Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Review ~ City of Dreams by Harriet Steel

The story opens in St Petersburg in 1864 as seventeen year old Anna, the daughter of a prosperous Russian furrier, is swept off her feet in a whirlwind romance with the attractive and elegant Frenchman, Emile Daubigny. In joyful anticipation, Anna leaves her family in St Petersburg and enters married life in the glorious city of Paris, where she expects to have a comfortable and affluent lifestyle amongst the great and the good of this enchanting city. However, Anna’s circumstances change dramatically when her husband Emile mysteriously disappears leaving her both homeless and penniless. As a woman alone, in a man’s world, Anna soon discovers that she has limited choices, and as the Franco-Prussian war looms, Anna must do whatever she can to survive. In a skilful blending of fact and fiction, Anna’s story is told against the back drop of a city in turmoil, the Franco-Prussian war encroaches, not just on the way in which the city of Paris went about its daily business, but it also demonstrated the fact that lone women would be always be considered to be at the mercy of powerful men.

The narrative is nicely written with a fine eye for detail and the author’s obvious love of history and skill at historical research shines throughout the story, so much so, the era really does come alive. The majestic splendour of sharing company with the Emperor Napoleon III during a rendition of La Belle Hélène at the opera house, and of chance encounters with Alexandre Dumas during intimate suppers at the Moulin Rouge, sit quite comfortably against the more colourful and lively description of washday in one of the city’s more salubrious washing sheds. The juxtaposition of vast wealth is counteracted against the descriptions of lives which are affected just as deeply by poverty and squalor. The rich array of characters who flit into and out of the story add an undeniable charm, and yet what shines throughout is Anna’s strength of character and the way in which she was able to keep her dreams alive.

Overall, the story adds a lovely touch of authenticity to a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of a tumultuous period in French history. The ending of the book lends itself quite nicely to a continuation of the story, as there are still avenues to explore and loose ends which need some clarification. However, I am sure that this feisty heroine will find much to occupy her in her city of dreams.

 My thanks to the author for inviting me to read her novel.


Monday, 28 July 2014

The author in my spotlight is ...Harriet Steel

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Author of

Harriet ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for your novel, City of Dreams?

I often find inspiration in paintings and I love the French Impressionists, particularly Renoir. I know his work is often dismissed as ‘chocolate boxy’ but if you look closely, there’s so much more to it than that. He’s clearly fascinated by people. In his day, Paris was a place of glamour and fun and he shows this so beautifully. People loved to be out and about, seeing and being seen. For me, there’s a story behind every picture. For example, from a central spot in the scene depicted in A Dance at the Moulin de la Galette a girl stares wistfully out of the picture plane. What is she thinking of? I believe that the germ of Anna’s character grew from there. 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
A Dance at the Moulin de la Galette 

What can you tell us about the story that will pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a story that explores the themes of the fragility of dreams, the resilience of the human spirit and the powerful charisma a city can exert.

Anna, a Russian girl from a prosperous family, comes to Paris in the 1860’s with her new French husband, Emile Daubigny. Paris was at the time the most fashionable city in the world and Anna thinks all her dreams of love and an exciting life have come true, but she has much to learn.

The conflict in Anna’s story is between her desire for independence and a life she can feel proud of, and her need for security and love. Through her story, the reader will also experience the many contrasts in Parisian life in those days, as well as the drama of the Franco-Prussian war, the Siege of Paris and the brief reign of the Commune, all of which play an important part in Anna’s, and my other characters’ lives.

In your research for the novel, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Yes. I was originally drawn to the period in which the novel is set by the glamour of the Second Empire and the drama of the Franco-Prussian war. I knew the Empire crashed with the debacle of the defeat by the Prussians but until I went deeper into my research, I hadn’t appreciated the full impact of the war and the events that followed.

The war resulted in a devastating humiliation for Paris and France as a whole, and the Commune only compounded the disaster.  The death toll in the Commune was far greater than I had realised. Reliable historians estimate the figure as somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 deaths over a period of two weeks. During the 15 months of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution of 1789, about 1,500 people were executed. The far greater awareness of the events of 1789 may well be due to its exposure in literature and film, most notably Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and the famous film staring Dirk Bogarde. No comparable classic exists for the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune apart from Zola’s The Debacle, but Zola is not widely read these days. Alexandre Dumas, who might have written one, died just before the war, and Victor Hugo was by then an old man. In any case, he might not have considered such a recent sore was something he wanted to write about.

On a happier note, Paris recovered with remarkable speed. Many more of the city’s treasures survived than had been expected. The diarist, Théophile Gautier described the irrepressible excitement when the Venus de Milo was disinterred from her hiding place in the burnt-out Prefecture of Police, preserved by the apparent miracle of a burst water pipe. A major beneficial effect of France’s defeat was a complete overhaul of the mechanism of the army which had failed the country in the war. The transformation into a modern fighting force was to be of profound importance in 1914.

The Commune was also important in the annals of Communism. Karl Marx wrote an account of it from the safety of his home in London and Lenin studied it with great interest all his life. It came to be seen as a foundation for the political philosophy that took hold in Russia in 1917. When the first three-man team of Soviet cosmonauts went into space in Voskhod in 1964, they took with them a ribbon from the Communard flag.

What makes you want to write historical fiction?

From way back, I’ve chosen to read historical fiction over other genres; early favourites were the novels of Anya Seton and Jean Plaidy. When I read a novel, I want a good story but I think that if that story is rooted in a background of real events and people from the past, it gives it added resonance.

I also enjoy researching the period I want to write about. The upside of this is that many of my readers have been kind enough to say that they felt they were actually in the world of the era I was writing about. I’m afraid the downside is that I’m easily distracted when I’m researching and I wander down paths which have nothing to do with my story. Recently, I found a fascinating article about bizarre Victorian deaths, some too gruesome to repeat, but I liked the one about a man who was dressing a mannequin in his shop when his wife appeared. In an alarming case of mistaken identity, she thought the mannequin was a rival and shot him dead.     

When do you find time to write and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?

I’m lucky enough to have a writing room of my own now that my daughters have grown up and have their own homes. Sometimes I dream of a pretty writer’s retreat at the bottom of the garden or a quirky gypsy caravan painted with roses, but this is England after all. In winter, I like my creature comforts in the great indoors! I’m an early bird so I usually mull over what I’m going to write next around dawn and make some jottings. After that, the writing gets done at the time that fits in with whatever else is on that day. I try to discipline myself to reach a certain word count each week though, even if I edit a lot out later. The blank page can be very daunting. I like to have something written down to work on.

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

I’m currently working on a sequel to City of Dreams which will take the story of Anna and her family into the 1880’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, it seems I didn’t make this sufficiently clear when I first published City of Dreams and a few reviewers were disappointed with the ending as it didn’t provide a conventional HEA. Most people however considered that the novel was complete as it stood.  All the same, I hope that now I’ve left no room for doubt.

Harriet ~ thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. 

We look forward to reading the sequel to City of Dreams and hope you will come back and visit us again soon.

Jaffa and I wish you continued success with your writing


Harriet is kindly giving away a copy of City of Dreams to one lucky UK winner of this giveaway.

Good Luck everyone


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Alice Meynell


Summer in England, 1914

On London fell a clearer light;
Caressing pencils of the sun
Defined the distances, the white
Houses transfigured one by one,
The 'long, unlovely street' impearled.
O what a sky has walked the world!

Most happy year! And out of town
The hay was prosperous, and the wheat;
The silken harvest climbed the down:
Moon after moon was heavenly-sweet,
Stroking the bread within the sheaves,
Looking 'twixt apples and their leaves.

And while this rose made round her cup,
The armies died convulsed. And when
This chaste young silver sun went up
Softly, a thousand shattered men,
One wet corruption, heaped the plain,
After a league-long throb of pain.

Flower following tender flower; and birds,
And berries; and benignant skies
Made thrive the serried flocks and herds. --
Yonder are men shot through the eyes.
Love, hide thy face
From man's unpardonable race.

Who said 'No man hath greater love than this,
To die to serve his friend'?
So these have loved us all unto the end.
Chide thou no more, O thou unsacrificed!
The soldier dying dies upon a kiss,
The very kiss of Christ. 

Alice Meynell was an English writer, editor,critic and suffragist. She is perhaps best remembered as a poet.

This rather poignant poem conjures the undeniable image of England juxtaposed against the stark brutality of " a thousand shattered men .."


Saturday, 26 July 2014

Review ~ Just what kind of mother are you? ~ Paula Daly

Random House UK

Your friend's child is missing. It's your fault

Every parent’s nightmare is being responsible for someone else’s child when something happens to that child. For Lisa Kallisto, a harassed mother of three, her worst nightmare comes true when she forgets that her friend’s daughter, Lucinda, should have been spending the night at a sleepover at her house. When Lucinda goes missing, Lisa is overwhelmed not just by her failure as a responsible adult but also with the devastation of witnessing the deep grief of Lucinda’s parents as they struggle to cope with the stressful situation of the disappearance of their beloved daughter.

The real strength of the book lies in the beautiful depiction of life going about its daily business. Lisa Kallisto is typical of so many mothers, juggling a demanding full time job and struggling with the daily pressures of child care and limited income. Lucinda’s parents, Kate and Guy, are more affluent but with no less pressure of keeping up appearances. Juxtaposed between these two suffering families, is the added interest of DC Joanne Aspinall, she’s the detective charged with looking into Lucinda’s disappearance and interestingly, she comes across as a blunt straight talking Northerner, a sensible detective with no airs or graces and yet who doesn’t suffer fools. She possesses that still small voice of calm in an otherwise crazy situation.

This chilling and utterly compelling story is one of those books which grabs your attention from the very beginning and after the first few pages I got a feeling that I was reading something rather special. That old cliché of a book being ‘unputdownable’ really does apply to this story.  I became engrossed in lives that were so realistic that these really could be people you meet on the street going about their daily lives. The small Cumbrian town of Windermere and surrounding area is as much a character in the novel as the people and the sense of foreboding amongst the nooks and crannies of a small community is expertly controlled.

I am in awe of Paula Daly’s ability to control a narrative to such an extent that it feels less like reading a novel and more like having a chat over a coffee with your best friend. The writing just flows like smooth cream, never faltering, no unnecessary banter, just really good dialogue, great light and shade and perfect characterisation. Even now, after finishing this book, I still really care about the people and hope they are doing alright.

There is no doubt that this is a stunning debut novel and I know that I have just read one of my books of the year.

 My Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld  for my copy of this book


 About the Author

 Paula Daly

Paula Daly was born in Lancashire. Before beginning her first novel JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? she was a self-employed physiotherapist. She lives in the Lake District with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Just Because it's Friday..

.*.....Just because it's Friday.....*

This is Jamie Fraser


I've waited over 22 years for someone to capture the vision I had of Jamie Fraser 

and Sam Heughan comes pretty darn close...

Outlander is coming 

09- 08- 2014

NEW Outlander by Diana Gabaldon BOOK (Paperback / softback)

*~Happy Friday~*


# bookadayuk my guilty pleasure.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Review ~ Race to Death by Leigh Russell

Paperback to be published
24 September 2014
No Exit Press
Available now on Kindle

Race to Death, begins with a suspicious death at York Racecourse, which, for newly promoted DI Ian Peterson, starts a convoluted crime search. For Peterson, lately transferred to York CID, not only has to cope with a new detective team, but also with a crime scene which offers little in the way of clues or explanation. What then follows is a convoluted and complicated crime story which uses the initial crime scene as a starting block for other more complicated deaths. For Peterson and his team, there seems little correlation between the crimes but gradually truths are exposed and strands start to come together.

I enjoyed the story, it’s an easy read and yet the twist and turns are complex and well crafted and there are more than enough red herrings to keep you guessing until the end. The characterisation is particularly well done and I liked the way story started to piece together with just enough tension to keep the momentum alive. The ending of the story left everything nicely wrapped up but with the added promise of more to come from DI Peterson.

There is no doubt that the author is an accomplished crime writer, she has already had a successful run with her Geraldine Steel series of crime novels. It is interesting, now, to see her turn her attention to Ian Peterson who for so long worked in Steel’s shadow as her detective sergeant. In this, his own series, DI Peterson is newly promoted and transferred from London to York. His wife Bev, also gets more of a starring role, and as she learns to cope with living in a new town  we get more of her personality, and start to piece together the dynamics of them as a couple.

This is the second book in the DI Ian Peterson series, and whilst it is more enjoyable to start the series at the beginning, it is by no means essential as the author provides enough clues to able to pick up the finer points of the back story.

My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of Race to Death.

Leigh Russell

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Review ~ Surrounded by Water by Stephanie Butland

Random House UK Transworld Publishers

When Elizabeth’s husband, Michael dies in a tragic drowning accident which also involves a young woman, the whole community mourns his loss. For Michael was a local police officer with a record for bravery and an almost cavalier attitude to saving the public. He and Elizabeth had the perfect marriage; both of them had found their soul mate when they met whilst Michael was on holiday in Elizabeth’s native Australia. Moving to the UK and to life in a small English village was difficult for Elizabeth but with Michael’s love and the support of his mother, Pauline and his friends, Blake and Andy she soon began to call England ‘home’. When rumours start to circulate about the circumstances of Michael’s death, Elizabeth struggling to cope, pours out her feelings to her dead husband in a series of poignant letters.

What then follows is an emotional and totally absorbing look at the way overwhelming grief can cloud judgement and that despite how well we think we know someone, we can never truly know what is going on in their lives.

I found the way the story was written greatly moving and had such sympathy for Elizabeth’s character, although there were times when I didn't really like her very much. But the secrets which threaten to ruin her peace of mind are exposed in a very realistic way, that you can’t help but be moved by what you read, and it would take someone with a heart of stone not to be moved to tears by some of the sentiments expressed.

The story evolves very cleverly and builds up a picture of Michael and Elizabeth’s life together, their problems and insecurities are revealed and the underlying sadness of their lives is shared in minute detail.

I found much to enjoy in this novel, the writing is beautiful and the ultimate conclusion of the book was perfectly executed, so much so, that I closed the book with a smile on my face which, after the way the book started, gave me a real sense of satisfaction, that this was indeed a story well told.

Highly Recommended.

My Thanks to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers  for my copy of this book.