Saturday 30 April 2016

The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan

After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she's letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving of the monster he became.
Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle. Jasper says he's all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door ... 

The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan is published by Penguin Ireland on 5 May 2016 and is the author's debut novel.

She hopes he's done with trouble but it trouble done with him?
Ten years to repent
Ten years to forgive

Ten days for revenge

The Last Days of Summer is told in four different points of view, over a short period of time and Vanessa Ronan's skilfully and vividly creates not just her characters, but also an almost oppressive, suffocating sense of place with her words.

Ten years ago Jasper Curtis committed a terrible crime, he's been locked away, but now he is free. His sister Lizzie adored her brother when they were growing up and reflects on her memories whilst preparing to take him in and give him a home. Yes, she knows that Jasper did an awful thing, but she hopes that during the past ten years he may have changed from the evil criminal, to the brother she loved so much. Lizzie's neighbours have long memories, nobody could ever forget what Jasper Curtis did and it's clear that there will be no welcome home party thrown by the townspeople.

Jasper Curtis is not a nice character at all. Whilst his sister Lizzie is prepared to start afresh, to look to her heart and find understanding, and maybe forgiveness, Jasper displays none of this. He's dark and deep and quite convincingly terrifying, and I'm positive that he knows it. Is it a form of self-preservation, a way to shield himself from the attacks that are inevitable? Or .... is the guy just evil?

There's a feel of Cormac McCarthy about The Last Days of Summer; that slow, sweltering feeling, exacerbated by the description of strong, shimmering heat and a sense of foreboding that never stops.

Nestled in between the characters who are full of hate and vengence, is Joanne, the youngest daughter of Lizzie and a spark of light and hope and joy. She's full of the innocence and acceptance that only youth can bring, and she's the absolute star of the story, bringing a little bit of respite from what could be a quite overpowering story at times. Joanne's older sister, Katie is full of teenage angst, wary of this unknown uncle, desperate to impress a boy, and it is her actions that provide the powerful and shocking conclusion to this story.

Vanessa Ronan's writing is almost poetic at times. Sometimes a book can be all plot, often the characters take over a story, but The Last Days of Summer is a perfect blend of a dark story with a strong plotline that leads to a furious and very convincing ending combined with perfectly drawn characters who each appear real, with flaws and vulnerabilities galore. Dealing with forgiveness, fear, family and redemption, The Last Days of Summer is a very fine debut from a very skilled author.

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

Vanessa Ronan was born in Houston and in her 28 years has lived in Texas, Mexico, New York, Edinburgh, and Dublin, where she now lives with her Irish husband.
Among other things, she has been a dancer, a PA, a barmaid, a literature student, a dance teacher, and now, a writer.
Home-schooled by her literature teacher parents, Vanessa began writing as soon as she learned the alphabet.
The Last Days of Summer is her first novel.

Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @VRonan


Friday 29 April 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Louise Beech

My Life In Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Louise Beech to Random Things. Louise's debut novel How To Be Brave was published by Orenda Books on 17 September 2015. Her second book, The Mountain In My Shoe will be released in paperback in September this. To read my review of How To Be Brave, please click on the title of the book.

Here's a snippet from my review:

"With a hint of ghost story, mixed up with contemporary, up-to-the-minute narrative, and a good does of wartime history, How To Be Brave is a very special, unique and quite beautiful story, The stories are blended to perfection. the author masterfully and seamlessly knits them together, resulting in a hugely satisfying, intelligent and emotional creation."

My Life in Books ~ Louise Beech

Childhood Books    Growing up I adored the What Katy Did books. I so identified with this tall, clumsy, untidy girl who longed to be beautiful and loved. The adventures she had with her many siblings I tried to recreate with my own brother and sisters, forcing them to re-enact scenes with me. I actually named my daughter after her, that's how lasting the impression of brave Katy has been.

I had quite a love of 'older' books when I was small, because another favourite was Heidi. I read and fell in love with this while I was living away from my mum for a long period, and the story of Heidi's struggle with being away from her family helped me get through it. I remember to this day the vivid description of the Alps appearing to me on fire in the morning sun, and it taught me how important it is to 'put the reader there.'

Teenage Books   My reads were occasionally 'trashier' when I reached my teens, and definitely more contemporary. I loved all of Judy Blume's novels, my favourite being Deenie, in which a young girl copes with a disability that separates her from her friends.

Paul Zindel's A Star for the Latecomer is still a favourite, one I've since read as an adult. Zindel had a real talent for speaking directly to young adults in a way that not many writers can do - he was direct and never patronising. I wrote him a long, passionate fan letter, but never heard back.  In spite of that, it inspired a lifelong love of letter writing.

I also devoured Virginia Andrews' Flowers In The Attic at fourteen, reading it in the dark with a torch because I knew my grandma would find it a scandal! 

Adulthood Books   My early adult reads were horror novels, with Stephen King definitely a favourite. Misery I think is genius, and a great metaphor for how a writer struggles with the choice of creating what they want and what they feel readers might want. It taught me a lot.

Sidney Sheldon was a marvel at creating fast-paced, addictive novels that took you somewhere else. The Master of the Game and Rage of Angels kept me up many a night, and got me through some long night feeds of my young son. I wrote to Mr Sheldon and he actually responded, sending me a lovely letter in which he said writing would take me everywhere. He hasn't been wrong.

In more recent years I've preferred literary/contemporary fiction, with my favourites including The Book Thief, The World According to Garp, The Night Rainbow, Life of Pi and Birdsong. When I read John Irving's The World According to Garp it utterly cemented my desire to be a writer. Irving's extraordinary way with words made my heart soar.

Most recently I admired In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, her third novel but one that I think cements her as one of our great current writers. It's the kind of beautifully written novel that you think about long after. Haunted is what I am by it.

I do secretly like a more shocking read at times. I loved Tampa by Alissa Nutting. It explored the relationship between a predatory female teacher and a fourteen year-old-boy and was exquisitely written, dark and filthy. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam is another gorgeously written book that tells the story of a narcissistic middle-aged man who develops a relationship with a lost eleven-year-old girl. I think books that explore dark/difficult topics should be written, and should definitely be read. I certainly have a dark side, one that might come to light in future novels. So watch this space.

Louise Beech ~ April 2016

Louise Beech lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull ~ the UK's 2017 City of Culture ~ and loves her job as a Front Of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

She is also part of the Mum's Army on Lizzie and Carl's BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.

Find out more about Louise Beech and her writing at her website
Follow her on Twitter @LouiseWriter


Thursday 28 April 2016

The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

"I can't take my eyes off the water. Can you"
It's summer when Elm Hill lido opens, having stood empty for years. For Natalie Steele - wife, mother, teacher - it offers freedom from the tightly controlled routines of work and family. Especially when it leads her to Lara Channing, a charismatic former actress with a lavish bohemian lifestyle, who seems all to happy to invite Natalie into her elite circle.
Soon Natalie is spending long days at the pool, socialising with new friends and basking in a popularity she didn't know she'd been missing. Real life, and the person she used to be, begins to feel very far away.
But is such a change in fortunes too good to be true? Why are dark memories of a summer long ago now threatening to surface? And, without realising, could Natalie have been swept dangerously out of her depth? 

The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish is published by Michael Joseph (Penguin) in hardback and ebook on 5 May 2016, and is the author's twelfth novel. The paperback will be released on 28 July.

Last April, I read and reviewed Louise Candlish's last novel; The Sudden Departure of the Frasers . I really enjoyed that book, a mix of darkness and suburban living. In The Swimming Pool, the author has continued that theme, and this really is a gripping story that cleverly looks at friendships and taking risks.

Natalie Steele is looking forward to spending the long summer holiday by the pool at the newly opened lido in Elm Hill, the only difficulty and danger that she can foresee is her thirteen-year-old daughter Molly's intense fear of water. Molly has suffered with aquaphobia since she was just eighteen months old when she was involved in a terrifying incident at the local park. Natalie and her husband Ed have explored every available type of therapy and counselling to try to help Molly, but so far, nothing has helped. Natalie also feels an overwhelming feeling of guilt about what happened to her daughter all those years ago.

The opening of the new lido also opens up new and unexpected opportunities for the Steele family. Natalie meets Lara, the beautiful, rich, glamorous woman who was the driving force behind the re-opening of the abandoned pool. Lara and her friends inhabit a new and totally alien world, one that Natalie always scorned before, but there is something about this bright, glittery woman and her bohemian lifestyle that draws Natalie in, and it's not long before she is basking in Lara's shadow, teetering on the edge of the group, abandoning her old friends, and appearing to betray her long held beliefs and principles.

Simmering under the surface of what appears to be a long, hot and glorious summer is a darkness and brooding feeling that affects the reader almost immediately. Louse Candlish chooses to tell this story in a very clever way. We know that the date of 31 August is very important, we know that something terrible has happened, but we don't know what.  Every so often, throughout The Swimming Pool, the author hurls us back to 31 August, to remind us that despite the outward appearances, things are not going to turn out well. We accompany Natalie as she tentatively enters her new friendship circle, often wondering how a seemingly intelligent and down to earth woman could be entranced by such a shallow, albeit entrancing woman. The reader is also privy to events that happened many years ago, when Natalie herself was a teenager, events that she has kept hidden from everyone, things that she feels ashamed of and is desperately trying to forget.

Louise Candlish is a huge talent. The Swimming Pool is beautifully written, with a pull that grips and does not let go. I was convinced that I'd worked out exactly what was happening, and who people really were, only to have the wind knocked out of me as this author expertly throws in the most unexpected of twists, turning the whole story on its head.

At its heart, The Swimming Pool is about friendships, especially female friendships. It looks at how women can compartmentalise their friends, putting them into different slots of their life, depending on who else is around, and where we are. Louise Candlish explores how this behaviour can backfire and especially examines the conflicting thoughts of a woman who is torn between steady and familiar, and new and exciting. Natalie is a complex and interesting character, events in her teenage years have shaped her later life, but in The Swimming Pool she appears to be replicating the heady, dangerous days that she tries to forget, yet on reflection, seem very alluring.

Louise Candlish is a fabulous writer and The Swimming Pool is quite addictive. So dark, yet so perceptive, I loved it.

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

Louise Candlish studied English at University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before writing fiction.
Though her stories are about people facing dramatic dilemmas, she tries to live an uncomplicated life in London with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Louise Candlish and her writing at
Find her Author page on Facebook 
Follow her on Twitter @louise_candlish


Wednesday 27 April 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Jenny Blackhurst

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I met Jenny Blackhurst!
Crime in the Court, Summer 2015
I'm so pleased to welcome Jenny Blackhurst to Random Things today. Jenny is the author of How I Lost You which was published by Headline in April last year.  

I really enjoyed How I Lost You, you can read my full review by clicking on the title, here's a little taster ...

"Tense and clever and absolutely exhausting, How I Lost You is an incredibly good read. Jenny Blackhurst's plot is scintillating and tense ....."

Jenny's second novel, Before I Let You In will be published as an ebook on 8 September 2016, the paperback will follow on 3 November.

My Life In Books ~Jenny Blackhurst

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton  To me, the concept that writers must be superheroes was a belief held from a very young age it was The Faraway Tree series that cemented that belief for me. Who but a superhero could transport you to an enchanted wood filled with new magical friends, from the land of Take-What-You-Want to the land of terrible Dame Slap. I took great pleasure in reading these to my son recently and he loved them every bit as much as I did.

Sweet Valley High  Didn't every girl want to be Jessica Wakefield? Or to have her sister Elizabeth as their best friend? I was eleven years old when the SVH series did the rounds, so while I might not have understood everything about the teenagers lives (I was a very innocent 11 year old) it was this series that kick-started my writing career. My friend and I were given time away from our English lessons to write our own series complete with teenage heartthrobs - I think I still have them in the loft somewhere.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell   And so began my foray into crime. I borrowed these books as a young girl from my aunty, one at a time like a library lending service.
I waited desperately for a weekend when I could swap my finished book for the next in the series. As an adult, I bought myself the whole series as a reward for being a grown up.

Strangers by Dean Koontz   What happened at the Tranquillity Motel that was so terrible that it can't stay erased from the minds of the strangers? For me it was more about the journey than the arrival and Koontz knows how to pack for one hell of a trip. My copy of this book is so battered that I recently replaced it - although I can't bring myself to throw the original away.

Total Eclipse by Liz Rigbey   This was one of the first books with a 'twist' I ever read and it floored me. In today's standards it might not be considered shocking but at the time I knew that the reaction I had to this was what I wanted to give other people, over a decade later and I can still feel the moment the penny dropped! So good I might read it again tonight.

Breakheart Hill by T H Cook  With one of the best opening lines I have ever read this story of a shocking murder in a small town stayed with me long after I turned the last page. Cook's prose takes you on a journey with his characters so consuming that you'll be able to feel the heat in the summer air and smell the grass under your feet from your sofa.

Pig Island by Mo Hayder   And if the previous books nudged me towards crime, Pig Island shoved me into it and locked the door behind me. From the start I was swept up in this story of the feckless reporter Joe who chases the story of devil worship and strange happenings on a remote Scottish Island where the infamous cult leader Malachy Dove is rumoured to be hiding away. Joe and Malachy have history and where this story goes left me staggered. I read it again last year to see if it still had the same effect as a fully grown up grown up. It does.

Jenny Blackhurst ~ April 2016

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children.
Growing up, she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels ~ writing her own seemed like a natural progression.

Follow her on Twitter @JennyBlackhurst


Monday 25 April 2016

Not Working by Lisa Owens

Claire Flannery has quit her job in order to discover her true vocation - only to realise she has no idea how to go about finding it. Whilst everyone around her seems to have their lives entirely under control, Claire finds herself sinking under pressure and wondering where her own fell apart. 'It's fine', her grandmother says. 'I remember what being your age was like - of course, I had four children under eight then, but modern life is different, you've got an awful lot on.'
Funny, sharp, tender and brilliantly observed, Not Working is the story of a life unravelling in minute and spectacular ways, and a novel that voices the questions we've all been asking ourselves but never dared to say out loud. 

Not Working by Lisa Owens was published by Picador in hardback on 21 April 2016.

"6pm on a Thursday, and while I may not have applied for any jobs, I have made myself eligible to win a Mini Cooper, two nights in Paris and seven in Miami, £500 of vouchers for a Scandinavian clothing brand, an enormous TV (which I plan to sell on), an espresso machine (which I'll definitely keep), tickets to three exhibitions, a case of Prosecco, a juicer, a designer handbag, a designer coat, a meal for two at a corporate-looking restaurant in the city including a cocktail on arrival but no wine, membership to an independent cinema franchise and a VIP package for two at a female-only day spa, so no one could argue it's been a completely wasted day."

I have spent the past couple of days trying to smother my snorts of laughter as Lisa Owens describes in frighteningly accurate detail some of the things that flit through my brain on a regular basis. Most of us will have, at one time or another, dreamt of handing in our notice and spending some time 'discovering' who we really are. We'll think of all of the things that we'd do with our spare time, before embarking upon a career that really does mean something. We'll get fit, we'll organise our wardrobe, read the unread books, listen to the music, watch the box sets and visit our family. We'll then start out again, fresh and reinvigorated, to become the person we just know is hiding inside.

Yeah right......    Just like Claire Flannery, I too can promise myself that today I WILL fire up the laptop and organise my finances, complete the outstanding paperwork, reply to emails and tidy up my blog. And, just like Claire Flannery, I can find myself three hours later having done none of those things but knowing much more about the ancient medicines of China, how to make a new bag from an old bag, the secret of eternal youth and a sure-fire way to earn millions of pounds in the next seven days.  Damn that internet!

Claire Flannery finds out that not working is actually much more difficult and tiring than working. Things that she didn't have time to notice when she spent five days a week commuting to a job that didn't inspire her seem to take on such an incredible importance. Her dreams become more vivid, her relationship with her family begin to break up rather than to get stronger, her friends don't really understand and the jobs websites are uninspiring and quite alien. 

Having time on her hands makes Claire look more closely at her seven-year relationship with trainee brain surgeon Luke, and she begins to panic. Does she really want a new career, or is it time to have a baby? 

Lisa Owens has structured Not Working brilliantly in a series of short, sharp chapters that look at the minutiae of life through the eyes of a woman who is struggling to deal with life in the rat-race. Her observations are funny and completely on the mark, there is a tenderness to Claire's character combined with a vulnerability that makes her one of the most wonderful lead players of any book that I've read recently. In short, I adore Claire. She's comic, honest, totally down to earth, not afraid to follow her dreams, but afraid of what this might mean. She's not beyond backing down when she realises that she's wrong, she's as close to perfection as a fictional character can possibly be.

Not Working is skilfully written, it's beautiful and it's so so honest. I love it.

My thanks to the team at Picador who sent my copy for review.

Lisa Owens was born in 1985 and grew up in Glasgow and Hertfordshire. After reading English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she spent six years working in publishing.
In 2013, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
She lives in London with her husband, the actor and comedian Simon Bird.

Follow her on Twitter @lamowens

Start procrastinating now #NotWorking @picadorbooks


Sunday 24 April 2016

Roxy by Esther Gerritsen

Roxy is twenty-seven years old when her husband, and his lover, are killed in a car crash.
In a sports car on the hard shoulder, naked.
Roxy is left behind with their daughter, their house, their car, his assistant, the babysitter and the shame of this inglorious end to their marriage.
Her family tries to take care of her, but Roxy is not looking for consolation - she is looking for an enemy. 

Roxy by Esther Gerritsen was published in paperback on 21 April 2016 by World Editions.
Roxy is translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison.

Roxy is a short novel, just under 200 pages and easily read in one sitting. This is not a fast-paced or plot-driven story, but is an exploration of the mind of a young woman whose life has been turned upside down by a car crash, and who then goes on to turn her own existence into one big crash.

When Roxy answers the door to two police officers and learns that her husband has been killed in a car accident, her reaction is unexpected, and from this moment on, the reader knows that this is going to be an unusual, quirky and very different sort of book. Roxy is not a lovable character, she's unpredictable, she's unreliable, she's hard to associate with, yet she's also incredibly complex and intriguing and despite the strangeness of both her character, and her story, she's so very compelling.

The death of her much older husband tips Roxy over an edge that it is clear she has been teetering on for a very long time. Details of her background and her marriage slowly emerge as she deals with the aftermath of the fatal accident. Roxy married her husband ten years ago, when she was just seventeen. Her marriage was an opportunity to escape from parents who were flawed and unhappy, and who in turn, made Roxy feel as though she was good for nothing. But Roxy has been successful in the past. She wrote a bestselling novel, she's recognised as the author who wrote that book, but people don't really talk about the follow up novels, and Roxy herself is disparaging and critical when she mentions them herself.

So Roxy decides to take herself and her daughter Louise on a holiday. Louise enjoyed the last holiday they had as a family and maybe they can recreate that time together, despite the fact that the journey home really was the very best part of the break. Accompanied by Liza, the babysitter and Jane, her husband's personal assistant, the holiday begins. Roxy seeks revenge for her life and discovers unsatisfactory sex with unsuitable partners, and a herd of sheep .....

Roxy is a story that is very difficult to describe, or to review. I enjoyed reading it, and the words are beautiful, and honest and at times brutal, but to say too much would spoil things for other readers. Esther Gerritsen writes with style, wit and a sharpness that is eye-wateringly good. Her characters, whilst unsympathetic and very flawed are quite compelling to get to know.

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

Esther Gerritsen (the Netherlands), originally a playwright, is an established writer who made her literary debut in 2000. In 2014, she was honoured with the triennial Frans Kellendonk Oeuvre Award. Her novel Dorst (published as Craving in English in 2015) was nominated for the prestigious Libris Literature Prize, the Opzij Prize, and the Dioraphte Literary Award. 
Her novel Roxy was also nominated for the Libris Literature Prize and the film rights have been sold to Topkapi Films.
She was chosen to write the 2016 Dutch Book Week Gift - an honour bestowed only on the best Dutch-language writers.
Her specially-written novella will have a print run of over 600,000 copies.

About the translator:   Michele Hutchison (UK) was born on exactly the same day as Esther Gerritsen. She studied at UEA, Cambridge and Lyon universities and worked as an editor for a number of years before becoming a literary translator.
Recent translations include Fortunate Slaves by Tom Lanoye, La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, and Cravings by Esther Gerritsen.
The latter was shortlisted for the 2015 Vondel Prize for Dutch translations into English.
Twitter @M_Hutchison


Saturday 23 April 2016

Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner *** GUEST REVIEW ***

Mid-December and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date - the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.
Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman - door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate form a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.
Is Edith alive or dead? Was her 'complex love life' at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning? 

Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner was published in hardback by The Borough Press on 25 February 2016, the paperback edition will be released on 8 September this year.

I'm really pleased to welcome back Helen Parris to Random Things today. Helen has guest reviewed for me before,  read what she thought of In Place of Death by Craig Robertson by clicking on the book title.   Helen is a guest reviewer from The Crime Book Club on Facebook, the group is made up of avid crime fiction lovers, both readers and authors and is a really friendly group to be part of.

Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner - a review by Helen Parris

The lead character, Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw, is introduced right at the beginning of Missing Presumed. The story is written so that the reader can identify with her on an emotional level. She is a lonely person, estranged from her family, with few friends and is Internet dating, to find 'the one', she listens to the police radio to help her to get to sleep.

When student Edith Hind goes missing from her flat, leaving signs of a struggle and traces of blood, it is treated as murder. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the main characters, which reveals more of their lives and their personalities.

Everyone has secrets to hide as the story progresses. The book is beautifully written with wonderful, vivid analogies and metaphors, which took my breath away in places. This is a real literary crime read.

However, I felt this was at the expense of the plot, which was painfully slow and I became impatient with it on occasion.

Missing Presumed is not a fast-paced, gripping read that makes you turn the pages faster and faster in order to find out more, but is a leisurely read, for people who enjoy erudite crime.

 Susie Steiner grew up in North London and studied English at York University. Her first novel, Homecoming, was published by Faber & Faber in 2013

Susie Steiner lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Find out more about the author, and her writing by visiting her website

Follow her on Twitter @SusieSteiner1