulous detail of the scenes of carnage experienced by the soldiers and by those left in London is immaculate, completely faultless, down to the very last word.

From the well-protected and almost blase lives led by the well-connected and rich, to the desperate poverty and almost starvation of the most vulnerable; each and every character jumps from the pages. The abhorrent and loathsome treatment of the few black citizens is so forceful, and Mary's forward-thinking compassion and understanding is a glimmer of light and hope nestled in with the despair and the misery.

Despite the subject, and the pain endured by the characters, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a life-affirming story. It sparkles with wit and humour and characters who always look to a better future instead of dwelling on their current devastating situation.

This is a captivating and all consuming novel that I absolutely loved, and will recommend and shout about for the rest of the year.

I received my review copy courtesy of

Chris Cleave's debut novel Incendiary, was an international bestseller. His prize-winning second novel, The Other Hand, has found phenomenal success both in the UK and abroad, hitting number one on the New York Times bestseller list (under the title Little Bee).

His third book, Gold, confirmed his status as one of our most powerful, important and psychologically insightful novelists.

Chris lives in London with his wife and three children.

For more information about the author, and his books, visit his website
Find his Author page on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @chriscleave