Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review ~ Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin

Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin
Corazon Books
September 2014

Sara Dane is the story of an eighteenth-century young Englishwoman who is unjustly sentenced and transported to the penal colony of Australia. The novel follows Sara's struggle to raise herself from the status of a convict to a position of wealth and power. She faces many challenges, from the savage voyage aboard a convict ship to the corruption and prejudice rife in New South Wales. Life in the Colony is harsh, and Sara has to contend with natural disasters and convict outbreaks, as well as the snobbery of the high society she wishes to enter.

When I clicked my e-reader to start the story of Sara Dane, I was instantly taken back to my teenage years when I devoured Catherine Gaskin novels and could hardly wait until my mother had finished with her copy before I grabbed it from her.

Reading Sara Dane is like being reunited with an old friend, I knew the story that of the transportation of this feisty heroine into the penal colony in Australia, but what I had forgotten was the overriding charm of the story and the way the author draws you into the period with good writing and fine attention to detail. Of course, the writing style may appear a little dated and there is less reliance on immoral shenanigans but what you get in abundance is adventure on a grand scale and some lovely light and shade touches, which make the reading of this story so pleasurable.

Sara Dane is a great historical romp by an author who was completely at the top of her game. She completed this story 1954 and after its publication Sara Dane became one of her best known books and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. If you have not been introduced to this fine writer before and you enjoy historical stories on grand scale then you could do no worse than to give Catherine Gaskin a try. Or, of course, you may be like me and wish to meet up again with an old friend, either way, I am sure you will be well entertained.

My thanks to Ian Skillicorn, at Great Stories with Heart, for reissuing this story and for being given the opportunity to read and review Sara Dane for a new book audience.

About the Author

 Catherine Gaskin


Friday, 24 October 2014

Review ~ Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

July ~ 2014

The scent of frangipani brings memories of the past hurtling back to Felicity and even though she knows she must meet her husband outside their favourite London restaurant, she can’t help but follow where the scent of frangipani leads her. For Felicity, the reawakening of memories stirs powerful emotions; she feels like she is in love, blissfully and ecstatically so, the only problem is that these feelings are targeted towards an ex-lover and not her husband.

The story that follows sees Felicity and her husband, Quinn taken to the very brink of desperation, as Felicity tries to make sense of a world in which she feels increasingly out of control. The scent of nostalgia is a very poignant force and this remarkable story delves beneath the surface of memory to investigate the very powerful and emotional recall which comes when certain fragrances are triggered; it is her reaction to these powerful triggers which causes Felicity so much heartbreak. And as Felicity starts to behave appallingly towards Quinn, such is the power of the story, that far from being irritated by Felicity’s uncaring attitude, you simply can’t help but be moved by her plight. I wanted to wrap her up in a blanket to keep her from harm but the story veers off in such a thought provoking direction that no amount of comfort blanket would ever protect Felicity and Quinn from what is to come.

In Where Love Lies the destructive nature of a love out of control is taken to the very limit of endurance, and the examination of raw emotion is beautifully portrayed. There is no doubt that Julie Cohen has the ability to get right into the heart and soul of her characters, she makes you, the reader invest emotionally, so that their story becomes your story, so much so, you simply can’t do anything but read on until the story is finished.

Read it ...or miss out !

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Pubishers for my review copy of this book.

 Julie Cohen


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Author in the spotlight is ...Kerry Wilkinson

I am delighted to welcome Kerry Wilkinson to the blog to talk about his latest book in the Jessica Daniel series of crime novels.

Jessica Daniel #8
Kerry Wilkinson

Hi Kerry ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo...

What inspired you to write a crime series?

It was a bit of an accident in that the plot for Locked In - my first book - dropped into my head unexpectedly one Saturday. If the plot for a wacky space opera with singing ducks had made its appearance known instead, I think my life might have taken a different turn.

What makes a good villain?

Someone whose motive is sound. He or she might be evil to everyone else's eye - but if the villain truly believes in their own actions, that's what makes them scary. It's why explanations such as, "The bad guy's crazy" is such a cop out.

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

I plot everything methodically, chapter to chapter. The final draft doesn't necessarily end up the way I'd originally plotted but it's there or thereabouts.

What scares you about writing books?

Nothing. There's nothing to be scared of.

What books do you like to read?

All sorts. I recently finished Stephen King's Mr Mercedes, which is a thriller. I'm reading Columbine, a non-fiction telling of the massacre and I'm also into Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley - a comic about choices, which is utterly brilliant. I never limit myself to one genre.

What’s next ?

There's another Jessica book, Scarred For Life, out in early 2015; then the second of my young adult-fantasy trilogy, Renegade, in April/May. I'm writing new stuff at the moment, too. I always have something on the go. I feel lazy if I'm not doing five things at once.

More about Kerry can be found here:

Twitter @kerrywk

Kerry - thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on crime writing. We wish you continuing success with your writing.



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review ~ Crossing the Line by Kerry Wilkinson

September 2014

Detective Inspector Jessica Daniel is newly promoted and facing a series of challenges which test her expertise and resources to the limit. Working the grim and dangerous streets of inner city Manchester is never easy and when a series of unrelated crimes spiral out of control, for her own peace of mind, Jessica needs to keep one step ahead of the criminal fraternity. The story gets off to a good start with the punchy investigation into the violent assault on a local councillor; then when further crimes start to escalate, Jessica and her team realise that they have something very dangerous to investigate.

This is my first experience of reading Kerry Wilkinson’s Jessica Daniel’s crime series, and as this is book eight, I felt like I had come rather late to the party. There seems to be a lot of back story to catch up on and there are oblique references to events of which new readers know nothing. I’m afraid, that I felt a little bit lost at times, which is why it’s always better to start at the beginning of a well established series. However, being a northerner, I did enjoy the Manchester setting, and the darker elements of Mancurian life were brought realistically to life.

Overall, the story was interesting and well controlled, although I did think that the first half of the book was a little slow in getting going, but once Jessica and her team started to work together better, the story became more interesting.

I’m not altogether sure that I would invest in the series from the beginning but if you like realistic northern crime in a gritty and uncompromising setting then my advice would be to start with book one, which was Locked In, and take it from there.

Amazon UK

My thanks to Sam Eades at Macmillan for my review copy of this book.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review ~ The Waiting Game by Sheila Bugler

An Imprint of O'Brien Books

Watching. Waiting
Watching. Waiting.
Watching. Waiting

In this chilling psychological thriller, someone is stalking the weak, bringing fear and trepidation to a group of seemingly unrelated characters. The plot moves along reasonably well and there are enough twists and turns in the story to keep you guessing until at least mid way through the book, when I did then guess the perpetrator. I rather liked the short and snappy chapters, and the author did a reasonable job in bringing the characters to life, although I would have liked a little more oomph in DI Kelly’s character as she comes across as rather one dimensional.  Ellen Kelly seems to be set adrift in a world in which she has only a short grasp on what's happening around her. Caught up in a relationship which seems to be out of control and with a shadowy past which at time threatens to overwhelm her, she seems an unlikely leader of a criminal investigation team. 

As this is the second book in the series, and not having read the first book, I may well have missed some vital information which would have made the book work better for me. I’m not saying that it’s uninteresting, and if you like crime novels in the style of Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, then I am sure this will work for you, it’s just that I expected a little more and at times felt underwhelmed, as if I had read all this before.

My thanks to Real Readers and Brandon Books for my review copy of this one.


Monday, 20 October 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Claire Dyer

I am delighted to introduce to the blog

The Perfect Affair
Claire Dyer

Claire ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for chatting to us about your book 
The Perfect Affair.

Where did you get that first blinding flash of inspiration for The Perfect Affair?

It actually came via two sources. Firstly, I was shown a photograph of a reception held sometime in the 1960s to mark the launch of a ship. There was something in the way two of the people in the photograph were standing which told me that there was more to their relationship than met the eye. They were studiously not looking at one another and yet I could feel a tug of connection between them and so started thoughts about writing a novel about characters torn between love and duty.

Secondly, I drove by a house one day which had the most amazing stained glass in its front door and this got me thinking about doorways and about the sun throwing colours onto a hallway floor. To me doorways are liminal places and so I wanted Eve and Myles to meet on a doorstep and for this boundary to represent the struggle between right and wrong that they experience in their relationship.

What can you tell us about the story that won't give too much away?

There are two stories in the novel: one chronicling Rose’s affair with Henry in the 1950s and the other following Eve and Myles’s relationship in the present day. What I wanted to show most of all are the choices the two women face in their respective generations and how some of these choices are very different from one another and also how some are very much the same. There are therefore quite a number of motifs linking the two narratives. Moreover, I didn’t necessarily want pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of their respective situations but instead to give voice to the heartbreak people can suffer and cause when they find themselves falling in love with someone they shouldn’t.

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?

I always go into a period of mourning when a book comes to an end. You’re right, I do live with them and it’s a 24/7 thing so when it’s done I experience a kind of grief. My characters move into my head and heart and even if I don’t do it consciously, I find I'm working on plot points or the scenes they will people when I’m going about my daily business. Therefore when I do sit down to write, it’s like they’re real and have been there all along and are speaking through me and so I don’t actually have much of a say. It’s all a bit weird really!

And, I guess that because of this my characters can and do change as the novel progresses. In The Perfect Affair Rose was supposed to be a bit part but she became more and more vocal and visible and, rather than it being a conscious choice, her story spilled out concurrently with Eve’s. I guess the only person who really stayed as I had intended him was Henry, but then that’s Henry for you; constant and steady!

Which character in the story did you identify with the most?

I suppose it has to be Eve because we are roughly the same age and my sons have recently been the same age as Eve’s daughter is in the novel, so there is a lot I can identify with in her life. However, to make us different from one another I made her tall with long straight hair whereas I am short with short curly hair and this helped me distance myself from her and see her story more objectively!

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

A bit of both. I do plot the overall arc of the novel; I decide on my settings and time frames and sketch out my characters and do whatever research is necessary but then I kind of let the story take over. I find my books have their own narrative urge and that if I over think things this doesn’t leave room for invention. What I love the most is sitting at my keyboard and seeing what happens. Obviously in doing it this way there are good days and bad days! I usually do have a rough idea how the book will end but don’t like to admit this to myself so as to keep it a surprise for me as well as the reader! This all changes, of course, in the editing process when I have to hone and buff my prose and ensure everything ties up but the first draft has, in the past, tended to be a bit of a voyage of discovery!

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

Yes I suppose I do. I like books that make me think, that I have to work at to tease out their meaning. Like with poetry, I like novels I come out of knowing more than when I went in! I recently did an MA in Victorian Literature and so hugely admire the technical and narrative skills of writers such as Eliot and Dickens. My favourite novel ever is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and I’m a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway but also love Margaret Atwood, Anna Quindlen, oh the list is quite endless! I am a voracious reader and am currently reading The Magus by John Fowles, have just re-read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell and The Guernsey Litearary & Potato Peel Pie Society and a recent favourite has been Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen. I’ve also just completed another MA, this time in Poetry, and have fallen completely for the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. She is, as a friend recently said, like a cat. She always falls on her feet in her poems! I do so envy her this!

What’s next?

I am currently working on another novel which is a multi-point-of-view, multi-generational story set between 1987 and now and which has trust as its core theme. So, I have my work cut out!

More about Claire can be found on her website.

Claire~ Thank you it's been a real pleasure to learn more about the writing process and the fascinating background to The Perfect Affair.

Jaffa and I wish you continuing success with your writing career.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols
1893- 1944

Robert Nichols, by Elliott & Fry.jpg


It is midday; the deep trench glares….
A buzz and blaze of flies….
The hot wind puffs the giddy airs….
The great sun rakes the skies.

No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.

Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire,
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in hell's frying fire.

From out a high, cool cloud descends
An aeroplane's far moan,
The sun strikes down, the thin cloud rends….
The black speck travels on.

And sweating, dazed, isolate
In the hot trench beneath,
We bide the next shrewd move of fate
Be it of life or death.

Robert Nichols was an English writer, poet and playwright.
He was educated Winchester and Oxford. He was in the trenches for only a few weeks before being invalided out with shell-shock in 1915, never to return.
 He worked for Ministries of Labour and Information.