Monday, 14 April 2014

Review ~ The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

January 2014
Random House, Ebury Press

Claire Armstrong is a strong, feisty protagonist whose downward spiral into early onset Alzheimer’s disease is written with such acute evaluation that I feel like I have travelled the whole of The Memory Book wrapped up in Claire’s skin.  Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I finished this book and sat reflecting on what I had just read. I was immensely moved by the way the author really gets into the heart and soul of Claire, she tells it like it is, doesn't pull any punches and yet reveals a story which is rich in the telling and which involves the whole family; from the acute and canny observations of Claire’s three year old daughter Esther, to the heartbreak of twenty year old Caitlin as she tries to become less of a daughter and more of a mother to Claire. Shining throughout the whole of the story is Greg, Claire’s young husband, who confused and baffled by the loss of the woman he loves and desires, attempts to encapsulate the essence of Claire within the pages of The Memory Book. Claire’s mother is served a double whammy as seeing Claire’s father struggle and deteriorate at the mercy of this harsh and hostile disease makes it doubly difficult for her to witness her own daughter’s rapid disintegration into the no man’s land of merciless confusion.

The book is filled with beautiful observations written with skill and precision and such fine attention to detail that I could have continued to read on long after the book was finished. The emotional involvement with the characters is so acute that you really miss them when the story is finished.

There is nothing remotely sentimental or contrived about The Memory Book. It is bold and beautiful, heart warming and life affirming, tender and merciless all at the same time. The beautifully balanced narrative is a real joy to read and reminds us quite forcibly that "what will survive of us is love".

Without doubt this is one of my reads of the year.

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


I know from personal experience just how all consuming this disease can be as piece by jagged piece I've seen my own mother fade slowly away. It’s rather like watching the colour seeping out of a brightly painted picture and as one by one the colours of her memories bleed away I like to think that the memories are still there and that she’s just misplaced them for a while.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sunday War Poet.....

Thomas Kettle

(1880 - 1916)

To My Daughter Betty

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor. 

Thomas Michael "Tom" Kettle (9 February 1880 – 9 September 1916) was an Irish journalist, barrister, writer, poet, soldier, economist and Home Rule politician. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, then on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlisted for service in an Irish regiment where in 1916 he met his death on the Western Front. 


I have just read The Secret Scripture by the Irish writer Sebastian Barry and am aware that this author 
took the inspiration for his book's title from the last line of this poem.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Erin Lawless

I am delighted to welcome to my blog

And to be part of her book tour

 Published 10th April 2014
Harper Impulse

Miles and Nicky are getting married. Unfortunately, their wedding party is a tangle of ex-housemates, ex-friends and ex-lovers. So this wedding isn’t just a wedding, it’s a reunion. Can anything be salvaged from the past? And what really happened between them all, back at university?


Erin ~ Welcome to Jaffareadstoo and congratulations on the publication of your first full length novel. This is such an exciting time for you, thank you for spending time on our blog.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for the story?

They say to write what you know. I knew I wanted to write a novel set at university, because that was an incredibly important and formative time for me. My boyfriend – who I met at university – and I were invited to a wedding. We winced when we saw the invitation, because in getting together we’d had a rather spectacular falling out with some erstwhile friends, who we suspected would be there. It’ll be okay, I assured my boyfriend – everyone’s on their best behaviour at a wedding. And - bam - that was my inspiration for The Best Thing I Never Had!

What can you tell us about The Best Thing I Never Had that won’t give too much away?

The Best Thing I Never Had opens with the proposal of Nicky and Miles. They decide to ask their old friends from university to be their bridesmaids and groomsmen - much to said friends' collective horror, as most of them are no longer talking. The book then jumps back five years to chart the gang's final year at university - tracing how they all came together, and how it all fell apart - before returning to the dreaded wedding, where 'five years ago' rapidly changes to feeling like no time at all...

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I have always written. I used to rewrite the endings to my favourite books as a child. When I was a teenager, I fell into fanfiction and spent thousands of hours pouring prose into the dark recesses of the internet. I used to think I’d love to be a script writer "when I grew up"  – or maybe be the one who turns beloved novels into screenplays!   
When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?

I literally can’t tell you how I find the time to write. I have no idea. I think my days must be secretly thirty hours long. I somehow fit in a day job, reading at least a third of a book a day, sleeping an awful lot and very hands-on wedding planning alongside all my social media and general living. It’s a wonder these books get written! Half of Best Thing was written on my phone, as emails to myself, as inspiration struck as I was out and about.

What's next - another novel?

I’m currently approaching the home stretch of my second contemporary romance for Harper Impulse. The story follows two protagonists: Nadia, a Russian national living in England, desperate to not get deported back to a mother country she has never known; and Alex, an administrator for the Home Office Border Control who has lost his verve, pathetically in love with his flatmate’s girlfriend and who spends far too much time on his Playstation and not in the real world. Best Thing was my love letter to student hood – this book will be my love letter to being a twenty-something lost in London.

Erin, thank you. 

It's been a real pleasure to host this interview with you and to be part of your book tour.
Jaffa and I wish you much success with your writing career. We look forward to reading your next novel.

From the beginning of The Best Thing I Never Had I was drawn into the story. The novel’s opening section begins in 2012 and allows us a tantalising glimpse into the lives of seven friends and gives us the opportunity to judge their reaction to the momentous news that two of their group have announced their engagement. What then follows is a nostalgic look back to a time when the seven friends were together at university and of the dramas, petty squabbles and lustful interludes which took place and of the continuing effects of their youthful indiscretions.

I think what is best about this novel is the believability of its characterisation and the credible way in which all the friends interacted with each other. The excitement, the indecisions and the spectacular heartbreaks are all skilfully captured, and I am sure that anyone who has ever spent time away at university, with all the intensity of feelings that retrospective nostalgia can evoke, will totally understand the powerful emotional connection which is all too evident throughout the story.

The author clearly has a passion for writing and this enthusiasm is evident in the care and attention given to bringing this story to life. The intertwining of two time frames, both past and present, is achieved quite seamlessly and the way in which the story is allowed to unfold and gather momentum is a good demonstration of the storytelling skill of the author. 

This is a commendable debut book and I am sure that the author will continue to go from strength to strength in subsequent work.

The Best Thing I Never Had is available to buy from all good book shops 
and from
Paperback £6.99
Kindle 99p

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Review~ Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld


Random House UK, Transworld Publishers

Intrigued by the concept of twins and their uncanny bond of connection,I was interested to read this novel by the American author Curtis Sittenfeld. As always she gets right into the very heart and soul of the characters and yet allows the reader the time to make up their own mind on where the story is going.

Twins Violet and Daisy know from the very beginning that they are different, but their ability to see future events and people's secrets puts them into a very vulnerable position. When they are grown ups, Daisy changes her name to Kate and tries to hide away from her skill; however, Violet seems to relish the fact that she can predict the future and works as a medium. When a national catastrophe strikes, Vi is determined to use her knowledge to warn people whilst Kate is horrified of Violet's involvement, especially when Violet makes her predictions public on television.

What then follows is an interesting look at how the ties that bind us can very often force us apart but the love and compassion between the twins eventually begins to shine through and the family bond becomes all the stronger. There are some gentle moments of real perception as the twins acknowledge that their very differences are what make them special.

The author has again succeeded in creating remarkable characters and successfully brings small town America to life in a realistic and empathic manner.

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


Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the bestselling novels American WifePrep, and The Man of My Dreams, which are being translated into twenty-five languages. Prep also was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, nominated for the UK's Orange Prize, and optioned by Paramount Pictures. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

Simon & Schuster UK Fiction
February 2014

This is the second novel I have read by this author and again features the actress/ spy Clara Vine who appeared in the first novel in the trilogy, Black Roses. The story starts in Berlin in 1937 at the infamous Nazi bride school which attempts to ensure that the young women being educated there will make perfect wives for the elite SS officers. A dramatic opening sets the scene for the entire novel, which soon becomes a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten era. Clara is a feisty protagonist and very quickly gets drawn into events which are way beyond her control.

I'm not sure that, for me ,this book worked quite so well as the first book, as there were times when the narrative got a little clumsy and could have perhaps done with a bit of fine tuning before completion. My opinion is that this trilogy is better read in order as the dates move chronologically and I think would be difficult to pick up some of the finer nuances of the background to Clara’s life and personal background.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for my digital copy of this book.

Jane Thynne

Jane Thynne was born in Venezuela and educated in London. She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English and joined the BBC as a journalist. She has also worked at The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, as well as for numerous British magazines. She appears as a broadcaster on Radio 4. 


The Rose Garden by Marita Conlon - McKenna

Random House UK
Transworld Fiction
February 2014

Following the death of her adored husband, Molly O’Kelly must learn to adapt to a life without him but the prospect of maintaining a rambling family house and the disorder of her personal finances fills her with dread. Against the wishes of her daughters, Molly decides to sell her beloved Mossbawn House and move into a gardener’s cottage. In the neglected rose garden, Molly starts to find happiness again.

Set against the lovely background of rural Ireland, this book warms the heart and shows that Molly’s labour of love in putting the rose garden to rights gives her a reason to open up her heart to love once again. Filled with a delightful array of characters and rich on emotion this book takes you on a gentle journey through the pain of loss and offers hope and the promise of future happiness.

A delightful book in the style of Maeve Binchy and Cathy Kelly.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House for my digital copy of this book.

Marita Conlon-McKenna

Marita Conlon-McKenna is one of Ireland's most popular children's authors. She has written nine bestselling children's books. Under the Hawthorn Tree, her first novel, became an immediate bestseller and has been described as "the biggest success story in children's historical fiction

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Rudyard Kipling


Rudyard Kipling.jpg

My Boy Jack

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Rudyard Kipling was an English novelist and poet. He wrote My Boy Jack after the loss of his beloved son at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

Kipling is best remembered for his short stories and children's tales.