Sunday 30 March 2014

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell

A glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash. 
Returning for her sixth case, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is baffled as the driver of the second vehicle miraculously survives - and vanishes. 
Another young actress is murdered and, once again, the killer mysteriously disappears. 
Geraldine unwittingly risks her sergeant's life in their struggle to track down a serial killer who leaves no clues.

Fatal Act was published as ebook by No Exit Press on 12 December 2013, the paperback edition is released on 29 May 2014.

Fatal Act is the sixth DI Geraldine Steel story from Leigh Russell, I reviewed her last book Stop Dead back in August 2013.

I mentioned in my review of Stop Dead that I hadn't read any of the previous novels in the series, but this did not spoil my enjoyment or understanding of the story.  Fatal Act works perfectly well as a stand-alone story too.  The author cleverly updates the reader about Geraldine's past without straying away from the current plot at all.

Geraldine Steel and her colleague Sam are heading up a murder investigation. When the body of a successful young actress is found dead behind the wheel of her powerful sports car, it is assumed that she died from her injuries and that this is a regular, if tragic, road traffic accident. But where is the other driver?  How did they escape unharmed?  It soon becomes clear that this is not an open and shut case, and that this might, in fact, be murder.

As Geraldine and Sam work hard on trying to unravel this mystery, a prime suspect is identified, and although Geraldine has her doubts as to his guilt, her superiors are determined that he is their man.  When another young girl is found murdered, and she too has links to this suspect, it seems that Geraldine may have been wrong after all.

Leigh Russell writes very well. Her short sharp paragraphs within each punchy chapter work so well to keep the story moving at a fast pace. Geraldine is a complex character; lonely but very bright, she often makes decisions about her personal life that are questionable. At times she appears to be very vulnerable, especially when dealing with male colleagues.  However, she is loyal and she is not afraid to put herself in difficult situations, from dealing with her superiors, to facing up to a potential killer.

The murder mystery is well constructed, with a few red herrings planted along the way, enough to keep the reader engaged and guessing until not quite the end in my case, but certainly until the last few chapters.

I enjoyed this well paced, cleverly constructed story, and was pleased to get to know a little more about Geraldine Steel and her colleagues.  I'm certainly watching out for the next in the series.

My thanks to Real Readers who sent my proof copy for review.

Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent, gaining a Masters degree in English. For many years a secondary school English teacher, she is a creative writing tutor for adults. She is married, has two daughters, and lives in North West London.    Her first novel, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasy New Blood Dagger Award in 2010.   This was followed by Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead and Fatal Act, in the Detective Geraldine Steel series. Cold Sacrifice is the first title in a spin off series featuring Geraldine Steel's sergeant, Ian Peterson.

For more information about Leigh Russell, her books and upcoming events, visit her website,  follow her on Twitter @LeighRussell

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Saturday 29 March 2014

York Literature Festival ~ Lunch with Rowan Coleman

On Wednesday I hopped on the train to York and met my friend Anne, who blogs at Being Anne.  We had tickets for the Literary Lunch with Rowan Coleman, part of the York Literature Festival and  held at the Dean Court Hotel in the shadow of York Minster.  We'd booked months ago, and both of us had been looking forward to the event so much.

Rowan Coleman's most recent novel, The Memory Book was published by Ebury in hardback on 30 January this year, the paperback edition will be released in September.  Both Anne and myself have read and reviewed The Memory Book, and we both adored it.  You can read my review of The Memory Book, and also check out Anne's review on Being Anne.

I was lucky enough to attend the launch party for The Memory Book down in London, on the day of the tube strike!  It was a fantastic party, and Rowan made us all really welcome.

We arrived at Dean Court just before 12.30, and what a beautiful building it is.  In the perfect spot, overshadowed by the magnificent Minster and with warm, friendly, welcoming staff.  We spotted Rowan as we arrived and were greeted with hugs and another lovely welcome.  We made our way to the dining room which was set out with tables of six, with crisp white linen tableclothes, sparkling glasses and nibbles on the table. We soon started to chat with our fellow guests and settled down to listen to Rowan talk.

Rowan is a great speaker, she's funny and real and made her guests feel very comfortable. She had lots of funny stories to tell, about her past and about her family, but most importantly, about The Memory Book. It was interesting to get some insight into how the story came about, and how it evolved into what is truly a wonderful story.

Lunch was served.  It was absolutely delicious.  Anne and I were not sure what sort of lunch to expect, and this was above all expectations. Beautifully cooked, tender lamb with roasted vegetables and the most buttery soft fondant potato, and to follow; a trio of lemon desserts - my absolute favourite, and each one was just delicious.  Coffee and beautiful chocolates were the finishing touch.

Rowan then came back to answer questions from the guests, again she was funny and warm and honest - a real pleasure to listen to.

It was totally delicious way to spend a rainy Wednesday afternoon, although I'd booked the time off work, it felt very naughty to be spending lunch in a beautiful hotel, sipping a glass of wine and eating delicious food whilst listening to one of my favourite people speak.  It certainly makes a change from a rushed sandwich (if I'm lucky) and endless meetings!

Dean Court Hotel staff were wonderful hosts, the event was managed perfectly by the team from the York Literature Festival.  We enjoyed our day so much.

Find out more about York Literature Festival on their website, follow them on Twitter @YorkLitFest and on Facebook

Find out more about Dean Court Hotel on their website, follow them on Twitter @DeanCourtYork and on Facebook

Rowan worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine ‘Young Writer of the Year’ in 2001.   Her first novel Growing Up Twice was published in 2002 and was a WH Smith Fresh Talent winner.  Since then Rowan has written ten novels including The Accidental MotherThe Baby Group, and Dearest Rose, which won The Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read 2012, The RoNA Epic Romance novel of 2013 and was shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013.  Her latest novel is The Memory Book, published January 2014.
Rowan now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, and large family of four children, including surprise toddler twins.

Find out more about Rowan on her website, follow her on Twitter @rowancoleman and on Facebook

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Tuesday 25 March 2014

The Castello Book Club ~ in partnership with Penguin Books

I love books, and I love cheese!   When Castello, the speciality cheese brand contacted me to tell me about their exciting new project I was really excited.
Castello have teamed up with Penguin Books to launch the Castello Book Club Facebook app.  This space encourages people to create their own book club and provides exclusive content from Penguin authors.
Every month there is a new 'Book of the Month' with discussion topics; this month's title is Nick Hornby's dark comedy 'A Long Way Down'.
A Long Way Down is a truly great read, by an award winning author whose work has been made into films including High Fidelity and About A Boy and on 21 March A Long Way Down was released in cinemas and stars Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette.

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby's hilarious bestseller now a major motion picture starring Pierce Brosnan
'Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?'
For disgraced TV presenter Martin Sharp the answer's pretty simple: he has, in his own words, 'pissed his life away'. And on New Year's Eve he's going to end it all . . . but not, as it happens, alone. Because first single-mum Maureen, then eighteen-year-old Jess and lastly American rock-god JJ turn up and crash Martin's private party. They've stolen his idea - but brought their own reasons.
Yet it's hard to jump when you've got an audience queuing impatiently behind you. A few heated words and some slices if cold pizza later and these four strangers are suddenly allies. But is their unlikely friendship a good enough reason to carry on living?

I read A Long Way Down a few years ago and have re-visited it over the weekend.  It has been republished to tie in with the cinema version and I think it's going to be a great film.  Nick Hornby's strength is in his character creation and development, and whilst there is one particular character who I just couldn't bear in the story, I am looking forward to seeing how they are depicted on the big screen.   Nick Hornby is a talented author and some of his one-liners are very very funny.  A Long Way Down is a quick read at just over 200 pages, and one that explores some relevant topics with humour and at times with sarcasm.
There is a competition currently running on the Book Club app, the winning prize includes a trip to one of the world's cultural capitals, New York.  There are also 50 runner-up prizes of Castello hampers  - these would be great to share in a book club. 
And to the cheese!   I was thrilled to receive a box full of beautifully wrapped cheeses at the end of last week. I love cheese, and can happily sit and nibble it all day long. 
Included in my box of goodies was a hunk of Tickler Chedder - extra mature, it's sweet and has a tang. I toasted some thick granary bread, piled it high with grated Tickler, added a dash of good old Henderson's Relish and put it all under the grill.  Perfect - grilled cheese to die for - I still have half of the block left - guess what's for lunch today?
I was intrigued by the Pineapple Halo cheese; a soft cheese with fruity chunks and chopped almonds. I opened it up, nibbled a bit, then nibbled a bit more.  It's incredibly moreish and eaten with some nice crackers or oatcakes, it's the perfect mid-afternoon snack.
Also in my box was some Creamy White - which is like Brie, but creamier and doesn't have that hard bit in the middle that you sometimes find with Brie.  I've also yet to try the Creamy Blue and the Extra Creamy Danish Blue - but I am certain that these will be deliciously scrumptious too!

The Castello Book Club have kindly provided me with six paperback copies of the re-released movie tie-in version of A Long Way Down to giveaway.   Entry is easy, just fill out the Rafflecopter below, don't forget to follow this blog to make sure that your entry is valid.   Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday 24 March 2014

** BLOG TOUR ** Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly ** AUTHOR INTEVIEW **

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly was published on 13 March 2014 by Bantam Press (Transworld). I adored it, and raved about it on my blog on publication day.  If you haven't read my review yet, please check it out.

Keep Your Friends Close kept me reading until well into the early hours of the morning, it's extremely addictive - one of those books that you HAVE to keep reading ..... just one more page ... and one more ....

I am thrilled to be taking part in the MEGA Blog Tour for Keep Your Friends Close today, and welcome Paula Daly to Random Things.   

Paula Daly was born in Lancashire. Before beginning her first novel JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? she was a self-employed physiotherapist. She lives in the Lake District with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
Yes and yes. If someone has taken the trouble to write a review then of course I will do the reviewer the courtesy of reading it. Often I learn something new and will take note because I do want to please the reader. Although I am aware that you can’t please everyone and must ultimately write the book you want to write.

How long does it take to write a novel?     
Paula Daly
For me, around six months. I spend 3 months dreaming and planning first before I begin typing so I’ve got a good idea of how it’s going to go. Then I try to get down 800 -1000 words a day.

Do you have any writing rituals?
I clean my laptop first – ridiculous, I know, but I find finger marks on the screen distracting. Then I unplug the wi-fi and won’t turn it on again until I have at least 500 words. Also I do lots of the plough position (from yoga – turning upside down basically) to return the blood to my head. I sound crazy, don’t I?
What was your favourite childhood book? 

Name one book that made you laugh?  WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple 
Name one book that made you cry? 
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

Which fictional character would you like to meet? 
Jack Foley from Elmore Leanord’s OUT OF SIGHT. The sexiest character in fiction in my opinion.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
I adored sending THE HELP to my best friend and sister. But recently have bought THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty for lots of people.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 
Douglas Kennedy’s THE BIG PICTURE had a huge effect on me. It’s a thriller about an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances and I read it and thought that’s the kind of book I want to write.

What is your guilty pleasure read?    
If I like something, I like it. I don’t feel guilty just because someone else might think it’s substandard. To truly find what you like in life without any influence from other people is wonderful. If a book resonates with me I read it.

Who are your favourite authors? 
Kate Atkinson, Douglas Kennedy’s early thrillers, Nicci French.

What book have you re-read? 
All of the books mentioned above as well as The Talented Mr Ripley, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

What book have you given up on?
Loads. I start around three new books a week and will finish one. If I don’t fall in love with the author’s voice I don’t continue to read. Life is too short and there are too many good books out there. I wouldn’t finish a film if I wasn’t enjoying it, same goes for books. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions Paula.  Wishing you lots of luck with Keep Your Friends Close, and really looking forward to your next book!

Sunday 23 March 2014

One Night In Italy by Lucy Diamond

If journalist Anna had to write up the story of her own life, it wouldn’t make for a great headline: Dull Journo Has Dull Boyfriend! The only mystery in Anna’s life is that she’s never known who her dad is but with her mum refusing to tell her more she’s at a dead end. When she accidentally comes across a clue that her father is Italian, it opens up a burning curiosity in Anna. Soon she’s cooking Italian food, signing up for an Italian class and even considering dusting off her passport to go and find her dad in person… 
Sophie is serving gelato to tourists in Italy when she gets the call that her father has had a serious heart attack. In a rush, she grabs her well-worn backpack and heads back to the one place she’s been avoiding for so long – home. Living with her mum again while her dad recuperates, and taking a job teaching Italian to make ends meet, Sophie has to face up to the secrets she’s kept buried in the past. 
Catherine has no idea what the future holds. Her children have left for university, her husband has left her for another woman and her bank account is left empty after dedicating her life to raising her family. She needs a job and an identity all of a sudden. At an Italian evening class she makes a start in finding new friends Anna and Sophie. And she’s going to need good friends when she discovers her husband’s lies run even deeper than his infidelity 
As Anna embarks on the trip to Italy that could answer all of her questions, will the truth live up to her dreams?

One Night in Italy is published in hardback by Pan Macmillan on 10 April 2014 and is Lucy Diamond's eighth novel.  I have previously reviewed The Beach Cafe and Me & Mr Jones here on Random Things. I love Lucy Diamond's writing, she never fails to cheer me up and One Night In Italy is possibly her best yet.

I love reading novels that are set in a familiar setting, and I fully expected One Night In Italy to be set in Rome or Venice or some other hot and sultry Italian city.  I was surprised and delighted to find that instead of the magic of the Mediterranean this story is set in glorious Sheffield - a place I know well and is very dear to my heart.

Each of the characters are linked by an evening class, they all sign up for Italian for Beginners, taught by Sophie, and although the course is only ten weeks long, it doesn't take them long to become firm friends.

Sophie herself has found herself back in her home town of Sheffield. She's spent the last few years running away, travelling the world, never settling anywhere for very long.  Teaching Italian to beginners was always going to be just a stop gap before her latest adventure abroad - but sometimes things just don't go to plan.
Catherine, the wife of a respected but not particularly pleasant GP discovers that despite the years of being a downtrodden wife, she really can do something.  Her classmates are just the encouragement that she needs.

And Anna, local journalist and girlfriend to the spreadsheet loving Pete; her life too will be changed dramatically by those few weeks of learning the basics of the Italian language.

Lucy Diamond has a gift for creating characters that the reader really can relate to. This eclectic group of people are so realistic that you find yourself becoming really attached to them and rooting for them all the way.   The story gallops along at a fast pace, with each character having their own starring role, although the supporting cast are all pretty great too.

There are serious issues amongst the funny one-liners and the author deals with these effortlessly too. From the downtrodden wife, to NHS corruption and newspaper politics, there really is something for everyone contained in this gem of a story.

Once again, Lucy Diamond has delivered a belter of a book.  Italy, Sheffield, food, recipes, love ... this is the perfect combination and will delight her fans.

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for my proof copy which I picked up at the Women's Fiction Party in January of this year. I was lucky enough to meet Lucy Diamond at the party, she's delicious - just like her books.

Lucy Diamond lives in Bath with her husband and their three children. One Night In Italy is her eighth novel. When she isn't slaving away on a new book (ahem) you can find her on Twitter @LDiamondAuthor.
She also has a website

Friday 21 March 2014

The Collected Works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. 
His wife has just died, in tragic circumstances. 
His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. 
His life is a wreck. 
Amelia is a book rep, with a big heart, and a lonely life. 
Maya is the baby left on A.J.'s bookshop floor with a note. 
What happens in the bookshop that changes the lives of these seemingly normal but extraordinary characters? 
This is the story of how unexpected love can rescue you and bring you back to real life, in a world that you won't want to leave, with characters that you will come to love.

The Collected Works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was published in hardback by Little, Brown on 13 March 2014.

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

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

A J is a book seller.  His wife died recently, he lives alone with just his books for company. His sister-in-law stops by every now and again to clean up after him when he's hit the bottle. He's miserable, he's grumpy and he's quite rude.  A J loves books, but only certain books, he's very specific about what he doesn't like, and when Amelia, the sales rep from Knightley Publishers tries to sell him some titles from their latest catalogue he makes sure she knows just what suits him;

'How about I tell you what I don't like?
I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, post-mortem narrators or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be - basically, gimmicks of any kind.  I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful   -   non-fiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter up my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to ............. "
Yes, he sounds like a complete arse doesn't he?  But no, he's not, he's lovable and he's honest. He's intelligent and he doesn't suffer fools. A J Fikry is my ideal man.  I'm not the only one who thinks so, despite his rudeness to her, Amelia finds herself attracted to him too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks to Emily from Little, Brown who sent my copy for review.

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


Thursday 20 March 2014

**BLOG TOUR** Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip

Today I am taking part in the BLOG TOUR for Peach Blossom Pavilion, published on 27 March 2014 by Avon.

When Precious Orchid's father is falsely accused of a crime and found guilty, he is executed, leaving his family a legacy of dishonour. 
Her mother's only option is to enter a Buddhist nunnery, so she gives her daughter over to the care of her sister in Shanghai. 
At first, life at Peach Blossom Pavilion feels like a dream. Surrounded by exotic flowers, murmuring fountains, colourful fishponds, and bamboo groves, Precious Orchid sees herself thriving. She is schooled in music, literature, painting, calligraphy, and to her innocent surprise, the art of pleasuring men.  
For the beautiful Pavilion hides its darker purpose as an elite house of prostitution. And even as she commands the devotion of China's most powerful men, Precious Orchid never gives up on her dream to escape the Pavilion, be reunited with her mother, avenge her father's death, and find true love. 
And as the richest, most celebrated Ming Ji or "prestigious courtesan" in all of China, she just might have her way even if it comes with a devastating price... 
Sweeping in scope and stunning in its evocation of China, "Peach Blossom Pavilion" is a remarkable novel with an unforgettable heroine at the heart of its powerful story...
Overall, I found Peach Blossom Pavilion an interesting read.  I've read very little fiction that deals with the lives of the courtesans of China, so this insight into the traditions and the treatment of the girls was fascinating.

Precious Orchid does at times come across as just that; 'precious'. She often makes decisions, especially after fleeing the Pavilion that are difficult for the reader to understand, but do add to the action and adventure of the story.

Mingmei Yip is a great storyteller, and it is obvious that she really knows her subject - her passion shines through in her writing.  Her descriptions are evocative, whilst at times her attention to detail can make for uncomfortable reading, especially around Precious Orchid's introduction to life as a sex worker. However, this really did happen, and to gloss over and romanticise these events would do them no justice whatsover.

 Read an excerpt from Peach Blossom Pavilion

The Peach Blossom Pavilion

A novel of the last China Geisha by Mingmei Yip

When there is action above and compliance below, this is called the natural order of things.    
When the man thrusts from above and the woman receives from below, this is called the balance between heaven and earth.
 Dong Xuanzi (Tang dynasty A.D. 618-907)

Prologue   Precious Orchid

            The California sun slowly streams in through my apartment window, then gropes its way past a bamboo plant, a Chinese vase spilling with plum blossoms, a small incense burner, then finally lands on Bao Lan -- Precious Orchid -- the woman lying opposite me without a stitch on. 
            Envy stabs my heart. I stare at her body as it curves in and out like a snake ready for mischief.  She lies on a crimson silk sheet embroidered with flowers in gold thread.  "Flower of the evil sea" -- this was what people in old Shanghai would whisper through cupped mouths.  While now, in San Francisco, I murmur her name, "Bao Lan," sweetly as if savoring a candy in my mouth. I imagine inhaling the decadent fragrance from her sun-warmed nudity. 
            Bao Lan's eyes shine big and her lips -- full, sensuous and painted a dark crimson -- evoke in my mind the color of rose petals in a fading dream.  Petals, that, when curled into a seductive smile, also whisper words of flattery. These, together with her smooth arm, raised and bent behind her head in a graceful curve, remind me of the Chinese saying "A pair of jade arms used as pillows to sleep on by a thousand guests; two slices of crimson lips tasted by ten thousand men." 
            Now the rosy lips seem to say, "Please come to me."  
I nod, reaching my hand to touch the nimbus of black hair tumbling down her small, round breasts.  Breasts the texture of silk and the color of white jade.  Breasts that were touched by many -- soldiers, merchants, officials, scholars, artists, policemen, gangsters, a Catholic priest, a Taoist monk. 
            Feeling guilty of sacrilege, I withdraw my ninety-eight-year old spotty and wrinkled hand.  I keep rocking on my chair and watching Bao Lan as she continues to eye me silently.  "Hai, how time flies like an arrow, and the sun and moon move back and forth like a shuttle!"  I recite the old saying, then carefully sip my ginseng tea.  
            "Ah-po, it's best quality ginseng to keep your longevity and health," my great-granddaughter told me the other day when she brought the herb.  
            Last week, I celebrated my ninety-eighth birthday, and, although they never say it out loud, I know they want my memoir to be finished before I board the immortal's journey.  When I say "they," I mean my great-granddaughter Jade Treasure and her American fiancé Leo Stanley.  In a while, they will be coming to see me and begin recording my oral history.  
            Oral history!  Do they forget that I can read and write? They treat me as if I were a dusty museum piece. They act like they're doing me a great favor by digging me out from deep underground and bringing me to light.  How can they forget that I am not only literate, but also well versed in all the arts --literature, music, painting, calligraphy, and poetry, and that's exactly the reason they want to write about me? 
 Now Bao Lan seems to say,  "Old woman, please go away!  Why do you always have to remind me how old you are and how accomplished you were?!  Can't you leave me alone to enjoy myself at the height of my youth and beauty?" 
            "Sure," I mutter to the air, feeling the wrinkles weighing around the corners of my mouth. 
            But she keeps staring silently at me with eyes which resemble two graceful dots of ink on rice paper.  She's strange, this woman who shares the same house with me but only communicates with the brightness of her eyes and the sensuousness of her body.  
 I am used to her eccentricity, because she's my other -- much wilder and younger -- self!  The delicate beauty opposite me is but a faded oil painting done seventy-five years ago when I was twenty-three.  
            And the last poet-musician courtesan in Shanghai. 
            That's why they keep pushing me to tell, or sell,  my story -- I am the carrier of a mysterious cultural phenomenon -- Ming Ji 
            The prestigious prostitute.  Prestigious prostitute?  Yes, that was what we were called in old China.  A species as extinct as the Chinese emperors, after China became a republic. Some say it's a tragic loss; others argue: how can the disappearance of prostitutes be tragic?  
            The cordless phone trills on the coffee table; I pick it up with my stiff, arthritic hand.  Jane and Leo are already downstairs.  Jane is Jade Treasure's English name, of which I disapprove because it sounds so much like the word “pan fry” in Chinese.  When I call her "Jane, Jane," I can almost smell fish cooking in sizzling oil -- Sizzz!  Sizzz!  It sounds as if I'd cook my own flesh and blood!      
            Now the two young people burst into my nursing home apartment with their laughter and overflowing energy, their embarrassingly long limbs flailing in all directions. Jade Treasure flounces up to peck my cheek, swinging a basket of fruit in front of me, making me dizzy.  
            "Hi, Grandmama, you look good today!  The ginseng gives you good qi?" 
"Jade, can you show some respect to an old woman who has witnessed, literally, the ups and downs of a century?" I say, pushing away the basket of fruit. 
            "Grandmama!"  Jade mocks protest, then dumps the basket on the table with a clank and plops down on the sofa next to me. 
            It is now Leo's turn to peck my cheek, then he says in his smooth Mandarin,  "How are you to-day, Po Po?"  
This American boy calls me Po Po, the respectful way of addressing an elderly lady in Chinese, while my Jade Treasure prefers the more westernized Grandmama (she adds another “ma” for “great” grandmother). Although I am always suspicious of laofan, old barbarians, I kind of like Leo.  He's a nice boy, good-looking with a big body and soft blonde hair, a graduate of journalism at a very good University called Ge-lin-bi-ya? (so I was told by Jade), speaks very good Mandarin, now works as an editor in a very famous publisher called Ah-ba Call-lings? (so I was also told by Jade).  And madly in love with my Jade Treasure. 
            Jade is already clanking bowls and plates in my small kitchen, preparing snacks.  Her bare legs play hide and seek behind the half-opened door, while her excessive energy thrusts her to and fro between the refrigerator, the cupboard, the sink, the stove. 
            A half hour later, after we've finished our snacks and the trays are put away and the table cleaned, Leo and Jade sit down beside me on the sofa, carefully taking out their recorder, pads, pens.  Faces glowing with excitement, they look like Chinese students eager to please their teacher.  It touches me to see their expressions turn serious as if they were burdened by the sacred responsibility of saving a precious heritage from sinking into quicksand. 
            "Grandmama," Jade says after she's discussed in English with her fiancé, "Leo and I agreed that it's best for you to start your story from the beginning.  That is, when you were sold to the turquoise pavilion after great Grandpapa was executed.” 
I'm glad she is discreet enough not to say jiyuan, prostitution house, or worse, jixiang, whorehouse, but instead uses the much more refined and poetic qinglou - turquoise pavilion.
“Jade, if you’re so interested in Chinese culture, do you know there are more than forty words for prostitution house… fire pit; tender village; brocade gate; wind and moon domain. . . .Jade interrupts. “Grandmama, so which were you in?” 
            “You know, we had our own hierarchy. The prestigious book chamber ladies,” I tilt my head, “like myself, condescended to the second rate long gown ladies, and they in turn snubbed those who worked in the second hall. And of course everyone would spit on the homeless wild chickens as if they were nonhuman.” 
            “Wow! Cool stuff!” Jade exclaims, then exchanges whispers with Leo. She turns back to stare at me, her elongated eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "Grandmama, we think that it's better if you can use the 'talk story' style. Besides, can you add even more juicy stuff?” 
             “No.” I wave them a dismissive hand. “Do you think my life is not miserable enough to be saleable? This is my story, and I’ll do it my way!” 
            “Yes, of course!” The two heads nod like basketballs under thumping hands."All right, my big prince and princess, what else?" 
            "That's all, Grandmama. Let's start!"  The two young faces gleam as if they were about to watch a Hollywood soap opera -- forgetting that I have told them a hundred times that my life is even a thousand times soapier.

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She's published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.

More information about the author and her writing can be found on her website

Tuesday 18 March 2014

The Ruby Slippers by Keir Alexander

Old Rosa the bag lady shuffles along the streets of New York, stinking, silent and shunned by man and beast. Time and again her nephew, Michael Marcinkus the grocer, has tried to help - but Rosa remains unknowable, hushed inside her hulk. 
On the day of the St Patrick's Day Parade, Rosa is in a terrible accident. While she lies in hospital, Mr Marcinkus visits her squalid apartment and unearths something remarkable from the monstrous piles of junk: two glittering ruby slippers, relics of Hollywood history. How on earth does decrepit old Rosa come to own such treasure? And what is to be done with it now? 
Rosa's 'Ruby Millions' soon become an irresistible beacon for the misplaced hopes and darkest desires of an unforgettable cast of characters. But in the hunger to possess the prize, will anyone stop to learn the incredible story of the woman to whom they once belonged? 
The Ruby Slippers is a rare and moving fantasia of hidden treasures, forgotten histories, lost connections, and our search for true meaning.

The Ruby Slippers by Keir Alexander is published by Corsair (Constable & Robinson) on 20 March 2014. My thanks to Laura Sherlock who sent my copy on behalf of the publisher.

Rosa and her dog Barrell walk the streets of New York, never stopping to speak to anyone, never acknowledging anyone, but always making an impact.  Rosa stinks, her odour offends and horrifies anyone that goes anywhere near her.  Only her great-nephew Michael attempts to interact with her.  Rosa visits his shop with a hand-written note that tells him what grocery items she wants, he hands them over and always encourages her to take a bath.  It is this sense of family loyalty that pricks at Michael when he hears that Rosa has had a terrible accident during the St Patrick's Day Parade.  He and his wife decide that they must go to her apartment, to clear out and to help.

Rosa's apartment really comes as no surprise. Years and years of rubbish, everything from decaying food to old underwear - the smell is atrocious.  Yet amongst the rubbish and the waste they discover a beautiful pair of ruby slippers - a legacy from the old days of Hollywood, and a mystery.  Why does Rosa have these slippers in her apartment?

We are introduced to a cast of characters who seem entirely unconnected, but on further reading we realise that it is the ruby slippers and their worth that bring this unlikely collection of people together.  Their secrets, their hopes, their desires and their histories are played out from New York and Hollywood and across Europe.

One fabulous, iconic item is the link that binds together a story that is terribly clever, a little whimsical, but utterly human at its centre.  At times very funny, and sometimes very very sad, Keir Alexander is a gifted author who has created a story full of characters who are realistic in their faults and a plot that is ambitious yet very well woven together.

Keir Alexander was once an actor and stage manager before working in film as a writer and director. He is now an English teacher living in Sussex where he plays cricket as often as he can. 

Monday 17 March 2014

** BLOG TOUR ** In Bloom by Matthew Crow ** AUTHOR Q&A and GIVEAWAY""

Back in September of last year, I absolutely raved about In Bloom by Matthew Crow which was published by  Much-in-Little Books in hardback around that time.

At the time, I said;
 I was completely under Matthew Crow's spell.  This short novel is just perfectly brilliant and I will recommend In Bloom to all readers, young and old.  

I certainly still feel the same way, please do go back and read my full review. In Bloom also made it into my Top Twelve favourite reads of 2013.  I have three paperback copies of In Bloom to give away today - to enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. 

One of the most memorable teenage boy narrators since Adrian Mole, meet Francis Wootton. In Bloom is a brilliantly funny, poignant novel about learning one of life’s most important lessons – perspective.
Francis Wootton is a fifteen year old poet manqué, and as far as he’s concerned his subtle genius is wasted on his family – and pretty much everyone else in his hometown of Tyne-and-Wear. His mum’s run off her feet, his dad’s just run off, his older brother Chris is permanently broke, and he isn’t even sure he likes his best friend Jacob. So Francis often stumbles over the obstacles of adolescence alone. Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukemia, that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself. There’s the notion of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn’t reckoned on meeting Amber – fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber – and finding a reason to tackle it all – the good, the bad, and everything in between – head on. In Bloom is an exuberant, honest, painful, and brilliant novel about seeking the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be.

'Wow. Matthew Crow is an extremely funny writer and Francis Wootton is the best fictional teenager since Adrian Mole. Full of brilliant, bittersweet moments, full of all the love and pains and embarrassments and delusions of growing up. Read In Bloom right now. It will improve your life.'
Matt Haig, author of The Humans

Much-in-Little are publishing the paperback edition of In Bloom on 20 March 2014 and I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for this very special book.  I'm also thrilled and quite proud that the paperback edition features a quote from my review on the first page. Matthew was kind enough to send me a copy as soon as he received them, along with a couple of tasty treats to go with it!

I'm delighted to welcome Matthew to Random Things today, he has kindly agreed to answer my questions, I also have three copies of the brand new paperback edition of In Bloom to giveaway (complete with my quote on the first page!!).  Entry is open worldwide - just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below - and good luck!

Welcome Matthew, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions - here goes!

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
I do read them when they’re shown to me (which they inevitably are, as like most writers I now spend 90% of my time pissing about on Twitter.) I like to think I take them as seriously as they should be taken- the really nice, thoughtful ones are lovely and make a huge difference to your day, the bad ones are just one person’s opinion though- it’d be inhuman to not feel an initial wince, but it’d be soft and ridiculous to let them cloud your efforts in any major way.
How long does it take to write a novel?     Tricky one. The actual physical writing bit tends to be quick for me- maybe six to ten months- then the edits take FOREVER. I have quite a short attention span and I’m also reasonably fickle, in art as in life, so for me the longest bit of ‘writing’ is the lead up to sitting down at the computer- usually about a year- where I mull over characters and ideas in my head until I know that a) I care enough to see out their story to the end, and b) exactly where I’m going to go with them.
Do you have any writing rituals?Not a ritual as such but I normally have a mug of tea, a cigarette, and play some music at the lowest audible setting, which is my ‘ritual’ for almost all tasks in life, writing being one of them.
What was your favourite childhood book? Where The Wild Things Are was the first book I truly fell in love with, and stand by my decision and impeccable childhood tastes (related: I recently bought an amazing  t-shirt which has the ‘Wild Things cover of that front on it.) Then I became a real Roald Dahl kid. Obsessively so. There was even a Roald Dahl Revolting Recipes cookbook which I was given and briefly insisted most meals centered around.
Name one book that made you laugh? 
Other than Adrian Mole the one book I really laugh out loud to is A Confederacy of Dunces, which is also in my top five.
Name one book that made you cry? The first was a book called I’m The King of the Castle by Susan Hill, which floored me when I was about eleven or twelve. The last was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Which fictional character would you like to meet? 
Robin, from The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, to ask who killed him (then I’d meet Harriet and tell her so that she could be happy.)
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
At Christmas I did give my best friend a copy of Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel, which is a fine book by the most criminally dismissed essayists working today.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book? That one always changes depending on what I’m enjoying at any given time. Initially- as a kid- I was inspired by several unnamed Bad Books, because I’d rewrite them to suit my own juvenile tastes when I thought they were getting a bit dull and dry.
What is your guilty pleasure read?    
I don’t feel guilty about anything I enjoy, least of all reading. One of my all time favourite authors is Stephen King, who unfortunately due to his enormous success is associated more with quantity than quality, which is a shame as he is one of the finest storytellers this world has ever known. The Shining is the best ghost story of the last century.
Who are your favourite authors? 
Donna Tartt, Sue Townsend, Peter Hoeg, F Scott Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Stephen King, Truman Capote, Roald Dahl, John Irving.
What book have you re-read?Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg. Every year since I was about 15.
What book have you given up on?Anything by Brett Easton Ellis (I’ve tried and tried...I just don’t get it.)

Matthew Crow was born in 1987 and raised in Newcastle. Having worked as a freelance journalist since his teens he has contributed to a number of publications including the Independent on Sunday and the Observer. He has written two novels for adults. The second, My Dearest Jonah, was nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize. 

In Bloom is his first book for young adults.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @mizzlecrizzle

I hope that I've whetted your appetite for In Bloom - it really is a fabulous story - I have three paperback copies to giveaway (open worldwide).

a Rafflecopter giveaway