Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Review ~ Definitions by Clare Coombes

March  2015
Bennion Kearny

Gina Ellison goes missing and her disappearance leaves a whole trail of unanswered questions that no-one, other than her sister Charley, seem to me taking notice off, as everyone just assumes that Gina has just taken herself off somewhere. Gina's life is far from simple and her penchant for getting in with the wrong sort of people is about to lead the book in a very sinister direction.

Throughout the novel, there is much to be discovered, and the author succeeds in accomplishing a complicated plot with assurance and skill. The mystery at the heart of the plot is handled well, and the alternate chapters, which give us an insight into Charley's search, whilst at the same time unraveling Gina's complicated life, is done in a realistic and it must be said, quite a chilling way. 

It was interesting to have the book set in Liverpool, this is a city I know well, so to have places mentioned that I recognise,gave the book, for me, a truly authentic feel. The story is dialogue rich and if you have an ear for the vernacular then, the rich vowels of true 'scouse' come across quite strongly, and I was able to recognise speech idioms and characteristics that are  quite familiar.

There is an underlying theme to the story, ultimately it's about family and the secrets we sometimes keep from one another, it's about violence and shocking exploitation, and it's also about loss, the loss of hope, the loss of self worth but also about the loss of those we care about. I thought the ending of the book was poignant and concluded the story really well.

This is an accomplished debut novel from a talented new author who, I am sure will continue to go from strength to strength.

Best read with a tall glass of lager and a plate of piping hot Lobscouse....

About the author

Find Clare on her website
Follow her on Twitter @coombes_clare

You can find a lovely interview with Clare here....


The author in my spotlight is...Clare Coombes

I'm delighted to welcome author

Clare is chatting to us today about her debut novel, Definitions

Bennion Kearny Limited

Hi Clare, it's lovely to have you as our guest today..

Tell us a little about Clare Coombes, author. 

Clare Coombes has been published and commended for her short stories and novel extracts in a number of publications, including the Writers’ Forum, the Fish Short Memoir Prize, Subtext Magazine, The Lancashire Evening Post, Know Magazine and various academic journals. She was also a finalist in the Writing on the Wall Pulp Idol contest, leading to publication in the anthology 'Pulp Idol Firsts 2014 '. Clare has a Masters in Writing from Liverpool John Moores University.. Definitions is her debut novel. You can follow her on twitter @coombes_clare or via www.clare-coombes.com

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. My love of reading really got me started. Sorry to steal words from other writers but I think Alan Bennett’s quote from his play 'The History Boys', best sums up why I write. 

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” 

I've always taken this to mean that books can be a form of support, that reading can be a chance to connect thoughts and feelings, helping people to feel less lonely and isolated in their own minds. It can make you feel more 'normal' to see someone you never met has written down things that you thought only existed in your own head. Through other worlds created by reading and writing, your own world can seem less threatening. 

I wanted to write so I could be a hand that helped others, and work through my own issues. My very first piece of published writing was a non-fiction piece exploring young adult grief for a mental health magazine produced by the national charity, Mind. I've continued exploring loss, in its many forms, through my fiction, considering what it does to us and even what we can gain through it. 

For me, reading and writing is part of a healing process and a way to survive. 

What inspired you to write Definitions, and without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the story?

Although my first novel isn’t based on my life, I did put some of my emotional experiences into it. Because I lost my mum at a young age, I wanted to be that hand that came out to help people dealing with the same thing, at any stage of their lives. That’s why the characters in my book are all struggling with loss in some form, and I explore their reactions to it. 

So I had my theme set from the start but not the genre in which to tell it. In fact this book never started out as a psychological thriller – it was actually an A-Z dictionary told completely in first person about a relationship that gradually became abusive. But it needed something more and felt a bit flat on its own so I decided to cross-genre it and bring the women’s fiction element within the thriller context. I started working on it in my Masters in Writing at Liverpool John Moores University in 2011 and it was just a few short stories then. But the workshops we did made it evolve. 

Set in Liverpool Definitions is about a young woman who is missing and only her sister believes she has been kidnapped. With no close family, and the police showing little interest, Charley must track down Gina herself, using her sister’s custom definitions – random words and sentences summarising life events. This leads Charley to realise how little she really knows about Gina’s relationship with her fiancĂ© and his family. It’s a sinister world she enters into, but Charley also has her own demons. But I also wanted to ask certain questions - Can you escape your past and move on? How well do you really know your own family? How far will they go to protect you? 

I’ve used the architecture, language, humour and things particular to the city as I’ve always been inspired by writers who use their own ‘accents’ and places where they are from for inspiration, like Marian Keyes does with Dublin. I love so many types of books, from Science Fiction like ‘Brave New World’ , Kurt Vonnegut to family relationships wonderfully written by Kate Long and Sophie Kinsella’s style in addition to ‘Harry Potter’, ‘One Day’ and ‘The Book Thief’. My perfect genre to read would be historical women’s science fiction. 

Do you have a routine when you’re writing?

I put a timer on my phone for one hour and try to stick to this every day. Even when it is difficult and I feel like I’m getting nowhere, I always find something useful when I revisit what I’ve done. 

I also try to dedicate some time to social media and real-life writer networking too. I think it’s important not be isolated as a writer. Social media means I can connect to authors around the world but locally I link in with literary organisations like Writing on the Wall http://www.writingonthewall.org.uk/ and independent books shops that support local writers like Write Blend http://www.writeblend.co.uk/

What keeps you motivated as a writer?

Other writers. I have an amazing writing circle and we meet once a month to critique each other’s work in a very supportive environment. But even though we’re all friends, we still give honest feedback and constructive criticism which massively helps us to grow and improve as writers. I’m going to use another writer’s quote to sum up what it feels like to find a group like this: 

“You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office or some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.” 

In addition to this, of course reading keeps me motivated. Writers are also usually readers and absorb everything they’ve ever read and when a book is really good you feel that you’ve lived it, that time, place, those feelings. 

Family and friends are also so important as they can help spread the word about your book and keep you believing in yourself. 

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer?

Learn to take criticism and shape it into your work. Remember that rejection from publishers and editors is nothing personal. Take a writing course and make sure you do some networking. You never need to do anything completely on your own as there is a lot of support out there. 

Competitions are important for writers but they’re not everything. 

Like in any profession, writers need to practise, train and learn. Some people say that writing should be a natural talent and you can’t teach it but that is wrong. All talent needs teaching, in any subject. You wouldn’t tell someone who was good at football or tennis that they didn’t need to train. 

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
– Jane Yolen 

Read a ridiculous amount, watch, listen and learn from everything, so in the end the inspirations come out of everywhere. And remember: 

Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve. J. K. Rowling

What’s next ?

The novel I’m currently working on is historical fiction but does have psychological thriller elements. 

Here’s a bit about it. 

The Fault in Our Stars meets The Book Thief. 

Kurt Sander and Ida Sommer are two teenagers on the run from pre-war Nazi Germany who meet on the doomed St Louis voyage. Hiding their true identities from each other, the two fall in love. But when the truth about who they are and the real nature of the voyage emerges, they must overcome deep-rooted prejudices in order to survive. 

When I heard the story about the St Louis, I was moved to tell it through the eyes of a young couple who fall in love. The voyage itself was a propaganda exercise by the Nazis to prove to the world that no one wanted the Jewish refugees. Unfortunately it was successful. They were rejected by Cuba, American and Canada and the only reason that the ship did not dock back in Germany was through the actions of the Captain, and a lot of money exchanging hands through refugee organisations. However, many of the refugees ended up in countries which were overrun by the Nazis the following year and therefore in concentration camps. 

I have always been fascinated by the psychological impact of periods in history on the young people who live through them and what this can teach us in modern times. My influences for this series include Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, which show the unbelievable bravery of young people taking an active part in World War Two and Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller which looks at the effects of Nazi indoctrination on two brothers and the psychological effect of what people have done in their past. 

The reason I am comparing my work to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is that it very strongly use the idea of fate and how young people manage situations that are out of their control and the way that love can always be present. In terms of The Book Thief , my trilogy brings both sides of Nazi Germany together, from those who have turned away from it, to those who have been forced out of it and how small pockets of resistance existed within children and young people despite the world around them. I want the books to contain an important message about tolerance and lessons from history but without preaching. 

Additional author information:

Definitions, published by Bennion Kearny, is available on Amazon (ebook and print) in Waterstones Liverpool One , Pritchard’s Booksellers News from Nowhere and Write Blend . To hear more about this book and my upcoming historical fiction novel, you can listen to my interview on Fab Radio International.com’s Take a Breaky, with Liverpool ECHO’s Ben Turner (breakywakey_ben ) or watch me on BayTV Arts Alive

You can also view the Definitions Book Trailer produced by Alex Beards, Lizzy Hendy, Nathan Dawber, Chris Rose and Lorna Gibson, staring Paula Fletcher, Matt Cassidy and Siobhan Coghlan. 

Huge thanks to Clare for sharing her novel with us and for giving such an insightful look into her love of writing. Jaffa and I wish you much success for the future..

You can read my review of Definitions



Monday, 30 November 2015

Review ~ The Other Half of My Heart by Stephanie Butland

Random House UK
Black Swan

What Memories Are You Hiding?

I first came across this author's work, last year when I read her novel, Surrounded by Water, (aka Letter to my Husband) so it was a lovely surprise to catch up with some of the characters from that novel, in The Other Half of My Heart. Although, it must be said that this novel is an entirely separate story, and not a sequel. 

It focuses on the story of Bettina May, a thirty something woman with a secret past,which at times, threatens to overwhelm her. Bettina finds comfort in baking the most delicious bread and her village bakery is the source of much comfort to her. She pours her heart and soul into the bread she lovingly bakes, and rather than risk getting hurt, Bettina shields herself from getting too close to anyone. Her relationship with her lover, Rufus, is filled with a reticent tenderness, which at times, Bettina doesn't seem to know how to handle. Very cleverly, and rather like putting together a literary jigsaw puzzle, the story is revealed, and we travel back to a time, some, fifteen years ago, when Bettina was a teenager known as Tina, in love for the first time and with her whole life ahead of her. The reasons for Bettina's reluctance to get close to people and the, rather, strained relationship she has with her mother, starts to make sense.

I thought this was a really poignant story, cleverly highlighting how life can change in a heartbeat and that if feelings are hidden away, the repercussions can last a whole lifetime. It's also about finding love, holding it tight and never letting it go, and equally it's the story of unbelievable suffering and of heartbreaking loss on  a grand scale. Stephanie Butland writes so beautifully, that I must admit that I had a walloping great lump in my throat on more than one occasion and at times, needed to take a break from reading in order to gather my thoughts.

It's an emotional story that will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Best Read with a strong expresso and thick slices of crusty Scarborough cob, loaded with butter.

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


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sunday WW1 Poet..

The theme for this months poetry





Seigfried Sassoon

(1886 - 1967)

When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

*Blog Tour* - The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood

**Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of this exciting Blog Tour**

The Killing of Polly Carter

Amazon UK

The Killing of Polly Carter is published by MIRA in hardback on the 3rd December 

Please welcome the author

Robert Thorogood

Robert is the creator of the BBC1 hit show, Death in Paradise.

Hi Robert, it's really great to have you as our guest author today...

When did your love affair with crime novels begin?

Hello everyone, thanks very much for stopping by. I’m delighted to be writing a guest blog for Jo and Jaffa today—and, in fact, I realise I can include a little Christmasy message for Jaffa at the end of this blog as well.

But first I thought I’d tell you about when I first fell in love with murder mystery novels, as I remember the occasion very well. It was when I was 9 or 10 years old and I read my first Agatha Christie book, Peril at End House. 

What blew my mind was the fact that there was at least one person in the story (the murderer!) who wasn’t telling the truth. And even better than this, I realised that the author wasn’t being honest either. She was actively trying to trick and misdirect me. I couldn’t believe it. Grown-ups didn’t lie… did they? Well, in the world of murder mysteries they did, and I loved it.

I’ve been reading murder mystery novels ever since. And when I was trying to get my TV writing career off the ground, there was only one show I wanted to work on, and that was Midsomer Murders. I adored it. Just adored, adored, adored it. 

I loved how the world of Agatha Christie had been transplanted without apology to modern-day Oxfordshire with John Nettles solving ‘Golden Age’ mysteries once a week. 

So I badgered the production company who make the show to see if I could get a job writing an episode of Midsomer. They said it wouldn’t be possible, which was an understandable response. I hadn’t written any broadcast TV at this point, and Midsomer is one of the top shows on TV, they can pick and choose their writers. 

However, it was only because I was failing to get a job on Midsomer that I continued to come up with my own ideas for murder mystery TV shows, including Death in Paradise. And when Death in Paradise got greenlit by the BBC and I had to write the first few episodes, I found myself going back to the ideas I’d developed for Midsomer and using them for my own show instead. 

It’s funny how life turns out, isn’t it? 

But there’s no doubting. My career writing murder mystery TV and novels now only exists because—many years ago—I picked up that first Agatha Christie book and thought, ‘Oo, I wonder if I’ll like this…?’ 

And now, as promised at the beginning of the blog, here’s a special Christmas photo of our lovely (but very grumpy*) cat, Daniel, wishing Jaffa and everyone else on the blog a very Merry Christmas!

Huge thanks to Robert ...and Daniel ....for being our guests today. 

And to Julia At MIDAS Public Relations for her kind invitation to be part of this exciting blog tour.

Do visit the other stops on the Blog Tour
28th November - 3rd December


Friday, 27 November 2015

Review ~ Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Jumper by Debbie Johnson

Harper Impulse
November 2015

Last Christmas, I spent time in the company of Debbie Johnson and her charming seasonal read, Cold Feet at Christmas, so I am delighted to once again start off my Christmas reading list with this charming sequel, which reminds us of what's happened to Leah and Rob, who we met in Cold Feet whilst at the same time introducing us to Marco and Maggie, two people who seem to be destined to cross paths, right from the start.

What I enjoy most about these stories is the wonderful way the characters come alive; they jump off the page, often larger than life, filled with all sorts of angst like the majority of us and yet, there is also a charming vulnerability makes them seem, oh, so real. Maggie and Marco are complex people; there is an underlying sadness to both of them, making them seem susceptible to all sorts of hurt. It becomes interesting to see just how the relationship between them will play out after a less than auspicious start.

There are no great surprises in the story; it’s a light, easy read with some genuine laugh out loud moments that kept me entertained, and that’s ultimately what I want from a seasonal read. I want feel good factors, I want men in Christmas jumpers and I want to finish the story with a lovely warm glow of bonhomie, and I’m delighted to say that’s just what I got from Never Kiss a Man in Christmas Jumper.

Best read with Honey and Almond hot chocolate and a salted caramel cookie..

About the Author

Debbie   Johnson

Find Debbie on her website
Find her on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @debbiemjohnson
Amazon UK

My thanks to Debbie for sharing her book with me and to Felicity at Harper Impulse for sending my review copy of Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Jumper.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Review ~ The Angel Tree by Lucinda Riley

The Angel Tree

This is an interesting book to review because some readers may have already read this when it was first published in 1995 under the authors' previous pen name of Lucinda Edmonds. Since it would appear that the time is right for a reissue, the story has been redone, keeping some elements of the original but with some sections reworked, thus breathing new life into a story which is as fresh and characterful now, as it was in its original format.

The story begins as Greta returns to Marchmont Hall, in Monmouthshire, Wales after an absence of thirty years. Greta's memory of her life at Marchmont was irretrievably damaged when she was involved in a dreadful accident which altered her memory thus making her recollection of her previous life hazy and filled with shadows.Much has happened to Greta during this time, her life and that of her family has been very eventful, not without tragedy, and always with an element of misfortune. 

What then follows is a cleverly and intricately constructed family saga which spans several years and which flips forwards and backwards in time, mainly following the fortunes of Greta and her daughter Cheska. The peripheral characters who flit into and out of the story are strong and meaningful and add a real sense of continuity. The story is long, coming it at over 600 pages but as always the story draws you in from the beginning. The characters become as familiar as friends, some you learn to like whilst others become deeply unlikable but as always the strength of the story lies with the telling. The fine attention to detail, the authenticity of the setting, and the gloriously good story telling all combine to make this into another commendable novel from this talented author.

I hadn't read the book when it was first published, so was I was perfectly happy to read The Angel Tree with no preconceptions of what had gone before. I'm sure, however, that those readers who  read the novel when it was entitled 'Not Quite An Angel' will find much to enjoy in this reissued version.

Best read with a cinnamon latte and an enticing selection of Dunkin Donuts....

Lucinda Riley

Follow Lucinda Riley on Twitter @lucindariley
Find her on Facebook