Thursday, 30 June 2016

WW1 Remembered ~ The Battle of the Somme 1916

Some time ago I visited the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston,Lancashire and whilst looking for family history information I came across this poignant document. 

This Special Order of the Day was written and signed on the 30th June, 1916 and would have been read out to the troops on the eve of the Battle of the Somme

Lancashire Infantry Museum

"...Let  each put forth  his maximum endeavour and let us advance to victory imbued with determination to win and strengthened by the righteousness of our cause..."

Review ~ The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan

Hodder & Stoughton
June 2016

A bit of blurb..

1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer's daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.

But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour - but has she left it too late?

2014, and Maggie's granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn't wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?

My thoughts..

I've had this book for a while, as I was one of the lucky ones to get an early reading copy, and the urge to read it has been so strong that I had to, quite literally, place away on a high shelf. I only took it down to read a couple of days ago, as I wanted my review to be as fresh and shiny as a new pin to coincide with its publication day, which is today.

The Farm at the End of the World set the page alight for me from the very start of the novel with its prologue, which is, without doubt, one of the most visually expressive prologues I've read in a long time. It's so beautifully descriptive that I had to read it twice over, and by the end of page two, I had the most perfect picture of Skylark Farm in my mind, and I just knew that this book would make my heart sing... and it did.

It’s a dual time narrative set in the shimmering summer of 1943, and in the difficult financial days of 2014. Skylark Farm, or to give it is proper name Polblazey, has seen much in its three hundred year history, and there is no doubt that the family who have lived and worked on the farm have faced challenging times, not just from what has happened in the past, but also from what is now happening in the present. Firmly steeped in memories, but keeping its secrets close, Skylark farm is now facing financial difficulties, and to move forward the farm must grasp new opportunities and yet, long buried secrets from the past threaten to overwhelm the future.

To say more about the plot would be to do this talented author a complete disservice, as the book should be read in its entirety without any spoilers from me, so I won’t add anything more, as you can get the gist from the book blurb.

However, what I will say is that from the very beginning you will be drawn into the heart and soul of a novel which is rich in storytelling, alive with intrigue and peopled with wonderfully warm and sensitive characters who quickly become as dear to you as friends. And then, like me, you will become so obsessed by the story that you will carry the book with you from room to room like a cherished blanket, you will smile when you see the cheeriness of its book cover and you will live, love and experience everything that this book so generously offers.

The Farm at the Edge of the World is primarily a love story, not just between two people who really deserved to be happy, but it’s also a love story to Cornwall, to its rolling seas, to its high and willful tides, to its glistening wheat fields and to its rugged landscape. And ultimately, it’s also a love story from an author to her readers. An author whose talent shines through with every word she so carefully places and who is able to conjure a world so alive with possibility that you smell the sea spray, hear the rustle of hay bales and watch, in fascination, as lazy dust motes swirl in the haze of a love so strong, it hurts.

Best Read with ...A raised rabbit pie and a jug of Cornish mead.

About the Author

Visit her on Facebook
Follow on Twitter @SVaughanAuthor

Amazon UK

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy of this book


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

My 6 in 6 in 2016...


The idea being that as the end of June approaches and we are then halfway through 2016, let us share the books we have read in those first 6 months. In fact let’s share 6 books in 6 categories, or simply just 6 books. Whatever you want to and the same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Started by 

Jo at The Book Jotter

I've done this fun round up of the first six months reading for the last couple of years and it's always good to look back and reflect on the first six months worth of books that have been on my reading list.

It's really difficult to choose just six books in each category and it's no reflection on the other books I have read and enjoyed (and their authors ) if they haven't made this list.

Here are my six in six for 2016....

Six debut authors...

  1. Katy Hogan ~ Out of the Darkness
  2. Deborah O'Connor ~ My Husband's Son
  3. S E Lynes ~ Valentina
  4. Fiona Barton ~ The Widow
  5. Eve Chase ~ Black Rabbit Hall
  6. Kate Medina ~ Fire Damage

Six authors who are new to me...

  1. Carys Bray ~ The Museum of You
  2. Janet Ellis ~ The Butcher's Hook
  3. Thomas Maloney ~ The Sacred Combe
  4. Hilary Spiers ~ Hester and Harriet
  5. C L Taylor ~ The Missing
  6. Caroline James ~ Coffee, Tea,the Caribbean and Me

Six books I have enjoyed ...

  1. Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris
  2. The Ballroom by Anna Hope
  3. In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings
  4. This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell
  5. The Farm at the End of the World by Sarah Vaughan
  6. Valentina by S E Lynes

Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past..

  1. The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien
  2. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
  3. Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat
  4. Leopards of Normandy : Duke by David Churchill
  5. Six Tudor Queens : Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir
  6. Versailles by Elizabeth Massie

Six Books that led me into a crime scene...

  1. Little Sister by David Hewson
  2. Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner
  3. Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
  4. Coffin Road by Peter May
  5. The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
  6. Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson

Six books that took me on extraordinary journeys around the world..

  1. A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding (Japan)
  2. Little Sister by David Hewson (Amsterdam)
  3. Eden Gardens by Louise Brown (India)
  4. The Last of Us by David Ewing ( Scotland)
  5. Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley (Cuba)
  6. The Midnight Watch by David Dyer ( North Atlantic)

Thanks for looking and do come back in December when I will share my twelve in twelve.!!
 And my favourite books of the year...


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Blog Tour ~ Weekend Wives by Christina Hopkinson

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of 

The Weekend Wives Blog Tour

And here's the author Christina Hopkinson to tell us  if  the village

 in The Weekend Wives is imaginary or real?

My new novel, The Weekend Wives, is a departure in that it’s set in the countryside rather than in London as were my previous four books. The village is almost an additional character in the book, its size and shape influencing the behaviour of those who live within it.

 It’s a literary departure rather than a real-life one since I’m still sat here in the smog of the capital with no plans to move any further than from here to the kettle. I think that were we to have relocated it would have been while our three children were little, but now that the eldest is twelve that window has vanished (or at least been grimed over).

The book tells the story of three women who all have partners working away from the family home and the intrigue and secrets that this arrangement produces. They want the rural idyll, but need the income that comes from jobs further afield (in one case as far away as Los Angeles).

My editor asked me, given that I’m still stuck in a place where the ground is carpeted in urban dog poo rather than bluebells, whether the unnamed village in which all the action takes place was a real place or whether I had imagined it.

To which the answer is (as so often the case), well, a bit of both. I grew up just outside a Cambridgeshire village called Melbourn. Looking back it was almost more of small town since it had a couple of pubs, both a primary and secondary school and a mini shopping centre (post office, co-op, butchers). The Weekend Wives village is much smaller than this and suffers from lacking Melbourn’s hub of shops and schools. We were also closer to London than my fictional village, well within a reasonable daily commute.

But I do remember the way that we spent much more time in the car than my children do, that a walk was something quite specific and muddy rather than just the usual method of getting around. My parents knew a lot of people in the village but had far fewer close friends than I think I do in my neighbourhood of North London, instead travelling across the county in their estate car to various dinner parties and drinks.

So my fictional village draws on Melbourn, but I’ve set it further away from the city. I wanted it to be somewhere pretty and rural, but not chi-chi. It wasn’t to be one of those country areas that lifestyle magazines say rival London in their hipness, art galleries and restaurants. The village in my head was nowhere near a Soho-House offshoot or Lady Bamford’s farm shop.

That means, to me, the West Country is out and with it the tourist destinations of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall as well as Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. No, in my imaginary move out of London I’ve gone north, but not so far that I’m in the north ‘proper’ with its independence and separateness. In my mental map I’ve driven 70 miles up the M1 and maybe off to the right a bit – perhaps Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

In fact, I have even found my inspirational village in one of those places. It’s pretty, but not chocolate box, the right distance from an airport and crucially well over two hours door-to-door commute from a London office. It’s got a discreet charm, not wearing its loveliness like a gold velvet cloak like some of those Cotswolds villages do, beckoning to second-homers and weekenders. It’s so understatedly lovely that I find myself constantly checking out the market on Right Move and fantasy-relocating. Ooo, I think, look at all the loveliness we could afford if we moved there.

And for this reason, I’m most definitely not revealing the village’s name…

Here's the blurb..

Weekend wife n. 1 a wife whose husband works away and only comes home at the weekends. 2 a wife who misses her husband when he's gone, but wants him gone when he's at home.

Emily's vision of country life was building dens with the children, walking a glossy hound and cosy nights in by the fire. But her kids are more interested in their smartphones, the family dog has 'issues' and she's permanently freezing. And when husband Matt is home, he still seems worryingly distant.

Sasha and her husband Ned used to have a great connection, but nowadays the only connection between them is via Skype. And when a woman from Ned's past comes with news that threatens the perfect life she's built for her children, Sasha feels further from her husband than ever before.

Tamsin's husband might be away during the week, but he's never truly gone. He seems to know her every move, which is fine, sort of - until her first love reappears in the most mysterious of ways...

My thoughts about The Weekend Wives..

There is a vision of an idyllic country life which exists in the imagination, and yet, for the weekend wives of a small village, some 99.7 miles from London, the reality of living a weekday life away from their husbands proves to be quite the opposite of peaceful.

When I first started to read The Weekend Wives I thought the story was going to prove to be a little bit fluffy and rather too light-hearted but, as the story got under way, it became more serious and touched on some quite significant marital problems, all of which were handled in a thoughtful and meaningful way. For Sacha, Emily and Tamsin, the reality of coping alone is tinged with undeniable complications. There are regrets and lots of hidden secrets, but their shared experiences and the formation of the weekend wives club gives them a means of support and a shoulder to cry on when they need it most.

I’ve never been a weekend wife, so I was interested to see what difficulties lay ahead for this trio of women all of whom come to the story with a realistic story to tell. I think my favourite was Sacha, who seemed to be the most balanced of the threesome and the way she dealt with her problems, perhaps, for me, seemed to be the most convincing, and yet,  I had immense sympathy for Emily and Tamsin, and perhaps, more particularly for Tamsin who seemed to have been dealt the worst of deals. I found that as I became comfortable with the characters and their emerging stories, I began to feel an emotional attachment to them, and wanted their lives to work out well. I was less enamoured of the three husbands who seem a sorry lot and quite undeserving of this trio of strong and brave women.

Overall, I thought that this was a well written story with a modern edge. The author delivers a serious story which touches on some complex issues but does so with light hearted humour and a fine eye for detail.

It must also be said that I had a particular fondness for Rafa, who had his own problems to overcome.

Best Read with...Best Read with …Sugary cupcakes and an artisan coffee, heavy on the caffeine.

About the Author

Christina Hopkinson is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times and Red magazine. She lives in London with her husband and three children.,

My thanks to the author for this guest post and to the publishers for their invitation to be part of the blog tour. 

Thanks also to Rebecca for her help with this guest post and for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Do visit the other stops on this exciting blog tour.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Review ~ The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale

Hodder & Stoughton
June 2016

A bit of blurb..

Minnie has always lived with her sister Clara in her family's beautiful, grand, yet increasingly dilapidated house Rosemount. Now in her seventies, she finds herself looking back to a life that has been shrouded with sorrow, and a painful secret that she has guarded since her teens.

Eleven-year-old Max, who lives opposite Minnie on the housing estate built in Rosemount's grounds, has grown up happily with his single mother. But his mum has begun a new relationship and suddenly life is starting to change.

As each of them tell their stories, she via a resurrected childhood journal, him via a Dictaphone, they spot each other through their bedroom windows and slowly and hesitantly an unlikely friendship begins to form.

A friendship that might just help Max come to terms with the present and enable Minnie, finally, to lay to rest the ghosts of her past.

My thoughts about The Comfort of Others..

Max is a sensitive eleven year who is very intuitive to the needs of others but it is his specific thoughtfulness to the needs of his single parent mother where the strength of his personality really shines through. Never knowing who his father is disadvantages Max but he seems to be able to cope with his fatherless state, that is, until his mother introduces a boyfriend into the mix and quite unintentionally, disturbs the equilibrium of Max’s methodical life.

Minnie is an elderly lady, who lives in the big old house on what remains of the original estate where Max and his mother now live.  Locked in a bygone world Minnie starts to notice Max and gradually the two of them begin a tentative friendship. Told in alternate chapters, we get both Max and Minnie's story of their lives. Max uses a Dictaphone because he is not a confident speller and Minnie writes her journal using a beautiful fountain pen which once belonged to her father. Gradually, as the story of both their lives starts to emerge, the burgeoning relationship between Max and Minnie is quite beautiful to observe.

The power of friendship can never be overestimated and in The Comfort of Others, the author brings together two quite damaged people and with charm and sensitivity gives them the chance to tell their individual stories and somehow, together, they find common ground.

I really enjoyed this subtle and quietly confident novel which with delicate simplicity allows the story of two damaged people the chance to come to terms with both the past and the present.

Best Read with …A slice of cheese on toast with a cup of tea in a delicately patterned china cup and saucer.

Kay Langdale is the author of five novels: Away From You, Choose Me, Her Giant Octopus Moment, What the Heart Knows (Rowohlt, Germany) and Redemption (Transita; published as If Not Love by Thomas Dunne Books.

Find the author on her website

Follow her on Twitter @kaylangdale

My thanks to Natasha at Hodder&Stoughton for my review copy of this book


Review ~ Versailles - Le Rêve d'un Roi by Elizabeth Massie

Love and Death. Sex and Violence

June 2016

Based on the scenario by Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft

British screenwriter David Wolstencroft is best known for his work on the TV series Spooks. He is the celebrated author of two spy novels. Simon Mirren has gained global acclaim for his work on the hit TV series Criminal Minds. Together, they sweep the reader away to the realm of the Sun King and unveil the secrets of the world's most beautiful palace's construction

A bit of blurb..

1667: The civil wars are over. King Louis XIV crushed the nobility's rebellion against his father; the throne is his. But far from giving up, the aristocracy hounds his every step. If they will not be loyal, they will obey, no matter the cost. To ensnare them, he must spin a web: the greatest palace the world has ever seen - Versailles - a prison of opulence where his power is absolute. Trapped by his invitation, the nobles have no choice but to play Louis' game of manipulation and treachery.

Versailles is a place of passion and death, love and vengeance. The King will take what is rightfully his.

My Thoughts..

I have long been fascinated by the salacious goings on at the French court of the Sun King during the seventeenth century, so I was very excited to discover that the BBC had jointly commissioned a drama series entitled, Versailles which is all about the machinations which took place at the court of Louis XIV.

The author, Elizabeth Massie, has based Versailles on the TV series and it has to be said that the book follows the script of the drama very closely. So with that in mind I have been watching and reading simultaneously, which has been an altogether interesting experience. I now realise that I take in far more of the story when I read rather than when I watch, and if I'm honest, I think I prefer the book to the TV version, although it's good to have a visual reference to the costumes and also to the actors who are portraying the characters. 

The novel is  nicely written and conveys both the political and social differences between Louis and his court and courtiers. There is enough superficial background to keep the novel readable without becoming too intense, and of course, there is the delightful salaciousness which is both graphic and explicit, but if you've been watching the TV series, this is only to be expected.

I'm not altogether sure just how politically and historically accurate the novel is, but all things considered, it's entertaining and very readable historical fiction.

Best Read with....A feast of boiled duck and a glass of the cordial, Turin Rosa Solis ...

Elizabeth Massie has written several historical novels as well as the novelisation on The Tudors TV series.

My thanks to Alison Davies at Corvus for my review copy of Versailles.


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered... Guest Author, Linda Gillard

As part of my ongoing tribute during this centenary of WW1, I am delighted to feature the work of some excellent authors who have written novels set during The Great War.

I am delighted to welcome the author

Linda - welcome back to Jaffareadstoo

and thank you for sharing with us this fascinating feature about the fate of gardens during WW1

DEFIANT GARDENS by Linda Gillard

In a hostile parliamentary encounter with Siegfried Sassoon, war hero, poet and - by 1917 - anti-war campaigner, Winston Churchill claimed, “War is the normal occupation of man. War and gardening”. 

I cited that quotation at the beginning of my latest novel, THE TRYSTING TREE. Its two heroes live in different centuries. Both are gardeners with military connections. William Hatherwick enlists in 1914 and Connor Grenville, from a military family, is a staunch pacifist in 2014. William works as a gardener at Beechgrave House in Somerset. Connor runs his own landscape gardening business and is restoring an old walled garden on the Beechgrave estate. 

The genesis of THE TRYSTING TREE was a question that had occurred to me when I was researching the fate of old country houses for another novel, UNTYING THE KNOT. What happened to their gardens when the staff went off to fight in World War One?

I discovered croquet lawns and flower beds were dug up and turned over to vegetable production. Gardens were managed with increasing difficulty by a skeleton staff consisting of those who were too old or too young to enlist. Elsewhere, women took on work men had to abandon, but this was rarely the case with gardens. When women were employed, they were only allowed to perform the most menial of tasks, such as weeding the gravel drive.

It soon became apparent the war was not going to be “over by Christmas” and that many men would return unfit for work or might not return at all. Since female domestic staff were leaving to take on better paid, easier and more sociable work in factories, owners of country estates had to accept they were facing the end of an era.

It was this dying world that interested me, plus the strange juxtaposition of war and gardening. The loss of life occasioned by WWI is well documented, as is the subsequent social upheaval that led to “the servant problem”, but the decline of the great Victorian and Edwardian gardens is less well-known, with the exception of the “lost” gardens of Heligan in Cornwall which have been lovingly restored.

When I began researching THE TRYSTING TREE I knew the war had destroyed much of the French countryside, including entire villages and I was aware of the slow death of so many beautiful gardens in Britain, but I didn’t know about trench gardens. Churchill was apparently right: even in war zones, then and now, people will try to grow food and flowers. One of the books I used for research was DEFIANT GARDENS: Making Gardens in Wartime by Kenneth I. Helphand. He described these gardens as “an attempt to create a kind of peace in the midst of madness and order in the prevailing chaos." 

William Hatherwick goes off to fight in France where he creates a garden at the Front using seeds sent by Hester Mordaunt, the daughter of the family who owns Beechgrave. With her brothers and many of the garden staff away fighting in France, Hester longs to be allowed to work in the garden and contribute to the war effort. Here’s an excerpt from the diary she keeps, which forms a large part of the novel…

May 2nd, 1915

Some good news at last. When I saw Violet today, she invited me in to her little parlour to listen to the latest news from William. He has started to create a garden! He and some of the other men found some tulips and wallflowers in the ruined gardens of a French village that had been destroyed by shells. They dug them up and transplanted them to make a little garden behind a wall of sandbags. William had sent a charming little sketch. I had no idea he was such an accomplished artist, but Violet said he has filled many sketchbooks over the years.

William has asked Violet to send him some seeds. I begged her to give me the list as I should like to buy the seeds myself and send them. She did so willingly.

I shall venture into Bristol to find a seed merchant where I shall buy William all the seeds he needs, then I shall make up a parcel and enclose a little letter.

I could weep with happiness to think that somewhere, someone is trying to grow something; that in the midst of unimaginable slaughter and destruction, something new will live!

Ultimately Hester’s seed packets hold the key to unlocking a century of secrets. When a storm fells an ancient beech tree revealing a century-old love hidden in its hollow heart, Connor begins to sift through the family archive his grandmother tried to destroy before her death. Who was she trying to protect? And why?... 

Kindle Edition

A bit of blurb..

A century of secrets...
Four women live in the shadow of the Trysting Tree.
All have something to hide. 


A man without a memory walks away from the Somme battlefield, while a young woman grieves beneath the tree that will guard her secret for a hundred years. 


Ann de Freitas doesn’t remember what she witnessed when she was five. The truth lies buried in the beech wood, forgotten for forty years. Can love unlock Ann’s heart and mind? 

Connor Grenville is restoring the walled garden where his grandmother, Ivy used to play. Before her death, she tried to destroy the family archive. Who was Ivy trying to protect? And why? 

When a storm fells the Trysting Tree, revealing a century-old love hidden in its hollow heart, Ann and Connor begin to sift through the past in search of answers. What they discover changes everything. 



Amazon US link to THE TRYSTING TREE 

Find Linda Gillard on her Website 

Or visit her on Facebook

My thanks to Linda for this fascinating guest post.

It's been a real pleasure to have you as our guest today.