Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review ~ The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob

The Founder of the House
Corazon Books
August 2014

The Founder of the House is the start of an epic family saga which focuses on the trials and tribulations of the Gollantz family, who are antiquities sellers amongst the great and the good of C19 Paris. In this time of social and political unrest, the Gollantz family and in particular, Emmanuel Gollantz, must try to live up to his father, Hermann’s  principles of reliability, sincerity and respect, but in a time of turmoil this is sometimes hard to achieve and even harder to maintain.

The Founder of the House is the first in a seven-novel series which will see the Gollantz family develop over several generations, when the politics and policies of a bygone era will be shaped by world events on a grand scale. There is much to enjoy in this opening story, the locations of Paris, Vienna and London are well described, however, as with any new series, there is much to take in and at times the narration, may seem a little dated to modern readers, but it’s worth persevering with, as there is a wonderful awareness of time and place. The Gollantz family live through some momentous times and I enjoyed becoming involved with the many twists and turns in the novel.

In this fiftieth anniversary year of the death of the author, Naomi Jacob, it is especially appropriate that some of her best books should be brought back to life. There's something quite special about the introduction of a forgotten set of books, and to give them a new lease of life, for a new audience, only adds to the pleasure of discovery for a new generation of readers of romantic fiction.

My thanks to Ian Skillicorn at Great Stories with Heart
Corazon Books for my ecopy of this book.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson

1888 -1918

T.P. Cameron Wilson

Magpies in Picardy

The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)

Theodore Wilson was born in Devon and educated at Oxford but left without a degree. He enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters and reached the Western Front in  February 1916. His poem Magpies in Picardy was published in the Westminster Gazette in August 1916.

He was killed in Hermies in France in March 1918 during the great German assault.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras memorial.


Friday, 29 August 2014

The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar Book Tour ~ Guest Author ~ Kim Rendfeld.


And her latest historical novel 

Fireship Press

Kim ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for inviting us to be part of your virtual book tour and for sharing this guest post with us.

Five Surprising Facts about the Early Middle Ages

When I first sat down to write my debut novel The Cross and the Dragon, a companion to The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I knew very little about the Middle Ages, let alone 770s Francia. The history of early medieval times continues to fascinate me, and the reality is more complex than I originally thought. Here are five things that surprised me in my research.

Fact One: Medieval people bathed. 

In school, teachers told me medieval folk thought sitting in a tub was unhealthy. As an author, I assumed all I needed to decide was whether the characters would notice how bad they smelled. So imagine my surprise to find out Carolingian princes took baths and changed their clothes once a week. OK, so that’s not as often as Americans who can’t live without their daily showers, but it’s a lot more frequent than my first impressions.

Baths were a requirement for palaces, and bathhouses contained hot and cold pools. Abbeys also had baths for the residents, guests, and the sick. So much for bathing being bad for health. Frequent hair-washing in the winter was to be avoided, but that’s not exactly a surprise when you consider how cold it was indoors.

Some medieval people didn’t bathe, but the reason had nothing to do with health. Abstaining from the bath was a form of penance, just like giving up wine or meat or something else you enjoy. Between baths, people of all classes would wash using basins of cold water. Just like most of us, medieval people wanted to be clean.

Fact Two: Free medieval women were not chattel. 

With wife-beating as a right and arranged marriages for child brides (and grooms for that matter), the early Middle Ages is not an ideal time for women, but women played an important role beyond producing a healthy heir. In the 770s, Charlemagne’s mother, Bertrada, for example, was a diplomat working to ensure peace between her sons, both of whom were kings of Francia, as well as Rome and Lombardy.

Charlemagne's Mother

Frankish queens were the guardians of the royal treasury, and they controlled access to their husbands. Alcuin, an influential scholar, wrote to the queen to find out where Charlemagne was spending the winter. When houseguests were foreign dignitaries, royal hospitality was key to international relations. Hospitality was more than just showing good manners. Frankish royalty would want their guests to report to their own rulers that the palace was beautiful and sturdy, the baths were hot, the table was laden, the host well dressed, and the guards and servants well cared for. All signs of power, important to project even to one’s own allies whose support could shift.

The reality was different for slaves. Both men and women were at the mercy of masters who could do anything they wanted, a frightening reality for my characters who lose their freedom in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

Fact three: Some early medieval teachings on religion will sound familiar to modern Christians. 

Christianity was practiced differently in the Middle Ages than it is today, but some lessons are timeless.  Rudolf, St. Lioba’s hagiographer, writes that her mentor, St. Tetta, told nuns furious with a deceased prioress “to lay aside their resentment, to accept the ill treatment they had received and to show without delay their forgiveness: if they wished their own sins to be forgiven by God they should forgive others from the bottom of their hearts.”

Alcuin, a scholar in Charlemagne’s court, wanted the Christian mission to convert pagan Saxons to succeed, but he was concerned with the lack of education for those new to the faith, among other issues. In letters, he pleads with his fellow Christians to teach the faith first, then baptize converts. “Moreover faith, as St. Augustine says, is a matter of will, not compulsion,” he writes. “A person can be drawn to faith but cannot forced to it.”

Alcuin presenting manuscripts to Charlemagne
Victor Schnetz

Fact four: Childbirth was considered part of life, not medicine.

No men were allowed when a woman was in labor, not the father, not even a doctor. Considering that medieval medicine was based on the ancient philosophy of humors, it might have been for the best.

Childbirth was so risky that expectant mothers were encouraged to confess their sins before they went into labor and midwives were the only laypeople permitted to baptize newborns if the baby was likely to die.

Children were born at home. If they were peasants, babies would be delivered in a one or two room house. The aristocracy, however, had special lying-in chambers, to which the mother would retreat when her time was close. When the mother went into labor, the entrance to the lying-in chamber was shut, and the windows were sealed to block out light. With the mother were a midwife, who had learned her craft from her own mother, the midwife’s assistants, and five or six female friends and relatives.

Fact five: There was such a thing as too many sons. 

When a Frankish king died, each son born in wedlock got a kingdom, and that might have weighed heavily on Charlemagne, whose family had a history of the disputed inheritance becoming civil war.

After the death of his fourth wife, Fastrada, Charles married Luitgard, probably after dating her for two years. Luitgard did not bear Charles any children, and that might have been why he married her. At the time, the king had three grown heirs. If he had any more sons born in wedlock, it could lead to civil unrest.

He did not remarry after Luitgard died. Instead, he had several mistresses, who bore children. Those concubines proved Charles’s virility and thus his physical perfection, a qualification for a king to rule.

Bonus fact for my hostess: There were cat lovers during this time period. In fact, one literally waxed poetic at an abbey in today’s Austria. A ninth-century Irish monk wrote about a cat named Pangur Ban, whom the poet calls “he” rather than “it.” In the poem, the author compares his hunt for knowledge to the cat’s hunt for mice and describes the satisfaction both get from their arts.


I can’t quite get all five facts into the following excerpts, so I’ll settle for a piece reflecting the first one, which takes place in a bathhouse.

Sunwynn poured rose oil on her trembling fingers and smoothed the oil on Gerhilda’s hair. She placed the bottle in the basket and picked up the comb.

“Soon you will be mistress of your own home.”

“Yes, I will be.” Gerhilda smiled.

“You will need servants,” Sunwynn said, kneeling to work on a tangle near Gerhilda’s waist.

“I’ll have you, of course, and two guards, my falconer, a dog handler, a groom, two menservants, and your mother.”

The comb slipped from Sunwynn’s fingers. Smiling, she picked up the comb, cleaned out the hairs, wiped it on her sleeve, and resumed working on the tangle.

“My mother will be so glad to join your household,” Sunwynn breathed.

“I couldn’t live without your mother’s tarts, but I thought she feared Pinabel as much as you do.”

“She does. But she wants to serve you, my lady, as does Deorlaf. He’d make a fine manservant.”

“I need big, burly menservants.”

“But Deorlaf is strong.” Sunwynn scooted to her left to comb out another tangle.

“He’s not big enough, and I want Pinabel to see I have four large men who do my bidding, not his.”

“I thought you liked Pinabel.”

“I do.”

“Then why the guards? Why the large menservants?”

Gerhilda laughed. “I’m not harebrained. Pinabel should know I’m protected.”

“But Deorlaf would protect you,” Sunwynn protested. “And he wants to accompany you to Le Mans.”

“He’s too thin,” Gerhilda said firmly.

“Could you arrange to have Deorlaf join your household with the other menservants?”

“Sunwynn, I know you don’t want to be parted from your brother, but you will see him again when I visit my family. For the final time, the answer is no; he cannot join my household.”

Only the threat of a beating prevented Sunwynn from pulling her lady’s hair so hard it would make her shriek.

 ©Kim Rendfeld.


Women at the Court of Charlemagne, Janet Nelson

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riche (translated by Jo Ann McNamara)

Charlemagne: Translated Sources, P.D. King

Daily Life in Medieval Times by Frances and Joseph Gies

Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000 by Julia M.H. Smith

“Capturing the Wandering Womb” by Kate Phillips, The Haverford Journal, April 2007

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

My thanks to Kim Rendfeld and her publishers Fireship Press for their help in organising this book tour and for inviting Jaffareadstoo to be part of the fun.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Review ~ The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar ~ Blog Tour 2014

August 2014

When Leova’s husband is lost in combat during a particularly vicious conflict with Charlemagne’s army, she has no choice but to try to protect her children Deorlaf and Sunwynn by whatever means she has, in order to survive. Sold into slavery, Leova watches as her children grow into adulthood, but, life is always complicated for them and there are many obstacles to be overcome.

The story opens in 772AD and steps right into the dark ages of our time when there was little respite from treachery, and where hope for justice and compassion was a lonely road to travel. Leova shows great determination and strength of will, and as she seeks retribution against those who destroyed her faith and  family, her hope for the future is constantly tested. However, throughout the story , her strength of will shines through despite the sorrow and sadness which shadows her life.

There is no doubt that the author has a love of early history and uses her considerable knowledge and extensive research to shed light on stories which could all too easily be lost in the mist of time. The historical events sit comfortably alongside a story of loyalty and religious strife and by interweaving historical fact and fiction; a story emerges of a strong family changed by extraordinary historical events.

I found the story easy to read and follow and even though this is a period of history of which I have very little knowledge, very soon the people and events started to become familiar. The trials of their interwoven lives are handled with understanding and sensitivity and soon become the driving force of the novel.

 This companion novel to the author’s earlier story, The Cross and the Dragon, highlights the author’s love of storytelling. Her desire to keep these forgotten stories of the past alive is commendable.

My thanks to Fireship Press for my copy of this book 

The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). 

To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com

You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.


Kim Rendfeld is my guest on the blog on Friday 29th August.

Come and read Five Surprising Facts about the Middle Ages.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Jaffareadstoo's Guest Review...

Simon and Schuster

Jaffa and I were delighted to be given the opportunity to be a guest reviewer on Lindsay's excellent blog 


Do pop across and read what we thought about

Thanks to Lindsay and Simon and Schuster for the chance to read this book.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Review ~ The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed..

I fell in love with this book when I saw the cover, as it reminded me of the doll’s houses that I loved to play with as a child, and there is something uniquely clandestine about peering into the hidden contents of someone else’s life and being privy to their innermost thoughts.

The story begins in 1686, and we are introduced to Nella Oortman, whose arrival at the grand house, at the side of the Herengracht canal, in Amsterdam, is set to disturb the equilibrium of all who live within it. For Nella is the eighteen year old bride of the illustrious trader, Johannes Brandt, and her presence in the house is set to disturb the balance of power of its current chatelaine, Marin, Johannes’ elder and irascible older sister. When Nella is presented with a cabinet sized replica of her home, as a wedding gift, from her largely absent husband, she starts to uncover a set of household secrets which threaten to disturb the equilibrium of the house forever.

What then follows is a compelling and intricately woven story of scandalous deceit and scurrilous gossip which, when taken as a whole, allows a fascinating glimpse into the lives and petty squabbles amongst the social elite of old Amsterdam. Time and place is captured quite perfectly, and for the time I was reading, I was so immersed in seventeenth century life, that I had to forcibly bring myself back to the 21st century. There is much to take in, not just Johannes’ unusual relationship with his wife, but also with the way in which the house functions as a whole. Marin is an enigmatic figure, she is both controlling and uncontrollable but cares deeply for her brother and as reputation matters above all else, Nella soon learns to listen surreptitiously and to keep her own counsel.

Reminiscent at times of Tracy Chevalier’s, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, I can easily see this book being transformed into a stunning film. The narrative unfolds like beautiful cinematography and there are just enough layers waiting to be peeled away, so that when the final dénouement arrives, you feel complete and know that this is indeed a story well worth the telling.

A Highly Recommended read  for lovers of good historical fiction.

My thanks to the publishers Picador and to Sandra Taylor in the Picador Press Office 
for my copy of this book


Monday, 25 August 2014

My guest on the blog is the author Dinah Jefferies...

©Dinah Jefferies 

Dinah ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for sharing the joys of writing with us...

How did I become a published author, when initially I hadn't the faintest idea if I could write a novel at all? I knew nothing about the bricks and mortar of writing, I just knew I loved reading. At that stage even finishing a novel was an achievement. It’s funny, but when you’re unpublished and sending out submissions like confetti, getting that call when an agent says, ‘I loved your book and I want to represent you,’ is the only thing that seems to matter.

Instead of that, I received dozens of one liner rejections. Thanks but no thanks.

Teddy the Terrier

Having a great family helped to get over the disappointment, plus walking the dog for hours, while trying not to cry. Then I made a huge effort to learn, as well as trying to work out what hadn’t worked in my first novel. But it felt like wading through treacle and, because I was becoming more and more stuck, I sent my novel to a Literary Consultancy. They read it and wrote a report, so then at least I knew what was wrong, though I still had to figure out how to fix it.

A massive rewrite followed. When I submitted it again, one lovely agent said she thought I had potential and to please send her my next novel when it was written. At that stage I binned that first novel and began a new one. It was the best decision.

Fast forward another year and a half. My second book was ready. I sent it to just one agent, the woman who’d said I had potential. Six weeks later, while shopping and wondering if this novel was fated to go the way of the first, my mobile rang. My excited husband was saying that the agent had called, but she hadn’t said told him why. I didn’t want to call her back from the middle of a noisy street, so raced home hardly able to breathe.

When she said, ‘I loved your book and I want to represent you,’ I shrieked like a child of six. That was nearly the end of August and on September 20th  The Separation, set in Malaysia, was bought by Penguin. It is now available all over the world and has been translated into six other languages. The Tea Planter’s Wife, set in Sri Lanka, will be published next year, and I’m already writing my third, set in Vietnam.

My life has changed. I’ve been on a book tour in Norway and have been to Vietnam and Sri Lanka for research. I still love spending time with the family, although I am ridiculously busy. Recently, I was publicising The Separation, editing The Tea Planter’s Wife, and researching book three all at the same time. My editor wants to publish a book a year, which is fabulous, but it’s a fantastically tight schedule, especially as the niche I've discovered requires considerable research.

Malaya                                                Hanoi

I write about slices of 20th Century history with all its intrigue and social upheaval and usually in exotic locations. I write about loss. I write about how hard it is to move on when the past won't let you go. I write about families torn apart. I sometimes have fun with a little dash of romantic love. But above all I write about the unbreakable bonds of love. That's the heart of my writing and it comes from the heart.

So what is it really like to be a writer? I think it’s the best job in the world and I feel fantastically lucky that my agent spotted potential in those early days. But all the old insecurities remain. Will they like it? Can I do it? The great thing is, once you’re published, you’re not on your own. You have an agent and an editor: both offer feedback and advice. That’s the best bit. It’s a phenomenal roller-coaster ride with wonderful ups, and equally awful downs, but knowing there is somebody you can turn to makes all the difference.

More about Dinah can be found on her website 
Twitter @DinahJefferies

A huge thank you to Dinah for telling us what's it's like to be a writer and for giving us such a fascinating insight into the background to her writing.


Dinah is kindly offering one lucky UK winner a copy of her book The Separation