Monday, 27 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the 

Before the Rains Blog Tour


It is with real pleasure that I welcome back best selling author Dinah Jefferies

Dinah and a very old Ox-cart at Shaphura Bagh farm
Photo by kind permission of the author.

Hi and welcome Dinah, ‘In your research for Before the Rains did you discover anything which surprised you about the country or its people.’

All of Rajasthan was a delight but Jaipur and Jodhpur were both very much on the tourist trail and I found that disappointing. Though most people were smiling and friendly, you had to watch your bag, count your change, and avoid the constant hassle of someone wanting you to eat in their restaurant or visit their shop. But off the main tourist trails in places like Chandelao Garh and Shaphura Bagh we met nothing but friendly open people living a life style little changed for a century or more (although with motorbikes and mobile phones thrown into the mix).

Dinah with local man in Shapura
Photo by kind permission of the author.

Little children would follow us around, villagers would smile and offer us chai, once we were even invited to sample opium tea! I declined. The hosts at both Chandelao Garh and Shahpura Bagh, though from noble or ‘royal’ families, were delightful and treated us like house guests, sitting with us as we poured over their family archives to help with my research. We were lucky that some of the local villagers, who worked for them, accompanied us round the villages and happily asked on our behalf if we could take photographs of some of the interesting characters we met. 

Dinah in Chandelao Village
Photo by kind permission of the author.

And in these more rural areas the wild life was astounding in its abundance. Away from the cities you felt you were in communities still as tightly knit into the land as they always had been. The Bishnoi villages in particular had round houses with conical thatched rooves and small walled yards. There, old men wearing exotic and colourful turbans sat just inside the doorways to shelter in the shade, but were still able to look out across the village as they chewed betel nut. 

Dinah with Bishnoi Villager near Chandelao Garh
Photo by kind permission of the author.

Women adorned with gold bangles and beautiful saris were preparing clay for the potter or mixing mortar for mud bricks, yet still they looked incredibly elegant and, though working at a hard and fast pace, their clothes remained spotless. Humming and singing seemed to accompany every group of workers. Out on the dry lands at the edge of the desert we met a lone ancient woman walking along a dirt track in a beautiful bright sari. We stopped and ‘talked’, each in our own language, neither understanding the other, but with smiles and gestures. The nearest huts or villages were many miles away yet she strode along the track in the midday heat of this desert country. 

Photo by kind permission of the author.

I suffer a lot from migraines and experienced a bad one at Shahpura Bagh. The ‘princess’ of the family was also a migraineur and she told me she knew the best neurologist in India - a friend who was a consultant in Delhi. ‘I’ll get you an appointment to see her,’ she said. Which she did. And the day before we caught the flight home I spent a morning in an absolutely teeming Indian hospital, the only non-Indian there. The neurologist was brilliant calling in another colleague who recommended I go to Queens Square in London to see the foremost world expert on migraine. I did and the good news is I am much better. So perhaps rather strangely that was the most surprising encounter I had while in Rajasthan.

Dinah's rooms at Shapura- Bagh
Photo by kind permission of the author.

Huge thanks to Dinah for sharing her wonderful trip to India with us and for allowing us a glimpse into just how seriously she takes her research. 

23 February 2017

1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband's death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza's only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she's determined to make a name for herself.

But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince's handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families - and society - think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what's expected, or following their hearts.

More about Dinah can be found on her website by clicking here 
Or follow on Twitter @DinahJefferies
Visit on Facebook

Blog tour runs until the 8th March, so do visit the other stops for more exciting content and you can follow on Twitter using the hashtag  #BeforetheRains.

Big thanks also to Josie at Penguin for her invitation to be part of Before the Rains Blog Tour


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

On the 25th February 1917

RMS Laconia was on her way back from the USA to England when she was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean 160 nautical miles (300km) North West by West of Fastnet Rock.

Fastnet Carraig Aonair.jpg
Fastnet Lighthouse

Of the 74 passengers and 217 crew, a total of 12 people were killed : 6 Passengers and 6 crew. Two of the passengers who died were American citizens, and it was the death of Mrs Mary Hoy, and her daughter Elizabeth, which raised public support in the US for some intervention in the war. A Chicago Tribune war reporter, Mr Floyd Gibbons was also aboard the Laconia and his reporting of the event was much publicised.

RMS Laconia at New York.
RMS Laconia

In March 2009 the wreck of the Laconia was found about 160 nautical miles (300km) off the coast of Ireland. The wreck was claimed by a commercial archaeology company, Odyssey Marine Exploration Company and became the focus of the Discovery Channel's Treasure Chest series of TV Programmes, entitled 'The Silver Queen'.

On the 26th February 1917

Steamship Dido

Whilst sailing from Hull to Bombay SS Dido a passenger/cargo ship was lying at anchor during a heavy snow storm just north of the Humber. At 06:15 she was hit by a violent explosion due to detonating a mine. The freezing conditions of the North Sea hampered any rescue attempt by the nearby Belgian steamer Martha. The Dido sank at around 07:20 some 4 nautical miles North North East of Spurn Lightship.

In total 27 lives were lost. These included 26 crew and one stowaway, 3 survivors were picked up by Martha and landed at Hull. Some of the bodies were recovered and are laid to rest in Commonwealth War Graves at sites in Hull.

The wreckage has been identified.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Close to Home ... June Taylor

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern Writer

June Taylor

Hi and welcome to Jaffareadstoo, June. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you started as an author?

As a child I was always frustrated that I couldn’t draw.  My head was so full of stories and I just couldn’t get them out.  But as soon as I realised that words make pictures too, I discovered the magic of language and the power of storytelling.  I’ve been writing ever since.  And there is no better place than your own imagination.

 I’ve written short plays and had a full-length play produced.  In 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with a YA novel.  But I finally found my niche writing adult psychological thrillers.  Losing Juliet is my debut, published by HarperCollins Killer Reads.

Losing Juliet is based in Manchester - so why not Leeds?

I’m extremely proud of my Yorkshire heritage, but for this book my home town just felt too familiar.  I’ve used several locations in Losing Juliet and I had to move around them efficiently when writing.  I’ve seen Leeds go from ‘Yorkshire Ripper town’ to the thriving cultural metropolis it is now, so Leeds would almost have become another character in the book as there are two time frames weaving throughout  the narrative.  I just couldn’t afford to get sentimental or nostalgic. 
So Manchester is another Northern town I love.  I’ve worked there and know it well enough to write about it.  The next book is set in Leeds!

As a writer based in Yorkshire, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books, and if so, how do you overcome them?

I remember years back when I first started trying to get an agent and a publisher, the rejection letters would often hint at me getting a London address and maybe I should think about setting my book in London instead so it would sell internationally.  Even today there’s still something of a London bias, but we are much better now at being Northern and proud.  My last agent was Shelley Instone who set up a literary agency with the sole purpose of championing Northern writers because she saw first-hand how we are still being overlooked in the industry. 

In terms of promoting and marketing books, however, I think it’s pretty much the same for everyone no matter where you live.  We can all connect to the wider reading/writing/blogging communities via the internet, and tap into our local readership via local radio, press, personal contacts and networks.  The trick is finding ways to do this without being too much in people’s faces.  

Support can come from unexpected places sometimes too.  Count Arthur Strong randomly tweeted me to say that he’d bought the book and said it was “Brilliant!”

You also have to be inventive. A former colleague made a book trailer for Losing Juliet, her husband composed the music. It already looks like a movie! (... I can dream).

 Watch it here on You Tube

If you were pitching Yorkshire as an ideal place to live, work and write - how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

As other ‘Close to Home’ writers have suggested on here, it’s probably better to keep that as our little secret.   So let’s just say it’s bleak on them there Moors, we drink far too much tea, the beer’s warm, we talk a bit funny and it’s at least twenty-five degrees colder up here.   You wouldn’t like it in Yorkshire at all!

In your research for books, do you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

A sense of place is really important in a novel so I always like to recce or draw on places I already know.  I’ve worked as a freelancer for many years so have moved about the country a fair bit, and also been lucky enough to travel the world.  In Losing Juliet the narrative shifts from Manchester, Bristol, London, over to the South of France, Rome and Tuscany, so there are quite a few scene changes.  I love all the places I write about.  I think you have to; even if it’s gritty and dark you have to find something you love about it.   

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with others?

Social media is amazing for linking up writers, readers and bloggers from all over the world, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.  Making real-life connections is so important, and joining a writing group is the best thing a writer can do I think.  I’m heavily involved in the local scene and help promote and support Yorkshire writing generally.  I’m on the Board of Script Yorkshire, a volunteer-led Organisation.  We’re a community of scriptwriters mainly, but we also have novelists and poets in amongst, and we put on workshops, page-to-stage events and have socials.  We have a very impressive list of patrons too, from Alan Bennett through to Sally Wainwright. 

 Another Organisation I help out with is Leeds Big Bookend, which calls itself the city’s ‘rock festival for words’.  I’ve done a Meet the Agent event with Bookend and we did my book launch together at the Leeds Library, one of Leeds’ secret gems.
There’s a lot going on in Leeds and Yorkshire now.  It’s really not difficult to find a writing group where you feel you can belong. 

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for bookshops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

I’ve found local support really brilliant actually.  But you have to give a little to get something back.  I really do believe that.  Some writers expect too much.  As a debut author it can be a slow build, word-of-mouth.  I’ve been invited to book groups and to appear at local festivals and events.  I’m really not a ‘me, me, me’ sort of person but I do enjoy doing these things.  So feel free to approach if I haven’t approached you. 
I’ve found my local press and BBC Radio Leeds to be very supportive too.

Where can people buy Losing Juliet?

Losing Juliet is available on Amazon both as an eBook and paperback.  

Killer Reads

A HarperCollins Killer Reads... a twisty psychological suspense about a friendship gone bad.

You can’t escape the past…
Juliet and Chrissy were best friends until one fateful summer forced them apart. Now, nearly twenty years later, Juliet wants to be back in Chrissy’s life.
But Chrissy doesn’t want Juliet anywhere near her, or her teenage daughter Eloise. After all, Juliet is the only person who knows what happened that night – and her return threatens to destroy the life that Chrissy has so carefully built.

Because when the past is reawakened, it can prove difficult to bury. And soon all three of them will realize how dangerous it can get once the truth is out there…

Watch the Book Trailer here.

You can find June on Twitter @joonLT or her website:

Huge thanks to June for giving us such a splendid introduction to her writing.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close To Home Feature

Coming next week : Nicci Rae


Friday, 24 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

 Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on The Orphan's Tale Blog Tour
with a special guest post from the author, Pam Jenoff

Learning To Love The Circus 
by Pam Jenoff

True confession: I don’t like the circus. I have vague memories of going once or twice as a child. I’ve avoided taking my own children because of all of the reports of animal cruelty. I was not particularly heartbroken by the recent announcement that one of the longest running circuses in the United States, Ringling Brothers, was shutting down.

So why did I choose to write about circuses in my new book, The Orphan’s Tale? I didn’t plan on it. I was researching in the Yad Vashem virtual archives when I came upon the remarkable story of the rescuers’ circus, a German circus which had sheltered Jews from another circus family during the Second World War. I was intrigued: I have written about the war for over a decade, yet I had never heard of such a thing. Researching further, I made another amazing discovery: a history of Jewish circus dynasties, some with a dozen children and multiple traveling circuses, which had persisted for centuries and were wiped out by the war.

As I read, I found myself crafting a story of two women: Noa, a young girl fleeing with a child, who finds shelter with the circus, and Astrid, a Jewish aerialist from one of the great circus families. There were so many fascinating things to learn. First, I learned about how the circuses traveled operated. I never knew there was so much strategy to how the ring is set up and how they sequence the acts. I also had to study how they were able to persist through the war and the toll it took on them. Finally, I learned a great deal about aerial arts, an especially flying trapeze. I even had an aerialist on call to answer questions!

One question I’m often asked is whether I had to go see the circus as part of my research. I wrestled with that; as I mentioned, I don’t like the circus, but I wanted to be thorough. Ultimately, I decided not to go because the modern American circus is very different from the traditional European circus and I didn’t want to distort my research. So I relied on books, periodicals, old movies, photographs and first person narratives instead.

After spending more than a year with the circus, I can still honestly say I don’t love it. But what I learned is that these were not circus stories. These were human stories, of families and fortunes, of lives lost and saved. The circus of life, a topsy-turvy series of tumbles and lifts that leave us all breathless, of failure and redemption and ultimately of heroism and hope. And who doesn’t love all that in a book?

About the book

Cast out by her family in Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him in the snowy night into the woods surrounding the tracks. She stumbles upon a German circus, led by the famous Herr Neuhoff, where each performer has their own history and secrets. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition – she must earn her keep, and the circus is short of an aerialist. Noa will be trained by the star trapeze artist, Astrid, but first they must learn to trust one another: as they soar high above the crowds, there are more than just their own lives at stake. And as it becomes clear that even the circus cannot hide from the war forever, loyalty may prove the most dangerous trait of all.
The Nightingale meets Water For Elephants in this powerful story of friendship, love and sacrifice loosely based on several true stories from World War II, uncovered by Jenoff in her research.

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including The Kommandant’s Girl, which was a finalist for both the Quill awards and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal.  Pam draws inspiration for her books from her service as a diplomat for the State Department in Europe working on Holocaust issues, and her experiences as the politically-appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon.  She also practiced law at a large firm and in-house, and is on the faculty of Rutgers School of Law.  Pam received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University, her master’s degree in history from Cambridge University, and her juris doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Find out more about Pam on her website by clicking here 

Facebook  or follow her on Twitter @PamJenoff.

Huge thanks to the author for such a fascinating guest post and also to Imogen

 at Midas PR for her invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Blog Tour runs 20th - 27th February 2017


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review ~ The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

February 23 2017

What's it all about...

This is the tale of Edgware Bess, related in her own words, and a darker narrative for those that would look a little closer.

A hidden history that must be told in secret of lives too scandalous even for the Newgate Calendar.

And of love lost, which is the saddest story of them all.

My thoughts about the book...

Arriving in London, Elizabeth Lyon is assaulted on all sides by those who would, given half a chance, exploit her to the fullest measure. Hoping to entice naive country girls, procuresses, lurk in the confines of the city's deepest corners and hunt in dark shadows just waiting to pounce on their next innocent victim. And thus, begins the metamorphosis of country girl, Elizabeth Lyon, into the notorious prostitute and petty criminal, 'Edgware Bess'. With her sharp introduction into Mother Breedlove's Vaulting School, Bess’s initiation into the brothels and flash world of Romeville is swift and uncompromising.

What then follows is the narrated tale of Bess' introduction into a lively criminal underclass, of her downward spiral into a world of thievery, and of her association with the thief-takers, bung-nippers, culls and coves who loiter around the brothels and molly-houses of the parish known as the Hundreds of Drury. The colourful characters who make up this world are, without doubt, a debauched and dangerous bunch who operate within their own unique moral code, and, always, with an eye on the main chance.

It is obvious that the author has done a great deal of research and cleverly interweaves fictional alongside factual characters. The adept use of Romeville’s unique flash language takes some getting used, but, thank goodness, there is a detailed glossary at the back of the book, and all is expressed with a ready wit and a great understanding of time and place.

The Fatal Tree is a compelling and realistic account of living life in the underbelly of Regency London society.  There is darkness to the narrative which is reflected in the imagery and sensations evoked, and the characters, whilst not always particularly likeable, express such a worldly weariness that you can’t help but be moved emotionally by their plight.

Best Read With... a visit to Moll's coffee house, and a dish of coffee liberally laced with brandy...

About the Author

Jake Arnott - Author
Jake Arnott burst onto the literary scene with his debut novel, The Long Firm, a cult hit that has sold over a quarter of a million copies and was subsequently made into a BAFTA nominated BBC TV series.

The Fatal Tree is the authors first foray into historical fiction and is published  today, 23rd February 2017.

More about the Author can be found on his website by clicking here

My thanks to Sceptre and Bookbridgr for my copy of The Fatal Tree


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be interviewing the author Sam Hepburn

on today's stop on the Her Perfect Life Blog Tour

Sam welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thanks for spending time with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I was a documentary maker at the BBC for over twenty years and although I was dealing with facts, documentary making was all about shaping stories, defining characters, and finding thematic threads so moving on to writing fiction seemed a very natural next step. I started writing adventure mysteries for middle grade children then moved on to thrillers for young adults and now I’ve written my first psychological thriller for adults.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Her Perfect Life?

I was invited to a children’s book festival in Sharjah. Rather cleverly they had a mix of celebrity cooks doing cookery demonstrations and writers talking about their books and we all used to meet up and have dinner together in the evenings. One of the cooks was Lily Jones (aka celebrity baker Lily Vanilli) who told me how she’d been running a small cake stall in a London market and got ‘discovered’ by a broadsheet journalist who was desperately looking for a life-style story. The subsequent article changed her life and she never looked back. That’s when I started thinking about a young baker who suddenly gets catapulted to fame and fortune and how that could change every aspect of her life.

What can you tell us about the story without revealing too much? 

It’s about two woman – Gracie Dwyer, a celebrity cook who has her own TV series, a gorgeous husband and daughter and appears to have it all and the dark intertwining of her life with hard up, hard drinking single mum Juliette, who is bitterly resentful that Gracie has everything that should have been hers.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be? 

Not really. I have a general idea of the characters and then as I begin to write they take on a life of their own and become more complex, revealing unexpected aspects of their personalities. I think characters are much more interesting when we find ourselves secretly sympathising with their less attractive traits and actions and it’s always a surprise when I start to discover what those might be.

How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer? 

Yes, I’m a plotter who chops, changes and revises as I go along. My husband is brilliant at listening, playing devil’s advocate and throwing in new ideas and when I’m stuck we take the dog for a ‘plot walk’ and thrash out the story as we trudge around Sydenham woods.

What do you consider to be your strongest points as a writer?

Ooh, that’s difficult. The thing I find easiest is dialogue. The thing I find most difficult is describing my characters’ innermost feelings.

And finally...what do you hope that readers will take away from Her Perfect Life?

As the story unfolds I want readers to empathise with Juliet as well as Gracie as each of these characters - in her own flawed way - struggles to be a ‘good’ mother. When they get to the end however, I want readers to feel shocked, horrified and satisfied and to close the book thinking about the power and complexity of mother-love.

More about Sam and her novel, Her Perfect Life can be found by going to the author's website by clicking here 

Blog Tour runs 20th - 25th February 2017

Follow the blog tour on Twitter #Her Perfect Life

 My thanks to Sam for answering my questions so thoughtfully and also to Felicity at Harper Collins for the invitation to be part of this blog tour.


Here's what I thought about Her Perfect Life

23 February 2017

There's something so incredibly likable about Gracie Dwyer that right from the start of the book you can't help but be drawn into her perfect life. Gracie seems to have everything, a handsome and charismatic husband, a beautiful child and a successful cookery business. Thanks to her television cookery series, Gracie is recognised and feted wherever she goes but there is also something vulnerable about her which resonates from the beginning. When single mum Juliet and her daughter, Freya, enter into Gracie's life, you can't help but wonder what these two unlikely women will have in common. Juliet's harsh and brittle personality is in direct contrast to Gracie's sunnier nature, and yet a bond develops between them, which, as time goes by, you can't help but wonder just where it's all going to end for both of them.

From the start of this clever psychological thriller I was drawn into the complex and dangerous world of jealousy, control and deception. The plot is really well controlled and there are more than enough twists and turns in the narrative to keep the reader guessing. Many times I thought that I had the measure of the plot, only to have the author veer off in an entirely unexpected direction. I loved the glossy brilliance of Gracie's life and felt such sympathy for Juliet's character but what was even more compelling was the way that the author always managed to give both characters a real sense of purpose and utter believability.

Without doubt, this is a really good debut novel by an exciting new talent in the psychological suspense genre.

Best read with...Gracie's ginger and walnut biscuits and several cups of strong tea..


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review ~ Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson

Urbane Publications

What's it all about ...

The second in the Hampstead Murders series opens with a sudden death at an iconic local venue, which some of the team believe may be connected with an unsolved murder featuring Cold War betrayals worthy of George Smiley. It soon emerges that none other than Agatha Christie herself may be the key witness who is able to provide the missing link.

My thoughts about it...

I first discovered this author’s work when I read Death in Profile which is the first in the Hampstead Murders series of crime novels. That novel sets the scene for future books, and introduces us to characters who I am pleased to say make a welcome return in Miss Christie Regrets.

The story opens with a murder, the consequences of which will have a bearing on a subsequent, and seemingly unrelated, macabre discovery, and which will stretch the Hampstead police's investigative team's tenacity and resolve to their very limits. The secret at the heart of the novel has more than enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and the added inclusion of Miss Agatha Christie to the novel adds an element of charm and old fashioned mystery to what is in effect a modern-day murder investigation.

As always, the author spends time explaining both plot and malice. His turn of phrase and fine attention to detail always leaves the reader in no doubt that this type of detective story harks back to the golden age of detective investigation and to, perhaps, a more erudite way of tracking down a potential murderer.

There is an element of continuity in this second book which I liked, particularly in the way that certain characters have been allowed to develop more fully. It was good to meet up again with DS Kate Willis and her psychologist boyfriend, Peter Collins, and to ponder anew over the ambiguity of DS Willis’ relationship with her colleague, DI Bob Metcalfe. The dynamics of a functioning investigative team is maintained with all the appropriate ‘office’ politics that goes on behind closed police doors, which is fascinating to observe.

Miss Christie Regrets is a good continuation of the series and it's fair to say that whilst this story sits comfortably on its own merits, as with all series it’s probably best to start the series from the beginning. I am also pleased to note that there is to be a further continuation of the Hampstead Murders in the next installment, A Whiff of Cyanide, which is due to be released in Summer 2017.

Best Read With..A glass of a crisp Italian white and a few bite sized nibbles..

About the Author

Guy Fraser Sampson is an established writer best known for his Mapp and Lucia novels which have been featured on BBC radio and optioned by BBC television. 

Follow on Twitter @GuyFSAuthor

My thanks to the author and also to Urbane Publications for my review copy of this novel.