Friday 30 October 2015

The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes **** BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY ****

Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more - something the King himself has forbidden.
Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.
Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.
From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.

Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes.  I have a hardback copy of The Butcher Bird to give away to one blog reader.  Entry is simple, fill out your details in the widget at the end of this post. Open to UK entries only.  Good luck!

The Butcher Bird was published in hardback by Hodder on 22 October 2015 and is the second novel to feature Oswald de Lacy, following Plague Land (published in September 2014).  Whilst The Butcher Bird is the second outing in the Summershill Manor mysteries, it really does stand alone very well. I've not yet read Plague Land but the author expertly provides enough back story to enable the reader to enjoy The Butcher Bird on its own.

So, me and historical fiction. It's not a pairing that is often seen on Random Things, and if I'm perfectly honest, I did have my reservations about accepting a spot on this Blog Tour. I rarely read historical fiction that pre-dates the 1800s, and I don't really like Kings and Queens!

However, I met the author a couple of times in the summer, we had some lovely chats and I liked her very much. We chatted about Karen Maitland's books, and she told me that reading Company of Liars had inspired her to write Plague Land. That sold it to me, I really loved Karen Maitland's books, and surprised myself by how much I'd enjoyed them. I did get a copy of Plague Land (although I hold up my hands and admit that I've not yet read it).

I decided to accept the spot on this Blog Tour, the recommendations were strong and from trusted
readers. I'm so bloody glad that I did. I fell in love with Oswald de Lacy and his world as soon as I began to read. This is an absolutely fascinating and compelling story that I have enjoyed so much.

The reader is catapulted back through hundreds of years; the setting is the Summershill Estate in the Autumn of 1351. The Plague has decimated the estate, in fact the whole country will never be the same again. Half of the population have died, the farms and estates are failing and superstition and suspicion abound.

Oswald de Lacy is the third son of the Summershill Estate, he was never meant to be the Lord, but the Plague did not only take the poor. So, after spending his formative years being educated in a monastery, he finds himself, aged just nineteen, in charge of the Manor and the Estate.

Not only does Oswald have to deal with the crumbling Estate, the lack of labour, the demand for higher wages and the idiocy of many of his servants; he also has to deal with his Mother and Sister. There can't be two other characters who are worse than these two. Spoilt, vindictive, ridiculous and quite frankly, just thorns in Oswald's side, Mother and Clemence really are literary gold. SD Sykes has an incredible imagination, backed up by impeccable research.She has created characters and a setting that jump from the pages, she combines humour and mood. The setting is wonderfully described, with turns of phrase that had me laughing and cringing within the same paragraph.

There is a  mystery running through The Butcher Bird. and Oswald is determined to solve it. A young baby is found impaled on a thorn bush and the residents of the Estate are convinced that she was murdered by The Butcher Bird which was released when John Burrows opened up the casket of his dead wife. Oswald, being the educated man that he is, pours scorn on this and is determined to find out the truth.

The Butcher Bird is well plotted and is screaming with atmosphere. I was totally enveloped by Oswald's world and the pace never fails. For me, the stand out parts of this book are the descriptions: the journey through the streets of London, the food, the people; all so incredibly realistic and it all feels so authentic.  Oswald is a great character, he constantly battles against the deep-set beliefs of those about him, he tries to be fair and to treat everyone with consideration, even those who prove him wrong. There are some wonderfully descriptive phrases, some of the characters have stunning one-liners and each of them, even the lowliest servant has huge character.

I have been captivated and fascinated by The Butcher Bird, it's a novel that has surprised me, but has delighted me. I really look forward to the next chapter in Oswald's life.


I am delighted to welcome the author of The Butcher Bird; SD Sykes, here to Random Things today. I asked a few questions, here are her answers:

Do you read reviews of your novels?

Firstly I should say that I’m always enormously grateful that another person makes the effort to read and review my books. After all, they’ve willingly given up their precious time to spend maybe two or three days with my story and my characters. I always read my press reviews and my blogger reviews, because I respect the experience, knowledge and standards of these reviewers. I’m not going to be awarded a one star review because Amazon delivered it too late, or because I’ve given the main character a name that they don’t like.  These reviews are rigorous, fair and honest.  A writer cannot ask for more.

Do you take them seriously?

Yes, very much so. If enough reviewers say the same thing, then, as a writer, you would be a fool not to take this feedback seriously. But I should also say this – a novel shouldn’t be the result of a focus group. This would be letting your readers down. For example, when Plague Land first came out I went to a book club and was berated by a reader who didn’t like the bawdiness of my writing. In particular, she didn’t like mention of piss-pots and the general grime of the 14th century. I came home a little wounded and went to bed thinking that I might tone down the earthiness of my writing. But, after a good night’s sleep I came to the conclusion that this wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to paint an authentic picture of the medieval world – piss-pots and all. I had to stay true to that aim, and accept that some people will not like it.

How long does it take to write a novel?

Plague Land and The Butcher Bird both took roughly a year, from start to finish. Six months to research and write a first draft. Another six months to work with my editor on rewrites and the final polish.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I like to be at my desk at 9am, with a very strong coffee and the door firmly shut on the outside world. My lovely dog Max always lies on my feet and I sit in a position facing a blank wall (so that I can’t look out of the window – I’m easily distracted!)  I then write for about three to four hours. Those hours, between 9am and 1pm are the most creative and productive for me. I tend to use the afternoon to concentrate on research, correspondence and social media.

What was your favourite childhood book? 

When I was about nine or ten, I found an old copy of Jane Eyre in a bookcase. The book itself intrigued me because it had a battered leather cover and the print was extremely small. I’d never heard of this book, but once I started reading it, the gothic, bleak atmosphere immediately intrigued me. Nothing, however, prepared me for the moment when Jane discovers Rochester’s poor, demented wife, being kept prisoner in the attic. I don’t think that any book will ever be able to quite deliver that moment of shock to me again. I didn’t see it coming. It was both terrifying and thrilling.

Name one book that made you laugh?

I’d just had a caesarian section with my daughter, and a friend of mine came into hospital with a copy of Bill Bryson’s ‘Neither here nor there.’ The descriptions of his travels around Europe made me laugh so much that I had to stop reading the book on medical grounds.  Laughter was causing me to strain my stomach muscles, and stretch my stitches!

Name one book that made you cry?

My mother has been a massive influence on me, as both a reader and a writer. She passed her love of books onto my sister and I as children, reading quite long and complicated books to us at night. Wuthering Heights was a favourite. When she read ‘The Hobbit, all three of us were all in tears at the death of the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield. Even thinking about Mum reading those paragraphs makes me want to cry.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?

One of my most-loved books is East of Edenby John Steinbeck. I would love to meet Cathy/Kate – the woman whose evil runs through the novel like a strain of toxic bacteria. She has burnt her parents to death, tried to kill her husband, abandoned her twin sons and now poisoned the local brothel-owner, so that she can take over the establishment. Kate appears to have no redeeming features whatsoever. No guilt or even empathy.  A psychopath perhaps?  Yet she is on her own, quiet crusade. To take as much delight as possible in the hypocrisy of the men who sit in church one day and then visit her brothel the next. This knowledge gives her power, and she loves power. I would probably not be able to meet Kate in person, as she is both secretive and anti-social. But I could follow her about the town of Salinas, as she furtively scuttles into the outside world on her once-weekly trip to the shops.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 

I would give my best friend Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye. It’s one of favourite books of the year, capturing the sultry, foreboding mood of a 1930s Florida summer, just as the worst hurricane of the century is about to land. The characters are wonderful. The plot is gripping, and the book brings to light a shameful episode in North American history.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 

I love the novels of Karen Maitland. She captures the atmosphere of the middle ages perfectly. The superstition, the poverty, the politics and the pre-industrial environment. Her books ooze magic and mystery. I’ve always been fascinated by the medieval history, but it was Karen’s bookCompany of Liars that inspired me to write about the Black Death.

What is your guilty pleasure read?   

I’m not really guilty about anything! If you like it, then why be ashamed? However, if I have to choose, I’d say the big-format celebrity magazines, like Hello and OK magazine. I don’t buy these publications, but do head straight for them when I make my twice-yearly trip to the hairdressers. There’s something restful (I hate going to the hair dressers) even mesmeric about the perfect, air-brushed, teeth-capped, surgically enhanced lives that fold out before me on those glossy pages.

Which book have you re-read? 

I’ve developed something of an obsession with The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  I’ve probably re-read this novel about five times. The writing is sublime. The setting is captivating, but unsettling – a crumbling mansion, a crumbling family and the crumbling status-quo of English society in the post war years. It’s a creepy, sinister story, with strange happenings and the ghosts of the past –  and a twist that delivers a terrifying ending to the book.

Which  book have you given up on?

Thirty years after the event, I now feel able to confess to never having finished the novel that I was set for ‘O’ level English Literature (yes, I’m old enough to have sat GCEs.) It was Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens. I’ve always struggled a bit with Dickens, and I remember that I just couldn’t stand the characters in this book, particularly the simpering female ones. In the days before synopses on the internet, I must have copied my friend’s homework when it came to writing essays. Terrible, I know. But, I’m thinking of giving this book another try.  A fellow writer recently recommended it to me, and I trust her judgment. Perhaps I was just a feckless sixteen year old, and should have tried harder?

Sarah Sykes aka SD Sykes lives in Kent with her family and various animals. 
She has done everything from professional dog-walking to co-founding her own successful business. 
She is a graduate from Manchester University and has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She attended the novel writing course at literary agents Curtis Brown where she was inspired to finish her first novel. 
She has also written for radio and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.

For more information, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @SD_Sykes

A Hardback copy of The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes Follow

Sunday 25 October 2015

Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall

When Ellie goes missing on the first day of Schueberfouer, the police are dismissive, keen not to attract negative attention on one of Luxembourg's most important events.
Probation officer, Cate Austin, has moved for a fresh start, along with her daughter Amelia, to live with her police detective boyfriend, Olivier Massard. But when she realises just how casually he is taking the disappearance of Ellie, Cate decides to investigate matters for herself.
She discovers Luxembourg has a dark heart. With its geographical position, could it be the centre of a child trafficking ring?  As Cate comes closer to discovering Ellie's whereabouts she uncovers a hidden world, placing herself in danger, not just from traffickers, but from a source much closer to home.  

Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall is published by Legend Press on 31 October 2015.

I've been a fan of Ruth Dugdall's writing for some time now and have reviewed two of her previous novels here on Random Things; The Woman Before Me (November 2013) and Humber Boy B (March 2015). She is also the author of The Sacrificial Man (2011) and The James Version (2012).

Nowhere Girl features ex Probation Officer Cate Austin as lead character, and follows on from the earlier novels. However, although this could be classed as a series, Nowhere Girl is also perfect as a completely stand alone novel. The author expertly allows the reader enough glimpses into Cate's past within the story, allowing full enjoyment and understanding of her character.

Cate has quit her demanding and often overwhelming job as Probation Officer in the UK. She's worked on some pretty heavy and high profile cases in the past, and encountered people and situations that have shown her the darkest, murkiest side of humanity. Cate was good at her job, she loved her job, but her blossoming romance with Olivier Massard has shown her that she could do other things. Cate and her young daughter Amelia have moved to Luxembourg to join Olivier at his home.

At first, being a homemaker and mother is something of a novelty for Cate. She immerses herself into her new life, encouraging Amelia with school and new friends. Things change when a young girl goes missing from the Schueberfouer Fair and Olivier and his police colleagues do not seem to be taking it as seriously as Cate thinks they should. There are links between Cate and the missing girl Ellie; Amelia is friends with her younger sister and Cate has met her mother. Cate's experience in the Probation service and her growing unease about the case lead her to start to look deeper in the circumstances. The things that she uncovers are shocking and will change Cate's views on Luxembourg.

Ruth Dugdall's books deal with the dark and sinister happenings in the underworld; the things that we are vaguely aware of, but rarely encounter. Nowhere Girl is bang up to date, dealing as it does with human trafficking and the desperate situations that illegal immigrants can find themselves in.

The author paints a bleak and depressing picture of inner Luxembourg and its immigrant population. Her female characters, especially Amina - the young girl from Algeria are solid and believable. Her descriptive passages are haunting and Amina's longing for her homeland and her family is tangible. The fear of discovery fuels the plot of this novel, the decisions taken by many of the characters are purely done through desperation and the reader becomes quite overwhelmed by the despair.

I was totally convinced, and at times, horrified by Nowhere Girl. The author is hugely talented and has the ability to shock the reader with a twist that I certainly didn't anticipate. Nowhere Girl is at times a difficult read, but is always gripping and the plot and the characters are still lingering in my mind.

My thanks to Jessica at Legend Press who sent my copy for review.

Ruth Dugdall worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade in high security prisons in the Suffolk area.  Now living in Luxembourg, she is currently working at a local prison.
Ruth has years of experience working with children who have been convicted of murder, having been based at one of the UK's three prisons that specialise in this area.
Ruth's writing is heavily influenced by her professional background, providing authenticity and credibility to the crime genre.

Visit Ruth at
Follow her on Twitter @RuthDugdall

Visit Legend Press at
Follow on Twitter @legend_press


Wednesday 21 October 2015

Little Sister Death by William Gay *** A Halloween Read ***

David Binder is a young, successful writer living in Chicago and suffering from writer’s block. He stares at the blank page, and the blank page stares back—until inspiration strikes in the form of a ghost story that captivated him as a child.

With his pregnant wife and young daughter in tow, he sets out to explore the myth of Virginia Beale, Faery Queen of the Haunted Dell. But as his investigation takes him deeper and deeper into the legacy of blood and violence that casts its shadow over the old Beale farm, Binder finds himself obsessed with a force that’s as wicked as it is seductive.

A stirring literary rendition of Tennessee’s famed Curse of the Bell Witch, Little Sister Death skillfully toes the line between Southern Gothic and horror, and further cements William Gay’s legacy as not only one of the South’s finest writers, but among the best that American literature has to offer.

Little Sister Death by William Gay was published on 15 October 2015 by Faber and Faber, and is a 'lost' horror novel by the late American writer.

Editorial director at Faber and Faber Angus Cargill bought the UK rights last year.
Cargill said: “On Friday 31st October last year I was sent a manuscript entitled Little Sister, Death - by our late author William Gay - a novel which we did not previously know about the existence of. You only need to read a very few pages of Little Sister, Death to know you’re in the hands of a master, and if it’s one you have the stomach for. 
We will publish for Halloween this year to mark what would have been William’s 74th birthday.” 
Little Sister, Death takes its inspiration from the 19th century Bell Witch haunting of Tennessee, before the story moves into the late 20th century, where a troubled writer moves to a haunted farmstead. Cargill described it as “a sublime piece of writing - with a terrifying fore-shadow of a first chapter”. 
He added: “Beautifully written and structured, it is a loving and faithful addition to the field of classic horror, eschewing any notions of irony or post-modern tricks as it aims, instead, straight for your soul. It is a novel we hope - in the wake of recent successes such as The Babadook and N0S4R2 - to make the horror moment of 2015.” 
Conville said: “It was so exciting to be told a lost manuscript by the late master of Southern Gothic William Gay had been discovered among his papers. I read Little Sister, Death in one sitting and found it brilliantly constructed, utterly engrossing and deeply frightening. It is thrilling to think that a new generation of readers can now discover William’s work for themselves.” 
Little Sister, Death will be followed by Gay’s final novel, The Lost Country, in late 2016.

I had originally planned to post this on 31 October; Halloween, but I thought that it would be better idea to post now, giving people plenty of time to buy it and read it on the scariest date of the year!

The book opens  with a twelve page introduction by Tom Franklin, and that in itself is a really interesting read. I hadn't read anything by William Gay before picking up this book, so it was great to learn a little more about the author from someone who knew him.

The story Little Sister Death is really not very long at all and can easily be read in just a couple of sittings. The opening chapter is set in the year 1785 on a plantation in Tennessee County, USA. This chapter introduces the reader to Gay's wonderful way with words.

A doctor has been kidnapped and taken in the back of a cart to an unknown destination. Once there he is instructed by Old Marster to tend to a young girl in childbirth. The writing is chilling and quite terrifying, the author captures the moment and the gothic feeling so very well.

The majority of the story is set in the 1980s and follows author David Binder and his family as he moves them out to a remote farmstead so that he can find inspiration for that difficult second book. The family find far more than literary inspiration out there, as the story unfolds, the tension increases dramatically to the chilling conclusion.

I don't read a lot of ghost stories, I often find them silly and annoying but Little Sister Death had me gripped the whole way through. The novel is very short and makes no allowances for rambling, the action is full on and dark and disturbing.

The ideal read for Halloween. Small, but perfectly formed.

My thanks to Sophie from Faber and Faber who sent my copy for review.

William Gay was born in Hohenwald, Tennessee.  After high school, he joined the United States Navy and served during the Vietnam War.  For many years he made his living as a carpenter, drywall-hanger and house painter before publishing, in 1998, his first novel, The Long Home, at the age of 57.

He went on to publish the story collection I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down and two further novels, Provinces of Night and Twilight, in his lifetime.


Monday 19 October 2015

The Changing Room by Jane Turley ~ Review and Guest Post by the Author

"Today, I am in the changing room of my life and tomorrow, win or lose, I'll move forward a stronger and wiser woman." 
Sandy Lovett's confused mother and chaotic life are having an effect on her waistline. She knows she needs to change her life but doesn't know how until she buys a risqué dress which sets in motion a sequence of life-changing events. 
After years as a mother, carer and full-time employee, Sandy quits her job and places her mother in a care home, and life seems on the up. 
But disaster is never far away for the hapless Sandy as her mother’s obsessions continue to wreak havoc and her husband’s business begins to fail. 
Short of cash and needing a flexible job, Sandy joins a sex-chat service. 
At The Beaver Club Sandy discovers a talent for selling telephone sex - a skill she later regrets when she meets unscrupulous local politician and prospective MP, Trewin Thackeray. 
The Changing Room is a comedy-drama for all those whose glass is half-full. Preferably with gin and a big fat cherry! 

The Changing Room by Jane Turley is published in paperback and ebook by Sweet & Salty Books.

There are certain things can change your life. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, it can be a pretty ordinary thing really, but sometimes one little thing can make you stop and take stock.

For Sandy Lovett it was a dress.  A blue silky, swishy dress with matching sandals. That dress and those sandals made her stop, look around and decide to take action.
The book opens when Sandy is trying on clothes in one of those awful shop changing rooms, not only does she have the all around mirrors to contend with, but also the painful, to the point (but honest) comments from her mother who is sitting in the corner of the dressing room applying Vicks Vapour Rub to her lips.

Yes, this is Sandy's life. A spare tyre, an elderly mother with Alzheimers, a husband who doesn't earn much but is always up for sex, two children who demand her time and a job in a furniture showroom dealing with obnoxious customers and a useless boss.

So, Sandy makes her move. She changes career completely and discovers that she's pretty good at selling sex on a telephone line! Yes, that's her choice of career move and it makes for some pretty funny reading.

Jane Turley has a wicked way with words, she's funny and Sandy is funny. The author takes the everyday hum drum aspects of life and turns them into scenes that evoke peals of laughter. Whilst doing that, and doing it very well, she manages to deal with some serious issues. Issues that will probably affect all of us, issues that really aren't funny, but issues that can make us laugh.

The Changing Room is a book that makes the reader smile. Every now and again I need a break from crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, and novels with a dark message, and this book was the perfect holiday.

My thanks to Becke from PR Collective who sent my copy for review.

I'm really delighted to welcome author Jane Turley to Random Things today. Jane has written a guest blog post for you all to enjoy.  Thanks Jane!

For many years I’ve been a member of a ladies’ book club. We’re all middle-aged with one or more aspects of our lives in common: teenagers or young adult children, jobs varying in pressures and fulfilment, husbands facing redundancy or career changes, and increasing responsibilities for our parents. At the same time, we're also facing the joint onslaughts of the loss of youth and age-related health problems. We’re a strong, supportive group with individual and yet universal problems that unite us beyond our mutual love of books. Our meetings are filled with lively, vocal discussions that sometimes go on until the early hours of the morning on just about any topic.

Except the books that brought us together in the first place.

It’s not that we never discuss our chosen books; it’s just that we so rarely discover a book that all of us have read and enjoyed to the very end that it warrants discussing it for any length of time. And forcing ourselves to read a novel to impress or to satisfy some quasi-intellectual need isn't necessary: We know each other too well. So, by the time we’ve got past the excuses: “I was too exhausted to read it,” (any lengthy literary novel); “It was too depressing,” (any novel featuring a child killer); “It was so predictable I watched a rerun of The Professionals instead," (any book with “teashop” in the title); and “How did this get on the Man Booker shortlist? My navel fluff is more interesting,” usually we're left with very few books that meet all our expectations.

Now I don’t want to make my friends sound uneducated or overly fussy because they’re neither. We have occasionally talked at length about some great books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, The Help and so on. But what these particular books have in common, despite their literary statuses, is that they're easy to pick up and put down but are still absorbing enough to be entertaining and informative.

There is, of course, a lot of “women’s fiction” that is worthy of discussion which never grabs the headlines like the more literary novels. Anything by Jodi Picoult ticks that box, as would undercover successes like The Memory Book or Me Before You. These are the type of books that many women enjoy. They're books which don't require a degree or in-depth analysis to appreciate. They're emotive, engaging and frequently explore situations or moral dilemmas that create food for thought and conversation. To women with busy, exhausting lives these easy-to-read but captivating books are a gift because, after a harrowing day, not many of us want to face the challenges of Hilary Mantel or David Mitchell.

It was with these thoughts that I set about writing The Changing Room. But I also wanted to factor in one further element and write not just an easy-to-read and thought-provoking novel that would be appreciated by the ladies of my book club, but a humorous one. It would have an older heroine that readers would empathise with but who also did things they’ve wanted to do but haven’t quite had the courage or opportunity. A woman who would make them laugh and cry and, hopefully, inspire them.

I'm not sure why there is so little meaningful comedy fiction available for older women, but certainly finding any agent or publisher actively looking for any humorous writing

that isn't a Christmas coffee table book, chick lit or dry literary humour is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Nevertheless, I was determined that it shouldn’t just be girls or academics who have fun in literature, but mature women too.

And so I created 45-year-old Sandy Lovett: mother, wife, carer and sex-chat expert. A resilient woman with a sense of humour and a strong moral, social and political conscience who was changing direction in her life. A woman, I hoped, whose character and story would appeal to the ladies of my book club long enough to make it through several bottles of wine and a selection of exotic nuts.

Only time will tell if I have succeeded in my mission. But whatever the reception for Sandy Lovett, I will always hold the same affection for her as I do my book club ladies. All of them ordinary women, just like you and me, living their own extraordinary lives.

The Changing Room by Jane Turley is published by Sweet & Salty Books, paperback £9.99 and ebook

Jane Turley has written for the BBC and the literary magazine The View From Here. 

For the past eight years she has been delighting readers and fans through her blog The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife. 

Find out more at /

Twitter @turleytalks


Friday 16 October 2015

Still You by Claire Allan

When those unforgettable memories slip beyond your reach, you are still you always you. 
When summer arrives to Temple Muse in 1963, the big house Áine Quigley shares with her mother is brought to life with the arrival of her sister Charlotte, home from Italy with her two children and adoring husband. 
A free spirit, and fiercely protective of her little sister, Charlotte brings with her a sense of adventure which rubs off on Áine setting off a chain of events which will frame the rest of their lives. 
From the fragrant flowerbeds of their luscious gardens to a sun-soaked terrace in Italy, Áine finds her life moving in a direction she had never thought possible. 
But in her older years, when dementia threatens to steal those memories and when, with the help of her carer Georgina, she looks back on all that has passed, will she regret her choices in life or will she realise that everything worked out just as it always should have?

Still You was published by Poolbeg Press on 23 September 2015 and is Claire Allan's eighth novel. Her previous books are: Rainy Days and Tuesdays (2007); Feels Like Maybe (2008); Jumping In Puddles (2009); It's Got To Be Perfect (2010); If Only You Knew (2011); What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (2012) and The First Time I Said Goodbye (2013).

It's a long time since I read any of this author's books, long before I started my blog, but I remember enjoying them. I do still have a couple of her later novels on my shelf - waiting to be read.

When Georgina is given a new client by her manager at the care agency, she's worried. She has no experience of dealing with dementia patients and this client is related to a rich, well-known business man. Her first visit to Aine doesn't go well, and Georgina's fears are compounded. Aine is confused, upset and clearly thinks that Georgina is her sister, then her mother.

Jonathan, Aine's nephew is not impressed by Georgina, he's determined that she will not be looking after his Aunt and soon complains. However, Aine makes her own decisions and on her next visit Georgina is welcomed with open arms. Jonathan realises that Georgina is here to stay.

Claire Allan has structured Still You very cleverly. The reader meets Aine when she is old and confused. She's in the grip of Alzheimer's. At times she can be frustrated, and frustrating - other times find her lucid and welcoming.  From their very shaky start, Aine and Georgina develop a relationship that is wonderfully depicted.

This friendship enables Aine to reflect back on her earlier life. The reader travels with Georgina and Aine back to the early 1960s - to Derry and to Tuscany in Italy, we learn about Aine's life, her family. We learn about huge decisions, about life changing events, we learn about the real Aine - the person left behind when Alzheimer's took her over.

This is also Georgina's story. Newly single, with teenage daughters and facing the future without her childhood love, she's adapting to change and to difficulties. The friendship between these two very different women develops slowly, but has huge benefits for both of them, and Georgina gains more than just a new friend.

Still You is beautiful, touching and very emotional read. It is clear from the writing that Claire Allan writes from experience. Her words ring with authenticity, with passion and with sorrow. Aine is an exquisite lead character; she's one of those characters who worm themselves into your brain, staying there and popping up during the day, she's funny, she's sad, and she's recognisable.

Alzheimer's is a wicked, evil, destructive disease that sadly will affect so many of us. There have been numerous novels lately that feature dementia and its impact on people, on life, on relationships; Claire Allan and Still You can take its place alongside Rowan Coleman's The Memory Book and Lisa Genova's Still Alice with pride.

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

Claire Allan was born on the longest day of the year in the hottest summer on record - the glorious
drought ridden 1976. 

She was born into the very lovely Davidson family in the city of Derry~ Londonderry in the North of Ireland and spent her formative years playing in the mucky fields of the Creggan Estate. 
She has two sisters - Lisa and Emma - and one brother, Peter. 

In 1999 she started working as a staff reporter for the Derry Journal - covering an array of news from politics to human interest stories. 

As Claire approached her 30th birthday she decided to give writing books a shot. Basing her first novel ‘Rainy Days and Tuesdays’ very loosely on her own experiences with Post Natal Depression following the birth of her son Joseph in 2004 she wrote a book never knowing if anyone would read it.

Rainy Days and Tuesday was published in 2007 and was an instant bestseller. 

It has been followed by Feels Like Maybe, Jumping in Puddles, It's Got to Be Perfect, If Only You Knew, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and The First Time I Said Goodbye.

Claire is married to Neil and they have two children - Joseph and Cara - and two cats, Alfie and Kitty Purry. She still lives in Derry where she continues to very proudly work for the Derry Journal. 

She is addicted to social media, reading, baking , has a new found love of exercise (except burpees) and spending time with her family, especially her children and her adorable nieces and nephews.

Her weekly column Skirting the Issue  appears in the Derry Journal each Friday.

Find out more about Claire, and her writing at her website
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireAllan


Thursday 15 October 2015

Pretending To Dance by Diane Chamberlain *** BLOG TOUR & INTERVIEW ***

When the pretending ends, the lying begins . . .  
Molly Arnette is good at keeping secrets. 
As she and her husband try to adopt a baby, she worries that the truth she's kept hidden about her North Carolina childhood will rise to the surface and destroy not only her chance at adoption, but her marriage as well. 
Molly ran away from her family twenty years ago after a shocking event left her devastated and distrustful of those she loved. 
Now, as she tries to find a way to make peace with her past and embrace a healthy future, she discovers that even she doesn't know the truth of what happened in her family of pretenders.
Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain, the bestselling author of The Silent Sister, is a fascinating and deftly-woven novel, that reveals the devastating power of secrets.

A huge welcome to the BLOG TOUR for Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain.

Pretending To Dance was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 8 October 2015.

Diane Chamberlain has been publishing her novels since the late 1980s. I've read and enjoyed quite a few of her books and was really pleased to be invited to take place in this blog tour.

Pretending To Dance is Molly's story and begins as she and her husband Aiden are going through the process of applying to become adoptive parents. From the outset, the reader is aware that, despite their seemingly perfect life - they are two successful lawyers in San Diego, with money and a nice home - Molly has things that she would rather hide.

Molly and Aiden want an 'open' adoption, they want their child's birth mother to be part of their lives, to be recognised and to visit. Molly herself comes from a similar background. She was brought up in North Caroline by her mother Nora and her father Graham, whilst her birth mother Amalia lived close by.

Molly remembers that this situation was often fraught. Molly is also worried that all of the things about her background that she has kept from Aiden will be exposed. She will be exposed.

Diane Chamberlain whisks the reader back to Molly's childhood days where we meet the family and friends who shaped her, we travel with her through Molly's teenage angst and rebellion and we learn the shocking secrets that she has kept hidden throughout her adult years.

Being so dishonest goes against everything that Molly stands for and she finally realises that she has to go back. She must deal with her unresolved issues. She goes home, to visit her cousin, and to meet with Nora.

That's where I will stop talking about the plot.  There are all sorts of themes and issues contained within Pretending To Dance and Diane Chamberlain skilfully weaves those altogether.  The multiple themes do not overcrowd the plot whatsoever, this is seamless storytelling.

The development of the characters is excellently done, and Molly's relationship with her father Graham is quite beautiful. The tenderness and feelings are deep and realistically portrayed. As well as a tale of secrets and suspense, this is Molly's coming of age, with the dramas and crisis that can only be created by a young teen who is discovering the opposite sex.

A really well written family drama with suspense and shocks galore. Wonderfully created characters and a glorious setting.


I am delighted to welcome the author, Diane Chamberlain to Random Things today for a mini interview:

What was your biggest fear about writing and how did you overcome it?

I still grapple with my biggest fear, even as I begin writing my twenty-fifth novel. That fear is “Can I do it again?” Whenever I begin thinking about what to write next, I’m still in love with the book I most recently finished. Right now, I’m in love with Pretending to Dance. I love how it turned out. I love the depth of the characters and the twists and turns of the story, and I anxiously wonder if I can do it again. I’ve dealt with this fear every year of my career and so far, I’ve managed to pull it off each time. Yet the anxiety persists.

What’s your social network of choice and why?

I’m a Facebook addict. I love sharing my life with my readers and I love hearing about their lives in return. I particularly love it when they help me with a story. For example, in Pretending to Dance my readers helped me name a few characters and places. They schooled me in the things a fourteen-year-old girl might feel passionate about in 1990. (The New Kids on the Block, purple Doc Martens, Judy Blume’s book Forever). My creative Facebook readers are the reason my central character Molly carries an amethyst palm stone in her pocket to give her courage. I’m so grateful to them for brainstorming with me and I hope they feel as though they have a small role in the creation of my stories.

What is the most difficult thing about starting a new book?

When I start a new book, I am outside the story. For a period of time, the writing is more intellectual than emotional and that makes it hard for me to feel invested. After a while, a point will come when I feel myself inside the story. I love that moment! The characters will be with me day and night then. I’ll know them inside out and I’ll feel everything they’re going through. When I’m inside the story, everything comes together and the writing process becomes a joy.

What advice do you wish someone had given the “younger you” about writing?

I wish someone had told the very young me that good writing is the ticket to success in nearly everything. I didn’t learn that until my junior year of high school when a history teacher taught us how to research and organize our essays and term papers. Suddenly, I realized I could use my writing skills in every subject (except math, unfortunately). My grades soared. It’s those skills that got me through college and graduate school, and it’s those skills I still use today as I outline and work on my books. We can do our young people a big favor by helping them learn to write well.

What is one thing readers and fellow writers would be surprised to learn about the writing process for Pretending to Dance

Pretending to Dance takes place both in the current day, from thirty-eight-year-old Molly’s point of view as she and her husband try to adopt a baby, and in 1990 when fourteen-year-old Molly faces the most difficult summer of her life. When I began writing the book, I had a vague idea that there would be a current-day story, but I didn’t know what it would be, so I wrote the entire 1990 story first. Then I thought about the themes in that story and how they would play out in grown-up Molly’s life. That’s how Molly’s conflicted feelings about adopting a baby were born. Even I was surprised at how beautifully the two stories worked together.

Diane Chamberlain is the bestselling author of twenty-four novels. 

Her storylines are often a combination of romance, family drama, intrigue and suspense. 

She lives in Northern Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole. 

Visit her website at 
Her Facebook Reader's Page 
Follow her on Twitter @D_Chamberlain


Tuesday 13 October 2015

The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas

Amy’s always felt like something’s been missing in her life. When a tragedy forces the family she works for as a nanny to retreat to a small lakeside cottage, she realises she cannot leave them now.

But Amy finds something unsettling about the cottage by the lake. This is where the children’s mother spent her childhood – and the place where her sister disappeared mysteriously at just seventeen. 

Soon Amy becomes tangled in the missing sister’s story as dark truths begin rising to the surface. But can Amy unlock the secrets of the past before they repeat themselves?

The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas is published in paperback by Black Swan (Transworld) on 19 November 2015. The Secret by the Lake is the author's sixth novel, I have read and enjoyed all of her books, she's one of my favourite writers, her books are beautifully written and incredibly compelling and I've featured some of them here on Random Things in the past. Her previous novels are; The Love of my Life (2008), Missing You (2010), The Secrets Between Us (2011), In Her Shadow (2012) and Your Beautiful Lies (2014).

The prologue of The Secret by the Lake takes place by Blackwater lake in 1931; a young unnamed housemaid sits and gazes at a beautiful heart-shaped pendant, her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of someone approaching. The girl manages to avoid being seen by the unnamed man. This short prologue forms the basis of a story told thirty years later, and perfectly sets the scene for what is an entrancing and beautifully told story of betrayal and loss.

Moving forward, it's 1961 in Deusables, France. Amy is Nanny to Viviane Laurent. She is more than a Nanny, she is part of the family. Her own family is disjointed, her mother left when she was a small child and her father seems to care more for his pigeons than he does for her. Amy is devastated when she has to leave the Laurents and return to Sheffield to care for her ailing father.

When tragedy strikes, Amy rushes to Viviane and her mother Julia who are now living in Julia's childhood home in Somerset, at the side of Blackwater lake. The glitter and sparkle of Paris life has gone, along with their wealth and beautiful things. Life in the dark gloomy cottage is difficult, and it soon becomes clear that there are deep and sinister secrets hidden within the walls. The community is tight-knit and closed-lipped. Amy struggles to keep Julia's spirits up and Viviane has regressed back, conversing with her imaginary friend .... but is Caroline purely a product of her imagination.

The cottage and the lake are characters in themselves. Louise Douglas' writing sends chills down the spine as she describes the bleak and dreary cottage with it's closed rooms and unidentified noises. The lake consumes the story and the characters, it is central to village life and central to the plot. The vastness of the deep dark waters, the history of tragedy and pain is so well defined and gives a sinister air to the whole story.

The Secret by the Lake is multi-layered and complex. There are sudden twists and unexpected happenings throughout the story. There are moments in the book that will make the reader's heart pound in anticipation, the author expertly builds tension and fear.

Interwoven with the mystery and suspense is Amy's own gentle love story, so different, yet so closely connected to the story of lost love that emerges and is linked back to the mystery housemaid of the prologue. Louise Douglas is gentle and tender with Amy and her love interest, building their relationship gradually and masterfully.

The secrets that emerge in this book are age-old and shameful, I had many theories whilst reading the story, but the final reveal is shocking and explosive, and quite perfectly done.

Once again, Louise Douglas has produced a captivating, intelligent and beautifully written story. I became totally lost in the plot, adored the characters and feared the cottage and the lake. An absolutely superb read.

My thanks to the author, Louise Douglas who arranged for me to receive a copy for review.

Louise Douglas was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Somerset for the past twenty years. 
She has three sons and a partner who works in construction. 
She is the author of four novels, including The Secrets Between Us and In Her Shadow. 

When she is not writing, Louise is usually reading, walking with the family's dogs, Lil and Lola, and spending time with her family and friends.

Talk to her on Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3 and visit her website at


Monday 12 October 2015

Dawn French Bought My Lava Lamp + other short stories by Lisbeth Foye

Seven short stories  
1.Together Again - It's all about the choices we make - in this life, and the next... 

2.History Of A Stick - The ongoing repercussions of a murder committed in 1899 are still felt today. 

3.Dawn French Bought My Lava Lamp - It seems that this could be the solution to everything, or then again, perhaps not. 

4.Peculiar Ways - An old man recounts his life and how fate forced him along the road to his destiny. 

5.The Whistleblower - A coward hides under the protection of the Whistleblowing policy to cheat on a friend and comes a cropper. 

6.The Story Of Thomas Cotter - This tale of a man who lives a mundane life, at least, that's what his new neighbours believe. 

7.Luca - A brief encounter in the 21st century

Dawn French Bought My Lava Lamp is the title story in this collection of seven from Lisbeth Foye. I've read two of this author's full length novels and reviewed them here on Random Things; The Biggest Lie (February 2014) and Truth Unscrewed (March 2015).

Whilst I do enjoy a good short story, I've found that quite often, a whole collection from the same author can be disappointing. It's quite likely that there will be a couple of stories that I enjoy, a couple that are so-so, and always a couple that just don't do it for me.  I have been absolutely delighted by this collection, and have loved each and every one of them. There isn't a dud amongst them, and I just wish that there were more than seven in the collection.

The stories range from the historical, to the up to date. We meet wonderfully created characters who despite the constrictions of the short-story format are whole and rounded and the reader really can connect with them. Each eloquent little tale is beautifully articulated, some with humour, all with a passion. The vulnerability of the human race is exposed with a rawness that touches the heart of the reader, nobody could fail to fall a little in love with Thomas Cotter; the subject of the longest story in this book.

Lisbeth Foye is a very clever author. These stories are sharp and perceptive and a total joy to read. I hope that the author has more up her sleeve and will publish them soon.

My thanks to Lisbeth Foye 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