Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review ~ After I Left You by Alison Mercer

Random House UK Transword

A chance encounter with a friend from university causes Anna to reflect on the life she has been living in the intervening years. The past comes rolling back and Anna, plagued by memories, knows that the time has now come for her to face the truth of recollection and to grasp the chance to lay aside the ghosts of her past.

The story starts off reasonably well with some good psychological insights into what makes Anna tick. She’s an enigma, slightly offbeat, but with an incredibly damaged soul and it’s that which drives the novel forward. When the story goes back in time, as it inevitably must, I found that the main bulk of the story lacked appeal and became rather predictable and I have to admit that I had guessed Anna’s secret long before it was exposed. For me, the best part of the writing came in the descriptions of student life at the fictional St. Barts College, Oxford and it would appear that the author is putting her own personal knowledge of time spent at Oxford to good use.

Overall, it’s a book about friendship and of the choices we are forced to make, which for good or bad stay with us throughout the rest of our lives. If you like stories about old friends meeting up, all of whom have unfinished business, then this will interest you, but I'm afraid it left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my ecopy of this book

Friday, 19 September 2014

Review ~ Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Penguin Books
August 2014
When a teenage girl goes missing her mother discovers she doesn't know her daughter as well as she thought in Jane Shemilt's haunting debut novel, Daughter...

The disintegration of family life is demonstrated in this story which focuses on the disappearance of teenager, Naomi. On the surface, it would seem that her parents, Jenny and Ted, both busy professionals, have their family under control, but the cracks which start to appear in the aftermath of Naomi’s disappearance show just how fragile is the gap between survival and complete devastation. The story is told in alternative chapters, mainly from Jenny’s perspective, and initially, it’s difficult to keep a grasp on what is happening in terms of time scale but eventually, the style of writing becomes easier to understand, and a story starts to emerge of family secrets, devastating lies and overwhelming tragedy.

For a debut novel, the writing is accomplished with some interesting observations made about families and the role each member must play in the bigger picture of family life. However, there were some gaps were I would have liked a little more of an in depth study. For example, I would have liked to have learned a little more about Ted, he was an interesting father figure but was peripheral rather than a shared central focus. Unfortunately, much as I wanted to like Jenny, I didn't, she irritated me so much that I had little sympathy for her plight, which, in a way, sort of spoiled the book for me. I wanted to be more emotionally involved and I was disappointed that I didn't feel more empathy with any of them.

Overall, I thought the book was an interesting look at the dynamics of family life. The final dĂ©nouement when it comes is the best part of the story and is emotional and in light of how I felt about Jenny, entirely appropriate.  

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for my ecopy of this book.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

My guest on the blog is ....Rachael English

I am delighted to introduce the author and broadcaster

Rachael English

Orion Books

Rachael welcome to Jaffareadstoo 

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Going Back

Three or four years ago, I went for a drink with some old college friends. After a couple of hours, the conversation turned to the summer we spent working in Boston. This was back in 1988 when Ireland could be a pretty grey place and when going to America felt as exotic as going to Mars. 

A few months previously, one of the group had had the opportunity to return to Boston. Superficially, he said, a lot had changed. The diner where we ate most of our meals was now a McDonald’s. The dive bar where we drank was long since closed. Despite this, he was taken aback by how familiar the city felt. Without the help of a map, he found our old apartment. Even the smell of the underground was instantly recognisable. 

The conversation made me think about how we remember people and places, and about what it would be like to return to a city where you had spent some of the most eventful months of your life. 

Tell us three interesting things about your novel which will pique the reader's interest? 

Hmmm, that’s a good one. Going Back is told in two parts - the story starts in 1988 and later jumps forward to the present day when we get to see what’s become of all the characters, especially the main pair, Elizabeth and Danny. I’ve always loved books with a ‘time jump ’like this, and, thankfully, it seems that lots of other people do too. 

I’ve also been surprised by the amount of 1980s nostalgia that’s out there - even among people who can’t have been very old at the time. The book contains plenty of references to the fashions, fads and politics of the late 1980s, so if you have a fondness for the era of big big hair, stonewashed denim and dubious rock music, you can relive it all. 

For the third thing, I’ll quote a colleague, a young journalist where I work (for my day-job, I present a morning radio news programme). He read Going Back on his holidays and afterwards told me that he would ‘never look at me in quite the same way again’. 

Did you base any of the characters on people you know? 

Not totally, but ... in the book, there’s a character called Donal who works in a five-star hotel in Boston. He invents ridiculous stories about Ireland which he tries to pass off as the truth. He believes that the more he ramps up the poverty and misery at home, the larger the tip he’ll receive from the hotel’s wealthy guests. I know someone who may have dabbled in this practice! 

Do you outline the plot first, or do you prefer to allow the story to go wherever it takes you? 

A bit of both. With Going Back, I started with quite a detailed plan. Half way through, however, I realised that the plot relied too heavily on coincidence, so I had to make some quite significant changes. I was also surprised by the extent to which characters began to veer off in different directions. Originally, Danny’s family were quite peripheral to the story, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that they had to play a central role. 

Something similar happened with my new book, Each and Every One. The main story concerns a wealthy Dublin family falling on hard times. As I wrote, however, I found I was concentrating more and more on a subplot involving a poorer family called the O’Neills. Eventually, I found a way to bring the two stories together, even though this hadn’t been my original intention. 

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

I’m fortunate, in that I don’t need a specific place or routine. If I only have half an hour, I’ll try to make the most of it. That being said, I did take some time off work this year so that I could write in a slightly more structured way. Like many before me, I’ve found that you never really let go. I might be out for a walk of making the dinner when an idea or a line will pop into my head and I’ll have to scribble it down - or text it to myself. 

What books do you like to read? 

Just about everything. In fact, I try to read as widely as possible. It really irritates me when people say they would never read a particular genre - I hate book-snobbery. I've just finished Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which I loved. I also read quite a bit of crime fiction. I was in my publisher’s office in Dublin the other day and I managed to nab an advance copy of Michael Connelly’s new Harry Bosch book, The Burning Room. My all-time favourite writer is Anne Tyler. Her writing is so beautiful that reading it feels like singing, but there’s nothing pretentious or clever-clever about her books. 

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned? 

My new book Each and Every One has just been released, so at the moment, I'm busy with that. I'm in the early stages of writing a third book. It’s about a woman who reaches a turning point in her life and about her decisions affect the rest of her family.

Orion Books
18 September 2014

My thanks to Rachael for being such a lovely guest on my blog and for generously giving away a copy of her book Going Back to two lucky winners.

Rachael can be found on Facebook
and on Twitter @EnglishRachael

Going Back and Each and Everyone are available at all good book stores or /

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review ~ Going Back by Rachael English

It's never too late for a second chance

The concept of going back is an interesting one and begs the question whether it’s ever a good idea to allow oneself the luxury of remembering times that are over and gone. For Elizabeth Kelly, her daughter, Janey’s, decision to spend a summer in the Brighton area of Boston in the United States, brings back memories of her own time of living and working in the city as a twenty-one year old in the 1980s. At home in Dublin, Elizabeth recalls this time with mixed emotion, as not only was it the first time she had lived away from home, but it was also the summer she fell in love. What then follows is the story of Elizabeth’s American love affair with the handsome and charismatic Danny Esposito, of the life experiences she shared with her group of friends and of the need they all had to escape from the realities of life for just one idyllic summer.

I was captivated by the story from the beginning and warmed immediately to Elizabeth’s character. I loved both her naivety and her insecurities and completely understood that for one perfect moment in time, away from her home and family, and the seriousness of her relationship with her Irish boyfriend, Liam, she was able to experience all that life had to offer without any of the responsibilities. By comparison, Danny is a complete charmer, his attractiveness and uncomplicated joie de vivre, is in direct contrast to Elizabeth’s more considered attitude to life.

The author writes with warmth and sensitivity and injects just the right amount of nostalgia and humour into the story. She paints a realistic picture of living life in the 1980s and then brings it bang up to date with Janey’s own personal story in Boston in 2011. The interweaving of past and present is done in a sympathetic way and there is a realistic drawing together of all the loose strands, until in the end the story comes together just the way you would want it to.

This is an impressive debut novel by an author who clearly loves writing stories. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

My thanks to the author for sharing her novel with me. Come back tomorrow to read an interview with Rachael English and for a chance to win a copy of Going Back.


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Today my guest author is David Ebsworth...

I am delighted to welcome 

David Ebsworth is the author of a new novel about the Zulu War called The Kraals of Ulundi and I recently had the chance to ask him about the research he’d done for the story, and whether he’d discovered anything that surprised him.

 It turned out that he’d been all the way to South Africa as part of his research and this is what he told me:

It really doesn't matter how much reading you do about a location, there’ll always be something that you fail to capture if you don’t actually visit the scenery in which your novel takes place.

But this was especially true with Kraals, in which much of the action is set in the former colony of Natal, and the former kingdom of Zululand, both now part of a single distinct region of South Africa known as KwaZulu-Natal. Much of this beautiful area has changed little since 1879, so our visit to KZN in November 2013 let me capture sights and smells that would have been impossible without the trip.

More importantly, since much of the story is told from a Zulu viewpoint, it was easy to make friends among the Zulu population and get help with the book’s isiZulu language, pronunciations and culture.

And making friends so easily with those remarkable people also helped me realise how long there’s been a really close affinity between the British people and the Zulus. But it took a research trip to South Africa before I understood how deeply it ran.

To some extent, British colonial officials took advantage of that affinity to launch an illegal invasion and land-grab of Zululand in 1879, but soon paid the price when a column of 1,500 British troops was massacred by 25,000 warriors armed with only shields and spears on the slopes of Isandlwana. We can easily imagine the animosity there’d be today if a similar disaster befell our soldiers somewhere in the world.

Yet, in 1879, within months, and while the war was still raging, groups of Zulus were being brought to England to perform on theatre stages to packed houses and fĂȘted as heroes. Zulu shows had been popular in London since the days of Charles Dickens, and they were very familiar to contemporary audiences.

The response of the British public was also surprising in the sense that the news of Isandlwana provoked far more anger against the colonial officials who’d launched the war than it did against the Zulus.

And this was a two-way process. The Zulus themselves were fighting to defend their own homeland, and they did so ferociously. But while they may have been ruthless in battle and its aftermath they grew to respect the British soldiers sent against them, despite the savage way in which those soldiers treated the Zulus in return.

It was that complex relationship that I was trying to capture in Kraals and, hopefully, the research trip helped me get it right. But it also gave us the chance to enjoy the astonishing scenery and wildlife. Wonderful country! Everybody should go there, if they get the chance.


Here’s a great review of The Kraals of Ulundi by the Historical Novel Society

More details of the novel can be found on David’s website pages

My thanks to David for sharing the details of his research with us.

It's always fascinating to see how much background work goes into writing such an interesting novel.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Review ~ Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas


Annie Howarth is living what should be the perfect life. She is married to William, who is a high ranking police officer in the South Yorkshire force; they have a beautiful daughter and a lovely home. On the surface life is good, but this is 1984 and the miners strike is in full swing and for the small mining communities of South Yorkshire, life is about to change forever. When Annie discovers that her former lover has returned to town after a ten year absence, a sense of restlessness starts to pervade and she finds that old memories run deep. When scandal threatens, Annie is haunted by the repercussions which follow.

The story is absorbing, entertaining and beguiling in equal measure. Annie’s story resonates and you very quickly become involved in her life, her family and share her simple joys and in the overwhelming dilemma of her life. There’s never a lull in the narrative, never a moment when the writing doesn’t draw you into situations which are plausible and realistic and which, undoubtedly, make you sit up and take notice. The restlessness of a community at odds with itself is well demonstrated and the agitation and unease of people living through an extraordinary time is shown in the almost indolent nature of the narrative and which reflects how the story is allowed to develop.

This author never puts a foot wrong and I know that whenever a new book beckons I am in for a real treat and that as soon as I start to read the first page, the outside world ceases to exist and I become lost in a plot which keeps my attention from beginning to end. I started to read Your Beautiful Lies at six o’clock on Friday evening and didn't look up until the book was finished in the early hours of Saturday.

It was a Friday night well spent.

Louise Douglas

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

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Harriet Munroe


Harriet Monroe 1920.jpg
Source :Wikipedia

On the Porch 

As I lie roofed in, screened in, 
From the pattering rain, 
The summer rain— 
As I lie 
Snug and dry,       
And hear the birds complain: 

Oh, billow on billow, 
Oh, roar on roar, 
Over me wash 
The seas of war.         
Over me—down—down— 
Lunges and plunges 
The huge gun with its one blind eye, 
The armored train, 
And, swooping out of the sky,       
The aeroplane. 
The army proudly swinging 
Under gay flags, 
The glorious dead heaped up like rags,         
A church with bronze bells ringing, 
A city all towers, 
Gardens of lovers and flowers, 
The round world swinging 
In the light of the sun:       
All broken, undone, 
All down—under 
Black surges of thunder … 

Oh, billow on billow 
Oh, roar on roar,         
Over me wash 
The seas of war … 

As I lie roofed in, screened in, 
From the pattering rain, 
The summer rain—         
As I lie 
Snug and dry, 
And hear the birds complain.


Harriet Munroe was an American writer, scholar, literary critic, poet and patron of the arts. She is best known as the editor and publisher of Poetry magazine which made its debut in 1902.