Monday 28 July 2014

The Pimlico Kid by Barry Walsh

It’s 1963. Billy Driscoll and his best mate, Peter ‘Rooksy’ Rooker, have the run of their street. Whether it’s ogling sexy mum, Madge, as she pegs out her washing, or avoiding local bully Griggsy, the estates and bombsites of Pimlico have plenty to fire their fertile imagination.

Billy is growing up and after years of being the puny one, he’s finally filling out. He is also taking more than a passing interest in Sarah Richards, his pretty neighbour. But he isn’t her only admirer – local heartthrob and rotten cheat, Kenneth ‘Kirk’ Douglas, likes her too – something drastic must be done if Billy is to get his girl.

When Rooksy suggests a day out with Sarah and her shy friend, Josie, it seems like the perfect summer outing. Little do they know that it will be a day of declarations and revelations; of secrets and terrifying encounters – and that it will change them all forever…

The Pimlico Kid by Barry Walsh was published by Harper Collins on 4 July 2013.

Set in Pimlico, London in the 1960s,  The Pimlico Kid is narrated by Billy Driscoll.  Billy and his mates live on a street inhabited by a bunch of vibrant characters who have been drawn so authentically by Barry Walsh. This is a story that is clearly written from the heart and I'd guess that it also part-memoir, as the novel buzzes with authenticity.

Billy and his friend Rooksy are normal adolescent boys who have discovered the joy of the female form, in the main, they are obsessed with breasts, and find themselves in many scrapes due to their increasing curiosity and the availability of places in the street where they can spy on their female neighbours - young and old.

However, Billy is at heart, a gentle and sensitive boy who loves to read. He has suffered with asthma for many years and this has meant that instead of taking part in all the rough and tumble games, he often has to stay indoors and rest. He loves the library and has a special friend in the librarian there.

Barry Walsh has structured The Pimlico Kid perfectly. Each chapter is a snapshot into Billy's life. Whether it is the joyous and light hearted street party, or the quite dark and more serious issue of domestic violence and abuse, the writing is incredibly perceptive and although it is very nostalgic, it is never sentimental.

The story of a summer in London. A coming of age story and a look back at recent history. The Pimlico Kid is engaging and vivid.

I met the author, Barry Walsh at the launch party for The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings earlier this year, and I'd like to thank him for sending my copy for review.

Barry Walsh grew up in the heart of the 'Great Metrollops' during the 60s and thought belatedly
that there might be a story in it. The result is The Pimlico Kid, a story of 'first love'. He is now writing his second novel.
When not writing, Barry enjoys cycling, watching Arsenal, holidays in France, listening to Neil Young and gazing at Audrey Hepburn's face. He is a trustee of the world's oldest youth club – St Andrew's – and believes that London might just be the centre of the universe. He is married with two daughters.

For more information visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @bjwalsh

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Sunday 27 July 2014

Living With It by Lizzie Enfield

One-year-old Iris is deaf. Her parents, Ben and Maggie, are devastated. So are their close friends Isobel and Eric.

Isobel knows that her decision, taken years ago, not to have her own children vaccinated against measles is to blame for Iris’s deafness. And Ben knows this too.
To make matters worse, Isobel is the woman he fell in love with in his twenties – the woman who married his best friend.
As he and Maggie start legal proceedings, Isobel’s world begins to unravel.

Living With It was published by Myriad Editions on 26 June 2014 and is Lizzie Enfield's third novel.

Lizzie Enfield has produced a cleverly woven story of family intricacies and the politics of friendship with the topical and controversial subject of the MMR vaccine.

When Ben and Maggie's small daughter Iris contracts measles from Isobel and Eric's teenage daughter Gabriella whilst on holiday in France, there is concern and worry. Isobel decided that her children would not have the MMR jab, therefore she knows that it's her fault that Iris is sick. After all, she knew that Gabriella's boyfriend had recently had measles, she knew that Gabriella's symptoms could also be measles, yet she went ahead and left Gabs with Iris and Maggie whilst everyone else went out and enjoyed their day.

Weeks later, Isobel and Eric learn that Iris is now deaf, she is deaf because she caught measles from Gabriella, and as far as everyone is concerned, she caught measles from Gabriella because Isobel didn't let her children have the MMR jab, and Isobel let Gabs and Iris spend time together.

Ben is angry, very very angry. He is determined that Isobel should pay the price and begins legal proceedings against Isobel and Eric.

Narrated in turn by Ben and Isobel, Living With It is an emotionally charged story that not only deals with the MMR controversy, but also looks at how past relationships can impact on current life. The fact that Ben and Isobel are ex-lovers and that Ben and Eric have been best friends since childhood causes even more difficulties for the main players in this story. The story is set over a few weeks and hearing the differing perspectives of Ben and Isobel during that time adds layers of speculation, distrust and a little bit of confusion for the reader. And that is not in a bad way at all, for me it made the story far more interesting.

My loyalties, as a reader, moved back and forth. I'd back Ben all the way, and then within a few pages, my sympathies would return to Isobel. Saying that, neither of these two characters were particularly likeable, hung up as they are with their own personal unresolved issues, as well as the tragedy of Iris' deafness.

Lizzie Enfield has created a vivid story with some interesting characters. I thought the children of the story were the best by far. Isobel's two sons are quirky and funny and really stole the whole novel.

A great story of modern family life, of mixed-up relationships with a cracker of an end chapter that may just turn the story completely on it's head for you.

Many thanks to Emma from Myriad Editions who sent my copy for review.

Lizzie Enfield is the author of two previous novels, What You Don't Know and Uncoupled, both published by Headline. She has a column in The Oldie and is a regular contributor to The Guardian and other national newspapers and magazines. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in various magazines. She lives in Brighton with her husband and three children.

For more information visit her website

Follow her on Twitter @lizzieenfield

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Thursday 24 July 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . . 
On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . . 
Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? 
Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton's debut novel and was published by Picador in hardcover on 3 July 2014.

The setting is Amsterdam in 1686 and Petronella (known as Nella) has arrived at her new home for the first time. She has recently married Johannes Brandt, but knows very little about him, having only met him briefly at their wedding ceremony.

Nella is greeted at the house, not by Johannes, but by his sister Marin and two servants. Marin is a domineering and possessive woman who thinks nothing of constantly interfering in the life of her brother and his new wife.

The Brandt family live their lives very differently, and Marin makes it clear that she is unimpressed by Nella's aristocratic background. The two servants are not how Nella expects servants to be; Cornelia is rude and cheeky and Otto is a freed black slave.

Nella's mother had made it clear what a wife could expect from marriage, but Nella's husband is not interested in her in that way at all, and Nella begins to throw herself into furnishing the wonderful miniature house that Johannes presents to her. And so, the Miniaturist of the title is engaged to send items to furnish the house and it is then that the mystery and intrigue about this family, and about Amsterdam begins.

Historical fiction is not my first choice genre, but every now and again, a book comes along that is set in an era that I rarely enter, in a place that I know little about and it is as if a spell has been cast on me and I'm transfixed throughout.  Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist has done this to me.

I have no idea if it is geographically or historically correct, nor do I really care. What I do care about is how the story made me feel, and how I was able to escape twenty-first century stress, and the horror that is going on in this world and immerse myself into Nella's world.

Amsterdam; I place I've visited once, and to be honest I thought it was all pretty tacky and not very nice - it was a flying visit to go to a Robbie Williams concert, many years ago and I've never felt any desire to return.  Jessie Burton's imaginative writing created a world of wintry streets and waterways; a city of intrigue and mystery, and I'm now hankering to go back and take a proper look around.

It is the characters in The Miniaturist that I loved the most, even the hateful Marin; a woman who surely has a hidden history that could be the basis of a whole new story?  Nella is sparky yet innocent and grows throughout the story to become a woman of force.

The intrigue and mystery is artfully done, and although there were aspects that were more obvious than others, sometimes the reader takes a little pleasure in working it out before the big reveal. However, there are many other twists and turns that remained a mystery, and this balances out the story perfectly.

There has been so much publicity about The Miniaturist, from the initial bidding war between publishers, to the marketing by Picador. The hardback has done extremely well so far and I was worried that I may be a little let down.  I certainly wasn't, in fact I was surprised by just how much I did enjoy it, given that a novel set in the 1600s would never be my first choice of book to read.

Jessie Burton has written a story that will interest and intrigue, in a setting that is wonderfully depicted and featuring characters who are complex but very believable.

Praise has to go to Katie Tooke, the Design Manager at Picador who has created the most wonderful cover for The Miniaturist - she actually commissioned a model maker to recreate the house, and designed the cover from that.  Katie has written a piece about the design on the Picador Blog.

My thanks to Sandra Taylor from Picador who sent my copy for review.

Jessie Burton was born in 1982. 
She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. 

She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.

For more information about Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist, visit her website
Follow her Pinterest page, and on Twitter @jesskatbee

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Wednesday 23 July 2014

Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

Lately, Felicity just can't shake a shadow of uncertainty. 
Her husband Quinn is the kindest person she knows and loves her peculiarities more than Felicity feels she deserves. But suddenly it's as if she doesn't quite belong. 
Then Felicity experiences something extraordinary: a scent of perfume in the air which evokes memories that have been settled within her for a long time, untouched and undisturbed. As it happens again and again, the memories of a man Felicity hasn't seen for ten years also flutter to the surface. And so do the feelings of being deeply, exquisitely in love . . . 
Overwhelmed and bewildered by her emotions, Felicity tries to resist sinking blissfully into the past. But what if something truly isn't as it should be? What if her mind has been playing tricks on her heart? 
Which would you trust?

Where Love Lies is Julie Cohen's fourth novel and is published by Bantam Press (Transworld) on 31 July 2014.  Julie Cohen's previous novel Dear Thing was featured on Random Things in April 2013.

Felicity and Quinn make an unlikely couple. For Felicity, living in the small village where Quinn spent his childhood, having the neighbours know your business before you do, being part of a well-respected and very close family is so very alien to the world that she comes from. Raised single-handedly by her artist mother, with no siblings or father figure, Felicity sometimes feels as though she's teetering around the edge of her new family, she doesn't quite fit.

Despite these feelings, Felicity and Quinn are in love. They married after a whirlwind romance and their first year together has been filled with love. Quinn is a kind man and Felicity's quirky ways just make him love her more, he dreams of their future family.

When Felicity catches the scent of a very familiar perfume her life turns upside down. She cannot shake the memories of the heady days of a wonderful, if short and heartbreaking, romance with Ewan - a man she has not thought of, or heard from in over ten years.  When she visits an exhibition of her late mother's paintings she is confronted by the image of Ewan and her memories and emotions take over.

Felicity becomes overwhelmed by the memory of Ewan.

Where Love Lies is so much more than romantic fiction and at times I found it to be quite a difficult story to read. The emotion and feeling that is generated by Julie Cohen's incredible way with words can be a little overwhelming at times, and that is certainly not a criticism. To me, it's a sign of a very accomplished author when their words can leave the reader feeling a little breathless and quite shaken.

Felicity's memories of a the feelings of love that she experienced with Ewan all those years ago are the key to the whole story. Her determination to find Ewan and to recreate what she thinks she has lost becomes almost as consuming as the passion that she feels for the man himself.

Julie Cohen creates characters who jump from the page; ethereal, artistic Felicity; steady, dependable and heartbreakingly wonderful Quinn. Quinn's mother Molly; interfering, protective and ultimately hiding her own sorrow and then there's Ewan - the anti-hero, the subject of Felicity's obsession -  a man who appears selfish, self-centred, unkind - yet incredibly attractive and quite dangerous.

The thing that makes Where Love Lies particularly special and quite unique is that despite the obviously emotional, romantic theme to this novel, there is a twist to the story that will make the reader contemplate how love really works. Can our heart really rule our head? How can a particular smell touch our heart, or does it? Julie Cohen has explored the workings of our brain in fine detail, yet the story is not bogged down by this at all, in fact it actually makes the reader look at the characters in a different way.

Julie Cohen is an author who goes from strength to strength. Her stories have depth and substance whilst retaining the familiar themes of love, families and relationships.

My thanks to Tess from Transworld who sent my copy for review.   I'm delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Where Love Lies at the beginning of August and looking forward to welcoming Julie Cohen here to Random Things on Wednesday 6 August when she will be answering my questions.

I'm also looking forward to the launch party for Where Love Lies tomorrow evening in London. I'll be attending with my friend and fellow blogger Anne, who blogs at Being Anne.

Julie Cohen grew up in Maine and studied English at Brown University and Cambridge University. She moved to the UK to research fairies in Victorian children's literature at the University of Reading and this was followed by a career teaching English at secondary level. She now writes full time and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing.
She lives with her husband and their son in Berkshire.

For more information about the author and her work, check out her website
She has an author page on Facebook and is on Twitter @julie_cohen

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Monday 21 July 2014

Kellie at Come-alive Cottage by Wendy Unsworth

Aunt kitty is a very unusual witch - every time she waves her magic wand something goes wrong! 
Come-alive Cottage is full of Aunt Kitty's gone - wrong spells, like the postman who has been turned into a Christmas elf, flowers that say 'sniff me!' and a watering can that gets grumpy when water goes up his spout!  

And when her aunt starts making spells with snakes, Kellie Culpepper has to jump to the rescue! 

This is the first adventure for Kellie at Come-alive Cottage and there are plenty more to come! 

A fun, read-aloud story.

I don't feature children's books on Random Things very often, but I was so taken by Kellie at Come-alive Cottage that I just had to share, and urge anyone who has small children who like stories to go out and get a copy.

This is a short book at just under 50 pages, but it is the perfect read-aloud story for young children. Packed full of the silliest of characters with the wildest of names and wonderfully illustrated by Frances Lee West.

It reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and Roald Dahl's The Twits, and I was really bewitched by the story and I just know that children will be entranced too.

Kellie, the heroine of the story, is the daughter of two explorers.  Her two aunts; Aunt Sillime and Aunt Kitty are perfectly bonkers, and Kellie spends a very unpredictable and exciting couple of days staying with Aunt Kitty in Come-alive Cottage.  Spells go wrong and watering cans get annoyed, postmen are shrunk and a python appears.

Welcome to the crazy, delightful and colourful world of Kellie and her family.  A joy, for both children and adults.

Wendy Unsworth was born and raised in Lincolnshire, England; her passions are her family, travel, beautiful gardens and reading and writing stories.

Wendy lived in Ndola, Zambia and Nairobi, Kenya throughout the 1980's and early '90's before returning to the U.K. to acclimatise back to the English weather in a Cornish cottage close to Bodmin Moor! The African continent has left a lasting impression; The Palaver Tree, her first novel in the Berriwood series is set in a fictional Central African country and Cornwall.

Wendy also enjoys writing for children.
Kellie at Come-alive Cottage is a fun, read-aloud story introducing Kellie Culpepper and her very unusual family who include explorers, a very silly aunt and a witch that can't stop turning into a cat!

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Saturday 19 July 2014

21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff) by Steve Stack

A fond farewell to the many inanimate objects, cultural icons and general stuff around us that find themselves on the verge of extinction. 
We’ve all heard of the list of endangered animals, but no one has ever pulled together a list of endangered inanimate objects. Until now, that is. 
Steve Stack has catalogued well over one hundred objects, traditions, cultural icons and, well, other stuff that is at risk of extinction. Some of them have vanished already. 
Cassette tapes, rotary dial phones, half-day closing, milk bottle deliveries, Concorde, handwritten letters, typewriters, countries that no longer exist, white dog poo… all these and many more are big a fond farewell in this nostalgic, and sometimes irreverent, trip down memory lane.

21st Century Dodos was released in paperback by The Friday Project on 16 June 2014. The hardback was published in 2011, and this new paperback edition features an additional chapter that is dedicated to dodos that readers of the hardback have sent in to the author.

How can it be so hard to review a book that had me sighing and nodding in agreement all the way through? A book that started so many conversations in this house .... "Oh, do you remember ......";   "bloody hell, I've not thought of those for years .....";   "now I'm craving ....."

This is not a story, it's not fiction, nor is it a history book ~ well, I suppose it is in a way.  I defy anyone over the age of 35 to read this without exclaiming in joy at least ten times throughout.

I remember EVERYTHING in this book - every single thing. The shops on the High Street, and not just Woolworths, but Athena and Our Price and C&A (did every C&A smell a bit funny, or was that just the Lincoln branch?).  I remember the frustration of arriving in town at 2pm on Wednesday and remembering that it's bloody HALF DAY CLOSING.

Black Jacks and Fruit Salad chews at half a penny each; Spangles and sweet cigarettes; reading Mandy comic and always having a 2p coin so that we could ring Dial-a-Disc from the red telephone box.

21st Century Dodos brings back so many memories, and yes, I do look back fondly and it's easy to forget that this was mainly the 70s - the decade of very bad fashion mistakes, and terrible disco pants and rock stars who wore platform boots and glittery eyeshadow (and that was the men).

This is perfect book for one of those evenings or summer afternoon when you get all of your friends round, down a few bottles and start reminiscing about the 'good old days'. It will spark so many memories, so many conversations and I'd guess there would be a fair few arguments too.

This is funny and charming and will make you crave things that you'd not thought about in years. The writing is great, not stuffy or text-book like - it's easy and friendly and I loved it.  I loved every page.

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

Steve Stack is the pseudonym of a blogger and sometimes journalist. He is the author of one previous book, It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit which can probably still be found in bargain bookshops and Poundland if you wanted to add it to your toilet library. It is also available as a specially priced (i.e. very cheap) ebook if you are all very modern and own one of those new fangled devices.

If you want to contact Steve Stack, you can drop him a line at 

You can also pay a visit to his blog at Me and My Big Mouth 

Facebook :  21st Century Dodos
Twitter : @dodoflip

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Friday 18 July 2014

Things We Never Say by Sheila O'Flanagan

Abbey Andersen's life in San Francisco is in serious danger of hitting a rut. 
She's pretty sure it doesn't get worse than being dumped by post-it note, and her current job is hardly the best outlet for her creative talents. 
Meanwhile in Ireland Fred Fitzpatrick is finding it impossible to keep his grown-up children and their families on side, and they're a demanding lot at the best of times. 
But when Fred asks solicitor Ryan Gilligan to contact Abbey about a long-buried family secret, things start to change dramatically. And not everyone affected is happy about it...

Things We Never Say is Sheila O'Flanagan's eighteenth novel and was published in paperback by Headline Review on 24 April 2014.

I have been a huge fan of Sheila O'Flanagan for many years now, she is one of those authors who I never tire of. I love discovering new authors and new genres, but there is something special about returning to a favourite writer, knowing that you will not be let down.

Things We Never Say is classic Sheila O'Flanagan, filled with her trademark, realistic characters with their Irish humour and eccentricities.

Abbey Anderson is based in San Francisco and is floundering a little. Her boyfriend has done a bunk without telling her. She's really not doing very well as an artist, she can't bear her job in the Gallery and her mother has taken her own life in a totally new direction.  However, Abbey is a great nail artist and she does have an adopted family in the shape of her mum's ex-boyfriend Pete, his new wife and their kids.

In Dublin, the Fitzpatrick family appear to be successful and wealthy with enviable lifestyles. Fred, the patriarch of the family worked very hard, building a successful business from nothing. He now lives in the house of his dreams, but at eighty-one years old and recently widowed, he's been spending more and more time thinking back over his life. He is haunted by something that happened fifty years ago, and is determined that he will make amends before he dies.

It is this decision that brings Abbey Anderson and the Fitzpatrick family together, with dramatic consequences and life-changing events.

Sheila O'Flanagan excels in creating characters that the reader can relate to and recognise. Things We Never Say is dominated by female characters who range from the ethereal Ellen to the money-hungry Zoey and whilst each character is flawed, this only adds to their realism.  Her male characters play more of a supporting role in this story, and again the men are a diverse bunch.

I enjoyed this story of family dynamics, mixed with topical issues such as the economic melt-down and the tragedies and suffering of the Magdelene laundries.

The perfect comfort read from an author who consistently delivers great stories.

Sheila O'Flanagan's latest book; If You Were Me was released in hardback by Headline Review on 3 July 2014, the paperback edition will be available in March 2015.

Thanks to the publisher who sent my review copy via Bookbridgr.

Check out some more reviews of Things We Never Say, from my blogger friends:
Being Anne
Crooks on Books

Sheila O'Flanagan's books, including Someone Special, Bad Behaviour and Yours, Faithfully, have been huge bestsellers in the UK and Ireland; they are all available from Headline Review. Sheila has always loved telling stories, and after working in banking and finance for a number of years, she decided it was time to fulfil a dream and give writing her own book a go. So she sat down, stuck 'Chapter One' at the top of a page, and got started. Sheila is now the author of more than fifteen bestselling titles. She lives in Dublin with her partner.

For more information check out her website
Follow her on Twitter @sheilaoflanagan
Check out her author page on Facebook

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Tuesday 15 July 2014

Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport

On 17 July 1918, four young women walked down twenty-three steps into the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg. The eldest was twenty-two, the youngest only seventeen. Together with their parents and their thirteen-year-old brother, they were all brutally murdered. Their crime: to be the daughters of the last Tsar and Tsaritsa of All the Russias. 
Much has been written about Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their tragic fate, as it has about the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but little attention has been paid to the Romanov princesses, who – perhaps inevitably – have been seen as minor players in the drama. In Four Sisters, however, acclaimed biographer Helen Rappaport puts them centre stage and offers readers the most authoritative account yet of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Drawing on their own letters and diaries and other hitherto unexamined primary sources, she paints a vivid picture of their lives in the dying days of the Romanov dynasty. 
We see, almost for the first time, their journey from a childhood of enormous privilege, throughout which they led a very sheltered and largely simple life, to young womanhood – their first romantic crushes, their hopes and dreams, the difficulty of coping with a mother who was a chronic invalid and a haeomophiliac brother, and, latterly, the trauma of the revolution and its terrible consequences. 
Compellingly readable, meticulously researched and deeply moving, Four Sisters gives these young women a voice, and allows their story to resonate for readers almost a century after their death.

Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 27 March 2014.

I knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new world to enter.

Four Sisters is a history book, it's also a joint biography and I have been absolutely fascinated by this story. I don't know if it is all factually correct, I'm sure that the author has slanted the writing with her own perceptions, but nevertheless, this book is a fascinating read - well written and very easy to get lost in.

Alexandra, the Tsarina and granddaughter of Queen Victoria was always determined to create a warm and loving family for her four daughters. Her biggest mistake was to fail to take a bigger part in the life of the imperial court, and this decision alienated her from the Russian people. It was also this decision that probably sealed the fate of her and her beloved family.  Alexandra's love and overwhelming passion for her family did create a family who adored each other, but also created a family who were distant from their subjects.

It is clear that Helen Rappaport is both passionate and very knowledgeable about her subject, and she has recreated the life of this family so well. The longing for a son and heir is so strong, and when finally a boy child arrives, the sense of disappointment that he is clearly not well enough to take the throne is overwhelming.

Everyday life before the revolution for these four sisters was fairly ordinary. They developed crushes on young men, they relished being part of the war, whether it was by using their nursing skills or raising money, and most of all they enjoyed being part of a loving, solid family.

There are some wonderful illustrations in this book, my hard back copy really is a joy to own. The author has used letters and diary entries to create a colourful story that I really enjoyed and has certainly sparked an interest in this part of history.

My thanks to Philippa at Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Helen Rappaport is a historian with a specialism in the nineteenth century. She is the author of eleven published books, including Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy. She is also the author, with Roger Watson, ofCapturing the Light

For more information, you can visit her website at
Follow her on Twitter @HelenRappaport

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Sunday 13 July 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

Two women; two different worlds. 
Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold. 
Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control. 
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . . 
But what exactly does Nina want from her? 
And how far will she go in pursuit of it?

Her is Harriet lane's second novel and was published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson (an imprint of Orion) in hardback on 12 June 2014, the paperback edition will be released in January 2015.

I read and reviewed Harriet Lane's first novel; Alys, Always on Random Things in October 2012 and one of the comments that I made at that time was;

"Alys, Always is an excellent debut novel that is sparsely yet elegantly written, and leaves questions that may never be answered for the reader to contemplate."

Just like Alys, Always, Her is another elegantly written novel with an ending that made me shout 'fuck' as I desperately looked for the next page, and realised that there wasn't one, and that Harriet Lane had yet again left me wondering what on earth would happen in the next chapter, if there was one. But there isn't - it ends, suddenly and dramatically, and that is what really will make Her a memorable read for me.

Her is a portrayal of a toxic friendship that will chill the reader to the bone. Two pretty ordinary women; Emma and Nina meet quite randomly and a friendship is formed. The reader knows that they have met before, many years ago. Emma doesn't remember Nina at all, but Nina has remembered Emma for a very very long time and immediately seizes her chance to infiltrate Emma's life.

Nina is a master in manipulation. She learnt this skill at a young age when she made sure that her mother and father's relationship was fractured beyond repair.

Emma welcomes Nina's friendship because for the first time since she stopped work to become a full-time mother, she's found someone who likes her for who she is, not for what she's become - a mother, a wife, the person who cleans up, who worries about money.  Emma used to be someone, she had a successful career, she was a cherished wife and as much as she adores her two children, she's worn down by the constant demands on her time, the dwindling bank account and the shed door that's been falling off it's hinges for so so long.

Her is not a long novel, the hardback edition has just over 300 pages, but it's an intense and quite demanding read that is structured very well, but does take a little while to get used to.  Each scene and event is narrated separately in alternate chapters by the two women. The exact same happening, but told from two very different perspectives. This works, it works very very well and once the reader adjusts to the style, it's utterly compelling and very difficult to stop reading.

Harriet Lane has observed female friendships and created a relationship between these two characters that is horrific, yet will be alarmingly familiar to many readers. Two very different women whose lives could not be further apart, yet who want to be friends, albeit for very different reasons. Emma's chapters reveal the feelings of a new mother, the sense of the downtrodden, the worry, the guilt and the resentment. Nina's are a portrait in vindictiveness and revenge, disguised with generosity and smiles.

I am very very impressed by Harriet Lane's writing. She is so so clever and has produced a very intelligent psychological thriller that will certainly feature in my Top Books of 2014.  Her is a brilliant read - Bravo!

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

Before the publication of her debut novel Alys, Always, Harriet Lane wrote for the Guardian, the Observer, Vogue and Tatler.

She lives in north London with her husband and two children.

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

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Friday 11 July 2014

Sad Men by Dave Roberts

All Dave Roberts ever wanted to do (apart from collect football programmes) was to work in advertising. More specifically, to work for the world's best advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. 
There was just one problem. Even when he managed to persuade someone to employ him, Dave's copywriting assignments were mainly for second hand car dealers and double glazing companies. And Leeds, Manchester and, bizarrely, New Zealand were a long way from Charlotte Street and Madison Avenue. This was the world of the Sad Men. 
In his sparkling new memoir, Dave tells the story of a life shaped by his love of adverts, from seeing the PG Tips chimps at the age of three to writing infamous ads such as the Westpac Rap and having David Jason plug a family restaurant. 
Bursting with brilliant ideas - and some pretty daft ones - it is the cautionary tale of a quest for advertising glory... and not quite ever getting there.

Sad Men was published by Bantam Press on 27 March 2014 and is Dave Roberts' fourth book.

There is no doubt at all that advertising is big business. A multi-million pound industy, with eyewatering budgets for some brands. I'm guessing that the average person will not recognise many names in the business, although there can't be many who haven't heard of Saatchi and Saatchi - the world's favourite advertising agency.

I'm a child of the 70s. There were three TV channels, and only one of those showed adverts. Before the days of 'record it and fast-forward through the ads' we had no choice but to watch them. TV advertising was so powerful in those days - one channel, a captive audience. Jingles and images stuck in the mind and became part of our everyday life.

There is a generation who when hearing the words 'Accrington Stanley', do not automatically think of a lowly football club. No, we think of milk, being drunk straight from the glass bottle by a kid wearing a football strip.  How many of us tried instant mashed potato for the first time and immediately broke out into maniacal laughter whilst jerking around in a strangely mechanical way and shouting 'for mash get smash'?  I was completely convinced that my Nana 'flew like a bird in the sky', purely because she ate Nimble bread.  I really thought that she had a hot-air balloon .... for those of you who just don't have a clue what I'm talking about ...... take a look;

There are programmes dedicated to old TV adverts. I've had endless nostalgic conversations with friends and family ...... .. 'hey, do you remember'   ...... 'what about ...' - we still know the jingles, we can act out the parts.  Whilst TV advertising can often still produce some amazing commercials, I doubt very much that any of the modern-day ads will feature so much when our younger generation start to look back on their life.

Dave Roberts is ad-obsessed and always has been. Not just TV advertising, but magazines, newspapers, trade press, bill boards and radio too. His ambition was to work for Saatchi and Saatchi and Sad Men is the story of how he tried to achieve that goal.

I have absolutely loved Sad Men. Dave Roberts is a good guy; he's sometimes made a few questionable decisions, but he's honest and his writing is so easy to read.  He has taken me on a pleasurable trip down memory lane, he's had me singing jingles that I've not heard for years. He has evoked memories of carefree, happy childhood days and he has made me laugh on quite a few occasions.

Despite the humour and the wealth of information about the advertising industry, there is an air of sadness and vulnerability in parts of his story, and it is his honesty about his disappointments and about where he thinks that he failed that made Sad Men such an enjoyable read for me.

Cheers to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Dave Roberts has been one of those annoying bike couriers, a security guard, a civil servant, a KFC chef who was fired for trying to steal a sample of the secret recipe, and a train driver - all before reaching the age of twenty. After that, he settled for a career in advertising, which was eventually cut short by illness, but not before accidentally winning a Silver Lion at Cannes. He now writes books, which all seem to have a theme in common: obsession .....

To find out more about Dave Roberts, and his books, visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @thebromleyboys 

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Thursday 10 July 2014

Going Back by Rachael English

How do you know where you belong? 
In June 1988, Elizabeth Kelly's parents think she belongs at home in Ireland. Her boyfriend is certain of it. Unwilling to settle down just yet, she decides to spend the summer in Boston with her college friends. But the next four months change all of them, especially Elizabeth. Quiet and dutiful at home, she surprises herself and everyone else by falling for Danny Esposito, a restless charmer with a troublesome family. 
More than 20 years later with opportunities in Ireland scarce once again, a new generation looks to America, awakening memories of a golden summer for their parents. When a crisis occurs, Elizabeth returns to Boston where she is drawn back into the life she once lived. But will she be able to reconcile the dreams of her 20-year-old self with the woman she has become?

Going Back was published by Orion on 22 May 2014, and is the debut novel from Rachael English.

This is a story in two parts. Elizabeth Kelly and a group of friends are spending the summer in Boston, it's 1988 and times are hard in Ireland. Their time in America is a chance for them to spread their wings, away from the prying eyes of their overprotective parents. They will live a little, work here and there, enjoy life and then return to Ireland to get on with the rest of their lives. That's the plan.

Elizabeth has a steady boyfriend back in Ireland. Steady, dependable Liam. Local boy, husband material, but really not very exciting. Life in Boston is fun despite the cramped living arrangements and the bitchy behaviour of flatmate Orla. Elizabeth is working hard and enjoying a summer of freedom.

Enter Danny. Elizabeth and Danny are drawn together and slowly but surely they fall in love. They are both guarded and wary, never really opening up and revealing their true feelings to one another. And then it ends. Suddenly and unexpectedly, and painfully.  Elizabeth returns to Ireland and becomes everything that was always expected of her, a wife and mother.

The second part of Going Back takes place around twenty years later. Ireland is in the middle of another recession and the young people of the country are once again leaving to find something better across the ocean in the USA.  Elizabeth's daughter Janey is one of them and when she is admitted to hospital whilst in Boston, Elizabeth finds herself back in the place that holds so many memories. Danny and Elizabeth meet again, after so many years. How will they deal with their feelings, their memories and their 'what could have beens'?

Going Back is an impressive debut novel. Rachael English writes with authority about life for young people in Ireland during the 1980s. Her writing is polished and classy, and her experience as a journalist shines through in her attention to detail.  Those of us of a certain age will recognise many of the songs included in this story, and the fashion and hairstyles which adds to the authenticity of the story.

With themes of escape, and love and regrets; Going Back is a novel that starts slowly, but develops, along with the characters into a story that has meaning and emotional impact.

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

Rachael English is a presenter on Ireland's most popular radio show, Morning Ireland. During more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of RTE Radio's leading current affairs programmes, covering a huge range of national and international stories. Going Back is her first novel and was nominated in the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year category at the Irish Book Awards.

Follow her on Twitter @EnglishRachael
Find her author page on Facebook

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Monday 7 July 2014

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies

A country at war with itself,
a family divided and betrayed,
a bond that can never be broken... 
Malaya, 1955. Lydia Cartwright returns from visiting a sick friend to an empty house. The servants are gone. The phone is dead. Where is her husband Alec? Her young daughters, Emma and Fleur? 
Fearful and desperate, she contacts the British District Officer and learns that Alec has been posted up country. But why didn't he wait? Why did he leave no message? 
Lydia's search takes her on a hazardous journey through war-torn jungle. Forced to turn to Jack Harding, a man she'd vowed to leave in her past, she sacrifices everything to be reunited with her family. 
And while carrying her own secrets, Lydia will soon face a devastating betrayal which may be more than she can bear . . .

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies was published by Penguin on 22 May 2014 and is the author's debut novel.

Lydia Cartwright has been away visiting a sick friend. She is so excited that she will soon hold her two young daughters in her arms again, she has missed them so much whilst she was away. As soon as she enters the house, she knows something is not right. Where are her girls Fleur and Emma, and her husband Alec? The house is empty, stripped bare - their clothes are missing, the servants have left. Lydia is alone.

Malaya in 1955 is a frightening and dangerous place to be during 'The Emergency' and Lydia is desperate to find her girls. She sets out on what becomes a nightmare of a journey with the fear of a guerilla attack at any time and the vulnerability that her white skin gives her. When Lydia is told of the fate of her family, she is devastated and it is the support of a young abandoned Malay boy, Maznan that makes her grief just a little more bearable.

Alongside Lydia's story, the reader learns the real fate of her two daughters. Narrated by Emma, the elder daughter, we hear of their long voyage to England and Emma's despair over the loss of her beloved mother whilst dealing with life in a strange land,

The Separation is a splendidly written story that portrays the unbreakable bond between a mother and her children whilst also providing a vivid and powerful insight into the history of Malaysia. Dinah Jefferies has drawn on her own experiences to expertly bring to life the tension-filled times during the time of 'The Emergency'.  The stifling heat, the fear, the tropics spring to life from these pages.

The mother-daughter bond is the key theme of The Separation and is weaved so cleverly into the story, that it becomes the heart and soul of the novel. Lydia and Emma's bond is never broken, even though at times, their own individual characters are pushed to the very edge.

The Separation is a complex story, told in two voices and from two continents, yet it is never overly complicated, or dull, or slow. The characters are fully formed, both the heroes and the villians and I loved some characters and hated others, passionately.

This is very fine debut from an author whose writing is full of authenticity and hope. It is a beautiful, yet heart-breaking story.

My thanks to Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, once lived in a 'rock n roll' commune and, more recently, been an exhibiting artist. For a while she was an au pair in Italy, and also spent five years in Northern Andalucia, where she began to write. She spends her days writing, with time off to make tiaras and dinosaurs with her grandchildren. The Separation is her first book.

For more information about Dinah Jefferies, visit her website
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Check out some of the other blog reviews for The Separation too : Being Anne;  ireadnovels; Edel's Book & Beauty Blog; Adventures With Words; Marjolein Reads

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Saturday 5 July 2014

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Jane hasn't lived anywhere longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. 
She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. 
Now the idyllic seaside town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane finally feels like she belongs. 
She has friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste - two women with seemingly perfect lives . . . and their own secrets behind closed doors. 
But then a small incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground causing a rift between them and the other parents of the school. 
Minor at first but escalating fast, until whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful. It was always going to end in tears, but no one thought it would end in murder . . .

Little Lies is Liane Moriarty's sixth novel and is published in the UK by Penguin on 31 July 2014.

I enjoy this author's writing very much, Little Lies is the third of her novels that I've reviewed here on Random Things.  I reviewed The Husband's Secret in July 2013, and What Alice Forgot in January of this year.

Just like her previous two novels, Little Lies is set in suburban Australia and centres on a community that is made up of upper middle-class families.

Jane is the newcomer; she's a young, single mother with a young son called Ziggy. Jane is very different to most of the other mothers at the school. She's not obsessed with her appearance, or by money, she doesn't have a husband who earns a huge salary. She's desperate to be accepted though and is delighted to find friendship in two of the most powerful mothers in town.  However, things begin to go very wrong for Jane and Ziggy after an incident in the school playground, and suddenly mothers are against mothers.

Little Lies is a very clever story. The reader knows from page one that something terrible happened at the School Trivia Night, we know that someone is dead, but we don't know who it is, or who the murderer is, or why.

Liane Moriarty expertly weaves this story. Hooking the reader from the start with the big whodunnit and then skipping back a few months to gradually build up both the plot and the characters. There is a real credibility to these characters and the development of their relationships are excellently done. The author expertly portrays what appears to be a perfect life on the outside whilst allowing the reader glimpses into the sordid and often violent secrets lying below the surface.

Little Lies is the sort of book that keeps me up way past my bedtime with it's compelling plotline and cleverly careless clues dotted around that hooked me and made me want to read 'just one more chapter'. There were a few gasps out loud along the way too - there is nothing I like better than to find that I'm wrong about what I think has happened, or will happen.  To me, the sign of a great book and a very clever author is when I really do get a shock when something huge is revealed.

There are quite a few shocks along the way in Little Lies, there are also many secrets and lots of lies, not all of them are little either.

A very impressive novel, Liane Moriarty is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.  Great stuff.

I received my copy of Little Lies from LoveReading as part of the Reader Review Panel.

Liane Moriarty is the author of six novels including Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot,
The Hypnotist's Love Story and The Husband's Secret, which was a million-copy bestseller and won the most popular Richard and Judy Book Club title for the Autumn 2013 book club.
Liane lives in Sydney with her husband, son and daughter.

For more information visit her website

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