Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson #BlogTour @ScorpioScribble @AccentPress

It's what's inside that counts...
Art student and former model Diana has always been admired for her beauty, but what use are good looks when you want to shine for your talent? Insecure and desperate for inspiration, Diana needs a muse.
Facially disfigured four-year-old Cal lives a life largely hidden from the world. But he was born to be looked at and he needs love too. A chance encounter changes everything and Cal becomes Diana s muse. But as Diana s reputation develops and Cal grows up, their relationship implodes.
Both struggle to be accepted for what lies within.
Is it possible to find acceptance in a society where what's on the outside counts for so much?

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson was published in paperback by Accent Press on 15 June 2017.  I'm really delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for this book, I've read a couple of this author's books in the past, and reviewed them here on Random Things: Public Battles, Private Wars (October 2014), and Redemption Song (February 2016).

Beauty is only skin deep. External attractiveness has no relation to goodness or essential quality. This maxim was first stated by Sir Thomas Overbury in his poem "A Wife" (1613): "All the carnall beauty of my wife is but skin-deep."

Most of us will agree that indeed, beauty is only skin deep, and that a person's character is more important than how they look. I also expect that whilst most of us believe that, many of us are guilty of judging a person by how they look, and expecting their character to reflect their body.

In Skin Deep, Laura Wilkinson explores this belief and has produced a powerful and hard-hitting story that will make the reader question themselves, and those around them.

Diana is beautiful. From early childhood, that beauty has been the one aspect of her life that has brought the most pain. Paraded around beauty competitions by her cold, bitter mother; slapped when she didn't win and hugged closely when she took the crown, her beauty has brought her nothing but pain. The novel opens in 1980s Hulme, Manchester as Diana moves into a squalid flat on a rough council estate, defying her parents, and determined to become an artist.

Despite her desire to leave her past behind, the question of beauty has consumed her and continues to do so when she meets Cal; just five years old, neglected by his addicted parents, hidden away from the rest of the world, and ugly. 'Ugly' is a harsh word to use about a small child, but Cal's face is disfigured by congenital defects and although there may be beauty inside him, it is his facial features that have shaped his life so far, just as Diana's beauty has shaped her.

Laura Wilkinson's writing is sharp and emotive and she spares nothing in her description of the neighbourhood, the people and the dark contrast between herself and Cal. Diana is a troubled, often badly flawed woman. She tells herself that she only has Cal's best interests at heart, but as the story progresses, the reader comes to realise that Diana is often selfish and deluded, and her fellow characters realise that too.

This author has a remarkable ability to convey the human emotions, passions and fears so incredibly well. Skin Deep is often troubling, sometimes uncomfortable, but completely and utterly compelling. The characterisation is incredible and engaging, and love them, or hate them, they really will get under your skin.

Captivating and beautifully written. Skin Deep is a story that will trouble the reader, yet delight at the same time.

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

Laura Wilkinson lives in Brighton with her musician/carpenter husband, ginger sons and a cat called Sheila.
She is the author of four novels: The Family Line, Public Battles, Private Wars, Redemption Song and Skin Deep.

For more information visit:
Follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Calling Down The Storm by Peter Murphy #BlogTour @noexitpress

Calling Down the Storm is the story of two separate but strangely parallel lives: the life of a defendant on trial for murder, and the life of the judge who presides over his trial.
April 1971. When DI Webb and DS Raymond receive an emergency call, a horrific scene awaits them. Susan Lang is lying on the ground, bleeding to death. Her husband Henry is sitting nearby, holding a large, blood-stained knife. In shock, Henry claims to have no memory of the events that led to his wife's death, leaving his barrister, Ben Schroeder, little to defend a potential charge of murder.
Unknown to his strict Baptist wife, Deborah, Mr Justice Conrad Rainer has a secret life as a highstakes gambler. In his desperation for money, he has already raided his own and Deborah's resources, and now he has crossed another line - one from which there is no return.
To his horror, as the trial of Henry Lang starts, Conrad discovers a sinister connection between it and his gambling debts, one that will cause his world to unravel.

Calling Down The Storm by Peter Murphy is published by No Exit Press on 29 June 2017 and is the fifth in the Ben Schroeder series.

I'm thrilled to welcome the author, Peter Murphy here to Random Things today as part of the #BlogTour. Peter is talking about My Life In Books

My Life In Books ~ Peter Murphy

Like all authors, I owe a great debt of gratitude to books I have read along the way during my life.  All of us who write have experienced a turning point, often unexpected, on picking up a particular book.  I couldn’t possibly list all the books that have influenced me, even if space permitted.  But five stand out.  The first three are old favourites.  The last two are books I came to more recently that made a big impact on me.

All writers look up to one particular author from whom they have derived inspiration.  For me, that writer is John Le Carré.  I could have put several of his books on my list as having a huge influence on me: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Smiley’s People; and outside the cold war stories, The Constant Gardner; and The Night Manager.  I chose A Perfect Spy because it is in my view his undoubted masterpiece – an unrivalled combination of suspense novel and exploration of the psychology of the spy, much of it based on the author’s own life.  It is typically complex and detailed, but superbly written, the characters and the plot brilliantly developed.  Le Carré transcends genres.  He is a model for any writer aspiring to write high quality, complex novels.

Conan Doyle was my introduction, at age ten or eleven, to crime writing, and this is his best.  Although dated socially, stylistically – and of course technically in relating to the investigation of crime – Conan Doyle’s novels gave us the timeless model of the crime novel.  His depiction of the single-minded, obsessive, drug-addicted detective remains one of the great achievements of the genre.  Sherlock Holmes has been a model for any number of other authors, most notably Agatha Christie, whose Hercule Poirot is a reincarnation of the Baker Street sleuth.  Dr Watson has become a model for the detective’s foil: Captain Hastings to Poirot; Sergeant Lewis to Morse; and many, many more.  I’m a complete Sherlock Holmes purist, and have hated every TV attempt to modernise him.  For me, Jeremy Brett and Nigel Hawthorne will always be Holmes and Watson.

Turning away from my development as a writer, this book opened up a new page in me as a human being.  It is impossible to categorise.  It is simply a phenomenon.  It took Pirsig (who died recently) for ever to get it published, because it’s hard to define what his book is about.  Is it about repairing motorcycles? Or his travels through America with his son?  Or is it about much more?  Answer: I’m not going to tell you.  And yes, I admit it, this book is a cult thing for my generation, but I don’t think we’re the only generation to love it.  It is an extraordinary allegory of life. I’m not going to say any more about it except that, if you haven’t read it, you should.  It will change your life.

I love this book because it exposes the highs and lows of writing a novel.  This is a fabulous book: the story is extraordinary, massively compelling, wonderfully written. But I love it too because the author shows us some of the pitfalls as well as the spectacular achievement.  Tartt gets carried away with one part of the story, which lasts for far too long.  You could cut this novel by a third, and it wouldn’t suffer at all.  And she obviously couldn’t decide how to end the book.  She doesn’t decide in time, writes herself into a corner, and settles for an improbable reasonably happy ending.  But despite all that, it’s a wonderful, mesmerising book: and that’s a great lesson for authors – you don’t have to write a ‘perfect’ book.

Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier (translated from the German by Barbara Harshav)
Another lesson about what a novel can be in it highest form.  A haunting tale of how a chance encounter with a woman about to commit suicide lures a Swiss teacher away from his home and work to Lisbon, to find out the truth about what drove her to it.  An extraordinary story of the Portuguese resistance to fascist rule, beautifully told, starting with almost nothing and building to a remarkable crescendo.  I love Portugal, but even without that, this deserves to become a classic.

Peter Murphy has published five legal thrillers set in Sixties and Seventies London, featuring barrister Ben Schroeder: A Higher Duty; A Matter for the Jury; And is there Honey still for Tea?; The Heirs of Owain Glyndŵr; and Calling down the Storm.  
He has also published two political thrillers about the US presidency: Removal; and Test of Resolve.  More recently, he has completed a volume of humorous short stories, somewhat in the Rumpole of the Bailey tradition, under the title Walden of Bermondsey.  These will be published in late November 2017, and there is a second volume on the way.  
His publisher is No Exit Press.  

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Other Twin by Lucy V Hay @LucyVHayAuthor @OrendaBooks #TheOtherTwin

A stunning, dark and sexy debut thriller set in the winding lanes and underbelly of Brighton, centring around the social media world, where resentments and accusations are played out, identities made and remade, and there is no such thing as the truth

When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India's death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India's laptop. What is exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her? Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its wellheeled families, The Other Twin is startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as truth...

The Other Twin is the much anticipated debut thriller from well-known blogger Lucy V Hay and is published in paperback by Orenda Books on 3 July 2017.

The Other Twin is a fairly short novel at 250 pages, but it is perfectly formed. The incredibly well created characters lead the reader through an intense, dark and sometimes complicated plot. It’s unsettling at times, it’s dark, it’s tantalising,  and it’s complex. It’s also one of those books that raises questions within each chapter.

Set in Brighton, away from the bright, glittery sea-side town that is all too familiar in other novels, The Other Twin exposes the darker, seedier, underbelly of the town.
When Poppy returns to her hometown after the death of her sister India, she is distraught, and confused. Whilst she and India were estranged for the past few years; the girl that she remembers would never have taken her own life. As she digs deeper into India’s recent past, Poppy begins to uncover secrets and untruths that have been hidden, but are threatening to be exposed, and to ruin two of the most important families in town.

Lucy V Hay has used her knowledge and expertise of social media to enhance her story, and the darkest, most sinister side to the internet is finely and horrifyingly detailed within the plot.
The Other Twin is slick and compulsive. Lucy V Hay’s writing is fluid and to the point, sometimes frantic, and often chilling. Her characterisation is confident with a rich understanding of human nature, that can be uncomfortably real at times.

A welcome new voice in the genre, The Other Twin is unique and compelling. Deliciously tense, and clever.

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. 
She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2015), both starring Danny Dyer. 
Lucy is also head reader for The London Screenwriters' Festival

Find out more at
Follow her on Twitter @LucyVHayAuthor 
Find her Author page on Facebook

Friday, 23 June 2017

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant @SabineDurrant @MulhollandUK

A few little lies never hurt anyone. Right?
Paul has a plan. He has a vision of a better future, and he's going to make it happen.
If it means hiding or exaggerating a few things here and there, no harm done.
But when he charms his way on to a family holiday...
And finds himself trapped among tensions and emotions he doesn't understand...
By the time he starts to realise that however painful the truth is, it's the lies that cause the real damage...
Well, by then, it might just be too late.

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant was published by Mulholland Books in July 2016.

My hardback copy of Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year, I had heard great things about this novel and have enjoyed reading this author in the past. I always take some time out during the Summer months to catch up with the books that I've missed along the way, and this was my first of those reads.

Set on a fictional Greek island, but one that bears a remarkable resemblance to Corfu, Lie With Me is a masterfully written story of dark anger, intrigue and hidden secrets. The author sets her scene incredibly well, and her descriptive style transported me to Greece. As the lead character, Paul, arrives on the island, the sights, smells and sounds are magnificently portrayed - anyone who has visited a Greek island will recognise that first hit of hot diesel fumes mingling in with charcoaled meat, and the stonemasons and garden centres that dot the landscape of the outskirts of the cities.

Paul Morris is the lead character, and narrator of this intriguing and immensely satisfying psychological thriller. He's mid-forties, the author of one mildly successful novel and also one of the most hateful characters ever imagined.  The reader will hate him, the other characters dislike him, and I don't really think he actually likes himself; this is what drives this story; his total self-absorption. Paul uses people, he thinks he's clever and tries to manipulate people. When he bumps into an old friend, and then begins a relationship with Alice, he thinks he's hit the jackpot. Widowed Alice appears to be vulnerable and lonely and when she invites him to join her and her friends in Greece, Paul jumps at the chance.

The holiday doesn't quite begin as Paul would have wanted, and this is just the beginning of his misogynistic and appalling behaviour, which only gets worse throughout the holiday. As long held secrets and crimes are slowly uncovered, the tension in this clever author's writing increases right up to the surprising and unexpected ending.

Lie With Me is populated with characters that are complex and intricate, the plot is multi-layered, clever and intriguing. Sabine Durrant has produced an unsettling, disturbing and twisted story that plays with the mind and lingers for days after the final page is turned.

Sabine Durrant is the author of two psychological thrillers, Under Your Skin and Remember Me This Way.
Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles.
She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines.
She lives in South London with her partner and their three children.

Follow her on Twitter @SabineDurrant

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall @TorUdall @BloomsburyBooks @PhilippaCotton

After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life.
Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall.
Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed?
Harry's purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something - or someone - who will root him more firmly to the earth.
Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall is published by Bloomsbury in hardback on 15 June 2017 and is the author's debut novel.

There are some times when I really wish I hadn't started this blog, and this is one of those times. Why? Because, I know that I'm not able to do this book justice with my words. The beauty of this book, from the exquisite cover, through the incredible writing, right up to the final paragraph is outstanding, the characters are lingering in my head, in my heart.

Usually when I begin a new book, I dive in and read as much as I can straight away. The first two pages of A Thousand Paper Birds, entitled 'Audrey's Smile' stopped me in my tracks. I read it, I read it again, I read it out loud to my husband. These are two short pages of pure beauty; poignant, emotional and so effective, and really are a taste of the joys to come from this story.

This is the story of four adults and one child, set against the exotic and astonishing backdrop of Kew Gardens in London. The garden itself becomes a character, as this talented author describes the flowers, the peace, the joy and the sorrow that are found there. Jonah's wife Audrey is dead, he is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his young, beautiful wife. His grief is all consuming and is an extension of his relationship with Audrey, for they grieved together over the years, for the children that didn't arrive.

Chloe is an artist, Harry is a gardener and child Milly is a precocious and effervescent girl who finds joy in everything. These three characters hold the clues to Audrey's death, and to the events that led up to that tragic day when she crashed her car, and didn't come home.

I truly felt as though these characters were written for me! As they spoke, I nodded in agreement, I felt them, I understood them completely. I am a page-corner-bender, when I find a phrase or a line in a book that touches me, I bend over the page. Sometimes I am criticised for it, when I came across this conversation between Harry and Audrey, I sighed in appreciation;

"I've never understood why people get angry when someone turns down a corner. I bet some authors love to have their books underlined, doodled on - to be lived in."
"The book I'm reading at the moment is crinkled with bathwater. There are coffee spills, a greasy stain - perhaps mayo - ."
"So your own life has become part of the story?"
I have lots of folded corners in my copy, this book is packed with phrases and dialogue that took away my breath, and occasionally brought tears to my eyes.

A Thousand Paper Birds is so so intricate, so very perfectly balanced. There's a touch of magical realism that fits so smoothly into the story and the author handles the delicate subjects of death and grief so very well. Whilst some of the characters may be ethereal, their stories and feelings are human and authentic.

Tor Udall takes the process of grieving and handles it with delicacy and ease. These relationships are rich and crafted so very well.

A beautiful beautiful novel that should be savoured and treasured, and will be remembered for a long time. Stunning, Just stunning.

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

After studying theatre and film at Bristol University, Tor Udall co-founded a dance-theatre company and spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing.
Having won a competition at the age of nineteen, she directed a theatre piece for the Olivier stage at the National Theatre.
She also choreographed an opera for the Royal College of Music. She taught theatre and dance for several years and currently works part-time as an editor for a creative consultancy.
She lives in London with her husband and two young children.
A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel.

Follow her on Twitter @TorUdall

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A Manual For Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink @CathyReadsBooks @picadorbooks @CamillaElworthy

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was still a teenager, her happy family was torn apart by an unthinkable tragedy. 
In A Manual for Heartache she describes how she learnt to live with grief and loss and find joy in the world again. She explores how to cope with life at its most difficult and overwhelming and how we can emerge from suffering forever changed, but filled with hope.
This is a moving, warm and uplifting book that offers solidarity and comfort to anyone going through a painful time, whatever it might be. It's a book that will help to soothe an aching heart and assure its readers that they're not alone.

A Manual For Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink is published in hardback by Picador on 29 June 2017 and is the author's second book. I read and reviewed her first, The Last Act of Love here on Random Things in July 2015.

Life hurts .... yes, it does. Yes, it bloody well does, and often. Cathy Rentzenbrink begins her book with those two words, and wonders why we are surprised that life hurts us. I like to think we are constantly surprised each time life takes a great big bite out of us because, on the whole, we want to believe that life it great, and fun and full of wonderful things. And, yes, it is, but when it decides to turn against us, it hurts so much, and that hurt is often overwhelming, and hard to deal with. It's often difficult to believe that life will ever be pain free again.

My copy of A Manual for Heartache is full of turned-down page corners; marking some wonderful and wise words that I am determined to remember when life begins to feel sore. When Cathy Rentzenbrink published her first book; The Last Act of Love, she exposed her inner-most feelings, she was so brutally honest about how her brother's death affected her, her words within that book have stayed with me for the two years since I read it.

Writing that book didn't heal the author, or take away all of the pain. She's frankly honest within the pages of this latest book about her depression, and how it can floor her for days. She's also done a wonderful thing by sharing her own coping strategies here for other people. Those of us who have experienced personal heartbreak can only benefit from reading A Manual for Heartache, a book that the author herself describes as "a verbal cuddle, or a loving message in a bottle - tossed into the sea to wash up at the feet of someone in need."

Although this book is short and slim (and very beautifully presented), it is absolutely packed full of down to earth wisdom. Cathy Rentzenbrink's  understanding of the human psyche is not the result of years of psychological study, it is down to her truly empathic nature. She realises that some people find it very difficult to talk to someone who is going through heartbreak, she doesn't criticise but she offers solutions. She offers ways of making sure that we can truly care for someone in crisis without being patronising, or frightened ... but by being human, and kind and true.

I really do urge everyone to buy a copy of this book, read it and keep it. Every single one of us will find something in there that will help us, at some point in our life. If you are one of the 'one in four' who have a mental illness; if you lose a loved one, there is something to help you. It doesn't matter if your heartache is personal to you, or is the result of some far flung politician's decision, or due to a terrible story you saw on the news. The author talks about how feeling powerless doesn't mean that we can't do little things to make things feel better, and for me, this was the part of the book that had most effect. As I watch Question Time, or hear Trump's latest speech and feel my heart aching for our future, I will write down five good things about life, or eat cheese on toast, or kiss my husband, and hope that those small, good things will lessen the pain.

A Manual for Heartache is required reading, it is uplifting and wise and truly wonderful.

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

Cathy Rentzenbrink was born in Cornwall, grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in London, where she works as a writer and journalist.

She is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize

Follow her on Twitter @CathyReadsBooks 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong @rachelkhong @scribnerUK @jessbarratt88


Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he's moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. 
At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.  
Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is published in hardback by Scribner on 1 June 2017 and is the author's first novel.

Sometimes it is the smallest, slimmest novels that have the most impact. Nestled within the less than two hundred pages that make up Goodbye, Vitamin is a story that is so beautifully crafted, the characters within creep into the heart and tighten their hold with every page.

Ruth has agreed to move in with her aging parents for a year. Her mother is struggling to deal with her father's decline into Alzheimer's and for Ruth this is also a chance to escape the reality of the steady deterioration of her own life as her fiance prepares to leave their house to live with another woman.

Ruth has always adored her father, and the feelings are mutual. Her father has a notebook that he's written in for many years, he gathered up his thoughts about Ruth as she was growing up. He noted down the seemingly mundane; the funny things she said and did and told the pages just how much he loved his child. Ruth really didn't know the other side of her father. Her mother and brother know a different man. A man who drank, who was disloyal, who was difficult to live with, but to Ruth he was her adored father.

Ruth and her mother become obsessed with reading everything available that may help them to care for her father. Food, aluminium, scientific tests - all of them are read, digested and tried out.

There are bittersweet moments in this story that will tug at the heartstrings, but for me, it was the little snippets within that notebook that told of earlier lives that really made this novel. It was a clever way of informing the reader about the family in the past, and how they had moved on.

Rachel Khong is a skilled and imaginative writer. The writing is gentle and caring, and at times, so very very funny. It is intimate, tender and frank.

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

Rachel Khong studied at Yale and the University of Florida. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Believer, Pitchfork, Village Voice and Lucky Peach. In 2013, she was named one of Refinery29’s 30 under 30. 

Goodbye, Vitamin is her first novel.

Find out more at

Follow her on Twitter @rachelkhong