Saturday, 30 July 2016

Siren Spirit by Elizabeth M Hurst

Emma McVeigh is emotionally adrift. Broken-hearted after her marriage breakup, she has escaped city life and sought solace in a quintessential English village.  Allowing herself time to regroup seems like the best course of action right now.
However, the picture-perfect thatched cottage she moves into hides a secret and is not the sanctuary she was hoping for.
Enter her dashing next-door neighbour, Lewis. Charismatic and confident, he seems to be everything Emma wants in a man and she's very attracted to him. But after a drunken one-night stand, he turns out to be not all he seems either.
Can they each face their inner demons and, in doing so, solve the mystery of another lost soul? 

Siren Spirit by Elizabeth M Hurst was published on 15 October 2015 via the self-publishing platform CreateSpace, and is the first in a planned series entitled The Lost Souls.

I rarely read self-published books, not because I think that they are inferior in any way, it's just that I have so many review copies of books arrive through the letter-box that I just don't have time to fit them all in.  However, when Liz Hurst contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in her book, Siren Spirit, there was something about her email, and the synopsis of her story that attracted me. When I saw the gorgeous cover (other self-published authors, please take note, the cover DOES make a difference), I decided to accept her offer.

Siren Spirit is a novella, the paperback has just 115 pages and it can easily be read in one sitting.

It's a genre defying story really, with a little bit of history mixed with contemporary romance and a dollop of erotica thrown in for good measure. It's also very readable, hugely entertaining and full of nicely created characters.

Beginning in the late 1700s, the reader meets Grace, the daughter of a widowed farmer. Grace is very different to the girls in the village, she's way ahead of her time - strong-headed and wildly in love, and it's that love that will be her downfall.
Fast forward to the modern day, in the same farmhouse and we meet Emma.  Emma is mourning the end of her marriage. She's new to the area, she knows nobody, and when she meets Lewis, her next door neighbour she is instantly attracted.

However, as handsome as Lewis is, it is another very unexpected romantic liaison that really affects Emma, and this is when the story takes a twist that I was really not expecting.

I enjoyed Siren Spirit, however, because of the length of the book, there is a lack of depth to some of the characters, yet I'm not sure that there is enough of a story for it to become a full-length novel. Don't let that put any readers off though, it's certainly worth a read and I'll be interested to see what Elizabeth Hurst comes up with for the next book in the series.

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

Elizabeth M Hurst hails from West Cumbria in the UK.  She was a voracious reader from a very young age but only started writing seriously in 2012 after a friend offered some encouragement.

She now lives in South Warwickshire and Siren Spirit is her first novel.

For more information visit her website 
Follow her on Twitter @LizHurstAuthor


Friday, 29 July 2016

The Girl With Nine Wigs by Sophie van der Stap

Sophie is 21 when she is diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. A striking, fun-loving student, she finds her world reduced overnight to the sterile confines of a hospital. But within these walls Sophie discovers a whole new world of gossiping nurses and sexy doctors, and of hair loss, and eyebrow pencils.
As Sophie faces the challenges of chemotherapy, wigs - now a crucial part of her life - become a powerful form of self-expression.  Each of her nine wigs makes her feel stronger and gives her a distinct personality, and that is why each has its own name: Stella, Sue, Daisy, Blondie, Platina, Uma, Pam, Lydia and Bebe.  There's a bit of Sophie in all of them, and they reveal as much as they hide.  Sophie is determined to be much more than a cancer patient. With refreshing honesty and a keen eye for the absurd, Sophie van der Stap's The Girl With Nine Wigs will make you smile when you least expect it. 

The Girl With Nine Wigs by Sophie van der Stap was published by Summersdale on 21 October 2015.

"It's Saturday and everything is different. No, I didn't go to the market this morning and I didn't have my usual coffee on Westerstraat. And no, I wasn't getting ready for a new semester at college. Next Monday, January 31st, I have to admit myself at the hospital for my first chemotherapy session. For the next two months, I'm expected each week for a fresh shot of vincristine, etoposide, ifosfamide and loads more exciting abracadabra."

Sophie van der Stap was just twenty-one years old when she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. She was an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. She'd had some sorrow, as her mother had recently battled cancer herself, but on the whole, Sophie's life was bright and fun.

Boyfriends, parties, college; Sophie embraced all of it, with joy. Her diagnosis was shocking, her treatment was severe and the impact on her family dynamics were unexpected. Despite the many many low points, she has an irresistible sense of fun and mischief that stops this book from falling into the 'misery memoir' category, her bright voice and character shines through her writing.

Stella, Sue, Daisy, Blondie, Platina, Uma, Pam, Lydia and Bebe; these are the characters that help her to cope with the hospital appointments, with the missed parties and the falling behind with college work. Not people, but the nine very different wigs that she buys, and which she christens and which both expose and hide the inner turmoil.

Sophie remains determined throughout her treatment, each of the wigs transform her into a different personality, but she's not faking it, she's exposing characteristics that she probably hid previously, but allows them to come to the front when she wears the wig that she feels suits those feelings best.

The Girl With Nine Wigs was written twelve years ago and has only recently been translated into English. It's an inspirational read that will give hope to any patient in a similar situations and indeed, that was Sophie's intention:

"All I have to do is show people that you can live with cancer, that you can still laugh and enjoy yourself. That I still shop, dress up and go on dates.That those things are still just as much fun as they were before I got cancer, maybe even more so.  That life with cancer doesn't have to be just an emaciated body, pain and endless vomiting. And that wigs can be fun, and not just for me, but for anyone with cancer."

Sophie has certainly done that in The Girl With Nine Wigs. It's a wise and funny story, yet Sophie's darkest days and fears are not hidden at all. She writes with energy and her personality shines through on every page.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy of The Girl With Nine Wigs for review.

Sophie van der Stap is a Dutch author.
Since recovering from cancer, she has written journalism and fiction.
She currently lives in Paris.

Sophie's TEDx Maastricht talk can be seen here:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Everything Love Is by Claire King ~ Review & My Life In Books from the author

Baptiste Molino has devoted his life to other people's happiness. Moored on his houseboat on the edge of Toulouse, he helps his clients navigate the waters of contentment, yet remains careful never to make waves of his own.
Baptiste is more concerned with his past than his future: particularly the mysterious circumstances of his birth and the identity of his birth mother. But Sophie, the young waitress in his local bar, believes it is time for Baptiste to rediscover passion and leads him into the world on his doorstep he has long tried to avoid.
However, it is Baptiste's new client who may end up being the one to change his perspective. Elegant and enigmatic, Amandine Rousseau is fast becoming a puzzle he longs to solve. As tensions rise on the streets of the city, Baptiste's determination to avoid both the highs and lows of love begins to waver. And when his mother's legacy finally reveals itself, he finds himself torn between pursuing his own happiness and safeguarding that of the one he loves. 

Everything Love Is by Claire King is published in hardback by Bloomsbury and is the author's second novel.  I read and reviewed her first book, The Night Rainbow here on Random Things in April 2013.

Everything Love Is begins with the birth of the lead character Baptiste. His delivery into the world was traumatic and violent, and those six pages, set in May 1968 on a train travelling through the French countryside are the most wonderful opening to a beautifully written and fascinating story of love and hope mixed with bitter sadness and loss.

Many years later, adult Baptiste is living on a houseboat called Candace, just outside of Toulouse. He's a carer, a fixer, a man who tries to help the clients that visit him, he helps them to find happiness, whilst all the time he is struggling with his own inner peace.

Baptiste's friend Sophie, who works in the local bar and ensures that he eats, and cares deeply for him, calls him a kingfisher. The author's gift for lyrical, musical, sensuous words are displayed in the passage where Amandine explains her reasoning;

"When most creatures look down at the canal, they see themselves reflected within in.  But not the kingfisher.  He sees straight through the surface to everything that lies beneath. That's what you do with people.  Most of us only ever see the surface of others, or else our own reflection.  But for you it's as though the surface isn't there.  That's how you help people."

The first one hundred pages of Everything Love Is is challenging, there are voices that contribute to the story that don't seem to fit properly; an anonymous character, who is very close to Baptiste, but who baffled me at first. And then, the reader realises, and the story takes another dimension. It's almost like driving a new car; you know that you love it, but initially you are not quite sure where everything is, and then one day, it becomes comfortable and smooth and as simple as breathing.

Claire King's writing reminds me of Joanne Harris' Chocolat, not just the exquisitely described small French town setting, but the elegant and seductive prose alongside her vibrant and wonderfully constructed characters.

Beautifully crafted, Everything Love Is really is a study of love and longing. The author delicately handles the progressive decline of Baptiste as he searches for answers about his beginnings.

A novel to savour and absorb, and remember.

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

I'm delighted to welcome Claire King to Random Things today.  She's talking about 'My Life In Books' .... sharing the books that have inspired her and left a lasting impression.

My Life In Books ~ Claire King

As I'm sure everyone does for this feature, I've agonised over how to select a handful of books that in some way represent my life in books.  In the end, I've chosen not my favourite books (though some are) but books that have influenced me as a writer/reader: Landmarks on my literary voyage of discovery.

Stig of the Dump by Clive King  Even though I was an avid reader as a child - fiction, non-fiction and very often just the dictionary - this is the first book I remember giving me a 'Wow' moment. It was chosen by the school librarian for the class to read when I was eleven.  It taught me something about who I was as a reader and as a person.  I was enormously impressed by the author's deliberate toying with readers' preconceptions.

Watership Down by Richard Adams  Another book recommended to me by the same librarian.  I remember her saying that it was aimed at older readers, but she thought I was up to it.  Smart tactic. I bought it with my pocket money and thought I'd got a great bargain as it was MUCH thicker than any book I'd read before.  But it turned out I was NOT up to it.  I couldn't get into it at all.  It took me several attempts over months, maybe years, before something finally clicked.  Then, for a while, it was the best thing I'd ever read.  It taught me about not giving up on a book.

Riders by Jilly Cooper  I was a horse loving and slightly (quite a lot actually) off-the-rails teenager. Having Jilly Cooper's page turning, enjoyable, slightly scandalous books meant I could live vicariously through Jake, Rupert, Taggie et al, at least some of the time.  Lots of my friends were reading them too, so they were a great talking point.  Jilly may have kept me from getting into even more trouble than I did.
I now live in the Cotswolds where the books were set and I'm looking forward to reading the new one in situ this year!

The Oxford Library of English Poetry edited by John Wain  I read a lot of poetry in my first year of university, most of it from these three volumes.  Not because I was studying English, but because I wasn't.  I took an economics degree, having been advised it was more likely to help me get a job. It was poetry that anchored me to creative writing during those 3 years.  From Dryden and Blake, through Thomas Love Peacock, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Yeats and Larkin and Elizabeth Jennings. I'm still fascinated by the way that so few words, when well placed, can pull emotions from my own heart and show them to me.  My favourite poems from that time are still bookmarked.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy  When I first read this novel I don't think I had ever read anything quite like it before.  The setting itself is a character, brought to life through exquisite and evocative descriptions and by the way the (other) characters interact with it.  The writing is luscious and unconventional and although using a third person point of view it manages to deliver the story through Rahel's young eyes, which gives it an extraordinary impact. This novel remains a firm favourite of mine to this day.

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger  I am sure the writing in this book is wonderful too: indeed there are a couple of scenes that still stick in my mind. But the reason it stands out for me has to be the plotting.  Not only is the premise thrilling, but the execution is meticulous, so cleverly delivered.  I thought this book an absolute triumph and an inspiration.  It made me work quite hard as a reader to fit the timeline together, and once I had read it I had to immediately read it again to try and work out how it was done.

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie   Over twenty years after my travails with Watership Down, this became the first book I never finished. My first daughter had just been born and I had truly realised what 'having no time' means.  I struggled with every page, and things were enough of a struggle as it was without reading becoming a chore.  I put it down and never looked back.  I've read enough now to know when a book isn't for me, and life is too short to stick them out.

The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble  A book set where I grew up, from an author whose roots were also back there.  By the time I read this I had already moved a long way from home, both literally and figuratively.  But here was a book that held up a mirror, reminding me where I came from, and who I had always wanted to be.

The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling   My husband grew up with these playful, witty, fantastical stories. Oh my Best Beloved, but I came to them late, at the same time as my own children. What a joy to discover them.  Reading them for the first time was like coming full circle - getting back to the basic love of storytelling and the stretchy, accommodating English language. (By the way, if you can get hold of the audio book read by Johnny Morris, definitely do. He is a WONDERFUL narrator).

Claire King ~ July 2016

Claire King's debut novel, The Night Rainbow, was published by Bloomsbury in 2013.
She is also the author of numerous prize-winning short stories.
After fourteen years in southern France, Claire has recently returned to the UK and now lives with her family by a canal in Gloucestershire.

For more information, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @ckingwriter


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes #BlogTour

He's back.  He's watching.  And he'll wait.
Sarah Carpenter lives with her two dogs in a farmhouse, high on the North Yorkshire moors.   
She isn't exactly lonely, though when an old friend, Aiden Beck, needs a place to stay she welcomes him into her home. 
But Aiden has secrets, and as the weather closes in, and snowfall blocks the roads, Sarah realises that there are far worse things than being alone ....... 

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Elizabeth Haynes' latest novel Never Alone, published in ebook by Myriad on 28 July, the paperback will be released on 6 October 2016.

Way back in September 2011 I read Into The Darkest Corner; Elizabeth Haynes' first novel. It's a long time ago, but I remember it so very well. For me, it is probably the best psychological thriller that I've ever read. I've read the author's later books, including her police procedural series featuring DI Louisa Smith and enjoyed them all, but Into The Darkest Corner has always stood out for me.

I had a tingly feeling about her latest novel, Never Alone, when I read the synopsis, I kind of thought that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be the one that sat alongside Into The Darkest Corner ... I was right!  It is an absolute page-turner, it's one of those books that fries your brain with its complexities, yet you cannot stop reading ..... just one more page, and one more, and one more.

I finished Never Alone whilst travelling to the Theakston's Crime Festival in Harrogate this weekend and spent most of the two days that I was there telling EVERYONE that they HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

Never Alone is ingeniously clever.  I spent most of the first half of the story wondering what the bloody hell was going on.  The story is narrated alternatively by Sarah who lives with her two dogs in an isolated farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors.  The second voice is Aiden Beck, a friend from Sarah's past who has turned up unexpectedly and needs a place to stay.  Nestled in between their narratives, every now and again, the reader hears from an anonymous voice, and these short snippets are terrifying, adding to the incredible tension that builds up and up, never slowing down, just inducing yet more heart-stopping episodes as the author twists the reader's mind.

Elizabeth Haynes presents three types of character, there's the lead players; Sarah, Aiden, Will and Sophie. The location; the wild desolation of the vast Yorkshire Moors and the creaking, menacing old house that Sarah calls home and finally the weather.  Strange as it may sound, the howling winds and the icy cold really are a central 'character' and  add such a depth to this story, increasing the chills down the spine and overall feeling of creeping fear.

I'm not going to go into the plot details, after all, you WILL be buying your own copy of Never Alone .... won't you?  I must mention the incredible insight into the human mind that the author has, her seemingly, on the face of it, ordinary characters are finely tuned and dare I say it, will be recognisable to many of us.

Never Alone explores themes of regret and recrimination. There's rejection and despair and more than a touch of madness. There's some steamy eroticism, that is perfectly done and the author explores a side of the sex industry that is rarely talked about, and uses non-stereotypical characters cleverly.

Chilling, claustrophobic, enticing and heart-pounding.  Never Alone is a story that is so clever, and so frighteningly real.  I raced through it to the astonishing ending in complete awe.

And, I really do think that Never Alone may just have overtaken Into The Darkest Corner to become my favourite Elizabeth Haynes novel.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review and for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour.

Elizabeth Haynes is a former police intelligence analyst who lives in Norfolk with her husband and son.  Her first novel, Into The Darkest Corner, was Amazon's Best Book of the Year 2011 and is a New York Times bestseller.  It has been published in thirty-seven countries.

Her second novel, Revenge of the Tide, was published by Myriad in 2012 and her third, Human Remains, was published in 2013. 

She is also the author of two police procedural crime novels, Under a Silent Moon and Behind Closed Doors (Sphere).

For more information about Elizabeth Haynes visit
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @Elizjhaynes


Monday, 25 July 2016

The #SummerSix with @deadgoodbooks #SummerSix

I'm thrilled to be part of the #SummerSix campaign with @deadgoodbooks and Penguin, Random House.

The #SummerSix are six recent books from six fabulous authors and all of them are fabulous page turners and really worthy of taking up space in your summer holiday suitcase.

Or, take advantage of our unusually summery weather and plonk yourself in the garden, or in the park and get lost in a great story.

So here's the line up, which one will you choose?  Here's a hint from me ..... read all six!

Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent: Published in paperback on 14 July

Lydia Fitzsimons lives in a perfect house with her adoring husband and loving son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder.  However, needs must - because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants ...

I read and reviewed Lying in Wait on Random Things earlier this month: here's a snippet from my review:  "Tightly plotted and excellently paced, Lying in Wait is absolutely gripping. The writing is excellent, the surprises never stop. It is unnerving and irresistible, dark with a devastating twist."

My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry: Published in ebook on 26 May 2016, and paperback on 25 August

When lawyer Lily marries Ed, she's determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind.  But when she takes on her first criminal case, she starts to find herself strangely drawn to her client. A man who is accused of murder. A man she will soon be willing to risk everything for.
But is he really innocent?
And who is she to judge?

My review of My Husband's Wife was on Random Things at the beginning of May.  My review included:  "My Husband's Wife is an 'onion' novel. Peel away one layer and you'll find more and more, and each layer is essential to the story. Sometimes complicated and touching on some serious issues, this is a very fine debut novel."

Disclaimer by Renee Knight: Published in hardback on 9 April 2015 and paperback on 31 December

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine's bedside table, she curls up and begins to read. 
But as she turns the pages she is horrified to realise she is a key character, a main player.
The story will reveal her darkest secret.
A secret she thought no one else knew. 

Little Boy Blue by M J Arlidge: published in paperback on 2 June 2016

DI Helen Grace is back and it's her most personal case yet. She investigates the shocking murder of a close friend found cocooned in plastic. The investigation soon threatens to expose Helen's private life and she has to make some tough personal choices along the way, as she hunts for a twisted killer. These murders are part of a calculated attempt to bring Helen down ....

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben: published in paperback on 30 June 2016

If your husband was murdered.
And you were a witness
How do you explain it when he appears on your nanny cam?
You thought you trusted him
Now you can't even trust yourself.

In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: published in paperback on 31 December 2015

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years.  Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back/
Until, out of blue, an invitation to Clare's hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage - the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.
But something goes wrong.
Very wrong.
And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.

In A Dark Dark Wood was featured on Random Things in July last year.  Here's what I said about it:
"In A Dark Dark Wood is chilling and sinister and sent shivers down my spine on more than one occasion. It's not just a psychological thriller, although it is a very very good one, it's also a look at friendships, and hurts and let downs. It's a study of how a jealous mind can work, it's a lesson in misunderstanding and regret."

So, there are your choices. Each one of the books will be discussed in detail over at the Dead Good website

You can Tweet @deadgoodbooks and tell them which of the books you'd recommend to a friend, using #SummerSix or snap a written version of your recommendation on Instagram (@deadgoodbooks) with the hashtag and you'll automatically be entered into a draw to win a set of all six books and an additional set to give to a friend.

DeadGood are also giving away a Kindle Paperwhite - just in case you are running out of suitcase space - enter on their website

Good Luck, and Happy Summer Reading!!



Saturday, 23 July 2016

Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell #BlogTour #MyLifeInBooks

Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother ...
StoryWorld is the nation's favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV - and keep a lid on the scandals and backbiting that happen off-stage.
But then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a game of one-upmanship where she doesn't know the rules. As the power struggle intensifies, can Liz keep her cool and keep her job? Does she even want to?
In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her own experiences of working in the glamorous, pressurised world of live TV. 

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell, published on 14 July in hardback and ebook by Head of Zeus.  This is Jane Lythell's third novel. Her first, The Lie of You was published in 2014 and  After The Storm, which I reviewed on Random Things, was published in January 2015.

The author's previous books were psychological thriller stories, Woman of the Hour moves away from that genre and looks at the life of a woman working as a TV producer, dealing with the stresses that go with it.

The story is structured very well, and allows the reader to have an insight into both of Liz Lyon's worlds. Narrated by Liz from two locations; the StoryWorld studios on London Bridge and then from her flat in Chalk Farm which she shares with her teenage daughter Flo.

Jane Lythell expertly creates the busy TV studio with the larger-than-life characters and their
enormous egos and the frantic pace of putting together a live TV show whilst ensuring that the celebrities, the presenters and the studio top executives are all kept happy. It's clear that the author has used her years of experience in a similar workplace, and this lends a great sense of authenticity to the plot .... it can also make the reader reel in horror, wondering how anyone can spend their days massaging the egos of these pampered people.

The stark contrast in Lyn's life, from TV producer to worried single-mum is done very well, and the scenes at home, between Liz and her daughter Flo explore issues including guilt, financial pressures and the needs and wants of a teenage girl.

Woman of the Hour is character-led, and there are some amazing, vibrant characters - some you'll love, and some you'll want to hate, but all of them are human and the author cleverly includes details that can explain some behaviours.

I believe that Woman of the Hour is the first in a new series and it has certainly whetted my appetite to find out more about Liz and her StoryWorld colleagues, and of course, about Flo.  As an added bonus at the end of the book, the author has included some Comfort Recipes, for the Stressed Out. Perfect!

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review and for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour.

I'm delighted to welcome Jane Lythell to Random Things today, she's talking about 'My Life In Books'

I've been a passionate reader all my life and as a child would read my favourite books again and again. Knowing the plot did not spoil the pleasure at all. Here are two favourite books from childhood.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton  This stimulated my imagination so much. I loved the idea of little people borrowing, not stealing, the things they need. They had their own code of honour and were never wasteful. Their names: Arrietty, Homily and Pod Clock are inspired because they are just that bit different and non-human. It's a wistful book too because I seem to remember that the Borrowers had once been taller but got smaller and smaller because of their fear. Now that is a powerful idea.

Anne of Green Gables series by L M Montgomery  I read the entire series of Anne books. She is such a spirited character. I loved how she sparred with Gilbert Blythe. This was the first love story I encountered in fiction and it followed the familiar pattern of initial antagonism blossoming into love. I remember so well the scene in the classroom where Gilbert picks up one of Anne's plaits and declares:
"Carrots ....."
"You mean, hateful boy!" she exclaimed passionately.  "How dare you!"
And then - thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert's head and cracked it - slate not head - clear across.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell  I read this when I was 14 and was consumed by all one thousand pages of it.  I had borrowed it from Sheringham library and read it at every available opportunity. I remember vividly lying on my bed on my stomach as I read the last pages and Rhett Butler leaves Scarlett O'Hara. I was devastated. I must have lain sobbing on my bed for an age until my mum came in and said: "Oh well having a cry does you good."

Charles Dickens  I had to include Charles Dickens in My Life in Books because he has given me so much pleasure and so much to think about my entire life. I try to read a Dickens novel once a year, sometimes it is a re-reading, and he continues to amaze and enthral me.  My all-time favourite is Great Expectations though I also adore Bleak House and David Copperfield.  Dickens is the great storyteller and the great populariser.  Who can ever forget Miss Havisham, Abel Magwitch, Lady Dedlock, the Artful Dodger, Ebenezer Scrooge, Uriah Heep and his hundres of flawed and funny and poignant characters?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge   I studied English Literature at University College London and was introduced to the poetry of Coleridge.  He remains one of my favourite poets and I must mention Frost at Midnight and The Pains of Sleep.  However it is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to which I return to again and again for its powerful imagery and its moral message.

The Stand by Stephen King  This book terrified me and I had to keep the light on all night while reading it!  I think Stephen King should get far more praise for the master storyteller he is.  I think he's something of a modern day Dickens in the way he creates strong memorable characters and compelling storylines.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx  This is my favourite contemporary novel and my respect for Annie Proulx as a writer is huge. The Shipping News has everything I love in a book: a despised and hapless hero; a wonderful sense of place in the depiction of Newfoundland, the land of Quoyle's forefathers and a journey of redemption for Quoyle.  I do not like hopeless books. I like there to be some light at the end.

I'd like to end My Life in Books with two recent reads that have wowed me.  As a writer you go on learning all the time and the best way to learn about writing is to read long and deep.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre  I came late to John le Carre and am spending the summer reading his novels.  I have enjoyed the four others I have read so far but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the one that blew me away. George Smiley is a wonderfully achieved character.
'Small, podgy and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance, on of London's meek who do not inherit the earth.'
But George Smiley has a brilliant mind and he sets out to unearth the mole at the heart of the UK's secret services. The book kept me entranced.

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson  This is a majestic doorstep of a book that vividly brings to life Robert FitzRoy the Captain of the Beagle and his five year voyage with Charles Darwin to Tierra del Fuego, the Galapagos and beyond. The two men became close during the voyage but differences in their beliefs later started as a crack and widened to a chasm. There are some marvellous discussions between the two men on whether the Biblical Flood ever happened and whether species can transmute.  The book has two descriptions of sea storms that left me in awe of Thompson's writing.

I have just noticed that there is a strong sea and sailing theme with my selection: The Ancient Mariner, The Shipping News and This Thing of Darkness and of course I wrote my own sailing book set on a beach in the Caribbean Sea: After the Storm.

Jane Lythell ~ July 2016 

Jane Lythell worked as a television producer and commissioning editor for fifteen years.
She has been Deputy Director of the BFI and Chief Executive of BAFTA.
Woman of the Hour is her third novel, and the first title in the StoryWorld series.

Follow her on Twitter @janelythell


Friday, 22 July 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Sarah Vaughan

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have left a lasting impression on their life

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome Sarah Vaughan today.  Sarah is the author of two novels, I've read and reviewed both of them here on Random Things.  
The Art of Baking Blind was published by Hodder in August 2015, her latest book The Farm at the Edge of the World was published, again by Hodder on 30 June this year.

I loved both of these books and recommend them highly, if you've not come across Sarah's books yet, you really must buy these, I promise you that you are in for a treat.

My Life in Books ~ Sarah Vaughan

I found compiling this list quite difficult. I've a tendency to be indecisive so how do I possibly limit the books that have influenced me to five or six?  I was a voracious reader as a child and then read English at university so I've copied Cathy Rentzenbrink and limited my choices to those I read up to the age of 20 - my formative reading years - then added a tiny list of those I've recently loved. Hope that isn't cheating!

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl  Roald Dahl was to my generation what David Walliams is to my children's. And this is my favourite of his novels (with Fantastic Mr Fox - or 'My Dear Foxy' as he's known to Badger - coming second.)  It still has Dahl's grotesques but it's the intensity of the father/son relationship that really makes this - and, for a child, the thrill of Danny's autonomy: the fact that this nine-year-old gets to drive a car in the middle of the night to resuce his Dad from a moonlit wood.  I recently read this to my children and they could barely cope with the tension, or the excitement as father and son come up with a plan to hoodwink Mr Victor Hazell - a plan at which you want them to succeed though you know it's illegal. "What a child wants - what a child deserves - this is a parent who is sparky", Dahl advises at the end. So: no pressure. But it's the sort of novel that makes you want to be that sort of anarchic individual.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder  While my father read me Roald Dahl, the Little House on the Prairie series are the first novels I can remember reading myself. I've a very clear memory of devouring them under the duvet with a torch at nine o'clock at night, aged seven or eight. I'm not sure how well they've endured over time but I loved them because they opened up an entirely different, discrete world - one as distinct from my own as that of the Narnia books, which I also devoured. The sense that an entire family could live out of a wagon and be virtually self-sufficient fascinated me. Brown-haired and brown-eyed, with a blue-eyed, blonde-haired sister - ironically called Laura - I also identified with the protagonist.

Ordinary Jack / Absolute Zero (The Bagthorpe Saga) by Helen Cresswell  Jack Bagthorpe is the only ordinary child in a family of geniuses - all of whom have several "strings t their bow" - and is determined to do something about it.  These comic novels are satiric and prescient - Absolute Zero features the family being filmed in a 1980s nod to reality TV - but what I loved most about them apart from their outlandish characters was that they didn't patronize their readers: I've recently tried reading them to my eight-year-old an have been surprised by how advanced the vocabulary is; and how slyly allusive they are to parents.  As a child who was bullied, I identified with Jack and his sense of being an outsider and also with his socially awkward, if brilliant, siblings.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte  My mother was nine when she first read Jane Eyre and so, at nine, she suggested I should too.  I'd never read anything so terrifying or with such creative power.  It coincided with our moving from a 1960s house to a detached Victorian one where I was given a room alone on the top floor next to two box rooms.  A paper sun - casting a reddish glow - burned outside my door and I was convinced that Bertha Rochester lived in the room next door and was waiting to set me on fire each night.  Yes, Jane was a fascinating character but at nine I was more preoccupied by the mad woman in the attic.  Later I read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, which tells Bertha - or Antoinette's - side of the story; later still Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-century Literary Imagination. I think you're either a Wuthering Heights or a Jane Eyre fan.  The sheer terror Charlotte  invoked in me, as well as the strength of her heroine, ensured I had to be in her camp.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  When I was ten I won a creative writing competition - Devon Young Writers of the Year - coincidentally judged by Helen Creswell. The prize included £50 in book vouchers: a fair amount in 1983.  I wanted to buy as many Judy Blume's as possible - Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret was a bit of an obsession - but my mum insisted I buy some leather-bound classics.  I groaned - and then, at eleven or twelve I opened the Jane Austen's.  I had never come across anything like it: her wit, her bitchiness, what I would later come to identify as free indirect speech but which at the time I saw as an economical way of conveying character and having a sly dig; the sense that these were bright, sparky women even if they wore bonnets and spent their time waiting to be married.  Emma would be my favourite for Austen's sheer audacity in creating a protagonist who is snobbish and sometimes downright unpleasant and yet still redeeming - but who can resist Lizzie Bennett and her dysfunctional family?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  I went through an Agatha Christie stage and then a du Maurier one. The rather hammy Jamaica Inn was a GCSE set text but it's Rebecca which is her Gothic masterpiece.  I recently reread it as an adult and was surprised by how disturbing I found not just the terrifying Mrs Danvers but the morally problematic Maxim de Winter.  I've always loved novels wiht a strong sense of place - The Go-Between and Atonement are others - and a killer first line.  This evokes the lushness of south Cornwall so well and I'm sure has influenced my own Cornish novel, The Farm at the Edge of the World.

Tess of the D'Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy   Another obvious classic.  I could equally have chosen EM Forster's Howard's End; both are strikingly modern in their depiction of sexual double standards and class; both have a profound sense of place; both are infused with - and hurtle towards - tragedy. But I think Tess has the edge.  If you think of the era in which Hardy was writing, you realise quite how subversive Tess and Jude the Obscure, in particular, are. Plus I love his powerful evocation of place, which also influenced my new book (I'm sensing a theme here). I can't look at a Hardy, Forster, DH Lawrence or George Eliot without being reminded of my late teens and my luck at being able to study - and just immerse myself in - the nineteenth-century novel.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding  OK, I admit that I haven't read this for years; not since I studied eighteenth-century literature. But I loved this comic novel for its satire, its rollicking good humour, its sense of a very fallible hero succumbing to the temptations as he embarked on a quest.  I remember being surprised at how fresh and anarchic it felt for something written in 1749.  It's probably time I had another read.

More recently .....

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin  Utterly immersive. I felt as if I was Eilis - and I railed at the ending.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes  An unreliable narrator and an ambiguous ending that infuriated me for weeks.

Atonement by Ian McEwan  A strong sense of place, thwarted love across the class divide; a terrible accusation; tragedy; war; the desire for atonement; the desperate hope that all will be well and then the tear-jerking realisation that this will be thwarted.  Near perfection.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel  I loved Wolf Hall, as well, but found this even more compelling.  I was Cromwell: then half fell in love with him; then out of love as the extent of his ruthlessness became apparent. We all know what's going to happen to Anne Boleyn and yet the suspense is ratcheted right up.  And the writing's stunning. I think Hilary Mantell is a genius.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  Utterly immersive as well as audaciously ambitious.  The Blitz scenes - like the bombing scenes in A God in Ruins - are quite brilliant and taught me a great deal about how to lightly carry historical research.  And both novels made me cry.  Her Brodie literary detective novels are pretty good, too, but this is a step up.

Sarah Vaughan ~ July 2016

Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. After two years at the Press Association, she spent eleven years at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent, and then started freelancing.
Sarah lives near Cambridge with her husband and two young children.

Find out more about Sarah at
Follow her on Twitter @SVaughanAuthor