Thursday 28 August 2014

My Real Children by Jo Walton

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan's world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. 'Confused today' read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War - those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and.her memory splits in two.
She was Trish, a housewife and mother of four.
She was Pat, a successful travel writer and mother of three.
She remembers living her life as both women, so very clearly. Which memory is real - or are both just tricks of time and light?
My Real Children is the story of both of Patricia Cowan's lives - each with its loves and losses, sorrows and triumphs, its possible consequences. It is a novel about how every life means the entire world.

My Real Children by Jo Walton was published in the UK on 21 August 2014 by Corsair (Constable & Robinson).

Let's start with the publisher's press release for My Real Children; "perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife and Ursula K Le Guin ...". So really, that should rule me out. I haven't read Life After Life, I hated The Time Traveller's Wife and I've never heard of Ursula K Le Guin.  The press release goes on to say ... " writes science fiction and fantasy novels ....". Well, that's me out again. When anyone asks me what I like to read, I always say anything except science fiction and fantasy. So why did I read this book? First; I love the cover, second; the blurb is fascinating, and third; I didn't read the full press release before I started the book. I'm glad that I didn't because I absolutely adored this book. It's fabulous, I love it, and now I want to read everything else that Jo Walton has written.

For me, this is a story that is unique and original and beautiful. It's intriguing and it's confusing, yet it is filled with emotion and passion and characters who are forward-thinking and beyond the norm, yet are realistically portrayed.

The opening chapter finds Patricia Cowan in a nursing home, she's old and confused, some days she is very confused. The rest of the book is made up of Patricia's memories, yet her memories are not of one life and one set of children, but of two women, Trish and Pat, with two lives and two sets of children. Trish and Pat tell their own individual, very different stories in alternate chapters and this starts after Patricia makes the biggest decision of her life.

That really is the crux of this story; how one decision, one answer, can shape a whole lifetime, and the lives of those who come next. How generations of one family can be formed because of what one single person decided to do.

Who is Patricia? Is she Trish, or is she Pat? Was she married with a family, a supply teacher and homemaker, or was she a bohemian travel writer, fighting for her rights and determined to live her life as she wants to? Both of these women have a wonderfully intricate story to tell and Jo Walton has so cleverly created two hugely different lives.

Yes, there is a dash of science fiction and fantasy in there, but it's not aliens and spaceships (although a trip to the Moon does feature), this is more Orwellian than that with glimpses of a possible future, and of things that could have happened, but didn't.

It all sounds terribly confusing doesn't it? It really isn't, it's a portrait of a woman who made a decision, but it is also a portrait of that woman making the opposite decision.

Jo Walton writes with subtlety and passion. She challenges the reader, she makes the reader think about the consequences of decisions made, she poses questions, she tackles age-old issues. She does all of this quite beautifully. If this is science-fiction/fantasy, then I'm converted.

Huge thanks to Grace from Corsair who sent my copy of My Real Children for review.

Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. Her novel Among Others won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012 and she has also won the John W Campbell Award and World Fantasy Award for other works.

For more information about Jo Walton, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @BlueJoWalton

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.
News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%. 
Civilization has crumbled. 
A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. 
But now a new danger looms, and it threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild. 
Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan, a bystander warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife, Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend, Clark; Kirsten, an actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'. 
Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world.

Station Eleven is published by Picador on 10 September 2014 and is Emily St.John Mandel's fourth novel.

Just look at that cover!  You would, wouldn't you? Then read the intriguing synopsis, listen to the rave reviews that are already out there, and you'll be sold on this one. Yes, sometimes a book just doesn't live up to the hype, but believe me, this one does. It really does, in fact it exceeded all of my expectations. It's a book that makes me wonder why I think I'm qualified to write a review, I am struggling to find words to explain just how Station Eleven made me feel. I was hooked in by the end of the first page and if I could, I would have sat down and read the whole damn thing, cover to cover, in one sitting.

The world as we know has collapsed. Georgia Flu struck and within two weeks 99% of its victims were dead. As the people died, so did the world's infrastructure. The television stations died, the internet disappeared, there were no phone lines, or aeroplanes. Petrol and oil ran out.

Humanity did survive. The few people that managed to avoid the Georgia Flu have created settlements, often in airport buildings, or petrol stations. Joining together to try to create a new world. Some things remain, there is still music and literature, and the Travelling Symphony are a group of artists who travel from settlement to settlement, putting on the plays of Shakespeare and accompanying these with music. The Symphony are a mixed bunch of people, all ages, both sexes. People who have come to look upon the Symphony as their family. They share memories, they have relationships.

The story travels back to the days before the collapse, and then to the present-day; twenty years later, and holding these two strands together is one person. Arthur Leander was a celebrity, an accomplished actor with three ex-wives and a small son. Arthur died on the day that Georgia Flu struck, but he was not killed by the flu. Arthur's legacy lives on in the new world, connecting some of the survivors and creating memories that they cling to.

We live in a troubled world, with war and unrest, and just recently the threat of the Ebola virus. Yet most of us wake up each day and take life as we know it for granted. How cross we get if we get a short power-cut, or our train is cancelled. It's so bloody annoying when we are in a wi-fi 'not spot' or we can't get a signal on our mobile. We moan about the price of petrol and food - yet it is all there for us. Try to imagine for just one moment that everything is gone ..... that's Station Eleven.

One of the most striking things about Station Eleven, other than its ingenuity, is its possibility. The fact that this could happen. Emily St.John Mandel has created a story that is both shocking and touching, beautiful and desolate, but most of all human.

I don't want to say much more about the plot. The world collapsed, the survivors tried to rebuild it. The characters are vibrant, the references to our world are haunting and sometimes chilling, the writing is beautifully tender, yet stunningly blunt.  My words can do neither the story nor the author any justice.

My thanks to Sam Eades from Picador who sent my copy for review, and also a mention to my friend Nina who has been nagging me to read Station Eleven for the past 6 weeks - cheers Nina x

No more diving into pools of chlorinated water
No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights
No more trains running under the surface of cities
No more cities
No more light
No more internet
No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows
No more countries, all borders unmanned

Emily St. John Mandel was born in Canada and studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She is the author of the novels Last Night in MontrealThe Singer's GunThe Lola Quartet and Station Eleven and is a staff writer for The Millions. She is married and lives in New York.

For more information check out her website  Her Facebook Author Page or follow her on Twitter @EmilyMandel

Saturday 23 August 2014

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. 
While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can't quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend's life. 
Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further - and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. 
A staggeringly arresting, honest novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship that moves us to ask ourselves just how well we know those we love, what we owe our children, and who we are without our friends.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe was published by Hutchinson on 14th August, and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

California ~ land of sunshine and beautiful people. A place that is always depicted as a land of plenty, of success, of happiness. That's the California that is sold to the rest of the world, the image that is conjured up by millions as they think of year-long summers and beautiful beaches.

Mia and Lorrie Ann live in Corona del Mar, California. It's the early nineties and house prices have fallen and the sun doesn't appear to shine quite so brightly as we would be led to believe. This is the real California; a place where families are imploding, where child-neglect happens and alcoholism is rife.

Lorrie Ann appears to have it all, despite the changing world around her. To her friends, she is extraordinary, not least because she is surrounded by a family that love her.

As Mia and Lorrie Ann grow up, their friendship remains strong. Mia is the one who makes the major mistakes in life. And then tragedy strikes Lorrie Ann, and everything she had and believed in disappears. She starts a melt-down that will continue for many years whilst Mia watches helplessly, wondering how and why Lorrie Ann turned into this.

From their early years in Corona del Mar, through India and into Turkey, Rufi Thorpe tells the story of an incredibly complex, often painful and at times very dangerous friendship. This is writing that hits very hard, the rawness and the reality is stark and pulls no punches, yet the enduring need of these two characters remains at the forefront.

Female friendship is a mysterious thing. Rufi Thorpe explores the fine detail that bonds two women together despite the pain that both of them can cause to each other. Mia can never quite forget that Lorrie Ann had such a better start in life than she did, and although she always appears to be supportive and loyal, that touch of jealousy is always there. Lorrie Ann appears selfish and cold whilst at times showing incredible strength and love towards those dearest to her, but that streak of narcissism is always present.

The Girls from Corona del Mar is a short novel at just under 250 pages, but it can be a very difficult read at times. Rufi Thorpe does not shy away from the harsh realities of this incredibly complicated and long-standing friendship. She writes with passion and realism, creating characters who are far from perfect, yet are unforgettable in their own way. 

This is a debut novel from an author who writes brilliantly with some fabulous characterisation and a sense of place that will transport the reader across continents and decades.  An excellent read that I recommend highly.

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

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. Currently, she lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. The Girls from Corona del Mar is her first novel.

More information about Rufi Thorpe and her writing can be found on her website, her Facebook Author Page, or by following her on Twitter @RufiThorpe

Friday 22 August 2014

** BLOG TOUR ** Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery

Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery, I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this tour for what is a very very special book.

It was the day when everything stopped.
At quarter past two on a hot afternoon in August, Anna's beautiful, headstrong elder sister Rose disappears.
Twenty years later, Anna still doesn't know whether Rose is alive or dead. In her early thirties now, she sees her future unfolding - with sensible, serious Martin and a grown-up, steady job - and finds herself wondering if this is what she really wants.
Unable to take control of her life while the mystery of her sister's disappearance remains unsolved, Anna begins to search for the truth: what did happen to Rose that summer's day?

Linda Newbery is a successful author of books for children and  young adults and has won the Costa Children's Book Prize and been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon is her first novel for adults and was published by Doubleday (Transworld) on 14 August 2014.

Before I'd even opened the book, I fell a little in love with it. The cover is divine. An image of two girls running off, and the photography seems a little hazy, it is the perfect image for this story.

It was a quarter past two on a Wednesday afternoon. It was the middle of summer, a hot day made for lazing in the garden. That was the last time that Anna saw her older sister Rose.

Rose disappeared. She didn't tell anyone that she was going, she didn't take her favourite denim skirt or her floaty blouse. She hadn't acted any differently. She'd always been hot-headed, hard to handle, a bit of a drama queen, but this was completely out of the blue.

Twenty years later, Anna's parents have finally decided to sell their house; to finally admit that Rose would not be coming back to the big old house that had been home. This major decision sparks something in Anna, and she begins to search again for clues about Rose.  Anna's life has not really gone to plan, she's drifted into jobs, she's in a relationship that has become boring and dry. Maybe if she can put Rose to rest finally, she can move on with her own life.

Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon is not just Anna's story. It's really the story of her mother Cassandra, or Sandy, or Sandra - depending on which stage of life she's at and who she is talking to.  Linda Newbery has deftly interwoven Cassandra's whole life story into the modern-day search for Rose, and she has done it so perfectly with each new chapter of that life adding another dimension to the things that Anna discovers during her search.

Anna is a hard character to warm to, she's a complicated person who is not at ease with herself, and so the reader can find her difficult to relate to as well. When we first meet Cassandra, we meet an elderly, confused, straight-laced woman who appears to be cold and distant, but as her story steadily unfolds we discover the real Cassandra. For me, her story was both beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure, made up of tragic loss and huge disappointment. Cassandra has hidden her true self from those closest to her, carrying with her the burdens that have haunted her for most of her sixty years.

There are some very bizarre friendships within the story, and it would be easy to dismiss them as unrealistic and contrived, but stop and think about people you know or strange relationships you may have read about, there really is nothing as strange as human behaviour, and in this novel, the odd couplings really do work.

I had no idea what had happened to Rose, and as Anna's search revealed more information I became more and more engrossed in this exquisite story. Couple that with the beauty of Cassandra's life story and you really have a story that will touch your heart and stay with you for a long time afterwards.

It was about eighty pages from the end when my heart started to pound so strongly, I actually felt a little bit sick and was glued to those last 80 pages.  I was desperate to find out what would happen but so so sad that it came to an end.

A story of loss and relationships, of family and friendships.  A story of lies, deception and covering up secrets.

Linda Newbery has proved that not only can she produce award-winning stories for children and young adults but that she is a just as talented at writing for the adult market. When I was offered this book to review from Naomi at Transworld I hesitated, I have so many books to review, I wasn't sure that I'd have time to read and review by the blog tour dates. I am so so glad that I said yes, I really think I've found one of my favourite books of 2014, maybe one of my favourite books ever.

Linda Newbery began by writing teenage fiction, but has now written for all ages, with books
ranging from a picture book, POSY, to her first novel for adults, QUARTER PAST TWO ON A WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. She is a winner of the Costa Children's Book Prize, for her young adult novel SET IN STONE, and has twice been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, as well as for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and for numerous regional awards. She has served as a judge for the Whitbread award and for the Guardian Prize.
Linda is a frequent visitor to schools, libraries and festivals, and has tutored several times for the Arvon Foundation. She lives in a small village in north Oxfordshire with her husband and two cats. She loves yoga, reading, gardening, walking and swimming, and is currently trying her hand at stone-carving.
For more information, visit Linda's website:
Visit her Facebook Author Page    Follow her on Twitter @lindanewbery

** BLOG TOUR ** Mad About You by Sinead Moriarty plus ** GIVEAWAY**

I'm really happy to be the final host for the special six-stop BLOG TOUR for Sinead Moriarty's novel Mad About You. There have been some great blog pieces from fabulous bloggers during this tour. Check out the tour poster on the left to see who the other hosts have been, and do visit their blogs and read their posts too.

Penguin Ireland are delighted that the Richard and Judy WH Smith Book Club picked Mad About You by Sinead Moriarty as one of their summer titles.  The Book Club started reviewing and discussing Mad About You on August 15th

Mad About You was published in paperback by Penguin in May 2014, and is Sinaed Moriarty's ninth novel.  I reviewed her novel This Child of Mine here on Random Things in October 2013.

Emma and James Hamilton have weathered lots of storms in their ten-year marriage. From the heartbreak of infertility, to the craziness of then becoming parents to two babies in one year, to coping with James losing his job, somehow they have always worked as a team.
However, the pressure of moving for James's new job puts them under stress like never before. So when James starts getting texts from a stranger - texts that show startling insights into their lives - Emma is not sure what to think. She is far from home, isolated and before long finds herself questioning everything about their relationship.
Somehow she has to get a grip, but how can she do that when a stranger seems set on driving Emma out of her home and her marriage?

 'A perfect mix of intrigue, emotion and humour, this is a really gripping and enjoyable read****' Closer

'The inevitable comparisons with Marian Keyes are justified and well deserved - Moriarty's characters are likeable, well developed and funny****' Heat

'One of the brightest voices in modern women's fiction' Bella

(From   Sinead was born and raised in Dublin where she grew up surrounded by books. Her mother is an author of children’s books. Growing up, Sinead says she was inspired by watching her mother writing at the kitchen table and then being published. From that moment on, her childhood dream was to write a novel.
After university, she went to live in Paris and then London. It was at the age of thirty, while working as a journalist in London that she began to write creatively in her spare time – after work, at lunch times … and, truth be told, during work hours.
After a couple of years toying with ideas, she joined a creative writing group and began to write The Baby Trail. The bitter-sweet comedy of a couple struggling to conceive hit a nerve in publishing circles. It was snapped up by Penguin Publishing in the UK and Ireland and has, to date, been translated into twenty-five languages.
Since writing The Baby Trail, Sinead has moved back to Dublin where she lives with her husband and three children.
Her second book A Perfect Match has been published worldwide. The US version of A Perfect Match is called The Right Fit. Her third novel – From Here to Maternity – is the final instalment of the Emma and James trilogy. Her fourth book – In My Sister’s Shoes – is about two sisters who help save each other. Her fifth book has been published under two different titles: Whose Life Is It Anyway? in Ireland and Keeping it in the Family in the UK.
Her sixth book, Pieces of my Heart, about a family dealing with a terrible crisis, went straight in at number 1 in the Irish charts and was nominated for an Irish Book Award.
Her seventh book – Me and My Sisters – went straight in at number 1 in the Irish charts and remained in the top five for 13 weeks. It was also nominated for an Irish Book Award.
Her eighth novel, This Child of Mine also went straight in at number 1 in the Irish charts.
Her ninth novel, Mad About You was chosen as a 2014 Richard & Judy summer book club read.
Her tenth novel, The Secrets Sisters Keep went straight into the Irish charts at number 1.
Find out more about Sinead and her books at and her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @sinead_moriarty

I'm thrilled that Sinead Moriarty has written a guest post for Random Things today.  Sinead tells us all about her writing experiences - I hope you enjoy reading her thoughts.

I also have a copy of Mad About You to give away to one lucky entrant.  Entering is simple, just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below - easy peasy.  Good Luck and thanks for joining me on the blog tour today.

"You would imagine that writing books would get easier. You would think that writing your ninth book would be a breeze. You would think that your confidence would grow with each book. You would imagine that facing a blank screen is no longer daunting…you would be mistaken! 
            In the strangest way, each book becomes more difficult to write. Why? I think it’s because as a writer you want each book to be better. You strive to grow as a writer. You want to engage your reader. You want to grab their attention and keep it. You want them to turn the page and the next one and the next one… 
            Starting a new book can take a while. You often hear of writers, cleaning out their offices, clearing their desks, tidying their attics. We have so many avoidance techniques. The sight of a blank screen or blank page is just as daunting now as it was when I started my first book thirteen years ago. 
            My first two attempts at novels were turned down by everyone. But instead of letting it stop me in my tracks, I dusted my very bruised ego down and started a new book. I think it’s very important to keep writing. When I’m working, whether it’s on a novel or a column for the Irish Independent, I’m happy. I find I’m quite grumpy when I’m not working on something. I need writing; it’s like eating and drinking to me. I realise that may sound a bit ‘hippy-dippy’ but it’s how I feel. 
            I am happiest and calmest and most at peace when I’m in the middle of a book and consumed by my characters, my plotlines and my writing. There is no greater feeling than the one after a constructive writing day. But every high has a low and there is no worse feeling than the one after one of the days when the words just will not flow. Those days when writing is like dragging blood from a stone. You go to bed feeling depleted and despondent. 
            But…the good news is that often, you’ll wake up the next day and find the words will flow and you will once again be in your happy place. Writing, like all jobs involves a lot of hard graft. It’s not all creativity and inspiration, it’s a lot of hard work, focus and discipline. 
            My new book, Mad About You, deals with the theme of trust. How much do you really trust your partner? What would you think if your husband began to get sex texts from a strange number? When he protests his innocence and seems genuinely upset, would you believe him? Or would a seed of doubt be planted in your mind? Would that seed grow bigger and would it eventually destroy your relationship? 
            The couple in Mad About You, Emma and James, have been married for over ten years and have two children. Their marriage has become a bit stale. They take each other for granted and they’ve stopped making an effort with each other. Like so many marriages, when children come along, your relationship takes a backseat. Children can be all consuming and suddenly you find that weeks (and even months) have gone by during which you haven’t had a proper conversation. So when James begins getting sex texts from an unknown number, the trust in their marriage is tested to the limit. 
            Whenever I have a book published I always want to run away and hide. A month in the Witness Protection Programme sounds like a good idea. Even though this is my 9th book to be published, the nerves never subside. I think they actually get worse. 
            But the book is finished and it’s printed, so I have to set it free and just cross my fingers and hope for the best."
Sinead Moriarty - August 2014  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Vanilla Salt by Ada Parellada

The Perfect Condiment to Happiness. 
Alex is a brilliant chef, but he struggles to fill his Barcelona restaurant because of his gruff, eccentric personality and his refusal to use ingredients that trace their culinary origins to America, such as potatoes and tomatoes. 
When he meets the young, enthusiastic and beautiful Canadian Annette, he finds his ideas and narrow-mind outlook challenged, and discovers that they both share a painful past. 
Written by one of the most acclaimed Iberian chefs, Vanilla Salt is a sensual and mouth-watering exploration of the kitchen and the human heart, as well as a tale of simmering passions and the need to confront personal truths.

Vanilla Salt by Ada Parellada (translated by Julie Wark) was published by Alma Books on 17 July 2014.

Alex is chef patron at Antic Mon, a restaurant in Barcelona. Antic Mon is failing, whilst the neighbouring restaurants are thriving. Antic Mon is failing because of Alex. He's a fabulous, passionate, talented chef whose food is a triumph. He's also foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, angry and thinks that people should just come and eat. Alex can't be bothered with social media and being nice to people, and there is absolutely no way that he is going to use an ingredient that originates in America. So Alex loses the customers who want chips for their kids, or tomatoes in their salad.

Annette is not a chef, she only speaks very basic Catalan, but she's a foodie and she wants some experience. Alex and Annette find themselves working alongside each other in the kitchen of Antic Mon, and this working relationship becomes a journey of discovery for both of them.

Vanilla Salt is packed with luscious food, the descriptions of how each dish is created, and the wonderful ingredients are mouth watering. It is so obvious that the author is an accomplished Chef and is also a very skilful writer. She also excels at creating vibrant characters, with huge personalities who are perfectly formed; flawed but loveable, with some dialogue that is often hilarious, but also quite emotional in places.

I love a foodie novel, and I especially liked the modern feel to Vanilla Salt. Social media, especially blogging plays a huge part in this story.

As a foodie, a reader and a blogger, I found Vanilla Salt an extremely good read. Ada Parellada is a great author, and the translation is done extremely well.

My thanks to Marina from Alma Books who sent my copy for review.  Alma Books have created a Foodie Fiction Pinterest board which features more of their books and some delicious foodie pictures.

Ada Parellada was born in Granollers near Barcelona. She started to study law but her passion for food led her to become a chef. Together with her husband, she opened the innovative restaurants Semproniana and Coses de Menjar, both in Barcelona, and Acontecimiento in Lisbon. Ada Parellada collaborates with various newspapers and TV channels. She has written several cookery books, and Vanilla Salt is her first novel.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Secrets of a Pet Nanny by Eileen Riley

Aged 28, Eileen Riley had an enviably glamorous life; her globe-trotting career as a diplomat took her from the corridors of power at the White House to postings in Cameroon and Papua New Guinea, and finally, London where she decided to jack it all in to become a professional dog-sitter. 
As you do. 
In fact her diplomatic skills were to prove invaluable in her new career. 
Secrets of a Pet Nanny is a fabulous and very funny collection of tales about the dogs she has looked after, from pedigree puppies to rare Tibetan terriers. 
Riley is a true dog devotee but that does not prevent her casting a caustic eye over her charges and their devoted owners. 

Secrets of a Pet Nanny was published by Elliott and Thompson in October 2013.

I've never owned a dog, in fact I've always been a little bit wary of dogs. I was once bitten by a Corgi. Yes, I know, one of the smallest breeds, but it frightened the life out of me and made a real mess of my leg. I was ten years old and the very next day I went on a school trip to see how Police dogs are trained .... I was traumatised!   I do love animals though, including dogs, and over the years I've got to know some lovely dogs. My favourite is a lovely little Jack Russell called Sally who sadly is no longer with us, but she was a very special lady.

Eileen Riley has always loved dogs and her passion shines through in this lovely memoir. Eileen changed career, quite drastically. She was once a diplomat, travelling the world to all sorts of exotic locations, dealing with people from all walks of life, but when she settled in London she gave it up and become a Pet Nanny.

I'll admit that I didn't know such people existed before I read Eileen's book, but what a great service she and the other Nannies provide. Adoring dog owners can go off on their holidays and leave their bundle of joy in Eileen's capable hands, knowing that they will be safe and well cared for.

The first couple of chapters are an introduction to Eileen and her previous career, and are followed by individual chapters about each of the dogs that have stayed in her home.  Eileen has looked after almost every breed of dog that there is, from the tiniest ones who fit in the palm of her son's hand, to the huge beasts who seem to grow and grow.  Each one of these doggy visitors have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, what not to do, and what you really must do when they stay in your house.

Animal lovers will really enjoy this entertaining, well-written and lovingly written tale of life as a Pet Nanny. It would make a great gift, and is beautifully presented with each doggy chapter having a line drawing of the subject at the beginning.

I won my copy of Secrets of a Pet Nanny last year from Josie's fabulous blog Jaffareadstoo.... pop over and read Josie's review of the book too.  Thanks Josie x

Eileen Riley is a professional pet nanny, writer and editor. Born in New York City, she went on to become an American diplomat with postings in Washington, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea and, finally, London. Having fallen in love with the city, she decided to stay and quit diplomacy for the greater challenge of watching other people's dogs. In her spare time, she has been the director of an international news agency, raised two children, gained a black belt in karate and learned how to play several notes on a flute. Secrets of a Pet Nanny is her first book. She lives in south west London with her family and regular canine guests. 

She blogs at   Twitter @EileenRileyArms

Friday 15 August 2014

Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent

When 11-year-old Indigo and her older brother Robin arrive in South Africa to stay with their father, they find a luxury lifestyle that is a world away from their modest existence back in England. But Indigo is uneasy in the foreign landscape and confused by the family's silence surrounding her mother's recent death. Unable to find solace in either new or old faces, she begins to harbour violent suspicions in place of the truth. Steeped in the dry heat of a South African summer, this keen and touching debut seamlessly interweaves the voices of Indigo and her mother, and beautifully captures the human desire to belong: in a family, in a country, in your own skin.

Alarm Girl is Hannah Vincent's debut novel and was published by Myriad Editions on 7 August 2014.

There are stories that are fast-paced, exciting and thrilling. There are stories that are subtle, descriptive and beautiful. There is a place for both of these, but sometimes the slower, more complex and deliciously paced story is the order of the day. Alarm Girl is exactly that; a story narrated by a child who will slowly but surely creep into your head and she's very difficult to shake off.

Indigo and her brother Robin have travelled to South Africa. They are going to stay with their father who is trying to establish a travel business. Their mother has recently died and they've been staying with their maternal grandparents. Nobody has spoken to Indigo about her mother's death. Her brother thinks she's just a stupid girl, her grandparents are overly-protective and grieving themselves and her father seems to have changed into a different person completely.

Indigo finds South Africa quite strange and just a little frightening. The heat, the wild animals, the language. It feels unsafe and dangerous, it's not home. She doesn't want to be there.

Hannah Vincent has taken a big risk by narrating her debut novel in the voice of a young child, but it's a risk that she has proved that she is well qualified to take as her characterisation of Indigo is perfect. She has created a little girl who is innocent, vulnerable and confused, but also perfectly believable. Indigo's childish curiosity, along with her confusion about the death of her mother are blended so elegantly together.

Layered between Indigo's narration is the story of her late mother Karen. The reader learns about Karen's life before her children, her marriage, motherhood and ultimately, her death. This insight into Indigo's heritage is essential, and adds another dimension the story.

The South African setting is exquisite, and the contrast between the wealthy neighbourhood and the slum-like dwellings is stark and pulls no punches and hides nothing.

I am incredibly impressed by this fabulous little novel. It's short, but deals with so many issues, and the story unravels slowly but quite perfectly.

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

Hannah Vincent began her writing life as a playwright after studying drama at the University of East Anglia. Her plays include The Burrow,Throwing Stones (Royal Court Theatre) and Hang (National Theatre Studio). She joined the BBC as a television script editor, working on classic adaptations as well as original drama serials from 1996 – 2001. She now teaches Creative Writing for the Open University. She completed the MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University London in 2012 and is currently studying for her PhD at the University of Sussex. Alarm Girl is Hannah’s first novel, an extract from which was shortlisted for the Writer's Retreat Competition. It was also shortlisted for the 2013 Hookline Novel Competition.

Follow her on Twitter @hannahvincent22 and check out the Alarm Girl Facebook page