Monday, 5 October 2015

Review ~ Still with the Music: My Autobiography by Karl Jenkins with Sam Jackson

Elliot & Thompson
September 2015

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read and review this autobiography by Sir Karl Jenkins, who has long been one of my favourite composers, and is one of the few musicians whose work I buy in CD format. I fell completely in awe of his musical skill in 1996 when I heard Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary. The clear blending of voices and the uplifting nature of its overriding melody is without doubt one of my favourite musical compositions. I have clear memories of opening the windows wide and allowing Adiemus to rocket out over the Wiltshire countryside and hearing musical magic soar like a gift from the Gods.

Sir Karl Jenkins has had an interesting life and his autobiography takes us on a clear journey from his humble roots in the small Welsh village of Penclawdd on the Gower Penisula, right through to the present day, in this his seventieth year,  when he is still very much with the music and shows no signs of slowing down.

The autobiography is easy to read with nicely structured chapters and spans from his childhood and his early career in music, through to his later, and perhaps more successful years, with the rise in popularity of his musical compositions. I particularly enjoyed reading about how in 1995 Adiemus first saw the light of day as the music for the Delta Airlines advertising campaign. Of course, since then it has gone on to become a very successful piece of music and for the last twenty years has regularly featured on Classic FM. However, for pure heart stopping sensation, I only need hear the opening majestic march of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, which was composed to commemorate the millennium, and everything in my world ceases as I listen in wonder and awe at the power of such inspirational music.

I know it’s a bit of a cliché but I enjoy reading autobiographies which take me on a journey, and it's a real delight to travel along the route that Sir Karl has travelled as he made his way through the musical events which describe his life story. His love of music is obvious and this comes across in the warmth of his words and in the fine attention to the smallest detail, but it is in the love for his family and friends, and his enthusiastic affinity for his homeland, where he comes across so passionately. 

I really enjoyed reading this autobiography and now, whenever I listen to Karl Jenkins' inspirational music, I will, undoubtedly be reminded of the man behind the music.

About the authors

Sir Karl Jenkins was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015 for services to music. Jenkins is the first Welsh born composer to be so honoured and the knighthood follows an OBE in 2005 and a CBE in 2010. He is famed for such contemporary classics as Adiemus, The Armed Man : A Mass for Peace and Palladio. He holds a Doctor of music degree from the University of Wales, has been both a fellow and an associate of the Royal Academy of Music, where a room has been named in his honour, and has fellowships at Cardiff University, Swansea University, the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Trinity College Camarthen and Swansea Metroploitan University.

Sam Jackson is the managing editor at Classic FM. He sits on the governing body of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and in the University of York Music Department’s advisory board, and is the author of two Sunday Times bestselling books about classical music.

My thanks to Alison at Elliot & Thompson for allowing me to read and review this book and of course to Sir Karl Jenkins for his music.


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Sunday War Poet...

The theme for this months poetry



London in War


Helen Dircks 

London in War
White faces,
Like helpless petals on the stream,
Swirl by,
Or linger,
And then go….

Ancient summer burns
Where green trees branch
From palaces of stone;
I see the brightness
Through a throbbing gloom,
While a death rattles
To a tripping melody….

Hot laughter comes,
With tears of ice,
Where Wear is God
And God is War;
For He has torn
The gallant spirits that He gave,
Till joy is agony,
And agony is joy….

Night falls with its olden touch,
But sleep comes
Like a bloody man,
And the stars
Are wounded birds
That fall
For ever

I can find very little about the poet Helen Dircks other than she was married in 1917 to the novelist, Frank Arthur Swinnerton but they were later divorced.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review ~ Thursday's Children by Nicci French

Penguin Books
Michael Joseph

It's always a relief when you pick up book 4 in series of crime novels, only to find that it's as good, if not better than those that have gone before. I am fast becoming fascinated by the main protagonist, psychotherapist, Freida Klein. She is truly an enigma, and previous stories have only hinted at, but never fully explained anything about her past. 

Thursday's Children, sees Freida return to her childhood home, ostensibly to look after her mother, who has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But as always Freida gets drawn into a mystery, which, although happening in the here and now, also spans decades, and reopens memories for Freida, which she had rather kept hidden.

I think this has been my favourite of the books so far, mainly because it gets into Freida's psyche and reveals just how vulnerable she is and the reasons why that vulnerability has been so well hidden.

The interesting relationship between Freida and her mother is tight and scarily realistic but it is the relationship Freida has with her teenage school friends, now much older, of course,  where the mystery really bites hard. I enjoyed visiting this wild and windswept part of Norfolk with Freida, and all credit to the authors for maintaining the momentum of the series in such a fabulous way.

I loved it and can't wait to read the next book in the series, Friday On My Mind...

About the author

Nicci French

Nicci French is the husband and wife team of journalist Nicci Gerrard and writer Sean French.

My Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph for my copy of this book.


Friday, 2 October 2015

Blog Tour ~ Dead Star Island by Andrew Shantos

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the

Blog Tour

Introducing the author

Andrew ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo....tell us why you love your publisher .....

Why I love my publisher....

I interview a lot of people in my day job (by night I write fiction, by day I write code and look after a team of computer programmers). I really enjoy interviewing; not only am I allowed to be incredibly nosy, but people actually expect it. They earnestly answer questions I can’t even ask a close friend. How much do you earn? Why did you leave that job? Why are you here? What do you love? What do you wish you were better at?

But in their eagerness to give me persuasive (and hopefully honest) answers to those questions, there’s one thing that interviewees often forget. If they’re good, then the interview is as much about me selling the job to them as it is about them convincing me to give them it. Of course, you don’t want arrogance. You don’t want someone so conscious of their greatness it’s an honour to even have them turn up on time.

Ideally you have a perfectly even balance of power. This results in a nice chat, followed by a shake of hands, and either “We’re not quite right for each other,” or “When would you like to start”.

As a writer, I found myself on the other side of the desk. And in the world of writing, the power is most definitely in the hands of the publisher. (At least, it is from the perspective of the author; in the grander scheme of things, the publisher is little more than a few acres in the gargantuan rainforest that is Amazon.)

So my task, as a writer, and particularly as a debut novelist, was to somehow shift the balance, move it towards me. There’s a simple way to do this. Write an amazing story. Simple, but far from easy. And highly subjective, of course. But my plan was that if I managed to pull off this feat, then maybe, just maybe, I’d have a nice chat with a publisher (or agent), and if we both thought we could do business, we’d shake hands, sign a piece of paper and say “When do we start?”

This was my rather naïve take on it all, anyhow, after I’d finished my second round of submissions to literary agents, received polite refusals, and wondered what on earth I should do next. I went back to work, rewrote my book, improved it in as many ways and to as high a standard as I could, sought feedback and criticism from as many sources as possible. I remember picking up the Writers & Artists Yearbook (the Yellow Pages in the UK for finding a literary agent), standing in my kitchen, about to circle a few more names, when I made a decision: No. I don’t want this. I don’t want to be in limbo for month after month, waiting for someone to reply, who may not even read a single word of it. And even if they say yes, do I want to wait months more until it’s sold to a publisher, then go through layers of bureaucracy and half a dozen departments for a year or two until it’s finally launched, when I could just do it myself in a week, then move on and write something else?

A few days later I went for lunch with an old friend of mine. We were at school together, and we see each other once or twice a year. He asked me what I’d been up to. After some obligatory mumbling about the wife and kids, I hesitated.
“What is it?” he asked.
I told him I’d written a book. I rarely told anyone, always found it rather embarrassing. But, well, it was what I’d been up to, for several years at this point.
“Oh,” he said, “my wife’s parents’ best friends are publishers. I’ll get you their email address.”

However well an interview goes, however good a candidate seems, when you hire someone you’re taking a punt on them. You’re gambling that an hour or two of being in their company, being nosy about their hopes and motivations, is enough to decide on their suitability as a colleague for years to come. That hour or two isn’t enough. That’s why it’s a gamble.

How do you increase the odds? Well it’s great, when we’re advertising for a role, if someone else in the company says, “There’s this friend of mine… She’d be perfect.” When someone comes recommended, when they aren’t a complete stranger, it makes them much less of a punt. They’ll at least get an interview.

It seems the same is true in publishing. Literary agents and smaller publishers who receive hundreds of manuscripts each week surely have a brutal set of rules for sorting through the slush pile, while still serving their existing clients. Just as I have to be brutally efficient when I receive dozens of CVs for a role we’re advertising, while still getting through my normal workload. So if an agent or a publisher receives a manuscript from one of their clients, via a trusted friend, or through a fellow professional in the industry, well, at the very least they’ll read the submission properly.

So that’s how I found my publisher. Through a friend. It didn’t get me published; I had to write something good enough for that to happen.

But I sent them my manuscript, we met up, had a nice chat, decided we could be right for each other, and they offered me a deal. I thought long and hard. It was a big commitment. There was always the option of self publishing. I questioned them carefully about what they could do for me that I couldn’t do myself (plenty, they assured me. They were right; they put large amounts of time, money and effort into editing and proof reading the manuscript; they hired a publicist, got me great reviews in national newspapers, in magazines and numerous well respected blogs). But I didn’t know this at the time. I knew I would be taking as much of a gamble as they were. But one thing above all persuaded me: I didn’t want to go into business on my own. Writing is a solitary enough endeavour, without publishing and promoting a book without anyone on your side. Eventually, after a few weeks of wrangling over terms, we both signed a piece of paper and agreed to launch the book five months later.

So really, you’d have to say that we found each other, me and my publisher. As for why I love them, well, I had to love my publisher in order to do business with them. Just as they had to love me.

Andrew, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for giving us such a wonderful insight into the world of book publishing...

What's the book about?

Alliance Publishing Press

WHAT IF Elvis, Marilyn and Jimi hadn’t died?

What if they had faked their deaths to escape celebrity life and now they’re living it up on a desert island?

This summer you are invited to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an extraordinary island paradise where sixteen supposedly dead exist in glorious anonymity – otherwise known as Dead Star Island.

Elvis is here, so are John, Diana, Keith and the parties are wild…

That is, until someone starts killing them off for real.

Now Greece’s former top cop Mario Gunzarbo is called in to solve the mystery of the Déjà vu Killer. But can the part-time tennis coach and full time alcoholic stop the killer in time to save the rest of the superstars?

Dead Star Island, published by APP, can be ordered through Amazon priced £4.99 for Kindle and £8.99 paperback:

To get in touch visit him here….
t: @andrewshantos

Fans can take a virtual tour of the island, meet its inhabitants and even apply for residency at Dead Star Island video:

My thanks to Andrew and to Katy Weitz @GhostwriterBook for their kind invitation to join this exciting book tour.

Do visit the other blogs on the tour.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Today's giveaway and guest author is .....Hannah Fielding

I am delighted to welcome back to the blog one of my favourite authors.

Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at herhomes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean.

To date, Hannah has published four novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya; the award-winning Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’ set in Italy; and Indiscretion and Masquerade (from the Andalusian Nights Trilogy), her fieriest novels yet. She is currently working on her forthcoming book, Legacy, the final title in the trilogy, which is due to be published in spring 2016.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Hannah ~ welcome back to Jaffareadstoo...

How do you plan your writing?

Having researched my facts thoroughly, I plan my novel down to the smallest detail. Planning ahead, I have found, makes the writing so much easier and therefore so much more enjoyable. I use my plan as a map. I never set out on a long journey by car without a map, and the same applies to my writing. By the time I write the first paragraph, I know the story, the characters, the setting, the mood – everything.

Do you have a set routine?

I have a very rigid routine which has served well. Once I am ready to write, I follow a daily routine that ensures I spend plenty of time writing and editing the previous day’s writing, fuelled with fruit tea.

In winter I write indoors in my office, at a big wooden desk overlooking the back lawn where sometimes I see wild rabbits hopping about. In summer I write outdoors when I can – in the gazebo in Kent, or on the terrace in France – because I love the smells and sounds and sights of nature. If I want a change of scene, I take my notebook to a garden overlooking the sea, a meadow carpeted with wildflowers or a cafe bustling with people where I can find the description for one of my characters.
It usually takes me nine months to write a book from the moment I begin my research to the time I write the word END at the bottom of the last page… It’s a bit like having a baby!

What is the best thing about writing?

The joy of escaping into romantic worlds! I have been a romantic since childhood, when I loved nothing better than listening to enchanting fairy stories on the knee of my governess. Now, I quite literally live the dream – what a wonderful way to spend my time, lost in passionate, evocative love stories.

What scares you the most about writing?

I used to be frightened of how vulnerable publishing my books would make me feel; but Masquerade is my fourth book, and I have moved past that fear now and got used to ‘being read’. Now, I suppose the biggest fear is running out of time to get all of the stories in my mind onto paper. I feel I have so many books still to write.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write but who is maybe too frightened to try?

Eleanor Roosevelt advised: ‘Do one thing every day that scares you.’ If you long to write, then make that one thing writing. You really have nothing to lose by writing if your motives are sound: if you write because you want to write for yourself, not to impress others or chase dreams of fame and fortune.

If fear is an issue, don’t share your writing at first. It took me a long time to pursue publication for my own books, and the time I spent alone with my writing was beneficial as I honed my craft and built a quiet confidence in what, and how, I write.

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

Absolutely – many more! My next novel will publish next spring. It’s called Legacy, and is the third book in the Andalucian Nights Trilogy. The plot takes place in the present day. The new generations of the three families involved in Indiscretion and Masquerade come together, and the story is mainly about healing family rifts.

Greece and Egypt, two captivating countries with a huge historical and culture legacy, are also on the map for settings in forthcoming novels.

Hannah - thanks so much for sharing some of the secrets of your writing routine. 
Jaffa and I look forward to reading more of your lovely books in the future.

London Wall Publishing

A young writer becomes entangled in an illicit gypsy love affair, pulling her into a world of secrets, deception and dark desire.

Summer, 1976. Luz de Rueda returns to her beloved Spain and takes a job as the biographer of a famous artist. On her first day back in Cádiz, she encounters a bewitching, passionate young gypsy, Leandro, who immediately captures her heart, even though relationships with his kind are taboo. Haunted by this forbidden love, she meets her new employer, the sophisticated Andrés de Calderón. Reserved yet darkly compelling, he is totally different to Leandro but almost the gypsy’s double. Both men stir unfamiliar and exciting feelings in Luz, although mystery and danger surround them in ways she has still to discover.

Luz must decide what she truly desires as glistening Cádiz, with its enigmatic moon and whispering turquoise shores, seeps back into her blood. Why is she so drawn to the wild and magical sea gypsies? What is behind the old fortune-teller’s sinister warnings about ‘Gemini’? Through this maze of secrets and lies, will Luz finally find her happiness… or her ruin?

Masquerade is a story of forbidden love, truth and trust. Are appearances always deceptive?

Hannah is very kindly giving away one copy of her novel Masquerade to a lucky winner of this giveaway.

***Open internationally **

~*Good Luck* ~

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A Book revisited ~The Glass Painter's Daughter by Rachel Hore

A Tale of three covers ...

It's an interesting concept, this idea of re-branding books by changing the cover, because what it does is attempt to re-invent the story for a new audience, and it's surprising to see just how the trend in book covers changes with the passage of time. 

When I was given a copy of The Glass Painter's Daughter to read for the Curtis Brown Book Group - my initial thought was ..oh, I've read that, and as I've also read some 600 books, or more,  since this one, truthfully,  I couldn't really remember the finer details of the story .

I hoped that my 2009 Goodreads review would come to the rescue....and it did....

Pocket Books
Here it is....

The Glass Painter's Daughter, whilst for me it wasn't quite as good as The Dream House and The Memory Garden, it is still a lovely read, with a fascinating dual time frame and some wonderful characters....I loved the descriptions of the different glass and would love to 'see' the Raphael window.....It has some wonderful angel quotes interspersed throughout the chapters...this one has always been a favourite of mine ....

It heads chapter 34...

We are never so lost our angels cannot find us.....

As you can see, I didn't write long reviews back in 2009. 

The Glass Painter's Daughter then went through another book cover change to look like this...


I'm not sure that this cover bears any resemblance to what the story is really about - it could be a totally different story...

And now in 2015, the cover has been updated again to look like this...

Simon &Schuster

I can see 'more' of the story perhaps in this cover. I get a sense of Fran, the central character, who is on a journey of self discovery, she very much a loner, self sufficient, purposeful and determined. I see her in this figure and am drawn into the journey she is undertaking. I like the shadowy church rising in the background. 

There seems to be a trend for stylized covers, a representation of what lies within, and this is almost like a story board drawing you into the concept of what's about to happen.

Book cover art is so important. As a reader, the first thing I notice about a story is the book cover.  I want to be drawn into the story, I want to look at the picture and imagine the journey I'm going to take and imagine the adventure waiting to happen.

I've given up on a book several times because I find the cover hateful - and several covers spring to mind but I won't do the authors the injustice of naming them here.

And now, the million dollar question - which, of the three covers, do I like the best.... I think it's this latest cover which I like because it makes the story feel more contemporary. I like the muted colours and the gentleness of the cover art.

So, what did I make of reading The Glass Painter's Daughter second time around...

Fran Morrison returns home to London when her father's illness forces her to abandon her successful music career. Entering Minster Glass, her father's glass making business, is like stepping back in time and for Fran it conjures memories of a past she would rather have kept hidden. When she and her father's assistant, Zac, are given a commission to restore a damaged glass picture, the angel revealed in the glass tells a fascinating story of love, both lost and won and of the tragedy and heartbreak of devastating loss.

It's a lovely, lovely story with an over riding gentle theme which gives the novel a heart warming feel. Whilst it can be considered to be rather a slow read, for me this works, as there is ample time to become comfortable with the characters and there is enough space in the narrative to enjoy the way the story unfolds. I liked the authentic way Victorian England was brought to life in Laura's story, but was equally beguiled by the present day dilemmas faced by Fran as she struggled to find her rightful place in the tantalising world of glass making. And as the past and present intermingle, both the similarities and differences between Fran and Laura's individual stories are brought to life. The angel theme which pervades throughout the story is nicely done and I particularly enjoyed the angel references which head each chapter.

It's a slow burner of a story which looks at the rawness of human emotion, with an overriding theme of redemption and hope.

We should pray to the angels for they are given to us as guardians

St Ambrose, De Vidius

My thanks to the Curtis Brown Book Club for my copy of this book to read.


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review ~ Beyond the Sea by Melissa Bailey

Arrow Books
July 2015

Freya McPherson’s husband and young son disappear at sea in what looks like a freak accident. A year later, Freya returns to their light-house keeper’s cottage on a remote Hebridean island to try to pick up the pieces of her life again. But the cottage is filled with memories of happier times and Freya is haunted by dark and disturbing dreams, which blend, both her present and her past, and where she experiences such a huge sense of loss, that her life, on waking, is filled with despair.

This is a dark and disturbing story about the power of a mother’s grief, and of the overwhelming sense of desolation when everything in life seems to be without substance. Freya is a highly intelligent woman but, like all who are grief stricken and lonely, she lingers in a dark place, caught between hope and despair, and desperately clings to the possibility that one day she will get the answers to her husband and son’s shadowy disappearance. Interspersed within Freya’s tale, are snippets of seventeenth century letters which tell of another mysterious disappearance. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell sent a flotilla of ships to Scotland to dispel royalist support in the highlands. Soldier, Edward writes longingly to his lover, Josie, of his dreams and hopes for their future together, but then his ship, the Speedwell mysteriously disappears.

I was completely hooked on the story from the beginning and felt like I was really immersed in Freya’s life. The aching loneliness she feels and the unbearable lack of answers to so many questions makes this a story that reaches out to you, so that you get an emotional connection to the characters. I enjoyed the intermingled stories, and felt that the author did a great job in bringing two very different story strands together, so that by the conclusion of the story everything comes together nicely.

Beyond the Sea is a lovely mixture of past and present, with cleverly interconnected snippets of myth and legend, and is well worth reading , not just for the story, which is excellent,  but also for the way in which the stark beauty of the Hebrides come gloriously to life.

You can find an interview with Melissa Bailey - here.