Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building.
When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop is published in hardback by Headline on 25 September 2014.

People who know me, know that I adore Greece. I love visiting, I love the food, the people, the history, the culture. It is this love that brought me to Victoria Hislop's novels and The Island, sent on the leper island of Spinalonga just off the coast of Crete is one of my favourite stories. I also enjoyed The Thread, set in Thessaloniki and her collection of short stories The Last Dance and Other Stories. She also also written about the Spanish Civil War in her novel The Return, but I wasn't so keen on that one.

When I learnt that her latest novel; The Sunrise was to be set in the northern Cypriot town of Famagusta, I was intrigued as Cyprus is an island that I've visited many times. I've stood at the dividing barrier in the capital city of Nicosia, and gazed across at the ruins of Famagusta. I've talked to local Greek Cypriots about how they had to leave their homes after the invasion forty years ago. I've seen the shrine to the missing, those whose bodies were never recovered and whose families still mourn their loss.

Beginning in the summer of 1972, The Sunrise is the story of the old Famagusta. The glittering, glamorous holiday resort populated by the beautiful rich and serviced by wonderful hotels and willing locals. The wealthiest of these visitors stay at The Sunrise; a new hotel built and owned by Savvas Papacosta and his wife Aphroditi. The Sunrise is their latest venture, glitzier and more expensive than their other hotel, and financed by Aphroditi's wealthy father.

Victoria Hislop describes life in this haven so well, bringing to life the guests, the hotel workers and the hustle and bustle of fabulous Famagusta.

The tourists are unaware of the political rumblings in Cyprus. Hidden from them is the violence, the simmering unrest. The locals are aware of the battles within the Government, and the memories of battles between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are never far from their minds.

In 1974 everything comes to a head. The island is divided and the tourists flee. Greek and Turk Cypriots are once again at war, the violence escalates, the streets are dangerous, the hotels lie empty except for the mice and the rats.

Caught up in this conflict are two families from either side, and central to the story is an unlikely love affair, an affair that has repercussions for these two families for many years.

I enjoyed this story and the setting and the characters, however, for me, there was something missing. Despite the fact that the author does not hide the violence, this novel still felt a little too glossy, with just a few too many coincidences to convince me of the authenticity of the plot.

The Sunrise is an easy read, with plenty of action to keep the reader interested, but not quite enough depth for me.

Check out Karen's review of The Sunrise on her blog My Reading Corner.

Victoria Hislop is a writer and journalist. Her first novel, The Island, held the number one slot in the Sunday Times paperback chart for eight consecutive weeks and has sold one million copies. Her second novel, The Return, debuted at number one in the Sunday Times paperback chart.
She was named Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007.
Victoria lives in Kent with her husband and two children.

For more information visit her website www.victoriahislop.com
Visit her Facebook Author Page
Follow her on Twitter @VicHislop

Monday 22 September 2014

Eren by Simon P Clark ** BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY **

I'm happy to be hosting the Blog Tour for Eren by Simon P Clark today. The Eren Blog Tour is huge, and lasts for a whole month.  Check out the poster above to see where it's already been, and where it's moving to next.  I have a copy of Eren to give away, to be in with a chance of winning, please enter via the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.

Eren was published by Corsair (Constable & Robinson) in hardback on 18 September 2014, and is Simon P Clark's debut novel.

Tell the story to its end,' says Eren with a grin. His yellow eyes are glowing like embers in the night.
'When I reach the end,' I say, 'what happens? You'll have the whole story.'
'Hmm,' he says, looking at me and licking his lips with a dry, grey tongue. 'What
happens then? Why don't we find out?'
People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad isn't with them. Where is he? Has something happened? Oli has a hundred questions, but then he finds a secret of his own: he discovers the creature that lives in the attic.
Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.
Sharing his stories with Eren, Oli starts to make sense of what's happening downstairs with his family. But what if it's a trap? Soon, Oli must make a choice: learn the truth - or abandon himself to Eren's world, forever.

There is no doubt that Simon P Clark can write. Eren is an imaginative, unique and at times, very strange story that will appeal to those readers who like something a little different, something a little challenging, and something that leaves them wondering.

I always find it quite fascinating how books can completely divide opinions. I think that one hundred different people could all read the same book, yet every one of those readers could discover quite a different story within the pages. Books use the reader's imagination, so much more than film or TV where the characters are there in front of you, the locations are picked out and the action is controlled. Some books stretch the reader more than others, and for me, Eren is one of those stories.

Oli and his mother have left London and are now living in his mother's childhood home, along with his uncle and aunt. Oli hears half conversations, he hears excuses. He doesn't hear the answer to his questions about his Dad. All Oli really wants is for the adults to be honest with him,

Oli makes new friends in Takeru and Em, he tries to get used to this new place, and he explores the attic.

Eren is the creature in the attic. A bat? Maybe. Eren is a lover of stories, and Oli soon finds himself engulfed in story telling sessions, and it is through these stories that he begins to work out more and more about what is happening in the adult world.

So, what story did I take from Eren?  For me, this book is a story about stories, it's a book that deals with secrets, with lies, with trust and with unexpected endings.

Eren is not my usual sort of read. Fantasy is not usually my thing at all, and although the author says that Eren was written for the children's market, it is certainly a story that will appeal to many adult readers too, my guess is it will appeal to the Young Adult market far more than the mainstream adult reader.  Saying that, there is something quite addictive about this story. Simon P Clark writes with ease, creating an atmosphere that is almost claustrophobic at times, yet the reader feels compelled to learn more.

Simon P Clark grew up in England, has taught English in Japan, and now live in New Jersey, USA.  
He is 28

For more information visit his website www.simonpclark.com

Follow him on Twitter @sipclark

Eren Tales is a collaboration between Simon P Clark and photographer Brandon Rechten, bringing you twelve short stories, and twelve works of art, all inspired by Eren.
For more information, please visit www.erentales.com

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday 21 September 2014

Casting Off by Emma Bamford

As a journalist for the Independent, Emma Bamford is swept along with the London rat race, lost amongst the egos of Fleet Street. Surrounded by budget cuts and bullies, the thrill of a breaking news story is no longer enough. And at 31, still struggling to get to a fourth date and surrounded by friends settling down to married life and babies, Emma decides to grasp her life by the roots and reclaim her freedom...by running away to sea and joining a complete stranger (and his cat) on a yacht in Borneo.

Reflective yet humorous and self-deprecating, we share Emma’s excitement and fear at leaving a good job for an unknown adventure, and join her as she travels to some of the most exotic places in the world and starts to realise what really matters in life. She discovers the supreme awkwardness of sharing a tiny space with total strangers, the unimaginable beauty of paradise islands and secret jungle rivers, glimpses lost tribes, works all hours for demanding superyacht owners, and has a terrifyingly near miss with pirates. Fending off romantic propositions from a Moldovan pig farmer and a Sri Lanken village chief amongst others, Emma finds adventure and happiness in the most unlikely places.

From planning each day meticulously to learning to let go and leave things to chance, Emma’s story shows that it is possible to break free and find happiness – and love – on your own terms.

Casting Off by Emma Bamford was published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 3 July 2014, and is the author's first book.

I love holidays abroad, but I'm not an adventurous traveller, in fact I don't really like travelling at all, and often wish I could just go to sleep and wake up at my destination, without all the hassle of the journey.

Emma Bamford does like travelling, she loves sailing, the open sea, the adventure and meeting new people and it was that love that persuaded her to leave the rat-race of London and agree to sail a yacht, with a stranger, on the other side of the world.

Casting Off is her story, and it is so incredibly well written, that even a land-lubber like myself would be (almost) tempted to run off to sea too! As long as I didn't meet a guy like Emma's first captain that is. I have no idea how Emma kept her cheerful and upbeat tone whilst writing about the rat who was the skipper on her first part of this journey. Fending off his unwanted attention whilst trying not to be rude was one of her greatest achievements, and thank goodness she managed to find much better sailing mates once she'd escaped from his clutches!

Sailing on different types of boats, with a whole host of people of differing nationalities, some of whom couldn't speak her language and some of whom were not the nicest of shipmates can't have been easy.  However, the great people that she met and the wonderfully exotic places that she visited more than made up for it, despite the threat of pirates, the hard work and some particularly difficult holiday makers.

The author's background in journalism shines through in Casting Off. She certainly writes a fascinating and often funny account of her time at sea. Her vulnerabilities do come through at times, but on the whole, her optimistic nature and her spirit of adventure shine through in her writing.

I've read on Emma Bamford's website that she's now writing the sequel to Casting Off and I'm delighted to hear that. I really want to know what happens next; did she make it to the Caribbean, and what became of her and Guy?

A fascinating, extremely well written tale of how one woman really did change her life.

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

Emma Bamford is an East Midlands-based author and journalist who has worked at The Independent and Daily Express and most recently as News Editor of the i newspaper.

She had a fairly normal life to begin with, growing up with her younger brother and sister under the watchful eyes of her parents in Lincoln and Nottingham. 

After studying English Literature at Southampton University and Newspaper Journalism at UCLan, she started work as a cub reporter for the Bicester Review and then the Derby Evening Telegraph 

Fleet Street beckoned and highlights of her career as a reporter and news editor include asking F1 driver Jenson Button what his favourite toasted sandwich filling was, quizzing the incumbent Home Secretary on his preferred kind of cheese (spot a pattern?) and peeing in Bruce Forsyth's downstairs loo. There was some serious and hard-hitting journalism in there for a fair few years, too.

Then, in her early 30s and bored with this 'fairly normal life' she'd created for herself, Emma took a career break and, despite protestations from friends and family, answered an advert on the internet for 'crew wanted' and flew to Borneo to live on a boat with a man she had never met and his cat. She found herself hunting for elephants in the jungle, visiting deserted islands and running from pirates. Finally she ended up among billionaires, working as a stewardess on a superyacht in Italy. Her adventures form the basis of her first book, Casting Off.

Emma now works part-time as a freelance to give herself space to write and make the jump from memoir to novels. Her ambition is to make book writing her full-time career. Tropical settings feature high in her inspiration and as her books' settings, although she lives about as far away from the sea as it is possible, in landlocked rural Derbyshire. And, while she may make self-deprecating jokes constantly, she really is serious about figuring out what is important in life and finding the freedom to be who you want to be.

For more information about Emma, visit her website www.emmabamford.com
Visit her Facebook page   Follow her on Twitter @emmavbamford

Friday 19 September 2014

Away From You by Kay Langdale

When Monica is offered a three-month placement in LA, she knows that for the sake of her career she must accept it - even though it means leaving behind nine-year-old Ruby, toddler Luca and her husband Daniel.
She hires Ursula as a housekeeper and nanny during her absence, although the older woman is oddly reluctant to agree to a childcare position. What is the dark secret in Ursula's past, which has left her so closed-off and reserved? Will her growing attachment to Ruby bring it to the surface? And will Monica regret leaving the children in her care?

Away From You by Kay Langdale was published on 11 September 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton.

I discovered Kay Langdale's writing back in November 2011 when I read and reviewed her wonderful novel Her Giant Octopus Moment. That is a story that has stayed with me so I was delighted to get the chance to read and review her latest book; Away From You.

The story opens as Monica considers her future. She loves her husband and children dearly. Daniel, her husband is a surgeon, her two children; Ruby and Luca are bright and entertaining and keep her busy. However, she desperately misses the world of work, the opportunity to be someone other than a wife and a mother, the chance to create something that is hers.

She knows she needs to accept the offer of three months' work in LA, She knows that Daniel will support her and that the children will be fine, but she battles with that age-old guilt trip that mothers all over the world have to deal with. Work or home?

The decision is made, Monica will go and after a few difficult interviews she finds Ursula. Ursula will be housekeeper and nanny whilst she is away. Despite the fact that Ursula was strangely reticent about the child care aspect of the job, she is persuaded to take it on. Monica flys to LA and Ursula takes up post.

Away From You then becomes Ursula's story. Unlike Monica, she's a difficult character to warm to, she's cold and hesitant, but her back story is slowly revealed quite cleverly by the author and the reader is introduced to Ursula's past. Her past is also her present and is likely to be her future.

That is far as I will go in terms of talking about the plot and the hidden secrets within it, to say much more would spoil the experience for future readers, and those who have already read the book will know exactly what I am referring to.

I feel that Kay Langdale's writing has grown and matured so much, I'm not saying that this is a better book than Her Giant Octopus Moment, but that she has tackled an emotive and extremely challenging issue with sensitivity and apparent ease. She continues to create characters that the reader will come to love and admire, especially her younger characters, and like Scout in her previous novel, Ruby is a pure delight. Nine years old, but perceptive and bright, yet totally believable. Thank goodness too, for Daniel, a father and husband with empathy, understanding and humour, much needed when compared the darker father figure who features prominently in the story.

A story of grief and redemption and consequences. A novel that raises questions but also has hope at its heart.

Beautifully written, tender and true with characters who will restore the faith of the reader.

My thanks to the publisher who provided my review copy of Away From You via Bookbridgr.

My friend Leah, who blogs at Reflections of a Reader has also read and enjoyed Away From You, visit her blog to read her review.

Kay Langdale was born in Coventry into a family of four children, and both her parents were
teachers. She did her first degree, reading English Literature, at London University, and her second at Oxford University, where she wrote a doctorate on Samuel Beckett's prose fiction. She was a lecturer in twentieth century literature at St Edmund Hall, Oxford before beginning work at a brand consultancy as a concept writer and account handler. She worked mostly on Unilever brands, like Persil, Cif and Domestos, and spent many hours watching women in focus groups discussing their lives, their endless juggling, and the brands and products which they felt both best served and reflected them. Her main lesson was that there is nothing simple about most of what goes into a supermarket trolley.

For more information about the author and her books visit her website www.kaylangdale.com
Follow her on Twitter @kaylangdale

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Sussex, 1912.
In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.
Standing alone is the taxidermist's daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford's once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum's closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.
The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.
While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible - and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father's workshop?
The Taxidermist's Daughter is the stunning new novel from the multi-million copy bestselling author, Kate Mosse.

The Taxidermist's Daughter was published by Orion on 11 September 2014 in hardback.

I have been a fan of Kate Mosse for many years. Her novel Labyrinth sat unread on my shelf for a long time before I took the plunge and read it. I had avoided that huge tome for so long, it's historical fiction and I really didn't think that it would be my thing. I was completely hooked and everything else was left unattended whilst I feverishly read it. I was equally transfixed by the next two in the series; Sepulchre and Citadel. More recently, I read her collection of short stories; The Mistletoe Bride, and although very different to the Langeudoc trilogy, it is a fabulous collection of stories.

The Taxidermist's Daughter opens on the Eve of St Mark, 1912 in a churchyard in the small village of Fishbourne in Sussex. It is the night when, according to local superstition, the ghosts of those who will die in the next year will walk.  Connie is the Taxidermist's Daughter and has followed her father to the graveyard, she hides as she watches a group of men, some local, some strangers, gather as the church bell rings.

Connie and her father lead a lonely life in Blackthorn House. Her father, the taxidermist is a strange man, prone to drink and difficult to live alongside. Connie has mastered his art and continues to stuff birds and animals whilst battling with half-memories from her 'lost time'. Connie had an accident when she was twelve-years-old, when her father ran the successful museum of taxidermy ‘Gifford’s World Famous House of Avian Curiosities’. Connie cannot recall anything of her life before the accident, and her father is loathe to speak about it. The museum is no more, except for the few items that they brought with them when they moved to Fishbourne.

When the body of a woman is discovered in the river, Connie is convinced that she was murdered. However, the death certificate is signed, blamed on suicide and no more is spoken about the unfortunate woman. For Connie, this is just the beginning and as the tides rise, the wind blows and the rain falls, she becomes embroiled in a mystery that spans many years.

As Kate Mosse made the region of Carcassonne one of the major characters of the Langeudoc trilogy, she has done the same with this bleak landscape of West Sussex. The author's knowledge and love for the area shines through in her outstanding and wonderfully crafted words. The tiny village of Fishbourne, with its varied and colourful characters is vividly portrayed.  The art of taxidermy becomes a fascinating aspect of the story, detailed and quirky explanations of Connie's work, helped along by quotes from 'Taxidermy: Or, The Art of Collecting, Preparing, and Mounting Objects of Natural History' by Mrs R Lee.

Whilst not as long as some of Kate Mosse's previous novels, The Taxidermist's Daughter is a complex and utterly compelling read. The pace of the story increases rapidly as the story unfolds and the character of Connie has been perfectly created. She is vibrant, intelligent and constantly curious.

This is a gothic, psychological thriller that is just perfectly written. The mystery of  Connie's accident, combined with the recent murder of a young woman are intricately interwoven, producing a story that is both stunning and surprising in turns.

Huge thanks to Gaby Young from Orion who sent my copy for review.

Kate Mosse is an international bestselling author with sales of more than five million copies in 42 languages. Her novels include: Labyrinth (2005); Sepulchre (2007); The Winter Ghosts (2009); and Citadel (2012). Her most recent fiction was The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales (2013), an acclaimed collection of short stories.
Kate is the co-founder and Chair of the Board of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize) and in June 2013 was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to literature.
For more information, visit her website www.katemosse.co.uk
Visit her Author Facebook Page
Follow her on Twitter @katemosse

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll ** BLOG TOUR **

Welcome to the Hope Street Hotel – where you check in married, and check out single.’
Two years ago Chloe Townsend was dumped at the altar and had to leave behind everything that mattered to her. Even now she’s finding it hard to move forward. That is until she lands an incredible job, running a brand new boutique hotel. Suddenly she’s starting to put her life back together, and, apart from the fact that her hard-to-please new boss is breathing down her neck, things are looking good.
But what goes on in the Hope Street Hotel is a far cry from anything she’s ever dealt with before. This is a pioneering ‘divorce hotel’ designed to make every aspect of breaking up efficient and pain-free. In one single weekend, Chloe’s team promises to take care of everything – legal, technical, emotional – and guests check out carefree and single.
No one is better qualified than Chloe to understand what couples need when their relationship is at breaking point, but she soon finds herself having to tackle the heartbreak she’s tried to bury. In particular three couples need her help – Jo and Dave, Lucy and Andrew, and Kirk and Dawn – and the opening weekend is full of revelation, trouble, memories happy and sad, facts that need facing, and some very big surprises.
It’s time to move on. And it soon becomes clear that some endings are, in fact, very exciting new beginnings …

I'm delighted to be today's host on the Blog Tour for Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Caroll which was published by Avon as an ebook on 11 September 2014, the paperback will be released on 23 October 2014.

Love Me or Leave Me was a great surprise to me. I had expected a story of bitterness and bitching, as the story is set in a 'divorce' hotel, but instead it's a novel full of wonderfully warm characters, each with a great back story. It's one of those reads that becomes quite addictive; where you say to yourself 'oh just one more page', until before you know it you've read through to the end!

Chloe fled Dublin two years ago, she left her job and her home and took her shattered heart to London. Chloe had been dumped at the alter, in full view of her friends, her family and her work colleagues.

When Chloe is offered the job as General Manager of the Hope Street Hotel, back in Dublin, she
knows that she is perfect for the job. Hope Street Hotel is going to be a divorce hotel, the guests will be couples who are about to divorce. The hotel will be five star luxury, with professional services from lawyers, mediator and estate agents coming as part of the package. Hope Street Hotel will facilitate civilised divorces in luxury surroundings.

The story follows Chloe and three of the couples who stay at Hope Street on the opening weekend. Claudia Carroll has expertly given each couple's back story, starting with their individual wedding invitations which reveal so much about each of the couples.

Expect the unexpected, this is a quirky story with a unique setting. It's not full of hate and bitterness, nor is it overly sentimental. It exposes the faults of these couples and delves into their reasons for being at Hope Street. There is humour, there are mishaps and misunderstandings and there is hope.

I enjoyed this well written story very much, the characters are fabulous and the hotel is wonderfully described.

Claudia Carroll is a full time Sunday Times bestselling author and has sold over 670,000 copies of her paperbacks alone. Her previous book, 'Me and You' was shortlisted for the Bord Gais Popular Choice Irish Book Award in 2013. She was born in Dublin where she still lives.

Follow her on Twitter @claudiacarroll    Check out her Author Facebook Page

Saturday 13 September 2014

The Wedding Proposal by Sue Moorcroft

Can a runaway bride stop running?
Elle Jamieson is a private person, in relationships as well as at work - and for good reason. But then she's made redundant and with no ties to hold her, Elle heads off to sunny Malta.
Lucas Rose hates secrets - he prides himself on his ability to lay his cards on the table and he expects nothing less in return. He's furious when his summer working as a divemaster is interrupted by the arrival of Elle, his ex, all thanks to his Uncle Simon's misguided attempts at matchmaking.
Forced to live in close proximity, it's hard to ignore what they had shared before Lucas's wedding proposal scared Elle away. But then a phone call from England allows Lucas a rare glimpse of the true Elle. Can he deal with Elle's closely guarded past when it finally comes to light?

The Wedding Proposal by Sue Moorcroft was published by Choc Lit in paperback on 5 September 2014.  I reviewed Is This Love? by Sue Moorcroft here on Random Things back in November 2013.

Set on the sunny island of Malta, Sue Moorcroft has written a feel-good story featuring a host of eclectic and diverse characters.

Elle has been made redundant from her steady job in IT, she makes a huge decision. She will go to Malta and stay on a boat whilst earning some spending money and volunteering in a centre for young people. This sounds like a fine plan until Elle arrives at the boat to find that it is already occupied. The occupant is none other than her ex boyfriend Lucas. Awkward!

Neither Elle or Lucas are prepared to find alternative accommodation, and despite their past history, each one of them is determined to stick this out.

Whilst The Wedding Proposal is in the main, the story of Elle and Lucas, Sue Moorcroft has created an accompanying cast of characters who bring so much more to this book. There are some that are annoying, irritating and irksome, some who are downright horrible, and a couple that will steal your heart. Lets just say that Lucas is not the only hero of this story; I defy you not to fall for Carmelo too!

I particularly enjoyed the Maltese setting, and the author is adept at bringing the island to life, using descriptive prose that really made me want to visit this island of sunshine.

A real feel-good read that you can easily lose yourself in for a day or so - a finely tuned and well-paced plot featuring great characters.

My thanks to Choc Lit who sent my copy for review.  Check out another review of The Wedding Proposal over on Anne's blog Being Anne

The Wedding Proposal is one of nine contenders in the Best Romantic Read category at the Romance Readers Awards.
The awards, part of the Festival of Romantic Fiction, began in 2011. 
The winner will be announced at a festival in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday, September 13.

Sue Moorcroft writes novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011, an award for which Is this Love? and Dream a Little Dream were subsequently shortlisted in other years.Dream a Little Dream was also shortlisted for a Romantic Novel Award in 2013. Sue is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner, a past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists' Association and editor of its anthologies.
Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing 'how to' and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor. 

For more information visit her website www.suemoorcroft.com
Follow her on Twitter @suemoorcroft

Friday 12 September 2014

Grilled Cheese by Laura Washburn

Crisply toasted bread, gooey melted cheese and flavoursome relishes and pickles – the humble hot cheese sandwich is given the ultimate makeover in this book. 
Use this book to create the toastie with the mostie with the best ever recipe for Classic Grilled Cheese, as well as exciting variations. 
Serve up hearty yet Simple options such as the Montgomery Cheddar with Red Onion Chutney, Gruyère with Leek, and Smoked Provolone with Black Olives. 
Get the best out of your grilled cheese with the finest International flavours the world has to offer. 
Try the classic Croque Monsieur or Manchego with Chorizo and Padron Peppers. Fancy your grilled cheese down and ‘dirty’? 
Try Swiss Cheese with Chilli or Hot Dog with Sauerkraut and Mustard. 
Or bathe your grilled cheese in luxury with Gourmet recipes such as Tartiflette (reblochon and potato gratin with bacon) or Ricotta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sage. 
Crunchy, golden, gooey and satisfying, Grilled Cheese will keep you warm all winter.

Grilled Cheese by Laura Washburn was published by Ryland, Peters and Small on 14 August 2014.

Hmmm, cheese on toast.  My all-time favourite go-to food, when I'm grumpy, or happy, or sad, or just fancy a nibble. As a child, my Mum would make cheese on toast for us as a special snack and for me, there is nothing quite like that oozy cheese on crunchy bread.  I love cheese, and I love it most when it is melted.

Grilled Cheese is a book that really does make my mouth water, although the title is a little misleading because the beautiful ideas in this book are not in fact grilled, but fried on a pan, making each one of them even more delicious and just a little bit naughty!

So, two slices of bread - any bread, but for me it has to be thick sliced white. Butter each slice and then pile on the inside ingredients, bang it in a pan, butter side down and sizzle until the bread is golden and the cheese is oozingly melted. Result? A fabulously, fantastic delight that cannot be beaten!.

Grilled Cheese takes you through the basics, with tips about what cheese to use, which is the best bread and how a particular frying pan will work so well.  There are so many different ideas for making the humble grilled cheese sandwich into something mouth-wateringly different. Each page is gloriously illustrated with a full colour picture, believe me, you WILL drool!

The ideas for these scrumptious sandwiches are divided up into:

  • Simple: including Red Onion, Chutney & Chedder
  • Global : including Tandoori Chicken & Mango Chutney with Paneer
  • Wicked : including BBQ Ham Hock & Mac N Cheese
  • Gourmet : including Pickled Beetroot, Goat's Cheese & Chilli Jam

This really is a fabulous little book.  It's colourful, easy to follow and has some wonderful combinations to try out.

My thanks to Polly from the publisher; Ryland, Peters and Small who sent my copy of Grilled Cheese.

Check out their website www.rylandpeters.com  they have some fabulous titles on offer.
You can also take a look at their Facebook Page
Follow them on Twitter @RylandPeters and check out their Pinterest page

Laura Washburn was born in Los Angeles but studied at university in Paris. She went on to train at the prestigious Paris cooking school, Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne and work with Patricia Wells, best-selling author of A Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. She is now based in London, where she has recently acquired an MSc in Food Policy and works as a cookery teacher and food writer. For Ryland Peters & Small, she has written Cooking with Apples & Pears, The French Country Table, Home-cooked Comforts, Vegetarian Food for Kids and Tacos, Quesadillas & Burritos.

Follow her blog Bad Vinaigrette  Follow her on Twitter @bad_vinaigrette

Thursday 11 September 2014

Each & Every One by Rachael English

Your family are always there for you...aren't they?
For Tara, Vee, Niall and Damian, the children of the Shine family, their parents have seen them through thick and thin. In fact, Gus and Joan's lifetime of hard work has given their children the luxuries they never had when they were growing up - a comfortable home in a leafy Dublin neighbourhood, gap years that never seem to end and an open chequebook for life's little emergencies. Unfortunately, although the children have grown up, they have got a little too comfortable with the well-feathered nest: now it's time to learn a few home truths.
When a twist of fate means the bank of Mum and Dad can no longer bail out the younger generation, suddenly the whole family must find out who they really are - but sometimes the truth isn't easy to face. Uncovering the secrets they all hide will show them a different side to the city they call home and mean finding allies in the most unlikely places.
Warm, wise and witty, Each and Every One is a novel about the lessons we learn in life - and the ones we never do.

Each & Every One was published today (11 September 2014) by Orion and is the author's second novel. I reviewed her first book Going Back here on Random Things in July of this year.

The grown up children of the Shine family have large accounts with the Bank of Mum & Dad. Tara, Vee, Niall and Damian have enjoyed a luxury lifestyle, all funded from the hard work of their parents Joan and Gus. Niall, the thirty-year-old who lives life as though it is one long gap year, flitting from country to country, never settling down; Damian, local councillor with left-wing views in public, but who on closer inspection isn't adverse to using money to gain advantage; Vee who has a pair of stillettos and a designer dress for every occasion and Tara, the only one who holds down a job, albeit a 'bottom of page eight' journalist, but at least she goes out to work.

Ireland is in the middle of the huge bust that came after the massive boom. Businesses are going bust, new housing developments lay empty and unfinished, the Celtic Tiger's roar has faded to a little whimper. When Gus and Joan Shine inform their children that the money is gone and that they are going to have to stand on their own feet and fend for themselves for once, the family meltdown begins.

I really enjoyed Going Back by Rachael English, but I have loved Each & Every One, her writing has matured beautifully, and she has created a cast of the most wonderful characters. Human, warm, funny, a little bit mixed up and with a great story to tell.  The author explores the modern family, and how in the case of the Shines, it has been built on money and materialistic things, rather than on great love and endurance.

Gus and Joan have realised that they have raised a family of dependant people, who have never had to face up to difficulties and they are determined that their children will take some responsibility for their lives. Their actions have consequences that none of them could ever have imagined.

The Shine children, except for Tara, are a bunch of children-like adults, their priorities are themselves first, and everyone else later, be that their partners, their children, or indeed, their parents. Tara is the saving grace in this family, and Each & Every One is really her story.

Rachael English has portrayed life in modern recession-hit Dublin very well, and although the Shine family are fascinating in their complexity, it is the other family within the story who will steal the heart of the reader. This is a family who didn't reap the benefits of the boom years, stuck in a crumbling tower block, with drug dealers and murderers for neighbours, this small family are the stars of the story. Little Ben, the eight-year-old boy will steal your heart, whilst his young Grandmother Carmel shows the true meaning of family love.

Each & Every One is a stylish read, a great plot with wonderfully colourful characters. A story with humour and fun, and a story with a message. A fabulous second novel, I'm looking forward to the next one already!

My thanks to the author Rachael English and Gaby Young from Orion 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 wa her first novel and was shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year in the Irish Book Awards 2013.

Follow her on Twitter @EnglishRachael
Visit her Facebook Author Page

Monday 8 September 2014

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam

It's 1965 and eighteen year-old Rosie Churchill has run away to the beautiful but run-down Castaway House in the seaside town of Helmstone. But when she uncovers a scandal locked away in the walls of the old house, she soon comes to realise that neither her own troubled past nor that of the house will stay buried for long. . .
In 1924 fresh-faced Robert Carver comes to Castaway House to spend a languid summer in the company of his much wealthier cousin, Alec Bray. But the Brays are a damaged family, with damaging secrets. And little does Robert know that his world is about to change for ever.
As Rosie begins to learn more about Robert, the further she is drawn into the mysterious history of the house, and their stories, old and new, entwine.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House was published by Penguin on 28 August 2014, and is Stephanie Lam's debut novel.

The star of this story is the house. Castaway House sits high above the seaside town of Helmstone, once a place of grandeur and beauty, the setting for wonderful parties, it is now, in 1965, quite run-down. It's shabby exterior hiding the fact that this old family home is now a warren of seedy little flats, inhabited by drifters and loners.

The dual-time narrative of this story works so very well. It is becoming more and more popular to write a novel in this way, and I do particularly enjoy the compare and contrast of different eras. I especially enjoyed it in Castaway House as two of my favourite periods are depicted; the 1920s and the 1960s.

Rosie Churchill comes to live at Castaway House as an escape. She's just eighteen and has fled home and her studies. Sharing a room with two girls and working as a waitress was not in her plans, but things happen, and things change and this is where she's ended up. Rosie is intrigued by a sketched portrait of a man who shares her initials; RC. The mystery deepens when she finds a message carved under the window ledge, also featuring RC. When an old, tramp-like man called Dockie arrives on the doorstep of Castaway House, Rosie feels compelled to help him out, and as Dockie spends more time at the house, his memory returns and the mystery of RC gradually emerges.

Alternate chapters transport the reader back to the early 1920s, when Castaway House was inhabited by wealthy Alec Bray and his beautiful, if very aloof wife Clara. Robert Carver arrives to spend the summer with his rich relations, and finds himself smack bang in the middle of a warring couple on the brink of financial ruin. As Robert's summer progresses, so too does his story, the story that is linked back to that sketch and carving found by 1960s Rosie.

Stephanie Lam has created a house with its own huge character, the plot evolves around it, ably assisted by a cast of characters who are beautifully crafted and very realistic. Some of them are sad, some are damaged, but all of them are well rounded and vibrant. The story skips with ease from the dreary, down-at-heel house of the 60s back to the busy and elegant abode of the 20s, and the author drops hints and adds links subtly throughout the process.

Crimes of passion, hints of horror - there are a couple of quite spine-chilling scenes that had me holding my breath in anticipation.  The Mysterious Affair of Castaway House is a elegantly written debut by an author to watch out for.

My thanks to Katie from Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Stephanie Lam was born and raised in London. 

She now lives in Brighton, close to the sea.

Follow her on Twitter @StephanieLam1

Saturday 6 September 2014

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Allison Weiss is a typical working mother, trying to balance a business, ageing parents, a demanding daughter and a marriage. 
But when the website she develops becomes a huge success, she finds herself challenged to the point of being completely overwhelmed. 
As she struggles to hold her life together and meet the needs of all the people around her, Allison finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for a back injury help her deal with more than just physical discomfort - they make her feel calm and get her through the increasingly hectic days. 
Sure, she worries that the bottles seem to empty a bit faster each week, but it's not like she's some Hollywood starlet partying all night. 
It's not as if she has an actual problem. Until she ends up in a world she never thought she'd experience outside of a movie theatre: rehab. And as Allison struggles to get her life back on track, she learns a few life lessons along the way.

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner was published in the UK by Simon & Schuster on 28 August 2014.

An addiction to prescription painkillers seems to be the 'thing' at the moment. We read of celebrities and film starts entering rehab - not for illegal drug addictions, or alcoholism, but because they have developed an addiction to prescription drugs. I've always found it quite difficult to understand, not really knowing how anyone can get through their day after taking a handful of analgesics - just one codeine tablet is enough to put me on my back for hours!

Jennifer Weiner's All Fall Down is an expertly written study in how an ordinary, busy working mother can find herself totally paralysed by the pull of the painkiller. The lead character, Allison is not a celebrity, or a down and out, or a manic depressive. She's not even in a tremendous amount of pain. She's an intelligent woman who discovers that the little round tablets can help her to get through her day.

Allison is a well-known blogger, she writes for a popular website and her articles are respected, retweeted and commented upon. Her husband Dave is also a journalist, but his job and his salary have downsized recently, and now Allison is the main bread-winner of the family.  Their small daughter is a demanding child, and although Dave is a loving father, he leaves the day-to-day care to Allison. Coupled with her elderly father's Alzheimer's diagnosis, and her mothers apparent inability to cope with it, Allison has a lot on her plate.

Allison's downward spiral is so painful to read. Jennifer Weiner has clearly researched her subject very well; the lies told to the Doctor, the discovery of hidden online suppliers. All Fall Down reveals the depths that an ordinary, educated woman can stoop to, just to make sure that she gets her next fix. We often think of drug addicts as dirty, homeless, uneducated people - those who are depicted on film and TV, and in the media as beyond our sympathy, and so not like us.  All Fall Down will make the reader think twice about this stereotyping, and realise that dependency and ultimately, addiction can happen to anyone.

All Fall Down is at times a difficult and quite emotional read. Allison makes some decisions that are breathtaking in their stupidity, she also makes some discoveries about herself and her closest family members.  Well written and well researched, All Fall Down is warm, at times very witty and  thought provoking.

My thanks to Hayley from Simon & Schuster who sent my copy for review.

Jennifer Weiner is the international number one bestselling author of eight novels, including Best Friends Forever, Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, which was made into a major film starring Toni Colette and Cameron Diaz, Certain Girls and Fly Away Home. 

Visit Jennifer at www.jenniferweiner.com
Check out her Facebook Author Page
Follow her on Twitter @jenniferweiner