Tuesday 31 March 2015

The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

 A story of love and loss inspired by heartrending true events in the Unoccupied Zone of wartime France
An epic, sweeping tale set in wartime France, The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically;
Tristan, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

The Silent Hours by Cesca Major is published by Corvus (Atlantic Books) in paperback on 4 June 2015, and is the author's debut novel.

The Silent Hours is a story that is told in threads, and each thread is expertly woven together to create an unforgettable, and quite stunning story that has such impact, and such power. It really is quite incredible that this is a debut novel, the story is haunting and beautiful and just knowing that it is based on a real story adds volumes to what really is a gripping read.

The Silent Hours is told in multiple voices and opens just after the war in the early 1950s in a nunnery in south-west France. Adeline is a mysterious woman, a mute who arrived on the doorstep of the nunnery some years ago. Nobody knows where she came from, or her story, or why she cannot, or will not speak. The reader is allowed into Adeline's thoughts, and her story slowly unfurls - with a gentle pace, and links in to the other voices of this novel.

The other main characters are Isabelle and her brother Paul, their stories are told in the main through the letters that they write to each other during the war years. Paul is held prisoner, Isabelle remains in their small village, and waits patiently for him to return. Sebastian is a young Jewish man, his family are successful bankers, but the war and the impact of the Nazi regime on the Jews in France alter his life dramatically. He and Isobelle meet and fall in love, and their story is the foundation of the whole novel.

The reader also hears from Tristan, a young schoolboy whose family have fled Paris, and now reside in the same small village. Tristan is naive, sometimes selfish and very well protected from the horrors of war. This is his coming of age story.

Cesca Major is a huge talent, and I am certain that The Silent Hours is the start of a very successful writing career for her. She has an incredible way with words and has created a love story that is memorable. She has skilfully incorporated  the horrors of war and the devastating events that happened in this village in unoccupied France into the story, and whilst the love story is strong, it is the real-life events that she so skilfully portrays that really leave an impact.

There are comparisons to Louisa Young's My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, and I agree. The Silent Hours has the same shock factor that Young's novel delivered so well. This is an incredible story, one that will affect the reader for a long time after the final page is turned.

My thanks to lovereading.co.uk who sent my copy for review.

Cesca Major read history at Bristol University and worked in television before becoming a history teacher. In 2005 she was runner up in the Daily Mail Writing Competition for best opening paragraph to a novel and had a short story published in Sentinel Literary Magazine. 
She has written regularly for the website www.novelicious.com 
She currently works as a housemistress at a boarding school in Berkshire.

For more information about the author, visit her website www.cescamajor.com

Follow her on Twitter @CescaWrites

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Monday 30 March 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel’s mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she’s never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.
On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.
Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life.
But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all…

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans was published by Doubleday in hardback in November 2014, the paperback edition will be published in September of this year.  Crooked Heart has been longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, 2015.

There are lots of recently published books that are set during World War II, it would be easy to say that the subject has been done to death, and then, just when you don't expect it, you come across a story like Crooked Heart. This is a story that will pull the heartstrings with it's central character of Noel and his temporary mother Vera. Two characters who are original, and quirky and completely fabulous creations. Their story is like no other, it's charming and witty and will make you smile.

Noel is a ten-year-old boy who has lived with his Godmother Mattie for most of his life. We don't know why he lived with her and not his parents, but she has moulded him into a tiny shadow of herself. Mattie was a suffragette, she didn't agree with school, or with war and Noel has had a most unusual childhood. The story begins with Mattie's demise into senile dementia, and Noel does his best to cover up for her, but it's clear that he can't carry on for much longer.

When Mattie is no more, Noel finds himself evacuated to St Albans. He is billeted with Vera Sedge, her elderly mute mother and her lazy, fat son Donald. Once again, Noel finds himself living in a strange household, with very strange people. This family is so far away from anything that he knows, yet in Vera, he finds an unlikely friend. Both wily-minded, they work together to beat the system, and despite the troubles they encounter along the way, their unorthodox means of making a living bring them together and they become a family.

Lissa Evans has a huge talent. Her characters are so vibrant, so lifelike and so damn funny. The plot races along at a great pace, with twists and turns and unexpected events along the way. War torn London, with the underground shelters, the spirit of the Blitz and the black market dealings of the less salubrious characters is a dream, so cleverly created, the reader is transported there within a couple of sentences.

Crooked Heart is a joy to read, filled as it is with characters and places that are expertly drawn and a story that is exciting and vivid. A great story, I'd highly recommend it.

Following a brief career in medicine, Lissa Evans spent five years as a producer in BBC Radio Light Entertainment. She then moved to television, where her credits as a producer/director include Room 101, Father Ted and The Kumars at Number 42. She has written books for both adults and children, many of which have been short and longlisted for prizes as various as the Orange Prize and The Whitbread Prize.

Find out more about Lissa at her website www.lissaevans.com
Follow her on Twitter @LissaKEvans

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Sunday 29 March 2015

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall

A blur in the sky, a brick no, a trainer, red falls to the water... There seems to be a scuffle... a hand grabbing at the dangling child. Then, with the awfulness of inevitability, the hanging child drops, gravity takes him. 
A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. 
Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity. Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B s reintegration into society. But the general public s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep. 
Cate s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. 
Or is there a greater evil at play?

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall is published by Legend Press on 1 April 2015.

Humber Boy B killed a child eight years ago. That child was ten-years-old, and so was Humber Boy B. He was christened Humber Boy B at the time of the court case, and the reader never does find out his given name. He is now known as Ben, he has been released from custody and given a new identity, a new life well away from Hull, and Cate is his probation officer.

We all know of cases like this, the most famous one being the killing of James Bulger, but there have been many children who have killed over the years, and everyone has a view about what should happen to them.

Humber Boy B tells Ben's story from different angles. The reader hears from Ben himself, and from Cate, and we are also taken back to 'the day' - the day of the murder, the day that the small child was pushed to his death from the cold steel railings of the Humber Bridge. In between these viewpoints are excerpts from a Facebook page that has been created by the dead child's mother - it's been set up with the aim of finding Humber Boy B. These excerpts are short, but so chilling. The increased venom and hate posted by users of the Facebook page set the scene for what really is a shocking ending to this story.

Ruth Dugdall draws on her own experiences as a probation officer and writes with intelligence and authenticity. This novel is shocking, it is totally gripping and it is so very chilling. The Humber Bridge is so symbolic throughout this story, it is not just the scene of the crime, it is also a symbol of Ben's other life; his home, his family, his regrets. Whilst Hull will always be home to Ben, his memories are scarred by the pain and neglect that he suffered whilst living there. His uncaring mother, his cruel step-father, the hunger, the deprivation - it was only the love of his older brother Adam that kept him sane.

Humber Boy B is both character driven and issues driven. Ruth Dugdall has populated this novel with characters who are often flawed, but always realistic. She has captured the emotions and feelings that surround cases such as this so well, from the empathic caring Cate who has her own problems to deal with, to the hate-fuelled 'Silent Friend' from Facebook.

Stories such as this will always divide people, but nothing is ever clear-cut and the shocking and very unexpected ending of Humber Boy B turns the whole story on it's head.

This is a chilling psychological thriller that really is difficult to put down, and will leave the reader thinking and considering well after the final page has been turned.

Huge thanks to Lucy from Legend Press who sent my copy for review

Ruth Dugdall is an award-winning British crime writer, whose debut novel The Woman Before Me won the CWA Debut Dagger Award and the 2009 Luke Bitmead Bursary. Her second novel The Sacrificial Man was published in 2011. 
Ruth worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade in high security prisons in Suffolk, including work with children who have been convicted of murder. Ruth's writing is heavily influenced by her professional background, providing authenticity and credibility to the crime genre. 
She currently lives in Luxembourg and volunteers at a local prison.

Visit Ruth at ruthdugdall.com and follow her on Twitter @RuthDugdall

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Dear Beneficiary by Janet Kelly

Cynthia, a sixty year old widow with a thirty-eight year old Nigerian lover becomes a 'silver surfer' when he returns to his homeland. 
An e-mail scam forces her to follow in his footsteps to try and find him and her money, but her mission is thwarted when she is kidnapped with the crass and vulgar Tracey. 
A hilarious adventure begins...

Dear Beneficiary was published by Cutting Edge Press on 19 March, and is Janet Kelly's first novel.

There can't be many of us who haven't received one of those emails, you know the one that starts with 'Dear Beneficiary', and goes on to inform us that we are due to inherit a small fortune from our long-lost great Uncle Cedric, who recently died in Nigeria. All we have to do is kindly send over the details of our bank account, and our new found wealth will magically appear in our bank accounts.

Yeah, right! That's what most of us will think as we hit the delete button, yet again. Not Cynthia though. Cynthia has recently entered the world of the interweb with the help of her grandson Tom, she's also recently had a torrid affair with a much younger and very enthusiastic Nigerian bloke called Darius. Darius had to return home to help out with his ailing mother, and Cynthia is desperate to see him again. She's pretty desperate altogether really as Darius showed her things, and awakened parts of her body that her poor dead husband Colin who she slept with for forty years never once found!

Cynthia would rather not talk to her children about Darius and is tired of her bank manager's concerns about suspicious transactions on her account. The only thing for it is to travel to Nigeria herself, to make sure that Darius is OK, and to await her good fortune.

Once in Nigeria, Cynthia and her unlikely travel companion Tracey find themselves caught up in the world of scammers. Tracey, like Cynthia, has travelled to Africa because of a man, and that is all they have in common. Bleached blonde hair, nail extensions and faked tanned; Tracey is unlike anyone that Cynthia has ever had to speak to before. So far away from the world of Bridge Clubs and Waitrose, and oh so common. Despite this, they become room mates, but not by choice.

Janet Kelly writes cleverly, her story is witty and touching, and her characters ooze exuberance and cheer, despite finding themselves in a situation that would scare the pants off most women. Cynthia is a terrible snob, she looks down on most people and whilst her honesty is funny and quite touching, it's clear that it's more of a cross between stupidity and ignorance, rather than a belief in speaking her own mind. It is their combined low intelligence and gullibility that allows Cynthia and Tracey to survive their ordeal intact. Both of them are great manipulators, they have some awareness of their ability to beguile their captors and make good use of these.

Dear Beneficiary is more than just a comedic story of two aging women who are trying to find happiness. It is more than a tale of innocence combined with hope. There is insight into the world of the Nigerian scammers and looks at why they choose to do what they do. There is a hint of darkness mixed in with the comedy, a little tease of violence and power and a feeling of helplessness from members of the scamming gang.

I snorted with laughter at times whilst reading Dear Beneficiary, in a most unladylike way; Cynthia would not have been impressed by me, although I suspect that Tracey would have joined me!

Dear Beneficiary is a warm and touching story, it has a real heart, with characters who have been so beautifully crafted that they jump from the pages and appear as real as your friends. I have such admiration for Janet Kelly, this debut is an absolute joy to read, a fabulous achievement.

Once again, I have to heap praise on the wonderful team at Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review. CEP may be small, but by God, they are perfectly formed indeed!

Janet Kelly has been a journalist all her working life and lives in Surrey with her husband, dog and six cats. She is mother to two grown up daughters, Becci and Rachel.

As owner of Free Features, a media services agency providing content to print and web publications in the UK, Janet has attracted recognition for her business acumen, including being a finalist in the European Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2007, the HSBC Start-Up Awards 2007 and being highly commended in the Credit Suisse Entrepreneur of the Year awards 2006.

She has always taken a keen interest in creative writing and apart from her journalistic work - which included working for many regional and national newspapers and BBC Radio 4 - has written a number of scripts, poetry and short stories. Dear Beneficiary is her first novel and was started at a writing course in Spain run by Graham Carlisle - former writer for Coronation Street and Emmerdale - and completed thanks to help initially from writer and agent James Essinger and good friend 'Curly' Sue Matthews, and then Paul Swallow her editor.

It publishes on March 19th 2015 through Cutting Edge Press - a deal executed by Janet's agent David Headley of the David Headley Literary Agency in Cecil Court, London.

Janet's interests other than writing include cooking, golf, reading, travel and playing saxophone with the all female big band, The Fabulous Honeys. She has been a school governor and magistrate and enjoys being the maverick in all authoritarian organisations.

She gave up running marathons after her toenails came off half way through the London race -and has resigned herself to never being the type of person who gets up on a Sunday morning to go for ten mile jog.

Her inspiration for writing comes from an enjoyment of watching and understanding people, underlined by her qualifications as a Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP) practitioner.

Dear Beneficiary has a Facebook page
Follow Janet Kelly on Twitter @JantyK

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Tuesday 24 March 2015

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle

At the age of 83, retired butcher George Nicoleau is about to set off on the greatest adventure of his life. 
George and his neighbour Charles have long dreamt of a road trip, driving the 3500 kilometres that make up the stages of the Tour de France. And now that George's over-protective daughter has gone to South America, it's time to seize the moment. 
But just when he feels free of family ties, George's granddaughter Adele starts calling him from London, and he finds himself promising to text her as he travels around France, although he doesn't even know how to use a mobile. 
George is plagued by doubts, health worries and an indifference to modern technology. And yet - might the journey still prove to be everything he had hoped for?

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle was published by Gallic Books on 13 March 2015.

Caroline Vermalle's story of George and his friend Charles' 'grand tour' is a touching comedy, that made me snort with laughter at times, but also brought a lump to my throat during certain scenes.

George and Charles are elderly gentlemen who live in Chanteloup in France. They are not extraordinary men at all, they spend most of their days chatting, drinking and watching the TV. George has a daughter who keeps a close eye on him as his health is not so good, which is no big surprise, considering that he is 83-years-of-age. George has a granddaughter, Adele. Adele works long hours as an unpaid runner in the film industry in London, he and Adele don't have a close relationship. Charles is the youngster of the duo, just in his seventies, he lives with his wife and is surrounded by a brood of children and grandchildren.

For some time, George and Charles have been planning to follow the route of the Tour de France, not on bicycles, but in a brand-new Renault Scenic, complete with GPS and all. Fortuitously, George's daughter has taken herself off abroad and will be out of contact for some weeks. George is pleased about that, he knows that there is no chance that he would be allowed to take such a trip if she had any idea about it.

When Adele unexpectedly contacts him, George begins to worry. How on earth will be be able to stay in touch with Adele without her guessing that he is not in his own kitchen? With the help of some technologically minded youngsters, George's landline is set to divert to his mobile. And they are off.

Things don't really work out as planned, and it's not long before Adele is in on the big secret. George has to learn how to text using the special text language that is so alien to him, and from here, the story really begins.

Caroline Vermalle takes her readers on a journey across France, taking in the countryside and the food, and the people along the way. As George and Charles travel together, so do the readers. We learn more about these two men, especially George, and we grow to love his quirky granddaughter Adele.

Always funny, and often poignant, George's Grand Tour is just a short book at just under 200 pages long, but it is a story that will appeal to all ages. It is a story of hope and optimism, and of family ties and love. It is a book that evokes feelings about one's own family, and how we live our lives, how time flies so quickly and how we really should make the most of every minute, and of every one of our loved ones.

George's Grand Tour is a charming story, well written and unusual.

My thanks to Sophie at ed public relations who sent my copy for review.

Caroline Vermalle was born in France in 1973 to a family whose French roots go back at least as far as the 16th century. Yet, she is a vegetarian who can't cook, doesn't drink, finds berets itchy and would rather eat yesterday's snails than jump a queue.

After graduating from film school in Paris, she became a television documentary producer for the BBC in London and travelled the world, at speed and off the beaten tracks, in search of good stories. In 2008, then on maternity leave, she penned her first novel « George's Grand Tour », whose international success allowed her to quit her job and indulge in her three passions : books, interior design and travel - slowly this time.

After writing 8 novels in different genres and different languages, going on a world tour with her family and building a wooden house in a forest, Caroline now lives between a small seaside town in Vendée (France) and a small seaside town in the Eastern Cape (South Africa) with her son, a black cat and her husband, South African architect-turned-author Ryan von Ruben.

Follow her on Twitter @cvermalle   Find her Facebook author page 
Random Things Through My Letterbox

Monday 23 March 2015

Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey

1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London...

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five...

He promised to love her forever

Sixty years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan's words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

Now forever is finally running out.

Published in paperback by Simon & Schuster on 23 April 2015, Letters to the Lost is Iona Grey's debut novel.

Letters to the Lost is a book that can be described in terms that are often overused and often felt to be clichéd, please forgive me when I tell you that this novel really is a book that you will struggle to put down, a book that is a complete and utter pager-turner and a book that the reader will lose themselves in completely. It is a story that spans sixty years, and is over 500 pages long, but the pages fly by so quickly as the story captivates the reader, you will become totally engrossed.

Letters to the Lost is a love story, it is romantic to the core, but it is also a story of struggle, of pain, of lost opportunities and of heartbreak. Iona Grey is a truly gifted writer, her ability to create this story as her debut is incredible. Her characters are startlingly realistic, and her sense of place and era is spot on - transporting the reader to England during World War II, and then whisking them back to the same London back streets, but in the modern day.

The story is told as a dual time narrative. The reader meets Jess first, she's on the run from an abusive relationship, with little money and only the clothes that she stands up in. Jess has no family to turn to. She takes refuge in an almost derelict cottage, part of a mews terrace, hidden from the busy streets of London. It is in this empty and neglected house that Jess discovers the story of Stella and Dan; war-time lovers whose story does not have a happy ending.

A letter arrives from Dan, now ninety-years-old and in ill-health. Dan has thought about his lost love for the past sixty years and wants nothing more than to track her down before his time comes. When Jess discovers an old shoe box filled with the letters that Dan wrote during the war, she becomes determined that she must help him to find Stella.

Iona Grey slips back and forth from Jess's modern story to the wartime romance of Dan and Stella with ease. There are parallels between Stella and Jess; their poor background, their lack of family and their history of abusive relationships tie them together. Jess also recognises a kindred spirit of sorts in Will - a college drop-out, a disappointment to his wealthy family, but a kind and considerate man, and between them they set out to discover just what happened to Stella at the end of the war.

There are many issues dealt with within Letters to the Lost. The difficulties of life during the war time years, the difference between the US soldiers and the British men, the inequalities that women faced, the prejudices directed towards some people and the stigma attached to invisible illness that were not understood. Iona Grey handles each of these with grace and elegance, her story telling skills are very impressive, she has written a novel that is quite stunning and very memorable.

Fans of Lucinda Riley will adore this book, Letters to the Lost is a sweeping, majestic story, I highly recommend this one.

My thanks to Emma from Simon & Schuster who sent my copy for review.  Letters to the Lost is also one of the chosen books for the Curtis Brown Book Group this month.

Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. 

She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters. 

She tweets @iona_grey.

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Sunday 22 March 2015

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable **** BLOG TOUR & AUTHOR INTERVIEW ***

How can a memory so vivid be wrong? 
In the summer of 1986 Robin and Izzie hold hands under The Faerie Tree and wish for a future together. Within hours tragedy rips their dreams apart. 
In the winter of 2006, each carrying their own burden of grief, they stumble back into each other's lives and try to create a second chance. 
But why are their memories of 1986 so different? And which one of them is right? 
With strong themes of paganism, love and grief, The Faerie Tree is a novel as gripping and unputdownable as Jane Cable's first book, The Cheesemaker's House, which won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show's People's Novelist competition. It is a story that will resonate with fans of romance, suspense, and folklore.

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable is launched on 21 March 2015, I'm thrilled to be kicking off the BLOG TOUR for the author, here on Random Things.

Whilst the actual faerie tree of the title is so very central to this story, I must admit that 'themes of paganism' would not be my usual choice when selecting a novel to read. However, there is so much more to The Faerie Tree than magic and spells. This is a story of human relationships, it's also modern and gritty and so so elegantly written. I was quite swept away by the whole story.

The central theme that I take away from The Faerie Tree is that of memory and loss, and how the human mind can often play tricks on us when trying to deal with trauma and tragedy.

Robin and Izzie are tremendously strong lead characters, both have their own personal issues, both have been damaged, and both have led lives that been unfulfilling. When they met, back in 1986, they were young and they were discovering love. They visited the Faerie Tree, and it is there that their relationship changed for ever. Tragedy beyond their control affected their lives, and their minds and it wasn't until twenty years later that they would face up to what happened, how they dealt with it and how to move forward.

Jane Cable creates characters that are believable, who have problems, who are often annoying and frustrating, but whose story is compelling. She cleverly takes the reader into the heads of two damaged and fragile people, and this is done so very well. Despite their faults, both Izzie and Robin are characters that the reader will root for throughout this really excellent novel.

I have to mention the faerie tree of the title, and how wonderfully it is described; both the location and the fable. This fine, strong, old tree has been a place for people to share their problems and their hopes for many years. It is decorated with ribbons, and coins and letters are left for the faeries, in the hope that visitor's problems will be resolved.  The faerie tree is a symbol of hope for Izzie and Robin, and many of the more emotional scenes take place under it.

The Faerie Tree was not what I was expecting at all, it far exceeded my expectations. This is high quality writing, and the author is very talented. Her characterisation is outstanding, the story is impeccably paced and very convincing.  A great novel, and one that I'd certainly recommend.

The BLOG TOUR for The Faerie Tree continues this week, at the following blogs - please pop over and see what my fellow bloggers have to say:

23 March      Rosie Amber    www.rosieamber.wordpress.com

24 March     Liz Loves Books       www.lizlovesbooks.com

25 March     My Reading Corner        

26 March     Crooks on Books       www.crooksonbooks.blogspot.co.uk

28 March     Jaffa Reads Too   

29 March    Being Anne   

31 March    Beadyjan's Books    www.beadyjansbooks.blogspot.co.uk

I delighted to welcome the author of The Faerie Tree; Jane Cable, here to Random Things today. Jane has kindly answered some questions for me ~ I hope you enjoy this short interview.

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
I always read reviews. I was very lucky with The Cheesemaker’s House because the vast majority were really positive. Which makes me even more nervous about The Faerie Tree – your review, on the opening day of the blog tour, is likely be the first so I’ll be quaking in my crocs.

Like any sort of feedback, when the same messages keep coming through then I do take them seriously. Everyone has their opinion, but when it turns out to be shared then it’s definitely time to take note. Writing is a wonderful hobby when you do it for yourself, but when you publish books you really should listen to your readers because you are expecting them to part with their hard earned cash.

How long does it take you to write a novel?
Years. I think since The Cheesemaker’s House came out I’m even slower, because you need to work quite hard on the marketing side too. I started writing The Faerie Tree at the end of 2010 and looking back at my computer records it took me a couple of years to finish the first draft. The published book is somewhere around draft seven and that was completed to my editor’s satisfaction last July.
If I could write full time then it goes without saying progress would be much faster but that isn’t a luxury available to me at the moment.

Do you have any writing rituals?
I almost always write first thing in the morning because it’s when I feel most alive. I like a skinny latte to hand – my mother bought us a Nespresso machine for Christmas a few years ago and it’s the most used gadget in our kitchen.
The exception is when we’re on holiday – I can write almost any time then and often do. That’s the time I write fastest as well – one fortnight I drafted 25,000 words, mainly sitting on the veranda of our room with a beautiful view of the sea.

What was your favourite childhood book?
I am probably not allowed to say because it was called Little Black Sambo. It was a lovely tale about a little boy in India who out-witted a tiger by making him run round and round a tree so he melted and his mother made him into butter.

Name one book that made you laugh
Judy Astley books make me laugh – she has a real knack of pulling the funny side out of middle-aged domestic dramas. I especially like Unchained Melanie because the heroine is an author. There’s one scene where she does her supermarket shop as one of the characters she’s writing. It’s not a bad tip; when I am struggling with someone I try to do something ordinary as they would do it and it helps no end.

Name one book that made you cry
Omar Rivabella’s Requiem for a Woman’s Soul; it’s about the disappeared in South America and it’s based on a true story, which makes it all the more tragic and shocking.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
It’s a fascinating idea but I’m not sure that I would – sometimes when you meet your heroes they have feet of clay.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
I have recently given a close friend a first edition of John Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells. I’m going through the sad process of clearing out my mother’s house and there were two identical copies – my parents gave them to each other one Christmas when they were newlyweds. So I’ve kept one and given the other to Ali because she loves poetry.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
The book which freed me as a writer was The Time Traveler’s Wife. It made me realise that if you wrote well enough and your characters were sufficiently strong then readers would suspend disbelief and be drawn into your story.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
My guilty secret is that I don’t have enough time to read. I don’t think that any reading should be tinged with guilt; book, comic, magazine: anything’s fine by me.

Who are your favourite authors?
There are authors I will look out for and if I find anything by them I haven’t read then I’ll snap it up. Rosamunde Pilcher, for sure, but also Mary Wesley, Mark Hebden (the Inspector Pel books), RF Delderfield. I hugely admire Sebastian Faulks but find some of his books tremendously hard going.

Which book have you re-read?

Not many, but there are a few old favourites which come out time and again. Douglas Adams’ Watership Down, Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers but most of all Delderfield’s Horseman Riding By trilogy.

Which book have you given up on?

Most famously, Lord of the Rings. I got as far as the beginning of The Two Towers then lost the will to live. It languished under my bed for years when I was a teenager.

Thanks to Jane for some great answers.  For more information about Jane and her books, visit her website www.janecable.com.  Follow her on Twitter @JaneCable

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Thursday 19 March 2015

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney

1066. Three Queens. One Crown.
As a young woman in England's royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.
When Edyth's family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales - but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth's only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.
As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.
Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney is published by Pan Macmillan on 7 May 2015.

I am thrilled to welcome my friend Josie who blogs at Jaffa Reads Too today. Josie is a huge fan of The Chosen Queen for Random Things. Please do go and visit her and Jaffa at their fabulous blog - you'll find some really great reviews and probably add even more to your 'to be read' lists!
historical fiction and has kindly written a guest review of

Here's Josie's thoughts on The Chosen Queen:

The dark ages of our past is so often shrouded in mystery, myth and legend. 
In The Chosen Queen, Joanna Courtney brings to vivid life the story of Edyth Alfgarsdottir, daughter of Alfgar, Earl of Mercia and granddaughter of the infamous Lady Godiva. 
The story opens in 1055, with a fascinating introduction into what life was like for Edyth as she grows to maturity in an English royal court where intrigue and suspicion walk hand in hand with danger. Often at the mercy of capricious forces, Edyth watches as her father falls from grace and the need to start afresh, in the wilds of Wales, so far away from the English court ,will open the possibility of love and a whole new way of life for Edyth.  
The lead up to the battle of Hastings and the latter years of Edward the Confessor’s reign, seem to belong to a forgotten period in history, and yet in The Chosen Queen, the author succeeds in bringing to life the danger of a time which was all too often consumed by conspiracy, counter plot and malice. 
Beautifully written, with a fine eye for detail, the author allows a tantalising glimpse into a time when strong and decisive men found their match with beautiful and impulsive women, and yet, underneath the bravado there was a vulnerability which only emphasises the fleeting nature of their lives. 
Edyth is a feisty protagonist; she lives and loves with a glorious pragmatism, which is as exciting as it is endearing. I enjoyed the descriptions of life at the Welsh court and Edyth’s passionate marriage to Griffin, the Welsh king, is filled with the ever present threat of danger. 
However, it is in Edyth’s relationship with Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and later King of England, where the story really starts to come alive and where the shadow of history sits comfortably alongside a story of sacrifice, duty and passionate love.  
I really enjoyed this novel and am delighted to learn that it is the start of a trilogy which will bring to life the significant lives of the Saxon, Viking and Norman queens who were involved in the battle to become Queen of England during this decisive time in our history. 
My thanks to Anne for the invitation to guest review this book and to Macmillan for the opportunity to read The Chosen Queen in advance of its publication in May 2015. 

My thanks to Josie for this lovely review, and to Katie from Pan Macmillan who sent the copy for review.

Joanna Courtney has wanted to be a writer ever since she could read. As a child she was rarely to be seen without her head in a book and she was also quick to pick up a pen. After spending endless hours entertaining her siblings with made up stories, it was no surprise when Joanna pursued her passion for books during her time at Cambridge University - where she combined her love of English and History by specialising in Medieval Literature.

Joanna continued to write through her first years of work and then, married and living in Derbyshire, in the spares hours available between raising four children. She has written over 200 stories and serials published in women's magazines, some of which have been broadcast on BBC radio.

Joanna has also won several fiction prizes and written and directed an award-winning play. She teaches creative writing across the country and for the Open University.

Joanna is fascinated by defining moments in history, of which the Battle of Hastings is certainly one. The outcome of that momentous day is one of the big 'what-ifs?' of England's past and she has loved being able to immerse herself in the world of the Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Vikings whilst writing The Queens of the Conquest trilogy.

For more information about Joanna and her writing, visit her website www.joannabarnden.co.uk 
Follow her on Twitter @joannacourtney1

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas

You can buy almost anything online these days.
But is a crumbling Italian farmhouse a step too far?
Ruthie Collins certainly thinks so when she arrives amid pouring rain to an olive farm she doesn't know the first thing about running.
But for Ruthie, newly single, anywhere has got to be better than her mum's settee. Hasn't it?
Life can change with the click of a mouse. But the finer things - friendship, romance, and even the olive harvest - take time to grow. Can Ruthie put the past to rest and find her own piece of the Dolce Vita along the way?

The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas is published by Headline Review, in ebook on 25 March 2015, and paperback on 2 July 2015. The Olive Branch is Jo Thomas' second novel, her first; The Oyster Catcher was published in November 2014.

I was attracted to this novel by the blurb and the cover. I have a soft spot for stories set in Italy, and the cover design on The Olive Branch is really inviting. It's an incredibly easy read, I finished it during a return train trip down to London.

Ruthie has bought a farmhouse in the Italian countryside. She bought it on Ebay - just one click of the mouse and it was hers. She didn't actually seen the property before she signed for it, but after her disastrous relationship with her ex Ed, she is convinced that a totally new start is the answer for her.

It's not always sunny and warm in Italy, and when Ruthie gets her first glimpse of her new home, it's during a rainstorm that feels more like London than Liguaria. Factor in the fact that the house is far bigger than she expected and needs loads of work done, and add the resident goat to the mix, and it's clear from the outset that Ruthie may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Meeting her new neighbours; the Bellanuovo clan is more than a little overwhelming too. Mothers, Aunts, Grandmothers, there are so many of them, and they are so loud, and they had no idea until Ruthie appeared that the family farmhouse had been sold. This is not the greatest of starts!

Jo Thomas writes with warmth and with a touch of humour. Her descriptions of the Italian setting are divine and so so enticing. The characters, especially the Italians are just as are portrayed in film, they are loud and passionate, they love their food and their family, and there is even a splash of Mafia-like activities thrown in for good measure.

Ruthie is something of an enigma. On the one hand she appears to be rash and impetuous, yet at other times she is totally capable, with an insight and wisdom that is unexpected, but welcome.

The Olive Branch is a 'sunshine' read. It's a book that would be best read whilst sipping a glass of wine, with a plate of focaccia so the reader can fully immerse themselves into the feeling of the story. There's the mix of romance with family fued, a whole wealth of information about olive farming, life in a small Italian town, and of course, there is Daphne the goat - star of the show, scene stealer and goat extraordinaire!

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4's Woman's Hour and Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. 

In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. 

Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Find her on Facebook     Follow her on Twitter @jo_thomas01

Random Things Through My Letterbox

Monday 16 March 2015

Truth Unscrewed by Lisbeth Foye

Simon Tate is slowly allowing himself to die. 
When Lana makes a throwaway comment about the people from her past, it triggers a notion in Simon's head, an idea which should have gone no further. Simon enlists the help of Rupert, his young nephew, but his seemingly innocent project is on course to create carnage as it ushers his nephew towards the odious and dark world of Piet de Vos. Where the tragic consequences can only go one way. 
No-one is untouched by upheaval; no-one's life will ever be the same again. 
Lessons are learnt. Love is found, and lost. Livelihoods are destroyed and new lives begin. 
The end result, for all concerned, is not what Simon had in mind when he first planned his final gift to his friend, Lana. But then, nothing in life goes strictly to plan, does it? 
Truth Unscrewed will take you on an odyssey through Europe, Asia, North and South America, into the lives of these same people who are no longer connected to each other; but each has their own story to tell - and the fallout to deal with. 
The Biggest Lie introduced you to Lana, Joe, Fran, Simon, Tess, Theo, Piet, Anita, Howard... Now, many years later their lives have moved on. Simon's nephew, Rupert, is sent by his uncle to discover secrets from their past, one of which - had she known at the time - could have altered the path which Lana took, all those years ago.

Truth Unscrewed by Lisbeth Foye was published on 28 April 2014 and is available in both ebook and paperback. Truth Unscrewed is the follow-up to The Biggest Lie which I reviewed here on Random Things back in February 2014.

The Biggest Lie was Lana's story, and Truth Unscrewed returns to the same characters, but with a different slant. Whilst Lana is still a big part of the story, in this book, her old friends and acquaintances have a much bigger part to play.

Whilst Truth Unscrewed reveals the answers to some questions that were left unanswered in The Biggest Lie, and makes reference to past happenings, it is easily read as a stand-alone book. The author gives enough of the back story throughout the novel, without going over old ground. Readers who have not read The Biggest Lie will not struggle with this one.

Rupert's Uncle Simon is dying, he is perfectly happy to die as he is grieving for his wife who died recently, He can see no reason to stay alive without her. When Lana mentions the people she used to know, Simon decides that his nephew Rupert is the perfect person to track them all down, to see where they are and what they have become,

Rupert is unsure about his task, but he owes a great deal to his Uncle and hesitantly at first, starts to make enquiries.

What follows is a journey of discovery and tragedy that will affect everyone that is involved, and raises the age-old saying 'never look back'.

Once again, Lisbeth Foye has created a story that hooks the reader immediately, her characters are huge, well-developed and very natural. The story takes us across the world, taking in different countries and continents and the sense of place is extremely well managed.

Truth Unscrewed is an unusual and compelling read. Lisbeth Foye is a natural storyteller.

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

Lisbeth Foye is the author of Three fictional novels; The Biggest Lie, Luca and Truth Unscrewed - the sequel to The Biggest.Lie was released April 2014

She was born in York, England where she grew up in the 1950's and 60's. 

The 1970's took her travelling around Europe where she spent the decade living and working in Paris - France, Spain and many years in Holland before returning to England in 1983 where she settled in London before moving to Cambridgeshire where she now lives.

She believes that there's still another location or two she has yet to move on to...

A nomadic-hippy at heart, Lisbeth's experiences have been a big influence contributing to the colorful characters and incidents in her books.

Follow her on Twitter @LisbethFoye

Random Things Through My Letterbox