Friday, 21 July 2017

First Remembered Read ~ Classic

Those of us who read, and who are influenced by books, tend to squirrel away our memories of all the stories we have read over the years. 

And yet, there is always that one special book tucked away in the far corner of your mind which reminds you just why you love reading so much…

During July and August I've invited a few friends to share their First Remembered Read

My First Remembered ~ Classic

I'm thrilled to welcome

John R. McKay, author of  Mosquitoes

My first classic - The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I first read The Catcher In The Rye when I was at high school in the early 1980s having had it recommended to me by a friend. When I heard that John Lennon’s killer had been holding a copy of the book when he murdered the ex-Beatle, I was intrigued to know what it was all about.


The book is written from the viewpoint of Holden Caulfield, a sixteen year old boy in 1950s America as he comes to terms with life after being expelled from school. Unable to face his parents he heads for New York City where his immaturity, naivety and sometimes juvenile behaviour eventually land him in a psychiatric ward.

The style of writing left a big impression upon me as it was a technique I had never come across before and have rarely seen since. Although the plot is nothing special, Holden’s thoughts and sometimes comical way at looking at life keep the pages turning, and although he is a very flawed character, and probably not somebody, if real, you would want to spend any length of time with, you still find yourself rooting for him.

The way in which Salinger develops Holden’s character and the often frank viewpoints he expresses, directly influenced my own character, ‘Alex Sumner’, in my novel ‘Mosquitoes’.

I have since read the book a number of times and each time I do, I get something new from it. Although it is sometimes a sad tale, as you observe the decline of his mental state, it is also uplifting in many ways, as Holden tries to cling on to his childhood innocence whilst at the same time attempting to appear mature and grown-up.

Having first read the book at around the same age as Holden Caulfield was, it had a big impression upon me at the time and I still have a large fondness for it. With the passage of time, some of the vernacular may now be a little dated. However, it still remains timeless and a classic of its age, and I have no doubt I will re-visit it once again in the near future.


Linda Green, Book Blogger at Books of All Kinds

My First Classic - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The first classic that I had the pleasure to read was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen when I was the tender age of eleven. I always enjoyed reading and had read a few books here and there up to that point but it was this book that really kick-started my love affair with books and especially classics. Finding a copy of it at home which was probably left by my older sister, I remember curling up to read it and not putting it back down for hours. The richness of the language was new to me but instead of putting me off, it drew me in until I was a part of the story, dancing with the Bennets, or gazing up at the magnificence of Pemberley. The characters, the settings, the time period, all combined to create such a special reading experience for me that Pride and Prejudice is still one of the few books that I re-read every year. 


This classic also began my love for Jane Austen as well as classics in general - I even centred my dissertation at University on the beloved author. 

At the last count I have five different editions of Pride and Prejudice itself, another fifteen varying editions of Jane Austen’s other novels, and around one hundred classics in general, and I am certain that I became a bookworm the day I picked up Pride and Prejudice as a young girl. 

Thank you so much for having me and I really love your new feature!

Huge thanks to John and Linda for sharing the memories

 of their First Classic Read with me today.

Next week : My First Shakespeare

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review ~ Fall Out by Lizzy Mumfrey

I_Am Self Publishing

What's it all about..

Fall Out is a novel about an archetypal commuter village, home to a colourful range of residents many of whose teenagers go to the local Academy. An ordinary day becomes extraordinary when a school trip to London coincides with a terrorist attack. The fallout affects residents in diverse ways. Who lives and who dies is just the start as irrational suspicions and prejudice lead to unreasonable blame. Friendships are fractured and buried secrets are revealed.

What did I think about it...

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester this book was difficult to read and even more difficult to review since the subject is both subjective and prominent in our daily lives.

Putting reality on one side, this book doesn't focus on the whys and wherefores but then neither does it shy away from the repercussions of such a tragedy occurring, or of the impact that such a devastating event has on those who are inadvertently caught up in it.

This debut author writes well and offers a realistic version of how a community can either pull together or quite literally, fall apart in light of such a tragedy. I liked how the writing showed the minutiae of life, both the good and the bad of human nature, and of the unpredictability of just going about your daily business. There are an abundance of characters which takes some getting used to, some I liked more than others, but all are written with a fine eye for detail and a sense of lively dialogue.

Fall Out is a thought provoking and rather topical story which may not be to everyone's taste at the moment, however, I commend the author for tackling such a difficult and emotive subject in a very readable style.

More about the author can be found on her website by clicking here  or see what she writes on her blog by clicking here

My thanks to the author for sharing her work with me


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Blog Tour ~ Not A Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

 Jaffareadstoo to is delighted to host today's stop on the Not A Sound Blog Tour 

HQ Books
20 July 2017

What's it all about...

Amelia Winn has a lot of regrets. she regrets that first drink after she lost her hearing. She regrets destroying her family as she spiralled into depression. Mostly, she regrets not calling Gwen Locke back.

Because now Gwen is dead. And as Amelia begins to unearth the terrible secrets that led to Gwen's naked body being dumped in the freezing water, she realises that she might be next.

What did I think about it...

From the very start of this novel, with its suspenseful and thought provoking prologue, I was drawn to the character of Amelia Winn. She is a woman who has suffered a devastating injury and yet, despite a catastrophic hearing impairment, she is learning, after a rocky start and with the help of her service dog, Stitch, to carry on with her life.

On one of her frequent paddle board trips down the Five Mines River, which runs close to her Iowa riverside home, Amelia is shocked to discover a female body in the river weeds. That she knows the identity of the woman makes this shocking discovery all the more traumatic.

What then follows is a taut and tight psychological thriller which looks at the way Amelia's quest to discover what happened to Gwen Locke starts to encroach more and more on her own life. But as Amelia discovers, to her cost, that trying to catch killer is all the more terrifying when you can't hear him coming.

As always, this talented author gets right into the very heart of the subject, and adds layers upon layers into a very thought provoking thriller. Her finely drawn description of the constant hearing difficulties faced by Amelia, as she struggles to make sense of a world which is often bewildering to her, is done with such calm precision that it really brings home just how difficult it must be to live in such a hushed and silent environment.

The many twists and turns in the story kept me guessing right from the start and I enjoyed travelling the suspenseful journey with Amelia as she starts to piece together all the component parts of the mystery surrounding the death of her friend. The action really hots up and there are some genuine surprises in store as Amelia gets closer and closer to the truth.

However, for me the real hero of the story is Stitch. He's a very special service dog, who just made me smile every time he appeared on the page, and who in light of everything that was going on in Amelia's world was always going to be her protector right until the very end of the novel.

Best Read with...a medium taco pizza and a soda..

Thanks to Rebekah at Midas PR for my review copy of Not A Sound and for the kind invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Follow on Twitter #NotASound @hgudenkauf


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Ludlow Ladies' Society by Anne O'Louglin

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on

The Ludlow Ladies' Society Blog Tour


The Ludlow Ladies’ Society by Ann O’Loughlin is published 20th July by Black & White Publishing, price £12.99 

Connie Carter has lost everyone and everything dear to her. Leaving her home in Manhattan, she moves to Wicklow, Ireland hoping to heal her broken heart, and in search of answers: why did her husband plough all their money into the dilapidated Ludlow Hall before he died?

Although Connie initially avoids the villagers, she meets local women Eve and Hetty, who introduce her to the Ludlow Ladies’ Society, a crafts group in need of a permanent home.

Eve Brannigan is also struggling with pain from her past. After her husband’s suicide, it became clear that he had bankrupted them, and her beloved home Ludlow Hall was repossessed. Now, seeing the American Connie living there, the hurt of losing her house is renewed. But as she and Hetty begin stitching memory quilts in order to remember those they’ve lost, can she let go of her past and allow herself some happiness? And can Connie ever recover from the death of her much-loved daughter Molly?

I am delighted to be able to welcome the author, Ann O'Loughlin to the blog today.

Hi Ann, welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for spending time with us today

Without revealing too much, what can you tell us about The Ludlow Ladies’ Society?

This is the story of the enduring friendship among women. It celebrates the resilience of women and how they support and hold each other up through the worst of times. 

Connie Carter has lost everyone and everything dear to her. She comes from America to Ludlow Hall in Wicklow, Ireland desperate to find answers as to why this old mansion existed and yet she knew nothing about it until her husband’s death. Ludlow Hall features large in the life of Rathsorney. Eve lived there until it was repossessed by the bank and later sold on to Connie’s husband. 

When Connie meets up with Eve and Hetty from the village and the members of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, she finds friendship, understanding and compassion. As they make memory quilts together to remember their loved ones, the secrets of the past tumble out and the women begin to confront a painful past.

Connie Carter finds she did not just inherit a house but a whole group of friends who support and hold each other even through the worst of times. This is a story about the power of female friendship and the strength of the bonds that develop over time. As they stitch the patchwork memory quilts, Connie takes the first tentative steps to stitch her life back together.

I was very taken with the description of Ludlow Hall, did you base the story on a particular place or did you draw purely from your imagination?

When I was young in the west of Ireland we used to play in the fields around our home and often in the ruins of big old house there. I think it was from that time, I have loved big old houses. Ludlow Hall is the house in my imagination, but for me it is very real. I have a picture in my head of the house, every nook and cranny. Someday I hope to come across the house in reality. I like to think if I did, I could knock on the front door, confident the occupants will welcome me and I will be invited in to walk through to the kitchen for a cuppa.

The Ludlow Ladies’ Society is set in Co.Wicklow. How important is location to your writing, and did you visit any the places you describe so vividly in your novel?

I think location is very important and I never like to write about a place if I don’t know it well. I think when you know a place well, you know instinctively which way the bus is coming, which way the car should turn when it goes out the gate and little things like that which are so important. While Ludlow Hall is in a fictional village, it is in Co Wicklow in Ireland. I live in Co Wicklow, I know the way the roads are, the type of shops and cafés there and the type of houses. I think that is so important. A proper sense of place for me is very important.

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 story to life?

Thank you! In my mind I am there by her side when Connie is first walking through the village of Rathsorney, I am walking every step with her. The voice pounding in her head is pounding in mine. When she stands to take in Ludlow Hall for the first time, I am there doing the same thing. I think that is how you bring any story to life. When the ladies of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society sit to have a chat and a gossip, I am the ghost in the room if you like, I am writing what I hear and what I see, it is a great privilege.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. Do they ever dictate how the story progresses or do you stick with a writing plan from the beginning and never deviate?

What writing plan? I wish I was one of those writers who had a story board or lots of notes and walls or even the fridge covered with notes, but it is all in my head. The characters shout at me they want the story told in a certain way and I have to oblige.

On a good day, they will keep shouting, getting word count up by nearly 2000 words. On other days, they give up after 1000 words. The characters in my head dictate the pace. One of the saddest things about writing The End is that the voices fade and disappear.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

I hope when readers close any of my books they feel uplifted, also maybe wanting to hear more of the characters, that they enjoyed the time with the characters; and I want them to sigh thinking back on the story and realise while it made them cry in places, there were also a lot of laughs along the way. I trust my readers to know while there is a serious issue running through The Ludlow Ladies' Society like in my other two novels, there is also fun, humour, gossip and a host of characters who I hope the readers love. I want readers to feel they have been touched by the story.

About the Author

A leading journalist in Ireland for nearly thirty years, Ann O’Loughlin has covered all major news events of the last three decades. Ann spent most of her career with independent newspapers where she was Security Correspondent at the height of the Troubles, and was a senior journalist on the Irish Independent and the Evening Herald. She is currently a senior journalist with the Irish Examiner newspaper covering legal issues. Ann has also lived and worked in India. Originally from the west of Ireland she now lives on the east coast in Co. Wicklow with her husband and two children. Her debut novel The Ballroom Café was a bestseller, with over 250,000 copies sold in eBook alone. Her second novel The Judge’s Wife was an Irish bestseller for 5 weeks, and was shortlisted for a Romantic Novel Award in February 2017.

..Here are my thoughts about the story..

I'm always in awe of those beautiful patchwork memory quilts which stitch together so many hopes and dreams, and as the Ludlow ladies come together to stitch memory quilts of their own, so their individual hopes, dreams and frailties are laid bare.

For Connie Carter leaving her home in America and coming to live in rural Ireland is never going to be easy, especially as she is grieving a loss so great she is doubtful she will ever feel whole again. A town resident and former owner of Ludlow Hall, Eve Brannigan is also coping with loss in her own inimitable style and when a tentative friendship develops between these two very different women, the result is a story which is beautifully tender and yet so unbelievably sad in places that it made me want to reach inside the pages and hug both these women close.

At first the ladies of Ludlow are sceptical of Connie's presence in their small town and it's only when Connie opens up the doors of Ludlow Hall as a place where the ladies' group can come together to stitch memory quilts that she begins, very slowly, to be accepted.

This is one of those gentle stories that really gets into the very heart of female friendship. Friendship which is bonded together by shared experiences, not just of happy moments, but also of those jagged pieces of lives which have, sometimes, been fractured beyond repair.

The glorious setting of Ludlow Hall is the place that holds all of the memories together and for Eve and the Ludlow ladies the memories of their shared past threatens to outshine their future, whilst for Connie, her overwhelming sadness, at last, finds a place of refuge and renewal.

Ludlow Hall is that glorious piece of fabric which forms the centrepiece of an amazing story quilt stitched together lovingly by a very talented writer.

My thanks to the author for answering my questions so thoughtfully and also to Sophie at for my review copy of the Ludlow Ladies' Society.

Follow the blog tour on Twitter @annolwriter #LudlowLadiesSociety

Monday, 17 July 2017

Review ~ Legacy by Bill Mesce, Jr

** Paperback Publication Day **

Impress Books
17 July 2017

What's it all about...

Dante DiMarchese is a forensic psychologist, an expert in the workings of the criminal mind and the man responsible for putting the Bailey Beach serial killer behind bars. When a soldier home from a tour in Afghanistan is charged with manslaughter, Dante is immediately called on to help. Meanwhile, the Bailey Beach killer is threatening to smear Dante's name, while Dante's persistent ex-brother-in-law ropes him into an inheritance dispute between a still-living father and his family. In the heart of New York, will Dante's unravel the legacies and lies that others have left behind? Can he contain his own deceptions?

What did I think about it ...

To be honest, it took me a little while to get into this story, but once I had settled to the characters, and into the writer's unique style of presentation, I found that the story started to move along quite decisively, which may have something to do with the fact that the story originally started off its life as a screenplay. Within the story are some wonderfully descriptive passages which I could well image being translated to screen or theatre.

I enjoyed getting to know the central character. Dante DiMarchese is a forensic psychologist who understands the intricacies of criminal psychology, a subject which is as complex and intricate as the story in which he plays an active role. DiMarchese is a complicated protagonist, a multi-layered character who strips away the minutiae of the cases he works on with precise and specific concentration. I’m not sure I liked him over much, but then I guess that what makes reading about the way he operates so interesting.

I read a great deal of British psychological suspense, so it's always fascinating for me, as a reader, to note the difference in style and presentation between a novel, for example, set in the UK and one set in the US. The noticeable similarities and spotting the differences are what make Legacy all the more enjoyable to read.

Best read with... Dante's chocolate chunk cookies...

Bill Mesce, Jr. is an award-winning author and playwright, as well as a screenwriter.

My thanks to Natalie at Impress Books for my review copy of Legacy


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered

I enjoy reading books set during WW1 which cover as wide a range as possible. 

In July I will share my favourites, some non fiction and some fiction

The Regeneration Trilogy

Pat Barker


 The Regeneration trilogy is the series of powerful novels written in the 1990s by Pat Barker.

The novels which blend fact with fiction highlight the full horrors of WW1 

1917, Scotland. At Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, army psychiatrist William Rivers treats shell-shocked soldiers before sending them back to the front. In his care are poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. . .

Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road follow these characters until the last few months of the war.

3734040 3483606

It's impossible to single out which of the trilogy impressed me the most. Each offers something different but when put together collectively they form a powerful and poignant account of the effects and futility of war.

This series, which forms part of my arsenal of books about WW1, is looking a bit bruised and battered, so I have chosen to feature the covers which are more recently associated with the trilogy.

My 1991 edition of Regeneration has this striking red cover 


The cover image is based on this black and white photograph of Delville Wood, 1916

Reproduced courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
© IWM (Q 1156)
View from within Delville Wood, 20 September 1916.
Battle of the Somme

The Eye in the Door was the winner of the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize

The Ghost Road was the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize.



Saturday, 15 July 2017

Close to Home ....Elizabeth Ashworth

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome North West Writer

I’ve lived in the North West all my life. In fact I can trace the direct line of my father’s ancestry back to the beginning of the parish registers in the village of Whalley in Lancashire. So it isn’t surprising that I feel a deep affinity with the place and its history.

I’ve always been a writer. I had my first ‘article’ published in Diana magazine at eleven years old and was paid a pound. My first short story was for Pony magazine just a few years later. But it was when Countryside Books asked me to write a Tales of Old Lancashire for their series that I really began to write about the histories and legends of the places I know so well.

This part of Lancashire is steeped in folklore and I loved researching those old stories, but there was one in particular that fascinated me. It was the story of a hermit who had lived in a cave under Clitheroe Castle. The legend told that he suffered from leprosy, but was cured by drinking from the wellspring. It also said that he would have inherited all the de Lacy lands in Blackburnshire and Yorkshire if he had not contracted the illness, because back then lepers were treated as being dead and not allowed to inherit, so everything went to his brother instead. Intrigued by this legend I began to do some research to see if there was any truth in it and discovered that a brother of Roger de Lacy was indeed a leper. Whether he ever lived in a cave at Clitheroe I don’t know, but I wanted to tell his story in more detail and that’s how I came to write my first novel The de Lacy Inheritance, which was published in 2012 by Myrmidon Books.

The following novel, An Honourable Estate, was also inspired by local legend. This time it was the story of Mab’s Cross at Wigan. Poor Lady Mabel thought her beloved husband William had died and she married another man. When William came back she walked barefoot to the Cross as a penance for her adultery. There are several versions of what happened to Lady Mabel and William Bradshaigh and after much research, I settled on a story that I hope is both credible and enjoyable.


Since then I’ve written two more books that feature the de Lacys: Favoured Beyond Fortune and The Circle of Fortune. The settings for these move away from the local area because of the history, but as the family is so linked to the local area they are still inspired by Lancashire.


I’ve also written By Loyalty Bound, which features Richard III and his unnamed mistress who bore him two children. This one has a local link too because I believe the mother of his children was a Lancashire born girl, Anne Harrington, from Hornby Castle, just beyond Lancaster. 

Another story, The Merlin’s Wife, is about the astrologer John Dee and his wife Jane. It isn’t set in the north but John Dee was the Warden of the Collegiate Church in Manchester in his later life, and his wife Jane is buried there. The other connection is the legend that John Dee’s associate, Edward Kelley, supposedly raised the dead in the churchyard at Walton-le-Dale. That was after he’d had his ears cropped at Lancaster for some double dealing he’d been up to. Most of John Dee’s troubles seem to have arisen from his friendship with Kelley and it’s a bit of a sad story in some ways, but one that I wanted to tell from the point of view of his long-suffering Jane Dee who stood by her husband in all his troubles.

I’ve also written about William Shakespeare and his supposed connections with Lancashire. Many Kinds of Silence explores the legend that he spent his ‘lost years’ at Hoghton Tower, near Preston. It’s credible, I think, but the lack of any firm evidence makes it something that is rarely taken seriously. That, of course, opens up the possibility for a novelist to create their own version of events!

My latest novel, which I’ve just finished writing, is the story of Isolde de Heton, who was an anchoress, a recluse, in the churchyard at Whalley. It’s yet another example of me trying to sift the facts from the various legends and come up with a viable story that doesn’t discredit the main character. I blame Harrison Ainsworth and his Lancashire Witches book for Isolde’s bad reputation. He portrayed her as a bit of a wicked woman, but when you look at the history she did what she did for a good reason. I won’t say any more! Look out for The King’s Appointed, which I hope will be available before too long.

I’m currently deciding what to write next. I’m thinking of drawing on the family research I mentioned at the beginning and writing about the challenges faced by a family who were forced to move away from hand loom weaving in their home to work in one of the new cotton mills in Blackburn. But, whatever I decide to write, you can be sure that it will be inspired by the local places I know and love.

Find out more about Elizabeth and her writing:

Twitter: @elizashworth

Warmest thanks to Elizabeth for being our very welcome guest today and for talking about her writing and for sharing her love of the North West with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature

Coming next week : Susan Pape


Summer Read ~ Summer at Hope Meadows by Lucy Daniels


What's it all about...

Based on the globally bestselling Animal Ark series. 

Newly-qualified vet Mandy Hope is leaving Leeds - and her fiancé Simon - to return to the Yorkshire village she grew up in. There, she will help out in her parents' surgery whilst they're short-staffed. Mandy's life has always revolved around her work with rescued animals, and Welford offers an opportunity to work with creatures of all sizes, from hedgehogs and puppies to farm stock and even wild deer.

But rural Yorkshire is very different to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Mandy must work hard to be accepted by the close-knit village community, and convince them of her abilities as a vet - especially Jimmy Marsh, the gruff owner of the local Outward Bound business, with whom she just can't seem to get along. 
When some long-neglected animals are discovered in a critical state on a nearby farm, Mandy is determined to prove herself as a confident and fearless vet. When it comes to protecting animals in need, she's prepared to do whatever it takes..

What did I think about it ...

As a young teenager I was fascinated by the James Herriot series on TV and went on to read some of James Herriot's books which delightfully recall his lively adventures a as a young vet in Yorkshire.

Summer at Hope Meadows follows this tradition and gives us a lovely story of what it's like to be working with animals and travelling around the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. I have to admit to not being familiar with the Animal Ark series of children's books, so I come to this new adult series with no preconceptions of what I want the characters to be like.

I think that the author has done a great job of bringing the stories up to date and felt completely at ease with the way the story unfolded. I enjoyed getting to know newly qualified vet, Mandy Hope, as she returns to the small Yorkshire village of her childhood. But leaving behind a progressive city veterinary practice and returning to rural work is both difficult and challenging for Mandy, especially as her boyfriend, |Simon, isn't very supportive.

I really enjoyed this lovely romp through the glorious Yorkshire countryside and enjoyed reading of the challenges that Amanda faced as she set about helping her parents, both vets, who are struggling to cope with the demands of their aptly named, Animal Ark veterinary business. I thought that the medical aspects of the story were particularly well done, which reflects on the author's own experiences as a qualified vet herself.

I especially loved the interaction between Mandy and her best friend, James, who is facing heartache of a very different kind and of course, the animals themselves tug away at your heartstrings, especially the gentle shire horse, Bill and the damaged collie, Sky.

Summer at Hope Meadows is a really lovely summer read and the start of a promising new series of books which I am sure will delight readers.

Best Read with...Tea and scones from James' tea shop in York

About the Author

Lucy Daniels is the collective name for the writing team that created the bestselling children's book series Animal Ark. Hope Meadows is a brand new Lucy Daniels series for adult readers, featuring the characters and locations that were so beloved of the original series.

This new title, Summer at Hope Meadows has been written by a new author called Sarah McGurk who has the advantage of being passionate about the animal ark series and also a fully qualified vet.

My thank to Jenni  and the team at Hodder for my review copy of Summer at Hope Meadows


Friday, 14 July 2017

First Remembered Read ~ Poem...

Those of us who read, and who are influenced by books, tend to squirrel away our memories of all the stories we have read over the years. 

And yet, there is always that one special book tucked away in the far corner of your mind which reminds you just why you love reading so much…

During July and August I've invited a few friends to share their First Remembered Read

My First Remembered ~ Poem

I'm thrilled to welcome

Anna Belfrage, author of Under the Approaching Dark

When I was a child, my mother would often read me poetry. Most of the time, it would be Swedish poetry, but now and then she’d open her well-worn books of English verse, leafing swiftly back and forth to find her favourites. Her books were dog-eared and splotched – like my own books of verse are – testament to how often she opened them, fingers caressing the words as she spoke them.

At the time, we were living in South America, and my mother was badly affected by what the Welsh call Hiraeth, a melancholic longing for home. Hence, most of the Swedish poetry she read us was by poets describing Sweden at its most nostalgic best—whether it be in the purple shadows of the very short Midsummer night, or the dappled sunlight of a forest glade—places that screamed “home” to my mother, but not so much for me, as I had little recollection of the land of my birth. 

I preferred the English poems as they never affected my mother quite as much. Well, they usually didn’t, until the day she cleared her throat and started reading Michael Drayton to me:

Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
Shake hands forever, cancel all my vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou mightst him yet recover.

Clearly, this poem held a lot of significance for her, as her eyes moistened slightly. She cleared her voice and explained this was a poem about how love can suddenly end, leaving the lovers angry and hurting even while they (or at least one of them) hope that somehow things could be mended. “Once broken, it’s difficult to do,” she added. “The break never heals completely.”

Well, that was well over my eleven-year-old head, but I nodded all the same and scooted closer to her, offering what wordless comfort I could.

My mother cleared her throat and went on to read some more. Robert Herrick’s “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” made her smile as she told me this had been a favourite of a boy she’d met at university. These days, I wonder if maybe that same boy was the one she thought of when declaiming Drayton. Back then, I asked her to read some more.

“Alright,” she said, thumbing through the pages until she reached the John Donne section:

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the Devil’s foot:
Teach me to hear the mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind

If thou beest born to strange sights,
Things Invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and night,
Till Age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where,
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find’st one let me know;
Such a pilgrimage were sweet.
Yet do not: I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet.
Though she were true when you met her,
And last till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.

When she finished, she was crying. So was I, struck through the heart by the bitterness of the poet. Once again, I didn’t fully understand, but I was amazed at how such beautiful words could contain so much anger. I went about for days murmuring the first few lines over and over again. When my mother was busy elsewhere, I pulled out her precious book and found the poem, reading it silently to myself while I wondered what a mandrake was, and why he disliked women so much. What I also found was a folded slip of paper, worn so thin it was see-through. Faded blue ink in an unfamiliar handwriting covered the page, beginning with “Go and catch a falling star”.

Many years later, I bought a historical novel called The Moon in the Water by Pamela Belle. It has a sequel called The Chains of Fate, and these two books count among the best historical fiction I have ever read. It was while reading these books that I fully understood Donne’s poem, weeping until my eyes itched as Thomazine and Francis loved, lost, hated, loved, lost…

This is also when I understood that maybe my mother wept because she was never given the chance to explain herself. Maybe that boy (and yes, I’m stuck on that boy who shared her love of English poetry) thought her false and sent her that paper on which he’d copied Donne’s poem. Maybe she wanted to tell him otherwise, maybe she quoted Drayton at him, beseeching him to try again.  Or maybe it is as simple as two poet-lovers comparing notes over tea, one very long-gone spring day in the 1950s. I’ll never know, as I have no intention of asking. 

Matador 2017

Jane Cable, author of Another You

My first poem is Robert Louis Stevenson's 'From a Railway Carriage' which is from 'A Child's Garden of Verses'. My 1971 copy is illustrated by Hilda Boswell and I still think it's beautiful.

To be fair, it isn't the first poem I remember but it's the first I committed to memory and can still recite today. Because my father wrote poetry my early years were full of it, starting with his own childhood copy of A A Milne's 'When We Were Very Young'. I did go through it to see if I could pick a first or favourite but failed miserably. Every weekend morning I'd climb onto his bed and he'd read to me and very often it was poetry of some sort.

What I especially love about 'From a Railway Carriage' is that it can be read aloud in the rhythm of a train rattling along a track - try it and it works perfectly, speeding up and slowing down just like the real carriages would. As a child that fascinated me and I expect it's why the poem has stayed with me for so long. My father was really good at breathing life into poems and as he loved trains too I expect we were both swept up on a wonderful journey through the countryside, far away from the semi in Cardiff where I grew up, our noses pressed to the windows together as the fairies, witches and tramp all flashed past.

It's a really lovely memory!

Endeavour Press

Harriet Steel, author of Dark Clouds Over Nuala

I’ve chosen The Listeners by Walter de la Mare, the first poem to make a strong impression on me when I learnt it at school. It’s a lovely piece and still one of the most evocative I know. Moonlight shines on the lonely forest clearing as the traveller reaches the mysterious door. Apart from his knocks, the champ of his horse eating grass, and the whirr of wings of a startled bird, there’s an eerie silence. He knocks repeatedly, his impatience growing. No one answers. But the host of phantom listeners who live in the dark house hear him, and, as he senses their presence, the eeriness increases. At last, he makes a final, desperate appeal:

‘Tell them I came and no one answered,

That I kept my word,’ he said.

Still no reply. Dejected, he rides away, and the silence surges softly back.

De la Mare was celebrated for his ghost stories and, on one level, that’s what the poem is. When I was a child, the story fascinated me as well as making me shiver, and it still does. Why has the traveller come? Is it to return something to its rightful owners, or to claim something? The ghostly atmosphere brings back memories of childhood nights spent reading spooky stories by torchlight under the bedcovers.

However although de la Mare said there was no hidden meaning in his poem, some people have seen it as an allegory of man’s soul searching for answers to the eternal questions. Often, literature affects us differently as different times of our lives. As I grow older, the idea of an allegory has an increasing resonance.

Stane Street Press

Huge thanks to Anna, Jane and Harriet for sharing their memories with me today.

Next week : My First Classic

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review ~ The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn

Aurora Metro Publishers

What's it all about..

When Colin discovers his son is on a murder charge in France, he trails his small boat, The Dragonfly, across the channel to help him. There he meets his granddaughter - the irrepressible -Delphine for the first time. They embark on an exciting boat journey journey through the picturesque French canals, heading south through Burgundy 'until the butter melts'.

Along the way, they catch up with Tyler, a spirited American  and through various mishaps and misunderstandings, they land big fish, and cultivate new loves and uncover a burning secret.,

But can Colin finally get his son of the hook?

What did I think about it...

Having reacted to the news that his son, Michael, who is living in France, has been imprisoned for an alleged murder, Colin Aylesford takes his boat, The Dragonfly and heads off to the canal waterways of France in the hope of getting to know more about why his son has committed this serious crime. Desperate to know why Michael appears to have acted so completely out of character, Colin embarks on a journey of discovery, not just to find out more about his son, Michael, but also to start a relationship with his nine year old grandaughter, Delphine, who Colin has never met, before now. Grandfather and granddaughter have a mixed reaction to each other which was fascinating to observe, partly endearing, partly reactionary, each must learn to like the other. I think that in allowing this relationship to develop slowly, the author has captured the fractured family dynamic really well.

I enjoyed seeing how the story unfolded and  particularly enjoyed travelling along in The Dragonfly alongside, Colin and Delphine. There's something wonderfully escapist about meandering along the canals of France in a boat, so beautifully named, as The Dragonfly, except for Colin and Delphine, this journey is not necessarily idyllic, fraught as it is, with problems.  I don't want to give anything of the story away as it would be do a complete disservice to the author, but what I will say, is that this story of a family tragedy, and of the bonds that tie us together, is done with a fine eye for detail, and a real gift for storytelling. The writing flows well, and the other characters who flit into and out of the story add their own special qualities.

I particularly enjoyed watching the gentle unfolding of the relationship between grandfather and granddaughter, which I thought was especially well done. The Dragonfly is a heartwarming story, with a strong emotional core, which gives perceptive insight into a desperately sad family situation, which all too quickly threatened to spiral out of control.

Best Read with..A one-pot vegetable risotto and glasses of ice cold, Coca Cola...

You can find out more about the author on her website by clicking here 

Follow her on Twitter@katedunnauthor

The Dragonfly was short listed for the Virginia Prize which is awarded to encourage fresh women’s voices in fiction.

My thanks to the author for sharing The Dragonfly with me


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blog Tour ~ To Kill The President by Sam Bourne

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be hosting today's stop on the

 To Kill The President Blog Tour

Harper Collins

What's it all about...

If a president is out of control, who will take the ultimate step?

Maggie Costello is back to uncover an assassination plot against the US’s tyrannical new president, facing the ultimate moral dilemma.

The unthinkable has happened. The United States has elected a volatile demagogue as president, backed by his ruthless chief strategist, Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara. When a war of words with the North Korean regime spirals out of control and the President comes perilously close to launching a nuclear attack, it's clear someone has to act, or the world will be reduced to ashes.

Soon Maggie Costello, a seasoned Washington operator and stubbornly principled, discovers an inside plot to kill the President – and faces the ultimate moral dilemma. Should she save the president and leave the free world at the mercy of an increasingly crazed would-be tyrant – or commit treason against her Commander in Chief and risk plunging the country into a civil war?

 I am excited to welcome the author, Sam Bourne to Jaffareadstoo

Photo Credit : Philippa Gedge

As the title suggests, the book is about a US president, and US politics. There is a lot of fodder for a novel in current affairs, so why this particular focus?

I’ve been covering US politics as a journalist since the 1990s – and I’ve found it compelling for even longer than that. In recent months, I think the world has seen that politics in America can be lurid, wild, tense and extraordinarily dramatic. It can also be frightening to watch - but it’s ideal as a setting for a thriller that aims to be packed with suspense.

Is it easy to detach yourself enough from current politics to write a political thriller? Or is it a struggle to separate fact from fiction?

I don’t find it a struggle. On the contrary, I find the real world fuels and feeds the fiction. It constantly prompts me to ask: what if?

Is there a pattern to your writing day?

I always plan to start early, but rarely do. Admin and emails tend to get in the way. It can take me till 11am to really get going, but once I’ve started I like to dig in for a long session: it can be three or fours before I stop and eat a late lunch. Then I go back at it until the early evening. I try to hit a target word-count for the day – but that target shifts.

Who would play the President on the big screen? And Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara?

The President is rarely seen in this novel: he’s off-stage for most of it. Still, I could see Jon Voight in that role. Meanwhile, 'Mac’ would be a really juicy part for someone. I could see Brendon Gleeson playing him brilliantly. Or Jeff Bridges would also be brilliant.

Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

John Lennon, Hedy Lamarr, Thomas Jefferson, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Nancy Astor.

What’s next for Sam Bourne, are there any future book ideas you can talk about?

An idea is beginning to take root. But far too early to talk about…

About the Author...

Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of award-winning journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column for the Guardian and is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View. He served for four years as the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, covered the 2016 US election campaign and is a widely respected commentator on American affairs. His previous six internationally bestselling novels have sold over 2 million copies and been published in over 30 languages.

Discover more about the author on his website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @Freedland
@fictionpubteam harp

My thanks to the author for  input today and also to Emilie at Harper Collins for her help in facilitating this interview.