Thursday, 5 March 2015

Review ~ Killer Plan by Leigh Russell

No Exit Press
May 2015

When Caroline Robinson accidentally bumps into an old school acquaintance in the local park, both she and Brian share confidences about their respective partners which really they have no business sharing. Inevitably, one thing leads to another and before too long both Caroline and Brian are involved in a tragedy of epic proportions. For DI Geraldine Steel, the murder mystery at the heart of the novel comes a-calling rather too close to home and the eventual outcome tests, not just, Geraldine's skill as a police officer, but also calls into question her professional judgement, which could, all too easily, have developed into an unmitigated disaster.

I found the idea of the story interesting and felt that it could have been quite riveting were it not for the fact that I found the writing to be irritatingly disjointed in places. As the story progresses the plot seems to become increasingly implausible and, if I'm brutally honest, more than a little farcical in places. And yet, I actually rather liked the premise of the story and wanted to read on to find how the story would eventually pan out.

I do rather enjoy the Geraldine Steel Mystery series and have now read several. Each story stands on its own merits and it’s easy to pick up the back story should you come across a book in the middle of the series run. However, I'm not convinced that this is the best one I've read, but it’s hugely entertaining, just as long as you don’t want anything too complex or gritty.

My thanks to No Exit Press and Real Readers for my review copy of this book to read in advance of its May publication.


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review ~ The Lost Souls of Angelkov by Linda Holeman

Traverse Press

Set in Russia, after the Emancipation Act of 1861 when Czar Alexander II freed the serfs, The Lost Souls of Angelkov follows the fortunes of Antonina, a rather naive and spoiled aristocrat who is very much a product of her cosseted upbringing. Married to a much older man, Antonina drinks rather too much in order to escape the monotony of her life, but all is thrown into disarray when her beloved ten year old son, Mikhail, is kidnapped, in an alleged plot to extort money from her wealthy husband. When it all goes tragically wrong, Antonina must learn to cope with the consequences of this tragedy.

The story emerges in a series of character studies which helps to put both the time and place into context, as in order to know more about the social structure of Russia at this time, it’s important to learn more about the country and its people. Antonina’s rather pampered life is in the direct contrast to the life of the servant classes, for whom life is never simple. And yet, the two inevitably intertwine, particularly in Antonina’s relationship with Lilya, her personal maid and with her steward, Grisha. The illicit nature of sexual desire and the overwhelming need for revenge runs like a thread throughout the novel and yet the theme of social change is never far from the surface.

Overall, I thought that the book was a well written account of a troubled period in Russian history; a place where the prosperity of its aristocracy was juxtaposed against the wretched poverty of its serfdom. The richness of the landscape and the proud inheritance of a nation steeped in both history and intrigue comes alive in a story that seems to thrive on conspiracy and mystery. By necessity, the content of the book focuses on a rather bleak time; however, there were some lovely light touches in the narrative, particularly in the musical references, which offered a little light relief from the overall tragedy of the novel.

The Lost Souls of Angelkov works well as a social observation and is a fascinating read if you like historical fiction about the consequences and effects of momentous social and political change.

 My thanks to the Author and Traverse Press for sharing this ebook with me.

An interview with Linda Holeman is available here


Author Interview ~ Linda Holeman

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Best Selling Author

Picture courtesy of the author

Linda Holeman is the author of The Devil on Her Tongue and The Lost Souls of Angelkov, as well as the internationally bestselling historical novels The Linnet Bird, The Moonlit Cage, In a Far Country and The Saffron Gate, and eight other works of fiction and short fiction.  Her books have been translated into seventeen languages.  A world traveller, she grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently lives in Toronto. 

Traverse Press

Linda welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to talk to us about 

The Lost Souls of Angelkov.

What gave you the idea for writing The Lost Souls of Angelkov?

- The genesis of the novel comes from a few snippets of my own Russian family history. My grandmother and her family were peasants, living outside of Odessa - which was part of Russia in the early 20th century. At ten years old, she was on the dirt road outside her home with her five-year old brother. Men on horseback thundered by and scooped up her little brother, riding off with him. He was never seen again, and my grandmother couldn’t remember any details of searching for him or understanding why he was taken. As I worked on my story I wondered if the men – my grandmother had described them as Tatars or Cossacks - were stealing boys to add to their numbers to create a larger band of boy soldiers. My grandmother told me that story a number of times when I was very young, and I was thrilled and horrified by it, and it stayed with me always. As a writer, it was just too rich a part of my own family history to ignore. And so I used that one fact – a kidnapped boy – and created a story of a stolen child of an aristocratic Russian family, set amidst the chaos and ruin brought about by the 1861 serf emancipation.

Are you a plotter, or a start-writing-and-see-where-it-takes-you sort of writer?

- I’m a combination of the two. I always have a vague plotline and ideas for main characters to start with, but can never actually do a chapter-by-chapter plan, as my research constantly takes me in different directions. In Lost Souls, I knew the book would open with a child being stolen and at the end he would be recovered. I knew I wanted the story to take part during the serf emancipation, and that my protagonist was once wealthy and entitled, and her fight to find her child and the loss of the world she once knew would be her arc. Apart from that I basically just kept the faith as I sat down to write each day, and built on what the characters said and did, and what I uncovered in my on-going research to keep moving forward.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing the story? How did you overcome it?

- As I find with the writing of any historic novel, making sure there is factual research to anchor the fictional story can prove difficult, especially in certain periods of history. I found that while there are many, many books on interesting political eras in Russia, I couldn’t find anything fictional written specifically about the actual events taking place during the Serf Emancipation of 1861. This particular time — moving from the centuries-old order of master and serf to the new order of freedom — was rich and full of intrigue. The political and societal changes affected not just the serfs, but the aristocracy and wealthy landowners who depended on the serfs to help run their land and lives. While researching the years surrounding 1861 in great depth, I also discovered a mention of serf orchestras. This was highly exciting to me because I hadn’t heard of them before, and knew I’d have to use that…but again, finding enough information to be able to write about serf orchestras knowledgably and convincingly was a huge challenge. On a much smaller note, getting all the Russian names right – every Russian has at least four variations on given and family names– kept me on my toes. Again, the only way to overcome this difficulty is with endless, endless research and rechecking.

Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you “set the scene” in your novels and how much research did you need to do in order to bring The Lost Souls of Angelkov to life?

- With historical fiction, I find it takes me as long — or perhaps longer — to do the research as it takes me to write the novel. The research never ends; there seems to be something to confirm right until the manuscript goes to print. First, I find as much information as I can about the country and the era I’ve chosen for my novel, although the information keeps coming continually through the entire writing. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a lot written about a certain period in a certain part of the world, as I mention above. But I like the challenge of digging up out-of-print books and finding tiny but interesting particulars unexpectedly. I read non-fiction for the facts and fiction more for issues such as social context. I try to time it so that partway into the writing of the novel I do my travel research. It works for me to experience the country at this stage, because by then I’ve explored a great deal through my reading. This means I already have certain knowledge of what to expect, and I also know what I’m hoping or need to uncover for my own story. The plot and characters are established, although still fluid, because I’ve come to understand that the travel will create changes. Much of what I’ve written is confirmed, but there are always surprises, and it’s these surprises that can take the novel in another direction. For example, when working on The Lost Souls of Angelkov, I wasn’t planning to have any of my characters Siberian. But as I travelled through that part of the world, I was so taken by Siberia’s austere beauty and the distinctness of its people that I knew, as my train rumbled along, that it would be Grisha’s homeland. So I wrote a whole new weave into the novel after returning home.

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced you?

- It’s pretty impossible to write well in a genre unless you know it in great depth from your own reading of it, so the answer is yes, I’ve always liked to read historic fiction. I particularly like – in both reading and in my own writing - uncovering historic events and circumstances which aren’t well known. This is what happened when I was writing The Lost Souls of Angelkov: the time of the emancipation with its confusion and anarchy and changing roles kept getting more complex the deeper I went.

As to which authors have influenced me…there are so, so many, and in different genres throughout my lifetime of intense reading. But off the top of my head, the historic novels which have stayed with me for the last few years, and which I got completely lost in, were The Dress Lodger, by Sheri Holman, The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, and The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s next?

- Sorry…the work-in-progress is too new for me to start talking about – or it might lose its magic!!

You can find Linda on her website
Twitter @LindaHoleman

The Lost Souls of Angelkov is available as an ebook from:

My thanks to Linda for sharing her work with me and for taking the time to answer my questions and for allowing such a fascinating insight into the writing of 
The Lost Souls of Angelkov.

And to Traverse Press for my ecopy of this book.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review ~ Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck

Hodder & Stoughton
February 2015

They say that whatever is said on the mountain
...will echo for generations.

The Blackasen Mountain in the Swedish wilderness in 1717 is home to six isolated homesteads. It’s a bleak and inhospitable place made all the more austere by the remoteness of its people.  Fourteen year old Frederika and six year old Dorotea are newcomers to the mountain, having moved there with their parents, Maija and Paavo, from a village by the coast. Life is hard and the unfamiliarity of their new surroundings does not sit comfortably with the girls. When they discover the dead body of a man on a mountain path, the lives of those who live on Blackasen Mountain are about to be changed forever.

What then follows is a dark and brooding tale of old resentments which have been allowed to fester and of the bitterness of a group of people who have so much hidden torment that it’s difficult to really understand their behaviour. And yet, the author brings such a wealth of explanation and such fine attention to the narrative that you can’t help but be drawn into the overwhelming struggle of good versus evil. There is distrust and unreliability and huge conflict of emotion but with the author’s considerable skill a story emerges which is quite compelling and so vividly imaged that you can’t help but be drawn into the whole sorry saga of death and despair.

Not a light read by any stretch of the imagination but beautifully presented and a fine example of historical fiction that’s just perfect for reading on a cold winter's day, preferably with a warm blanket and a cup of hot tea close to hand.

My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and BookBridgr for my copy of this book


 Twitter @ceciliaekback

Facebook karinceciliaekback

Monday, 2 March 2015

Bloggers on the blog ...The Book Magpie

Bloggers on the blog

My latest Monday feature showcases some of the best of the book blogging community. 

These are the unsung heroes who are constantly on the look out for new and exciting books 

and who give so generously of their time ,energy and expertise.


I am delighted to introduce

Gillian Edwards

From the excellent Blog 

Gillian welcome to Jaffareadstoo

and thanks for taking part in our

10 questions in 10 minutes....

What makes you want to blog about books?

Well I really love blogging and writing about things that interest me and as books are my main passion, combining the two is a no brainer as they say. I like being able to share my reading interests and recommending new titles to people.

What type of book makes you happy?

A year ago I would have said psychological and crime thrillers because they were all I ever read but now my world has been opened up by all the lovely friends i've made on Twitter so i'd have to say YA books now, YA contemporary mainly. Also early 20th century historical biographies or novels.

Which book have you recommended the most?

It would probably be The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I was lucky enough to get an early proof copy last year and absolutely loved it.

Which is the best book you received as a gift?

I don't get given books as gifts sadly because people know I buy so many that I may end up with two copies but I did get them when I was smaller and the best ones then were the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. I still read the occasional one now.

Which book has sent a shiver down your spine?

I don't read really scary stories, too much of a wimp for that but S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep is really creepy.

How many books do you have, as yet unread, on your book shelves?

Way too many is all I'm saying.

Tell me about a book you’ve read more than three times?

The only book I've ever read more than once is A Christmas Carol. I used to re-read it most Christmases. It’s just the most magical book about hope, redemption and things never being too late to change.

What’s your idea of book heaven or book hell?

Book heaven is an exciting thriller, YA or Adult. 

Book hell is Alice in Wonderland! It freaks me out big time!

Where is your favourite reading place?

A comfy chair in the living room for me. There is too much distraction outdoors in the summer and I can't read in bed because it makes me too sleepy and I nod off after half a page.

What has been your favourite book of the far ?

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Its not published yet but I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy. It’s out in May and everyone HAS to read it, it’ amazing!


My thanks to Gillian for giving so generously of her time

Jaffa and I love your blog

Long may it continue.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Sunday WW1 Poem...

The theme for this month's WW1 poetry is


Behind the Closed Eye


Francis Edward Ledwidge


I walk the old frequented ways 
That wind around the tangled braes,
I live again the sunny days
Ere I the city knew. 

And scenes of old again are born,
The woodbine lassoing the thorn,
And drooping Ruth-like in the corn
The poppies weep the dew.

Above me in their hundred schools
The magpies bend their young to rules,
And like an apron full of jewels
The dewy cobweb swings.

And frisking in the stream below
The troutlets make the circles flow,
And the hungry crane doth watch them grow
As a smoker does his rings.

Above me smokes the little town,
With its whitewashed walls and roofs of brown
And its octagon spire toned smoothly down
As the holy minds within.

And wondrous impudently sweet,
Half of him passion, half conceit,
The blackbird calls adown the street
Like the piper of Hamelin.

I hear him, and I feel the lure
Drawing me back to the homely moor,
I'll go and close the mountain's door
On the city's strife and din. 

 Francis Edward Ledwidge was an Irish war poet from County Meath in Ireland.. Sometimes known as the "poet of the blackbirds", he was killed in action at the Battle of Paschendaele in 1917.


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review ~ How to Make a Friend by Fleur Smithwick

Random House - Bantam Press
January 2015

I was intrigued by the cover and the title of this book for two reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, I wondered how do we really make friends,  as most of my friends I seem to have made without conscious effort and secondly, the paper cut-outs on the book cover reminded me of spending hours with intricate paper cut-out books as a child, they were always such a  treat when I was unwell or in need of comfort.

And then it struck me that this book is about someone constantly in need of comfort, as Alice is initially such an isolated child, and the reassurance of having a friend like Sam is one bright spot in an otherwise rather sad childhood. As Alice grows to maturity, from necessity, she puts away her childish needs and Sam for a time disappears until a traumatic incidence brings him back into Alice's life.

What then follows is a microscopic look at the way families interact and of the way that our characters are largely influenced by own role within that family. Alice is emotionally fragile and vulnerable and when Sam reappears, no longer a child like figure, Alice needs to make some difficult choices.

A rather slow start to the book makes this a little hard going in places however, once the story starts to develop I felt that the narrative became more interesting.  The idea is original and quirky and a good example of analysing complex personalities and I felt that the author did a reasonable job of bringing Alice’s story to life.

My thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK Transworld Publishers for me ecopy of this book.