Saturday, 31 May 2014

Review ~ Kingmaker : Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements

17999108
Century
Random House
2014

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is a good solid start to a very promising War of The Roses series by new historical author Toby Clements.

The story opens in 1460 when a catastrophic betrayal at the Priory of St Mary in Lincoln forces Thomas, a young monk and Katherine, a nun, to flee the relative safety of their cloistered life. Together they embark upon a journey which plunges them into the very heart of civil war and the maelstrom of battle. And as the house of Lancaster pitches against the house of York, both Katherine and Thomas have momentous decisions to face before they can be at ease in this very troubled world.

This very accomplished historical debut focuses on the uncertain future faced by a country at odds with itself. Stark, often violent, the story pulls no punches in the face of conflict and even as Thomas discovers a penchant for soldiering, it is perhaps Katherine who needs to adapt the most, as her skill for healing is brutally realised in the face of fierce disturbance.

The story concludes in 1461, with the bloody and brutal battle for Towton, which was fast, furious, and lacking in any sort of human compassion but which undeniably marked a turning point in this deadly game of thrones. However, Thomas and Katherine’s story is far from concluded, and I am heartened that the ending of the book lends itself to a continuation of this commendable series of historical novels.

*~*~*

About the Author



 Toby Clements was inspired to write Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims having first become obsessed by the Wars of the Roses after a school trip to Tewkesbury Abbey. 
This is his first novel.

***

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Maya Angelou....

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
1928-2014

Phenomenal Woman



Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.


 *~*~*

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review ~ Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

17934533
St Martin's Press
2014



This book delves into the minutiae of friendship and trawls through the almost impossible situation when one friend seemingly acts completely out of character, leaving the other bereft of feeling. Rachel and Clara are childhood friends who once declared that they would be friends forever and yet when a catastrophic event happens; it brings into dispute everything that was once thought was true about their friendship.

This is a difficult book to truly analyse as it throws up several anomalies about the unreliability of both narrator and perpetrator which is quite an interesting way of telling such a complex tale. However, there is much to take in; both in the way the story develops and also the way in which the characters are exposed and I think that to give too much away would be to spoil overall impact of the story for future readers.

I suppose what I must take away from the story, is that however well we think we understand someone, there is always the possibility that life can throw up a few unexpected surprises and not all of them will be pleasant ones.

My thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my review copy of this book.



Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Author Guest Post and Giveaway with Elisabeth Gifford..

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo



Author


St Martin's Press
April 2014

Are there mermaids and seal people descendants living in the US today?



How legends sometimes hold lost history.

When I first heard the legend of the seal people I was struck by how sad it was. Selkies are seals in the water but become human on land. If someone steals their sealskin they can never go home to the sea again. I was amazed to find out from Gaelic historian John MacAulay that behind this legend lay very real people: kayakers in sealskin canoes and jackets who used to come down to Scotland and Ireland from Arctic Norway up to 200 year ago. If their kayaks and sealskins were damaged or stolen, then they would really be unable to return home.
               The Sea House became a story about people who can never go home again: about Moira who is cleared from her village and has her home burned by the landlord to make way for sheep; about Alexander who struggles to remain at home in his rigid beliefs; and a hundred years later, Ruth who not only has lost her mother but also her peace of mind after being cruelly treated in foster care. As the characters began to take on their own lives, I was especially surprised by Moira, how she seemed to want to jump up and speak for the anger that these dispossessed speakers carry. And she insisted that I give her a knife – the only question then being would she use it to take her revenge against her landlord, or would she find some kind of grace in her life to begin to build a new life?
               Writing The Sea House also became my attempt to try and create on the page the lives of two endangered ancient cultures, the Sea Sami and the Gaelic crofters, both communities that were persecuted and cleared from their lands and identities for years. And sadly for the Sea Sami, their branch of the Sami tribes has indeed disappeared in Norway, after the Samis were forcibly assimilated through laws and taxes. Both Sami and Scots Gaelic culture went through a period when even their beautiful language was banned and children were beaten if they spoke it in school.
               The Selkie story is in fact very old oral history, describing the Sami kayakers and how they appeared to the Hebridean islanders, as they stepped out of their seal skin kayaks and jackets and became men and women, sometimes falling in love with islanders and getting married.
               Some families in the Hebridean islands are known as the children of seal peoples, such as clan MacOdrum. Due to the clearances there are now no more MacOdrums left in Scotland, but I have begun to contact some of the remaining descendants in the US and Canada. This family really does have the sea people gene! They are probably partly descended from Samis who kayaked down from Norway hundreds of years ago.
               Sometimes these visitors to the Scottish coasts were described as mermaids. There is a famous mermaid funeral recorded on Uist in 1830, with people claiming to have seen and touched the body –a scene that I used in the novel. The idea for The Sea House began with a letter sent to the Times in London in 1809 reporting a mermaid sighting by a Scots schoolmaster. There were many such sightings, and it isn’t so surprising when you think how the Sami kayakers must have appeared to people who’d never seen a kayak before. The kayak would become waterlogged at the end of the day and sink just below the sea surface, so all you would see was a skin-clad half figure with a tail-like appendage wavering in the water!
               200 years ago the sightings stopped - exactly the date when the Sea Sami disappeared. By then, along with those of the Viking invaders, Sami genes were a part of the Scots heritage.
               And it’s a heritage that has carried across the Atlantic. Walking around in the US and Canada today will be descendants of mermaids and selkies, whose ancestors’ genes are not only Scots but also part Norwegian Sea Sami.
               The Sea House also explores the power of story, both to heal and to pass on actual history. Although the book is written as a quite gothic mystery, all the facts are from research and I hope will give the reader a feel for the experiences of the clearance years in Scotland, and of crofting life in the Hebridean islands – and of course a glimpse of the lost Sea Sami and their Eskimo style technology.


Harries island in the Hebrides
The setting for The Sea House


A seal gut jacket as worn by Arctic kayakers






Here is Julie Fowlis who sang the Gaelic tracks on Brave singing a song written by MacOdrum, the famous bard.





More information: 

Pinterest

***


Elisabeth ~ thank you for sharing this fascinating glimpse into a forgotten world and for giving so generously of your time.

Elisabeth is very generously giving away copies of The Sea House to 2 lucky US readers of this blog

and

And also a copy of Secrets of the Sea House to one lucky UK reader.


Enter this giveaway 




Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Lady Margaret Sackville

(1881-1963)





Nostra Culpa



We knew the sword accursed, yet with the strong
Proclaimed the sword triumphant. Yea this wrong
Unto our children, unto those unborn
We did, blaspheming God. We feared the scorn
Of men; men worshipping pride, so where they led
We followed. Dare we now lament our dead?
Shadows and echoes, harlots! We betrayed
Our sons; because men laughed we were afraid.
That silent wisdom which was ours to kept
Deep buried; thousands perished; still we slept.
Children were slaughtered, women raped, the weak
Down-trodden. Very quiet was our sleep.


***

At the outbreak of WW1, Margaret Sackville joined the anti war Union of Democratic Control.  In 1916 she published a collection of poems called The Pageant of War. It included the poem "Nostra Culpa", denouncing women who betrayed their sons by not speaking out against the war. Her brother, Gilbert Sackville, was killed during the conflict in 1915.

Margaret had a passionate love affair with Ramsey MacDonald between 1913 and 1929, but refused to marry him. She never married.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Review ~ Crimson Shore by Gillian E Hamer


22241585
Gillian E Hamer
2014


Crimson Shore sees a new departure for this author, who, with her previous books has made an impact with cross-genre crime fiction. However, in this new series of procedural crime novels the focus is more on the dynamics of an active crime office, and the back room banter between close knit colleagues allows a fascinating glimpse into the pressures they face, not just in their daily work, but also within their personal lives. 

When a series of unexplained dead bodies start to show up on the peaceful island of Anglesey in North Wales, the Bangor CID team, headed by DI Amanda Gold, have the devil’s own job in trying to keep one step ahead of a murderer who leaves virtually no evidence behind. With precious little to go on, DS Dara Brennan and DS Kelly Jones are left struggling, not just with a series of complex murder cases but also with their growing attraction to each other. As with any new series there is much to take in, the mechanism of a bustling CID office and the repartee between colleagues is done with a realistic understanding of the vagaries of police hierarchy, however, it is the journey into the mind of a killer where the story really starts to bite.

Placing a series of gritty crime novels in this peaceful corner of North Wales is an inspired choice of location, and this quiet, or maybe not so quiet little island really comes to life under the watchful eye of this talented author. However, don’t be fooled by the idyllic setting, as this story is by no stretch of the imagination either tranquil or cosy crime; there is a brutal killer on the loose and as the hard hitting violent behaviour thumps you into taking notice, very soon you start to jump at shadows and you see evil in every hidden corner.

I read Crimson Shore over the space of twenty four hours as I couldn’t tear myself away from it and was gripped by the sheer competence of an author who leads you gently by the hand into the presence of pure evil, and believe me, to have a safe pair of hands to hold in this novel is very comforting indeed.

I am sure that this is the start of a commendable series and I am already eager to catch up with DI Amanda Gold’s CID team in the not too distant future.


*~*~*



or if you can't wait then buy your own copy 

Available for kindle download now or in paperback from 1 June 2014

Friday, 23 May 2014

Author Guest Post and Giveaway with Gillian E Hamer

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo

Gillian E. Hamer




Write the book you want to read …

By Gillian Hamer

… has always been my motto. So, why, with the release of my next novel, CRIMSON SHORE, have I taken a step away from my love of pushing boundaries and writing cross-genre novels – and settled into mainstream crime fiction?
With my first three indie-published novels (The Charter, Closure & Complicit) I had taken my love for crime fiction, archaeology and history, plus a bit of paranormal, and mixed them altogether to result in a series of thrillers each with an otherworldly edge. And I was delighted with the results and so it seemed were the public at large.
Traditional publishing markets were, alas, not ready to welcome my recipe for cross-genre. At the time I still had a literary agent, who had made it clear from very early on in our representation back in 2010 that mixed-genre would not sell. ‘Crime readers read crime,’ she said. ‘Ghost stories are read my lovers of paranormal. A crime reader doesn’t want to read about ghosts. If publishers can’t see a market, they won’t buy the books. It’s all about sales for them.’
I didn’t agree but felt in no position to argue. With that ringing in my ears, I adapted one of my books into a straight crime detective series. For my own tastes, I still added a bit of a spooky element with the death of a psychic who foresaw murders. ‘Nope,’ came back the reply, ‘it’s still too paranormal, cut the psychic. How about a teacher?’
Through gritted teeth I rewrote the book. And rewrote the book. And then, just for fun, rewrote it again. I wrote the second in the proposed series whilst I was waiting for the first one to be agreed. I knew my writing was getting stronger, and finally it was deemed ready to pitch to publishers. And so began another waiting game.  I filled my time and continued with my cross-genre writing on the side, and by the time Triskele Books came into being in late 2011, I had two completed manuscripts.
Six months later, I was called down to London to meet an editor from a leading large publishing house. She loved my writing, she loved the characters, adored the location – but she thought the second novel had a stronger storyline. Could I make book two into book one of the series? I flinched at the amount of work, re-introducing characters and rebuilding relationships. But I smiled and nodded. And could I change some of the characters and take away some layers, add a stronger central core? Er. Yes, I thought, I suppose I can. You’re the experts, what have I to lose?
In the same twelve month period as I published both The Charter and Closure, I rewrote book two into book one and waited almost eight months to get a reply. The reply when it came was devastating. ‘I have other authors now, my books are full for this year, plus for personal reasons I cannot take on new authors.’
To say I felt let down is probably an understatement. I parted company with my agent, amicably, and decided that was the last time I would waste two years of my life. I’m not saying people in the industry aren’t experts and that up-and-coming writers should not listen to advice – of course they are and of course you should – but I just felt I’d been asked to jump through one hoop too many.
The positives? I’m back in control and with the increased success of indie-publishing, Triskele Books are carving a real reputation for their quality books and strong time and place brand. I now have two and half books written of a detective series I am really excited about, with characters I almost know as well as my real-life family and friends, and huge scope for developing storylines into the future.
Plus, I have three spooky novels under my belt that I am proud of and which have built me a great audience of readers.

So, now the proof is in the pudding, as the first book in The Gold Detective series, titled CRIMSON SHORE, will be released 1st June 2014. And I can’t wait to see what readers think of my move into straight crime fiction.

Does that mean the end to the ghosts and historical crime novels? Of course it doesn’t! Remember, always stick with your instincts and set out to write the book that you would most like to read.


22241585

You can find me at
follow me on twitter @gillyhamer
or like me on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gillian-E-Hamer/279383198798678

***


Excerpt from Crimson Shore (release date June 1st 2014) in e-book and paperback.

CHAPTER ONE

Jamilah Patel looked up from her magazine. An article on eyebrows and the latest trend of ‘threading’. Jamilah hated her thick, glossy black brows and these girls looked so sophisticated and sexy. Not that she had any hope of getting them done. Her mam would have a fit and die if Jamilah ever came home looking like one of these models. She glanced at her watch and sighed.10:41pm. How could one hour pass so slowly? She hated the last hour of her shift, especially on quiet nights. She’d already cashed up as much as she could and locked the cigarettes in the storeroom.
She glanced up at the CCTV camera in the corner of the small shop. Bane of her life, it was. Without it she’d already be outside, taking the pump readings, ready to catch the last bus at five past. But she knew first thing Mr Palmer did every morning was check the previous night’s tape. He’d made a big thing of telling her that in her interview, made it clear he knew what time the bus went through and how getting the job relied on her having transport. Thankfully, her mam hardly ever used her Micra. Palmer made an equally big thing telling her she was paid an extra quarter of an hour to cash up and lock up, which meant lights did not go out until eleven pm on the dot.
Though who he thought might wander out this way in those last five minutes, she’d no idea. It was too early for the drunks to be leaving the pub and too late for the nice folk to be this far out of town. Since the new dual-carriageway had cut the island in half, the A5 was more or less abandoned. Once thriving villages along its route now left like ghost towns, empty shells of what they had been for over two thousand years.
Mr Palmer had told Jamilah that, with a catch in his voice and a wistful look in his eye, almost like he could remember right back to the days when legions of Roman infantry had laid the very foundations. She knew the garage had been in his family for three generations though, and she also knew how much his takings had suffered in recent years with the by-pass and more supermarkets spreading onto the island.
She glanced outside. The road was empty, the night still and damp and cold. She was distracted by her reflection in the bright glass, turned her head one way then the other, pouted and flicked her long black hair over her shoulder. Jamilah. Translation: beautiful and graceful. Was that what they meant by irony? No doubt her parents meant well at the time. Her nose was too big and had an annoying bump right in the middle, and her skin was always greasy no matter what type of cleanser she used. Her mam said she’d grow out of it, but her mam said that about most things, and she was nineteen now. How old did she need to get? As for graceful, well, that was another joke.
She closed her magazine and checked the digits again. 10.51pm. How could only another ten minutes have crawled round? It was like time had slowed to a stop.
Headlights caught Jamilah’s attention and she looked up. A car swerved across the road, clipping the kerb as it pulled onto the forecourt and lurched to a stop. She was immediately alert. Youths or drunks. Either meant bad news. It was a big black car, with black windows, parked just outside of the spread of the neon light from the canopy. It reminded her of a huge panther, waiting in the shadows, ready to attack its prey. There was a sense of movement inside, but no one appeared. She leaned forward. She couldn’t see the number plate from that angle and the headlights were glaring straight at her anyway.
Aware that she’d be visible behind the glass, she slid down from the stool and made a big show of pulling down the roller shutter over the meagre display of alcohol behind the counter. Whatever they wanted, they’d need to be quick. Another glance at her watch told her she only had another four minutes to go. 
She bent to turn off the power to the display cabinet and pushed the button to run the end of day procedure on the Lottery machine. She jumped as the door at the far end of the shop rattled. Someone thumped the glass, three times, four. Jamilah stepped back to her stool and leaned across the counter, trying to twist enough to see the door, but it was out of her vision. The black car was gone. The door rattled again. She sighed and pressed the button on the tannoy.
“Hello? Can you come to the Night Pay window please?”
Jamilah’s heart picked up speed. Please don’t let it be drunks. She had to go out and read the pumps in a minute and she couldn’t do that if there were yobs hanging around. She’d had to ring Mr Palmer one night, before last Christmas, when two gangs had decided to use the forecourt as a boxing ring. Her boss hadn’t been well pleased, neither had the police when they arrived to find the gangs had scattered.
The door rattled again.
Bloody hell. Jamilah scowled and pushed the button on the tannoy with more force, staring out into the false brightness of the canopy lights.
“Hello? I said the door’s locked. Can you come to Night Pay? I’m about to lock up.”
To reiterate the point, Jamilah cut the lights, leaving just the middle row for her to see by.
She waited. This was ridiculous. If this was no more than kids pratting about, she’d make them wish …
A white face appeared at the window. Jamilah lurched backwards; a brief scream of surprise escaping her as she banged her shoulder against the metal casing of the cigarette cabinet.  She saw bloodshot eyes, a wide mouth, lips moving, tears streaming down the round, chubby face of a middle-aged woman.  Her dyed black hair was pulled back tight, gold rings in fleshy pink ears caught the light from the shop as she swung her head one way and then the other, checking over each shoulder. The woman raised both fists to bang on the glass and Jamilah noticed grazed knuckles and torn, bloodied fingernails.
The mouth opened wider, showing brown, stained teeth as the woman grimaced, her words louder now, clear through the glass.
“Help! Help me. Jesus … help!”
Jamilah began to tremble but shook her head, remembering Mr Palmer’s words. Trust no one. True, the woman looked in genuine distress, but it could be a set up. He’d drummed it into her all through her training, never open the door to anyone at night. Anyone for any reason. To break that rule was instant dismissal and she couldn’t afford to lose her job if she had any chance of ever getting off Anglesey. But this poor woman, she looked terrified, who was she running from …?
Jamilah pressed the tannoy, fighting her inner instincts. “I can’t open the door, love. What’s the matter? Do you want me to call the police?”
The woman shook her head, opened her mouth and screamed again.
No, howled.
Jamilah stepped away from the glass, afraid to be so close to the beating fists, now leaving a slug’s trail of glistening red across the surface of the window. She slid her hand into her bag and reached for her mobile. No way was she going to be trapped in here all night. She wasn’t paid to sort this kind of thing. Mr Palmer would have to come down from the village —
A black shape loomed behind the woman’s frantic face. Jamilah saw it first, squinted against the shop lights to make out its form, even before the woman sensed its presence. It seemed to glide down like a giant bat, red-tipped talons folding silken wings around the woman as it landed, dragging her backwards. The woman was large, fat even, her bosom pushing against a blue t-shirt, rolls of fat squeezing a muffin-top over navy jogging bottoms. But in her agitated state she stumbled off-balance, arms reaching out towards Jamilah as the black shape dragged her backwards. Their eyes met for a brief second, and Jamilah let out a sob, feeling the scorch of pain and terror as the shape seemed to consume the struggling figure. The woman jerked, once, twice as the shadows next to the car-wash swallowed her whole.
Jamilah coughed to clear the lump that was wedged in her throat. Her head spun and her legs were jelly. She knew she could no more go outside than she could fly to Mars. What the hell was that? What just happened? And what was that thing?
Another howl, louder and more terrifying, pierced the night.
Jamilah held onto the wall and slid to her haunches. Using the shelter of the counter as cover, she dug out her mobile, scrolled past Mr Palmer’s number, and with shaking fingers pressed 999. 


© copyright Gillian E Hamer 2014


Gillian ~ Thank you so much for being our guest today.
 Jaffa and I wish you much success with Crimson Shore.


*~*~*

Gillian is very kindly giving away a Kindle copy of Crimson Shore 
to one lucky winner of this giveaway 


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Happy Publication Day ~ The Diamond Ring By Primula Bond

21109245
Avon
22 May 2014


Fans of Gustav and Serena who have followed this series from the very beginning will not be disappointed in this third and final piece of the trilogy jigsaw puzzle which opens where book two ended. Gustav and Serena are completely wrapped up, quite literally, in each other and their sensuous appeal really knows no bounds, and yet like a blot on their intimate landscape is Gustav's ex wife, Margot, who is determined to do all that she can to sever the unbreakable connection between these two captivating lovers.

In many ways this final piece of the trilogy has a darker edge to it. There are episodes of anger, deception and betrayal and times when the unbreakable bond between Gustav and Serena is tested to its absolute limit. And yet, running through the story like a silken thread is the undeniable passion that they have for each other and the hope that in the end good will overcome pure evil. As always, the author captures the erotic world of opulent desire and takes the reader on a tumultuous journey, from the allure of Paris, through to the exotic world of the Moroccan souk, and with verve and panache skilfully manoeuvres the plot to its dramatic conclusion.

I'm not an avid reader of erotic fiction, not from any prudish sensibility, but more because I have never found an erotic novel with a story to capture my literary imagination. However, I am delighted to write that with this trilogy, I have been completely won over by the author’s passionate storytelling and have been enthralled in Gustav and Serena’s story from beginning to end.


***

My thanks to Avon and Olivia at lightbrigade.co.uk for my e- copy of this book

Happy Publication Day ~ After the Honeymoon by Janey Fraser

18394999
Published 22 May
Arrow


Two couples share a honeymoon destination at the beautiful Villa Rosa on the idyllic Greek island of Siphalonia. On the surface everything should be as perfect as possible but sometimes life doesn't always work out quite as you planned it. Winston is a celebrity fitness guru seeking an intimate retreat with his new wife, Melissa, what he doesn't bargain for is the unexpected arrival of his wife's two teenage children. Emma is a reluctant honeymooner who feels bereft at leaving her children back at home.  When her new husband Tom proves to be a wet blanket, moaning about food poisoning and the heat, Emma starts to wonder if this marriage lark is going to be all it’s cracked up to be. And then there’s Rosie, the lovely villa owner who has long buried secrets of her own which, if revealed, threaten to upset, not just her own life, but also that of her beloved son Jack.

What then follows is a perceptive and sharply written story about the diverse nature of relationships. Beautifully observed and with some genuine funny moments this delightful story made me smile. The characters are so true to life that they could be people you would meet on holiday, from the smooching honeymoon couple, to the archetypal Greek fisherman, all are infused with the warmth and energy of a perfect Greek summer. The sun is shining and the calm blue sea is as inviting as only the Mediterranean can be and with a glass of something cold in hand this book will make an ideal beach or poolside read.

 I loved it.
***


About the author







Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Review ~ Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

19099368
Penguin
March 2014



"I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her."


Oliver Ryan is very much the successful author. His beautiful wife, Alice illustrates his children’s stories with sensitivity and charm, until Oliver, in a moment of extreme violence, alters the course of their lives forever. The unravelling of Oliver is told in a series of perceptive vignettes and whilst these diverse viewpoints admirably flesh out the whys and wherefores of Oliver’s character, it is Oliver’s own narrative which becomes compellingly addictive. There is so much to take in, not just Oliver’s manipulation of events and as an unstable narrator he is wonderfully plausible, but also about the lives of those who are subjected to Oliver’s own peculiar brand of bonhomie.

Beautifully written, this debut novel is a real pager turner. I read it almost in one sitting, simply because the quality of the narrative lends itself to continuous reflection. It’s not a forceful thriller, so there are no spills and thrills but what is evident is the slow manipulation of a very cleverly put together story. There are no gaps, no glaring oversights, no unnecessary dialogue. It is just a really good story and a commendable debut novel.


My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK for my e-copy of this book


Monday, 19 May 2014

Reviews ~ Wild Water and White Horizon by Jan Ruth








The often irrational ties that bind people together form the basis for this intertwining story of personal relationships and of what happens when life spirals out of control. Jack Redman knows that his marriage is heading for disaster and when he becomes reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart , Anna, he soon realises that everything he once knew to be true is about to change forever.

Set against the backdrop of rural Snowdonia, with occasional forays into the heart of the upmarket Cheshire set, this story really grips from the beginning. There is much to take in, from the heartbroken angst of a marriage gone wrong, through to the emotional realisation that a lost love can never be a forgotten love.

This intelligent read had me hooked from the beginning, I found that I couldn’t put the book down and wanted to read on to find out what would happen next. There is a poignant realism to the story which keeps the momentum going through to the very end and as a genuine empathy with the characters starts to develop, they become people you really care about. The skilful manipulation of the story line and the author’s unique way of bringing her characters to life makes this one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time.





30521902



The story opens with a wedding but as the possibilities of love and happy ever afters start to falter, three couples are faced with the realities of life in more ways than one. Tina, Daniel, Linda and Victoria are old friends, but time has changed the focus of their lives until one fateful year when their stories collide and coalesce and life for all of them will never be the same again.

Set against the majestic background of Snowdonia, the skilful absorption of the beautiful Welsh countryside into the narrative sits comfortably alongside the close examination of personal relationships. What I loved most about the story is the way in which the author gets right into the heart and soul of what makes people tick. Totally unpretentious, these characters could be people you went to school with and the situations they find themselves in are done in such a considerate way, that I genuinely began to care what happened to them all.


This story grabbed my attention from the very beginning and held me in its grip until I had read on, in the space of a couple of afternoons, to its timely conclusion.





Jan Ruth writes contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic with a generous helping of humour, horses and dogs. Her books blend the serenity of rural life with the headaches of city business, exploring the endless complexities of relationships.




Jan Ruth





My thanks to the author for sharing her books with me.



~***~

In my Author Spotlight is ....Jan Ruth

I am delighted to welcome to the blog




Author of Novels

Wild Water
Midnight Sky
White Horizon
Silver Rain

 Short Stories

The Long And The Short Of It
A Long Way  From Home






Jan ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for chatting with us about the inspiration for your books.




What do you love about Writing?

It’s something to do with the creation of a cast of people, and then being able to play God and Devil in the same day!



What can you tell us about your books that won't give too much away?


I live in Snowdonia, North Wales, UK. This ancient, romantic landscape is a perfect setting for fiction, or just day-dreaming in the heather. I write contemporary stories about people, with a good smattering of humour and drama, dogs and horses.
Seventeen years ago we moved from Cheshire to North Wales. Although Cheshire has its history and pretty rural surroundings aplenty, Wales is far more extreme in both aspects. The castles and the rugged hillsides scattered with stone settlements, druid’s circles and Roman roads bring out the historical muse in me. To think that I am treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling. Snowdonia kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way.
All this whimsical talk of the past makes me sound as if I write historical based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and my work reflects a lot of my own life experiences. But this is where I find the two ideas merge a little because I am most certainly inspired by this Ice Age landscape and the idea that what has gone before, shapes what we see today, but does it shape what we feel, too?

I am certainly in my creative comfort zone tramping up the hills on a moody day. There’s no better way of plot busting. The tiny church of St. Celynin (sometimes known as Llangelynin) is a great find for historians, spiritualists, all kinds of artists, and a certain weary walking writer! It’s quite a climb, some 900 feet above the village of Henryd, but sheltered from the Irish Sea by the comfortable bulk of Tal-Y-Fan. It proclaims to be the most remote church in Wales and due to its location, it is actually better accessed on foot or on horseback, but that’s just me wearing my whimsical hat again. I guess you could ride a quad bike or get a 4x4 along the green lanes and tracks up from the village, but that would spoil the experience considerably. Someone said that ‘The centuries of men’s hands on the same stones put the feeling into a place’. I can relate to this and there’s no better way of making that connection than scrambling over those very same walls and finding a way across the hills. Even the names of the mountains are laced with enough magic to fuel the effort.

The church is named after a 6th Century prince, Celynin, and it is a widely held belief that the remains of the settlement close by was also his home. Inside, there are inscriptions on the white-washed walls of The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer, and strangely enough a skull and crossbones. The Welsh language, being the oldest (still spoken) language in the world, lends so much more romance and intrigue to any story, even though I don’t understand all the words. One of the well-preserved benches is dated from 1629 and dedicated to Reverend Owen Bulkeley, former rector. Oh, I’d love to go back to those times just for a few hours, to maybe listen to the man reading his sermon and sit with the congregation. Instead, we have to be content with mere historical recordings and the remnants of those times, in whatever form they present.


So, I fling myself down on the rough grass, or if the mountain weather is inclement, sit awhile in the porch to drink coffee and just… fall into the dreamscape. I love the way ancient history here is often blurred by myths and legends, shape-shifters and superstitions. Rich then, in history and romance and easy enough to blend both, with a touch of fantasy and suspense. Especially so when the winter sun is low in the sky, sending out early shadows to creep across the crooked stones of derelict homesteads and graves. And late sunsets in summer, when the scudding clouds floating in a fiery sky take on the shape of dragons and rearing horses. Or maybe, when the druid’s circle is shrouded in mist and… can you hear something? Like the clink of marching armour and the clash of swords…there’s something moving out there, or is it just my imagination?



Do you write stories for yourself, or other people?

I write the fiction I like to read, it’s somewhere between very grown-up chick lit and women’s literature. So, I think the answer is... both.



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

I’m lucky to be retired from outside jobs (I’ve done many, varied, and useful for drawing on) so the time isn’t really a problem these days, although even when I was working I still found time to be as productive. If the muse is kicking, I just get on with it!



Which writers have inspired you?

Lots! Dick Francis, Enid Blyton, Victoria Holt, Lewis Carroll, Jilly Cooper, Julia Crouch, Deborah Moggach.



Can you tell us what you are writing next?

I’m currently writing a Part-Two to my first title, Wild Water. I was concerned how I’d feel about this as not only were the characters and plot lines twenty years old, I’d not written a sequel before. However, I’m pleased to report that I’m about 60k in and all the loose threads from part one are starting to come together in a very suspenseful climax. Interesting to note how my writing style has changed too. I don’t think Wild Water was my best writing, technically. But it’s been the most popular novel with regard to the characters, and I’m enjoying being back with Jack and Anna.

After this, I’ll be putting together a collection for Christmas. No doubt I’ll be writing these in the heat of August as I never seem to be able to synchronize the seasons!



Jan - Thank you for sharing your time with us.

It's been a real pleasure to host this interview with you. 

Please come back and chat with us some more.



~***~



For more information about Jan and her books visit her website


*~*~*


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Eileen Newton

***

LAST LEAVE


Let us forget tomorrow! For tonight 
At least, with curtains drawn, and driftwood piled 
On our own hearthstone, we may rest, and see 
The firelight flickering on familiar walls. 
(How the blue flames leap when an ember falls!) 
Peace, and content, and soul-security— 
These are within. Without, the waste is wild 
With storm-clouds sweeping by in furious flight, 
And ceaseless beating of autumnal rain 
Upon our window pane. 

The dusk grows deeper now, the flames are low: 
We do not heed the shadows, you and I, 
Nor fear the grey wings of encroaching gloom, 
So softly they enfold us. One last gleam 
Flashes and flits, elusive as a dream, 
And then dies out upon the darkened room. 
So, even so, our earthly fires must die; 
Yet, in our hearts, love's flame shall leap and glow 
When this dear night, with all it means to me, 
Is but a memory!

(1918)



There is virtually no information available about Eileen Newton or her poem Last Leave
but the emotion expressed within it's verse is heartfelt and rather beautiful as this couple share a last night of intimacy.



*~*~*




Friday, 16 May 2014

In my author spotlight is ....J D Smith

I am delighted to welcome back to the blog 


J.D.   Smith



Talking about her latest book


21805711
Overlord Series Book 1
Quinn Publications
 March 2014



The Roman Empire is close to collapse. Odenathus of Palmyra holds the Syrian frontier and its vital trade routes against Persian invasion. A client king in a forgotten land, starved of reinforcements, Odenathus calls upon an old friend, Julius, to face an older enemy: the Tanukh.

Julius believes Syria should break free of Rome and declare independence. But his daughter’s beliefs are stronger still. Zenobia is determined to realise her father’s dream.

And turn traitor to Rome 

***

Welcome back to Jaffareads too, Jane, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on your book




Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for your novel, The Rise of Zenobia?


I first heard about Zenobia when reading Antonia Fraser's book Warrior Queens. I was inspired by a woman so like Boadicea, who rebelled against the Roman Empire, that I couldn't help but want to find out more. And her story, or what is known of it, is amazing. I always want to say more, but I don't want to spoil the series for readers. Needless to say she held a huge amount of power and led the greatest, most threatening rebellion the Roman Empire ever faced.




What can you tell us about the story which will pique the reader's interest?




This particular book, The Rise of Zenobia, is the first in the series. It is narrated by Zabdas, who finds himself freed from slavery and taken in by Zenobia's family. He witnesses the very beginnings of Zenobia's rise to power, her drive and ambition and the unnerving start to the lengths she is will to go to achieve her desires.




Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ in your novels and how much research did you need to do in order to bring The Rise of Zenobia to life?




I've been working on this particular book for around nine years now, on and off. In that time I've done masses of research, but never feel like it's quite enough because there's always another book to be read, another text that might reveal a new piece of information. The fact is that there is little known in history about Zenobia herself and Syria at that time, so I like to think it gives me a lot of freedom in terms of plot, but as for atmosphere, I rely heavily on television and films, such as the recent Spartacus series and Gladiator, BBC Rome and the like.



In your research, did you discover anything which surprised you?




Lots, but off the top of my head I can't think what. There was definitely a lot to discover generally, how much of it surprising I'm not sure. I think the biggest thing which surprised me was that so little is known about Zenobia and her rebellion, given the enormity of what she achieved.



The book world is very competitive – how do you get your book noticed?




With great difficulty. Reviews are a great way to find exposure, so it's always lovely to receive positive feedback. There are of course lots of writing groups to participate in. And my mum sells paperbacks by hand at fairs. 



What's next ?


I'm working on editing The Fate of an Emperor, the second in the Overlord series, which follows on immediately from The Rise of Zenobia. It should be out later this year.


Jane ~ thank you for spending time on the blog with us. Jaffa and I wish you continuing success with the Overlord series.

***


My thoughts on The Rise of Zenobia

I've got to admit that this is a period of history of which I know absolutely nothing and what made a refreshing change was coming into a novel with no notion of where the story would take me. From the beginning I was drawn into an ancient world, a world of hostile environments where only the daring survive. And into this harsh and often brutal land, comes Zenobia, a warrior queen who dares to take on the might of the Roman Empire. Based in Palmyra, (modern day Syria) in the 3rd century and mixing scanty factual evidence alongside pure fiction, the story of a brave and bold warrior is told in easy to read segments and with a lightness of touch this story of intrigue and political skulduggery comes gloriously to life.

As with any new series there is a sense of ‘getting to know’ people and the introduction of people and places that may be in the series for the long haul make a lasting impression. I enjoyed the way that Zabdas recounts the story to his granddaughter, Samira, and with his help, as we flit back and forth in time; we get a sense, not just of time and place, but also of history and strategic planning on a grand scale.

Stories about the Roman Empire can sometimes become a bit too complicated, filled as they are with complex names and long forgotten heroes, and yet I found this to be such an enjoyable read that, for once, I didn’t get bewildered by too much information, and found that the story flowed easily.

So, if like me, you want palatable Roman history, with a story of a brave and beautiful warrior queen, then investing in this series from the beginning will be worth it.


*~*~*

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Review ~ The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

21300410
Little, Brown Books
MARCH 2014


I've long been a fan of Anita Shreve and fell completely in love with her earlier books, so to have a continuation, of sorts, of one of her previous stories seemed like the best of worlds. In The Lives of Stella Bain, we are reintroduced to a character from All He Ever Wanted and whilst the nod to the past is done with a remarkably light touch, there may well be an element of confusion if you ponder too much about the whys and wherefores. Personally, I think it’s best to read the story on its own merits with the occasional delight of revelation, but if you haven’t read All He Ever Wanted, then it really doesn’t matter.

Set against the backdrop of the First World War, an American woman is taken to one of the French field hospitals. At first, she has no recollection of who she is, or of why she is in such a debilitated state and even her journey to London and into the care of renowned psychologist, Doctor August Bridge, fails to elicit a definitive response. And then, softly, softly as the story starts to unfurl, we get the answers into why Stella’s life has taken such a downward turn.

As always, Anita Shreve delves into the minutiae of daily life and her sparse narrative style allows a perceptive and introspective look into the complexity of lives which are lost and broken by circumstance. Whilst in many ways this is not an exciting story, there’s no explicit drama or deliberate angst, but what you do get, is an insightful and beautifully written look at the human condition, and of the need we all have for reparation, and in to making amends for our actions, we attempt to learn more about ourselves. 

My thanks to Little, Brown Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book.

*~*~*

About the Author


Anita Shreve

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Pressed Pennies by Steven Manchester

18249344
The Story Plant
13 May 2014



Steven Manchester



My thoughts on Pressed Pennies

Find a penny, pick it up and all that day you’ll have good luck"


Two old friends, with a special connection, meet again after years of heartbreak. Both are filled with trepidation at the start of an exciting new love affair, which in a way feels so right, and yet, even as ripples of anxiety threaten their new found dreams, they can only hope that their special connection this second time around will survive whatever life throws at them.

Pressed Pennies is written with the author’s usual fine attention to the minutiae of life and the believable characters with all their imperfections and hang ups make this book an absolute joy to read. What I loved about the novel, and I read it over the space of a couple of afternoons, was the way the author was able to narrate the story from a realistic female perspective without ever compromising his leading male viewpoint. In my opinion, very few male authors manage to achieve this, with the exception of Nicholas Sparks.

This is now the third Steven Manchester book I have read and this one is, by far, my favourite, it is warm hearted without being overly sentimental, and utterly engaging without the saccharine sweetness which can very easily become cloying.


It’s a perfect read for a quiet afternoon, with a cup of hot tea and a classic radio station playing quietly in the background.


***


Pressed Pennies excerpt


A mix of playful conversation and alcohol set the night’s happy mood. Rick was tipping his third beer at the season’s final bash when he looked up and saw her. He nearly choked on his drink. She was his age, pretty with an athletic build. She had gorgeous wavy chestnut hair with beautiful dark eyes that matched. She had a mysterious confidence about her and a smile that men would die for. Rick swore she had an aura from her head to her feet. At that moment, he thought, I have to meet her. His mind filled with questions that needed answers: Who does she know at the party? Who can I get her background from? Who can introduce us? As his mind raced, Carol walked over with the beauty. And as they got closer, it hit him. “Oh, my God!” he said.
“Rick, this is…” the friendly hostess began to introduce with a smile.
“Abby!” Rick interrupted. “I can’t believe it.” It was her. It was Abby Gerwitz, his childhood sweetheart. He searched her eyes and a thousand memories—happy childhood pictures—flooded his mind. And then he recalled the pain he’d felt on the day they were forced to say goodbye.

After an unforgettable summer, Abby and the neighborhood gang received the terrible tidings. Rick—then known as Richard—gathered the gang in his backyard. He felt ready to cry. “I’ve got some bad news, guys,” he said.
“Oh, God,” Tracy blurted.
“Yeah?” asked Vinny.
“What’s is it?” Grant asked.
Richard looked at Abby. She was frozen.
“My dad was promoted to lieutenant, and he has to transfer to another prison across the state.” There was a long, painful pause. “We’re going to have to move away…next week.”
It was a lie. They were moving, sure enough, but Richard’s dad hadn’t been promoted. The hospital bills from his mom’s car accident—where a drunk driver had stolen away her life—had finally broken them. It was a matter of money or more precisely the lack of it. Richard silently vowed that he’d never be put in the same position—ever. No matter what I have to do, he swore to himself.
While the rest of his friends hung their heads and complained, Abby burst out crying and ran for her house.
As Rick recalled, it was well past midnight when he finally surrendered to the tossing and turning. Rolling out of bed, he maneuvered past several moving boxes, stepped up to the window and pulled back the curtain. Wilbur Avenue was deserted and silent. From left to right—as if he was branding the picture into his mind forever—he carefully scanned every detail of the place he could no longer call home. Although one good memory after another played out before him, a sharp pain pricked his heart. No one was watching, so he allowed the tears to flow. Once he’d arrived at the farthest reaches of his vantage point, he forced his swollen eyes to work their way back and absorb more of his past. “Why do we have to leave?” he muttered. “Why?” Before long, his shoulders rocked back and forth to the rhythm of his quiet sobs.
The very next morning, gray clouds hovered over Wilbur Avenue. Richard’s dad and grandma made their goodbyes quick and waited in the overstuffed station wagon for Richard.
Richard had never said goodbye before. The pain was alien. It hurt something awful to face Abby. Overwhelmed with emotion, it took him a while to speak. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
“Well, I guess…” Richard muttered, and choked on the words. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled the curled brim of his ball cap down further over his eyes.
Through sniffles, Abby finally said, “You can come back and visit, right?”
“Sure.” Richard was fighting to be strong and dared not speak more than a word.
Abby lifted the brim of his hat. “Goodbye, Richard,” she whimpered.
Richard placed his hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “No Abby…I’ll be seein’ ya,” he whispered, and with one surge of courage kissed her on the lips.
While Abby’s eyes went wide, he pulled his baseball cap back over his eyes, jumped into the family station wagon and never looked back. One cruel moment later, the Giles family drove away.
Though Richard and Abby promised to keep in touch, frequent phones calls and detailed letters gradually became an occasional event until adolescence rearranged priorities and their communication ceased altogether.

Back in the present, Abby gasped. “Richard? Is it really you?”
Rick grinned. “It’s Rick now,” he said.
Her smile turned mischievous. “Okay, Richard.”
He stood to meet her embrace and squeezed her tight. “My God, it’s been so long. How have you been?”
She pulled away to peer into his eyes and, without a word, returned to their embrace.
While they hugged over the unexpected reunion, Carol was clearly pleased with herself—as if she’d known there was history between them. “Abby just moved into the neighborhood, Rick…three houses down from us. It appears that you two have a lot in common, so I’ll leave you to it.” Carol smiled widely before strutting away.
“So you’re living on Freedom Avenue now…near these crazy people?” Rick asked. He couldn’t believe it, but his palms were actually sweaty. He looked into her sparkling eyes and experienced arrhythmia for the first time in his life.
“I am,” Abby said before looking down at his left hand and then back into his eyes. “You’re not married?” she asked, blushing slightly over the impulsive question.
“Happily divorced,” he answered.
“Then you must have a creep for an ex-husband too?” she teased. Her tone was gentle and there was a soft light playing around her eyes.
“I do,” Rick said. “His name’s Rose.”
Abby chuckled and took the seat beside her old friend. Her laugh was absolutely contagious.
For a few moments, neither spoke a word. And then Abby’s face blushed again when Rick caught her staring. She looked away. Rick was thrilled over the obvious chemistry between them.
Rick cracked open a fresh beer and offered it to her. His hands were almost trembling. No one has ever had this effect on me, he thought. No one. He was legitimately nervous.
She shook her head. “Thanks, but I don’t like beer,” she said, and then stared straight into his soul. “So you did the divorce thing too, huh?”
He shrugged. “I did. Seems like the ‘in thing’ these days.”
“Any kids?” she asked, shifting from one hip to the other.
Rick’s eyes lit up. “Zachary…the love of my life. He just turned two.” He took a swig of beer. “I’m thinking about getting him a bigger bowl.”
Abby’s eyebrow rose in confusion.
“Zachary’s my gold fish,” Rick explained, chuckling.
Even through the laughter, Abby kept staring. At one point, she slid closer to him.
Her presence felt so comfortable and familiar to Rick. “And you… any kids?” he asked.
“Paige,” Abby answered, with the same twinkle in her eyes. “She’ll be nine next week…just old enough to be brokenhearted.”
Rick nodded. “Boy problems?”
“No. Daddy problems.” She shook her head, the twinkle gone. “Her father hasn’t made a whole lot of time for her lately,” she explained.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” As a light drizzle began to fall, Rick leaned into Abby’s face. She smelled as good as she looked.
Abby nodded, but quickly changed the subject. “So how long have you known Carol?” she asked.
“Too long,” Rick answered with a smirk. “Actually, I met Danny in college and met Carol after their first date. He was my business colleague for a while. He and Carol have been together for almost three years now. She’s great. She loves Danny’s two boys like they’re her own.”
“Business colleagues?”
“Investments. Stocks, bonds… really, really important stuff like that,” he added, sarcastically.
“You two still together?” she asked.
“Nope. Danny and I have broken up. I recently discovered that I liked sunshine a little more than fluorescent light.” He thought for a moment. “I just started doing some consulting work, and I write a little now.”
“You do? That’s great!” Abby said. She smiled like an angel. “I’d love to see some of your writing.”
Rick’s skin tingled over the suggestion.

Beneath a wet sky, the rest of the night was spent getting caught up. For Rick, it felt like old times—even though he had no idea who Abby was as an adult.
They reminisced first about Rick’s grandma and father. “So how are they?” Abby asked. “I always loved them, you know.”
He smiled. “Dad lives in New Hampshire now, working with delinquent kids.”
She smiled, her head cocked. “Did he ever remarry?”
“No. He’s never stopped loving my mom enough to pursue another woman. I guess in his own way he still grieves her death.”
Abby’s mouth twisted slightly, forming itself into a frown; she was clearly touched by the undying love the man had for his wife.
“I think Grandma’s right,” Rick added. “When my dad passes, I’m betting that he and my ma will spend eternity making up for lost time.”
Abby nearly cooed at the sweet sentiment. “I’ll never forget his dog, Roy,” she said.
Rick took a sip of beer and chuckled. “Believe it or not, he actually has Roy’s grandson now—Ray.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Roy and now Ray. What was the dog’s name in between?”
“Screw Up.”
Abby was sent into a state of hysterics.
Rick shrugged and laughed along with her.
“And Grandma?” she asked, regaining her composure.
Rick nodded. “Still spry and spunky…just a really cool person. You know her motto: ‘The body doesn’t wear out, it rusts.’ She’s still listening to her music and raising holy hell.”
Abby smiled at the familiar phrase.
“And she got married,” Rick said.
“Married?”
“Yep. His name is Bill Stryker and they’re perfect for each other.” He took another swig of beer. “She still makes me sit for dinner every Sunday.” Rick then asked about Abby’s parents.
There was a sad pause. “My mom passed away,” Abby said, “from a lack of purpose, I’d say. And I haven’t spoken to my father for a few years now.” She tried to shake off the pain. “We no longer share a relationship… just some really bad memories. I imagine he’s still committing suicide the long way.”
“Drinking?”
“Yup, still doing laps in his bottle.”
Rick put his beer on the table and quickly changed the subject.
“Have you heard from any of the old Wilbur Avenue gang?”
Abby’s smile returned. “From what I hear, Vinny became an attorney and is living with his wife in Vermont.” She thought for a moment. “I don’t know how anyone could stand to live with him.”
Rick laughed.
“Tracy became a psychologist and moved to Utah.”
“Married?” Rick asked.
“A-sexual, I think.”
They both laughed. Rick couldn’t stop staring at her great smile and adorable dimples.
“Actually, I heard she lives with her lesbian lover and goes by the new name Cheyenne.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
Abby shook her head.
“Good for her,” Rick said.
“But I haven’t heard anything about Grant,” Abby added.
Rick leaned forward. “You’re not going to believe this, but the first day I walked into college…there was Grant talking to some pretty, unsuspecting freshman.”
Abby shook her head.
“I still see him every Tuesday night,” Rick said. “We shoot a little pool and a whole lot of bull.”
She was shocked. “How is he?”
“The same…emotionally amputated; socially challenged.”
As the laughter continued, she asked, “Do you remember the last time your dad brought us all to Lincoln Park? Believe it or not, I still think about that sometimes.”
“Are you kidding?” Rick said. “I could live a hundred lifetimes and never forget that day!” And without his permission, his mind immediately raced back to the smack of screen doors and the echoes of foolish, barefooted children running toward the future.

As a going away gift to Richard and his friends, Jim Giles announced, “I’m treating you all to Lincoln Park.” It was a local amusement park that was famous for its epic Easter egg hunts and The Comet—the largest and most feared roller coaster on the East Coast. The park also had the reputation of hosting some lifelong memories from early spring until late fall.
Jim Giles pulled the station wagon into the front of the park and shut off the ignition. From sheer excitement, the back doors flew open and Richard, Abby, Grant, Tracy and Vinny piled out like a trained circus act. They waited. Jim Giles never opened his door.
Richard ran around to his father’s window. “Aren’t you comin’, Dad?” he asked, still resentful over their upcoming move.
Jim handed his son some money and winked. “This is your day,” he said, and then looked at Abby beside Richard. “Stay together, all right?”
They both nodded. “Absolutely,” said Richard. “I’ll be seein’ ya.”
“We will,” Abby promised.
Richard’s father smiled. “Meet me back here at six,” he said, and drove away from the curb.
The gang watched as the wood-paneled wagon disappeared into traffic. They looked at each other and smiled. They’d been set loose for one last hoorah. This entire day was going to be their last great adventure together. Past the roller-skating rink and bowling alley out front, they sprinted toward the ticket gate.
Murals of smiling clowns holding balloons and lollipops beckoned them inside. A hand stamp cost five dollars and fifty cents and allowed them to ride all the rides for the day. Once paid, the land of thrill seekers, big crowds and long lines opened up to them. “That’s expensive,” Richard blurted, while Grant discreetly talked Tracy into paying his fare.
Three steps in and a slew of stimuli nudged them into a frenzy of squeals and high-fives. Flashing lights, carnival sounds and joyous screams filled the park. From popcorn to vomit, the smells were overwhelming. A world of vivid colors—dark reds and yellows and blues—covered everything. One look around, and it was clear that romance could blossom here, as well. Richard glanced over at Abby to find her staring at him. Smiling to himself, he turned, waved his friends toward him and ran for the rides. “Come on!”
Everyone took chase.
The gang worked its way through the park. Hidden speakers spouting the moans and wails of ghouls and mutants soon had them standing before The Monster Ride. “Looks like Old Lady MacDonald’s place,” Richard said and everyone agreed. Those who dared to ride were greeted by gaudy, lurking statues of hideous creatures with horns, sharp teeth and insane eyes. Of course, to the older, more discerning eye, the giant plaster of Paris knick-knacks were no less than absurd.
Richard led his friends toward the unknown. Tracy wouldn’t hear of it. “Come on, Scaredy-Cat,” Grant taunted. It didn’t matter. No matter how much teasing they heaped on, Grant and Vinny were forced to share a car. Abby had already jumped in with Richard.
From the moment the car hit the double doors and entered pitch darkness, Abby shut her eyes and never opened them. While hideous mannequins waited in the shadows, the car took jerky turns on a squeaky track. “Eeeek,” Abby squealed, while Richard did his best not to laugh. Through all the screaming, the smells of the midway wafted in, while several rays of sunlight streamed through the cracks in the old, wooden boards. Though these reminded everyone that his or her plight was surreal and only temporary, it still didn’t matter in the belly of the beast. At one point, Abby placed her trembling body against Richard’s.
He’d never felt such warmth. His whole body tingled and he instinctively tightened his grip. It was almost a hug. A swarm of butterflies fluttered in his guts, but even in the blackness he couldn’t bring himself to kiss her. He just couldn’t do it.
As the car came crashing through another set of double doors and back into reality, Richard and Abby released each other. Through squinted eyes, they exchanged a grin. The crush was their little secret.

Once Rick returned to their conversation, he looked hard into Abby’s eyes and his Adam’s apple took forever to travel south. “Those were definitely the days,” he said.
She nodded. “Find a penny, pick it up and all that day you’ll have good luck.”
“As long as it’s heads up,” he added, with a grin.
Between the conversation and shared laughter, the entire night seemed to last all of three seconds.

© Steven Manchester

 *~*~*

My thanks to the author for providing this excerpt of Pressed Pennies.



Pressed Pennies is available from 13th May 2014.
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk