Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ Anne O'Brien

On Hist Fic Saturday I am excited to welcome back to the blog 

best-selling historical fiction writer

Anne O'Brien

Anne's latest book Queen of the North is due to be published on the 31st of May by HQ and I am thrilled that she has taken the time out of her busy pre-publication schedule to talk to me about why she writes historical fiction.

Why I write historical novels by Anne O'Brien

My most vivid  memories of childhood are those when I visited historical monuments.  My father was a keen historian so holidays were spent in ruined abbeys and castles, iron age hill forts, roman villas and stately homes.  His enthusiasm was contagious.  I loved the atmosphere, the sense of stepping back into the past.  Sometimes the vibes were so strong that they remain with me to this day.  The floodlit plainsong shivering through the ruins of Fountains Abbey.  A cold wind-swept day on Hadrian's Wall, the rain beating down.  The winding staircases in Caernarvon Castle, leading up to dramatic views. 

But what about the people who lived there?

I am now privileged to write about the lives of these people from the past, to recreate as far as it is possible their lifestyle, their relationships and the influences that made them into dynamic characters.  I have chosen to write about medieval women, because it seemed to me that they were given so little time and space in most history books.  Mostly they are a brief paragraph, or sometimes simply a footnote.  It pleases me to bring them from the shadows into the spotlight, to clothe their skeletons and make them rounded individuals with emotions and opinions.  History does not often open this door for us.  It is my pleasure to do so.

Even more enjoyable is to put them into  their place in history.  What is happening in the world around these women of the medieval court, and how does it affect the lives they lead?   While their menfolk are negotiating, fighting, killing and being killed, manipulating for political gain, what are the women doing?  These were intelligent women, often well educated, from powerful families   History might not give us their thoughts and words, except for the few women who were writing, but I am certain that they had them, as I am certain that they were not silent when their families were torn apart by uprising and treachery.  We should be able to enjoy these women in all their complexity.  That is why I write historical novels.

So why did I choose to write about Elizabeth Mortimer?  Her husband played a far more important role than she did.  Here's the reason why she has joined the panoply of my historical heroines.
Some of my favourite scenes in Shakespeare are those in Henry IV Part One between the magnificent Hotspur and Lady Kate (Elizabeth).  It is a relationship full of politics and power, one of conflict of personality and also of flirtation, of love and affection.  As a couple they are very appealing and dominate the scenes in which they appear.

Hotspur, Sir Henry Percy and heir to the Earl of Northumberland, was such a vivid, mercurial, glamorous figure in our history.  The perfect hero.  Brave and courageous, winning glory on the battlefield, he was also flawed, bringing his own downfall.  He was more than tempting to write about.  But what about Lady Kate?  If I continued to follow my passion to write about medieval women, looking at history from a woman's viewpoint, who was she?  Had she anything of importance to add to the medieval scene?  Would she be a suitable heroine to give depth to a novel?

Historically Lady Kate was not Kate at all, but was Elizabeth Mortimer, one of the powerful Mortimer family that ruled over the Welsh Marches where I now live.  I am surrounded by Mortimer castles, so immediately Elizabeth was of interest to me.  Great-grand-daughter of King Edward III, Elizabeth inherited royal Plantagenet blood through her mother Philippa, daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence, King Edward III's second surviving son.  This placed Elizabeth in the very centre of the struggle for power from the Mortimer claimants to the English throne, after the death of Richard II and the usurpation by King Henry IV.  All royal cousins, this would be another compelling family saga of power and treason, of betrayal and death.  The Mortimer Earls of March had a strong claim to the throne even if it was through the female line.

Even better, Elizabeth's story would also draw in a whole spectrum of exciting characters.  Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, cunning and ambitious, determined to keep Percy hands on the reins of power in the north of England.  Owain Glyn Dwr, the great Welsh Prince, driven to take up arms in his struggle for Welsh hegemony.  King Henry IV, the Lancaster king, fighting hard to stabilize a dangerously uneasy country after the death of Richard II.  And then Thomas de Camoys, a most sympathetic character who played a large part in The Queens Choice.  What a marvellous set of characters to engage with, not to mention Hotspur himself.

So why was I compelled to write about Elizabeth?  Because of her Mortimer blood, she was a woman who deliberately took on the role of traitor in support of her nephew Edmund, Earl of March.  She would know at first hand the resulting struggle between family loyalty and a desire to pursue what she saw as the rightful claim to the crown of England, despite all the pain it would bring her.  She would also learn the constraints on her freedom,  common to all medieval women.  It is a story of loss and acceptance, of love and tragedy.  How could I resist such a marvellous tale?

Such is history, and why I write it.  The stories are better than any I could make up, not least the one that is unfolded in Queen of the North.

31 May 2018

A year of great upheaval in England.

England’s crown is under threat.

King Richard II's hold on power is undermined when exiled Henry, Duke of Lancaster, returns to reclaim his inheritance and ultimately the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer the succession is clouded with doubt.  With King Richard dead in Pontefract Castle, there is only one rightful King by the law of inheritance – her eight-year-old nephew Edmund, Earl of March.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, the mercurial Sir Henry Percy known as Hotspur, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, do not want another child-King.

Questioning her loyalty to the new King Henry, Elizabeth places herself in conflict with Hotspur and the powerful Percy family, but to concede to Henry's claim challenges all her Mortimer principles.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.

A tale of love and loyalty, of tragedy and betrayal.

Will Elizabeth be prepared to pay the cost of personal and family ambition?

Queen of the North will be available to buy from all good book stores on the 31st May 2018

You can read my book review here

Find out more about Anne on her website and Facebook

Follow on Twitter @anne_obrien #QueenoftheNorth

Friday, 25 May 2018

Review ~ Beyond the Arch by David Evered

Troubadour Publishing
January 2018

My thanks to the author for my copy of this book
When we first encounter, Peter Bowman he seems to have a well ordered, middle class life in London. He has a comfortable marriage to his wife, Ann, and an uneventful career as a solicitor. However, when Ann is unexpectedly called back to the North East to be with her father, who is very ill, Peter spends time, away from Ann, exploring the North East on his own. He meets, Sally, an attractive young woman with whom he feels an instant connection, and it is this attraction, along with a personal tragedy, which acts as the much needed catalyst for Peter to take charge of his life.

The story is set in the late 1960s, the age of permissiveness and liberalism, and yet this freedom of thought and action seems to have bypassed Peter who is approaching middle-age with something of a heavy heart. He feels unsatisfied, and in order to discover what he wants from his life, he needs to makes some drastic changes.

The author writes well, with an understanding of time and place, and both the writing and the dialogue, compliment this period in history. However, it took me a little time to feel an affinity with the characters, I wasn't even sure I liked Peter very much at first, but as the story progresses, especially when the action moves to France, I felt like I understood him a little more, and became interested in just how Peter and Sally's story would eventually play out.

In Beyond the Arch there are some interesting, and astute, observations about the vagaries of life, the perils of relationships, and of how fate can, so often, take our lives in an entirely unexpected direction.

David Evered’s professional career was in academic medicine and research. He has been a consultant physician in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the Deputy Head of the UK Medical Research Council, a Special Adviser to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO – Lyon) and a Trustee of Macmillan Cancer Support. He has lived in Newcastle, London and France and is now retired. He and his wife live in rural West Berkshire. This is his first work of fiction.

Twitter @david_evered

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review ~ The Feather Thief by Kirk W Johnson

26 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

This book really took me by surprise as I had no idea that bird feathers were such a valuable commodity, and, as such, are open to thievery on really a grand scale. That's just what happened in the summer of 2009 when twenty year old musician, Edward Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire and stole a huge assortment of wild bird specimens which had been collected centuries before by some of the very first naturalists.

I expected the book to mainly concentrate on this audacious theft, which of course it does in some detail, however, the early part of the book concentrates on the obsession with collecting natural specimens, initially for curiosity and then for scientific research purposes, but also in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for use by the fashion industry. I was shocked to learn that by 1900 some two hundred million North American birds were killed every year in order to satisfy the need for bird feathers for use in the millinery trade, and, as bird numbers depleted so the net worth of their precious feathers increased.

By the time Edward Rist had his fascination for bird feathers, their usage had become consistent with  the world of salmon fishing, where intricate flies, made from original and highly prized rare bird feathers, exchanged hands for large sums of money. The chapters which detail the Tring Heist are absolutely fascinating, and as the reasons for Rist's theft becomes apparent, so the strange and very secret subculture that exists around fly fishing comes vividly to life. I was astonished to learn of the lengths that some people are prepared to go in order to obtain the feathers they crave, and I was equally disturbed to find out that large sums are paid for extremely rare bird feathers. 

The book is an absolute page turner, beautifully written by a man who was determined to see this story told, and he does so with real flair, and fine attention to detail, so that even if you know absolutely nothing about birds, like me, or indeed fly fishing, like me, you can't help but be drawn into this fascinating true crime story. There are also a number of very interesting photographs and illustrations which help to put the subject into context.

I read The Feather Thief constantly surprised, and more than a little upset at the thought that so many billions of beautiful birds have died to satisfy our whims and fancies. I will never look at displays of bird feathers in quite the same way ever again.

Kirk W. Johnson

Kirk Wallace Johnson is the author of To Be a Friend is Fatal and the founder of the List Project. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the American Academy in Berlin, and the USC Annenberg Center. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and daughter.

Twitter @KirkWJohnson #TheFeatherThief

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Review ~ Not Without Risk by Pete Trewin

Not Without Risk
AIA Publishing

My thanks to the author for my copy of this book

Martin Bennett works behind the scenes for a regeneration company which is working on new ideas to bring prosperity back to Merseyside. Liverpool seems to be a place which is crying out for redevelopment, but, as Martin discovers, to his cost, that not everyone is of the same opinion.

Not Without Risk is a complex thriller which takes us on a lively journey through the sinister underworld of the city of Liverpool. It’s a place where all manner of shady individuals ply their trade, and thanks to a few bent coppers who turn a blind eye, they always seem to succeed in keeping one step ahead of the law. When Martin witnesses the suspicious death of an old adversary, he inadvertently gets drawn into this criminal netherworld, a world which is inhabited by unethical lawyers and equally corrupt politicians.

Trying to put together all of the pieces of this complicated jigsaw puzzle is what makes Not Without Risk such an entertaining read. I enjoyed getting to know Martin, he’s a likeable chap, and even though when we first meet him he’s slightly down on his luck, he rises to the challenges that the story throws at him with great aplomb. His lively banter with his colleague, Lester, and their thwarted efforts at getting fit made me laugh out loud, especially at the descriptions of Lester’s somewhat dubious sport attire. 

I found much to enjoy in Not Without Risk, not just because I’m a northerner and could appreciate the dry wit and ready repartee which is so reminiscent of this part of the country, but also from the way the author really brings Merseyside, and in particular, Liverpool, to life in such a convincing and entertaining way. 

Pete Trewin is the author of three crime mystery novels – with a touch of noir – set in Merseyside and the north of England.

Pete Trewin

Twitter @PeterTrewin

21920582 24626718

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Spotlight on Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings by Authors on the Edge..

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.

Authors on the Edge
18 May 2018

My thanks to the authors for my copy of this book

Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings

Sometimes what you need is right there waiting for you...

Miss Moonshine’s Wonderful Emporium has stood in the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge for as long as anyone can remember. With her ever-changing stock, Miss Moonshine has a rare gift for providing exactly what her customers need: a fire opal necklace that provides a glimpse of a different life; a novel whose phantom doodler casts a spell over the reader; a music box whose song links love affairs across the generations. One thing is for certain: after visiting Miss Moonshine’s quirky shop, life is never the same again...

I'm delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo, Helena Fairfax to tell me all about 

Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings

How a Beautiful Building in Hebden Bridge Inspired 9 Northern Romance Authors

A few years ago a group of northern romance writers began to meet up regularly in Hebden Bridge for lunch and a chat. This old mill town is the perfect place for us to meet, as it lies on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire - and we now call ourselves Authors on the Edge!

Hebden Bridge is also a lovely place for a day out, with little streets full of interesting shops, a canal towpath to wander down, lined with narrowboats, and stunning views of the hills and the moors all around. An article once called Hebden Bridge ‘a little rain-soakedparadise’, and even when it’s raining here (which it does a lot) there are lots of caf├ęs to keep dry in – which all happen to serve delicious varieties of home-made cake!

The nine of us romance authors – that is, Mary Jayne Baker, Sophie Claire, Jacqui Cooper, Helena Fairfax (me), Kate Field, Melinda Hammond, Marie Laval, Helen Pollard, and Angela Wren - have just released an anthology of stories, which are all linked together. When it came to the setting for our collection, the ‘rain-soaked paradise’ of Hebden Bridge was obviously the perfect place! Our central character, who appears in every story, is called Miss Moonshine, and she’s the eccentric owner of a quirky shop on Market Street. We based Miss Moonshine’s shop on a real building in the town. There are lots of lovely old buildings in Hebden Bridge, but the Heart Gallery in particular seemed absolutely just right. 

Heart Gallery
Hebden Bridge

If you look at the photos, you’ll see the windows of the gallery building are quite high off the ground. This is because it was originally built for use as a Baptist Chapel. The lintel over the doorway shows the year 1777. There is a beautiful rowan tree outside the door, and an arch of roses at the entrance. There is so much about the outside of the building that makes you want to step inside. It was perfect for our stories.

Heart GalleryHebden Bridge

Melinda Hammond (who writes for Mill and Boon as Sarah Mallory) starts the anthology off with her Regency romance, and she reveals what Miss Moonshine’s shop was like two hundred years ago:
‘…a strange sort of shop, for the windows, though large, began at least four feet from the ground. A lamp burned in one of the windows, its golden light glinting on the objects displayed. A Malacca cane with a chased silver top was propped against the glass in one corner. In front of it was a metal birdcage and a bronze desk-set that appeared to be missing one of its inkwells. In the centre of the window was a small shepherdess figurine that could be French. 

Then comes my own story, set in 1908, when the heroine is amazed to see a gleaming motor car parked outside Miss Moonshine’s. The car belongs to the hero, and…well, I don’t want to give too much away! The stories go on to show Miss Moonshine’s Emporium as it is today –and it lives up to its name as a Wonderful Emporium! Miss Moonshine is the same mysterious, quirky and marvellous character throughout.

Working on this anthology, with this brilliant group of northern authors, has been really good fun from start to finish. We’ve even started to believe that Miss Moonshine is a real character, and that’s she’s worked her magic on all of us.

Available from Amazon in print and as an ebook. 

Follow on Twitter #authorsontheedge

Find out more about the Heart Gallery  in  Hebden Bridge

My thoughts about Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings ..

This collection of nine romantic short stories, each with a theme in common, really lightened my heart and, as each story ended, I was left with a rosy, warm glow, and an eager anticipation of what was to come in the next magical story.

Each of the stories are a perfect length to be read over a cup of tea and a Jaffa Cake, and even though the stories differ in content and even in timescale, the fine attention to detail and the love of writing comes across with each author's delicate contribution.

The appeal of good short stories is that they showcase just what the author is capable of, and it gives the reader a chance to sample the author’s individual writing style. And even though in Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings the nine authors have very different writing styles, the generosity they have to each other in their collaboration works really well, with none of them wanting to outshine the others, and all of them making a generous contribution to the anthology as a whole.

It would be unfair of me to choose a favourite amongst the nine as I found something equally enjoyable in all of them, so I won’t single any out, but what I will say, is that this team of best-selling northern writers have a real hit on their hands with Miss Moonshine and her Emporium, and I really hope that they go on to work in partnership again in future anthologies.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Review ~ Queen of the North by Anne O'Brien

31 May 2018

My thanks to the author for sharing her book with me 

What's it all about ..

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

My thoughts about it..

When Henry of Lancaster usurped the throne from Richard II in 1399, it was a far from amicable take-over of power, as it opened the country to the possibility of counter claims to the English crown. Elizabeth Mortimer is married to Henry Percy, the heir to the earldom of Northumberland, better known in history as the volatile and impetuous 'Hotspur', and even though Percy's involvement in English politics results in danger and uncertainty, it is through Elizabeth’s Mortimer connection to royalty where the real challenge comes, as Elizabeth is determined to see that her young nephew, Edmund Mortimer, pursues his legitimate claim to the English throne.

What then follows is a gripping story of politics, ambition and thwarted power which has its foothold firmly established in the unsettled atmosphere of a country which has been divided, not just by the political ambitions of people who merely wanted power for the sake of power, but also from those game players who truly believed that right was on their side.

Into this incredibly masculine world of control and authority, Elizabeth tries to make her voice heard and it is thanks to the skill of this talented writer that she comes to life in such a realistic and positive way. All too often the important women of history are side-lined by their sexier and more powerful male counterparts, and yet, as is so often the case, the women who endured and who worked surreptitiously in the background often had huge influence on the way that events eventually played out.

The author writes with passion and authority deftly bringing medieval England alive in all of its convoluted glory. There are plots and counter plots, meetings with the Welsh Prince, Owain Glyn Dwr, and time spent at the spectacular Northumberland castles of Alnwick and Warkworth and through all of the political maneuverings, Elizabeth Mortimer comes across a determined and hugely intelligent woman who felt that she and her family had grievances aplenty against a king who was, quite simply, not listening. That it doesn't bode well for Henry Percy is enshrined in history but what Queen of the North gives us so vividly is Elizabeth's interpretation of events as they unfolded during the momentous years between 1399 and 1408.

Mixing historical fact with fiction is a difficult challenge especially as so little is documented historically about Elizabeth Mortimer and yet, the author has succeeded really well in bringing her entirely to life, and gives Elizabeth a clear voice which is as bright and distinctive as the woman herself.

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in history at Manchester University and a Master's in Education at Hull. she lived in the East Riding for many years where she taught history.

Leaving teaching-but not her love of history-Anne turned to writing and her passion for giving voice to the oft forgotten women of the medieval era was born. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth century cottage in Herefordshore, an area steeped in history and full of inspiration for her work.

Twitter @anne_obrien #QueenoftheNorth

Queen of the North will be published on the 31st May 2018 by HQ

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

Morale Boosting Songs of WW1

Florrie Forde

Florrie Forde was a popular music hall entertainer who came to England, aged 21, from Australia. She made her first appearance on the London stage in 1897 and her powerful performances and charismatic stage presence meant that she was soon in demand. Her popularity, as a vaudeville act, made her one of the most sought after entertainers of the early twentieth century,

Her morale boosting songs during World War One were some of the most popular songs of the time.

These included songs which are still remembered today.

Down at the Old Bull and Bush
Pack Up Your Troubles in your old kit bag
It's a long way to Tipperary
Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

Jack Dunn, son of a gun, somewhere in France today
Keeps fit doing his bit, up to his eyes in clay
Each night after a fight to pass the time along
He's got a little gramophone that plays this song

Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town
Take me over there
Drop me anywhere
Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester, well, I don't care!
I should love to see my best girl
Cuddling up again we soon should be
Hurry me back to Blighty
Blighty is the place for me!

One day, Mickey O'Shea, out in a trench somewhere
So brave, having a shave, trying to part his hair
Mick yells, dodging the shells and lumps of dynamite:
"Talk of the Crystal Palace on a firework night!"

Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town
Take me over there
Drop me anywhere
Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester, well, I don't care!
I should love to see my best girl
Cuddling up again we soon should be
Hurry me back to Blighty

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty was written by Arthur J. Mills, Fred Godfrey and Bennett Scott in 1916. It was popular during the First World War and tells a story of fictional soldiers on the Western Front suffering from homesickness and their longing to return to "Blighty"..

During a recent visit to the IWM (North) I bought a set of WW1 memorabilia which contained a few replica WW1 morale boosting postcards and came across this image of a soldier in the trenches listening to this song and imagining himself back home with his folks and his sweetheart.

You can listen to Florrie Forde sing Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty 
by clicking on the You Tube link below.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ The Pharmacist's Wife by Vanessa Tait

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back to ...Edinburgh,1869

12 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

The Pharmacist's Wife takes us back in time to the mean and moody streets of Victorian Edinburgh, back to a time when it was commonplace for women to be at the absolute mercy of the men who married them.

When Rebecca Palmer marries Edinburgh pharmacist,Alexander Palmer, she imagines that her life will be comfortable and even though the marriage is largely passionless, she doesn't question her husband's ability to know what's best for her. However, the controlling nature of her husband, and his experimental foray into the dark world of drug and drug addiction, leads Rebecca into some very dark places, especially when Alexander's experimentation of these new drugs threatens Rebecca's very sanity.

Whilst this is a dark and disturbing visit to Edinburgh, with all its shadowy and shady places, there is no doubt that everything comes alive beautifully, and so atmospheric is the narrative that you really feel as if you are living life alongside Rebecca, and watching in horror as her husband's controlling grip pulls ever tighter.

The author writes of Rebecca's struggle and manipulation so cleverly that the horror of what's unfolding makes you reel in disbelief and yet, it is Rebecca's strength of character and her determination to pull herself out of the darkness which gives the story its absolute strength.

The Pharmacist's Wife is a beautifully written Victorian melodrama which brings mid-nineteenth century, Edinburgh to life in all its dreadful detail and the story vividly highlights the plight of so many Victorian women who were never allowed to have their own voice.

Vanessa Tait grew up in Gloucestershire. She went to the University of Manchester and completed a Master's degree in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College. The Pharmacist's Wife is her second novel.

Twitter @vanessa_tait


Friday, 18 May 2018

Blog Tour ~ The Old You by Louise Voss

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for The Old You

Orenda Books
15 May 2018

My thanks to the publishers and Random Things Tours for the invitation to be a part of this tour and for my copy of the book
What's it about..

Lynn Waites gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together. Now, ten years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words. As some memories are forgotten, other, long buried, begin to surface… and Lynn’s perfect world begins to crumble. 

But is it Ed’s mind playing tricks, or hers…?

My thoughts about it..

The question I have to ask myself is why I haven’t read any of this author’s work before, because if this is the standard of her writing, well, it would seem that I’ve been missing out on a few treasures.

The Old You is a very good domestic noir thriller, the premise of which drew me in from the offset, especially as it seems, from the poignant start, that Lynn Naismith, and her husband, Ed, are facing a huge challenge when Ed is diagnosed with a rare form of early onset dementia. And as the story progresses, and Lynn and Ed’s lives get more and more complicated, so the slow burn of the thriller starts to kick in, and it does so in such a subtle and believable way, that I was constantly surprised by what I saw unfolding on the page before me.

I loved the way that the author brought both of these two complex characters alive in such a realistic way, stretching the reader’s perception so that I found my allegiances swapped and changed as their individual stories emerged. And as past and present start to converge, so the element of doubt starts to set in, until you are never really sure who is giving us the truth. There are so many facets to Lynn and Ed’s individual idea of honesty, that unpicking each of their stories becomes a real challenge. I really enjoyed trying to second guess where the story was leading, but all too often I had to rethink, back track and read again,  just to make sure I was still on the right track and that I hadn't missed anything in my excitement at turning the pages quickly.

The Old You is a dark and daring story with a subtle, and totally, believable edginess. It’s about the ambiguity of lives which are shrouded in secrets and lies, and credit to the skill of the author, who really does hold the reader in the palm of her hand, that when the dreadful jaw dropping truth finally emerges, it is as every bit as dramatic as I hoped it would be.

Over her eighteen-year writing career, Louise has had books out via pretty much every publishing model there is, from deals with major traditional publishing houses (Transworld and Harper Collins), to digital-only (the Amazon-owned Thomas & Mercer) and self-publishing – she and co-author Mark Edwards were the first UK indie-published authors to hit the No. 1spot on Amazon back in 2011. She has had eleven novels published in total, five solo and six co-written, a combination of psychological thrillers, police procedurals and contemporary fiction. Louise has an MA(Dist) in Creative Writing and also works as a literary consultant and mentor for writers at She lives in South-West London and is a proud member of two female crime-writing collectives, The Slice Girls and Killer Women.

Twitter @LouiseVoss1 #TheOldYou

@OrendaBooks #TeamOrenda


Thursday, 17 May 2018

Review ~ The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson

17 May 2018

My thanks to the publishers and edpr for my copy of this book

What's it all about..

Brighton Beach, 1993: Teenagers Nell and Jude find the body of a young woman and when no one comes to claim her, she becomes known as the Brighton Mermaid. Nell is still struggling to move on when, three weeks later, Jude disappears.

Twenty-five years on, Nell quits her job to find out who the Brighton Mermaid really was – and what happened to her best friend that summer.

But as Nell edges closer to the truth, dangerous things start to happen. Someone seems to be watching her every move, and soon she starts to wonder who in her life she can actually trust.

My thoughts about it..

When teenagers, Nell and Jude, discover the body of a young woman washed up on a Brighton beach in 1993, it sets into motion a chain of events which will have repercussions for the next twenty five years, when life, for both Nell, Jude and their families, is changed forever. As an adult, Nell finds it difficult to let go of the events of 1993, and in using her commentary, and that of her younger sister, Macy, we get a multifaceted and suspenseful story which looks into the very heart of a dark and tragic mystery. 

Throughout the story the many layers of The Brighton Mermaid are stripped bare and the complex twists and turns in the story certainly kept me guessing. Many times I thought I knew which way the story was going, only for it to veer off in a completely different direction, with the last third of the book being particularly tense, when my anxiety levels shot up another notch or two.

The characterisation is particularly well done and Nell comes across as a scarily, realistic person who is just as flawed as the rest of us but she has an amazing strength of character which is so believable that you can't help but be her champion. However, it it is in the intricate details of the other characters who flit into and out of the story where the strength of the story lies, and yet, to disclose anything about them would be to reveal too much, so I won't divulge anything at all, as this is one of those cleverly put together stories which is better if it’s read with no spoilers from me.

The Brighton Mermaid is a complex and intricate story which grabs your attention from the very beginning and takes you on a shadowy journey which is layered with details of systemic racial abuse, overt sexism and a blatant disregard for truth and justice. 

I have read all of Dorothy Koomson's stories to date and I think her writing just gets better and better and with The Brighton Mermaid I really do think that she has surpassed herself.

Dorothy Koomson is the author of thirteen bestselling novels. Books and reading have always played a pivotal role in Dorothy's life and she fell in love with drama and fantasy of fictional worlds at an early age and has been making up stories since she was thirteen. Passionate about the importance of reading and literacy, Dorothy is a regular speaker in libraries and festivals and supports the work of the National Literacy Trust and Little Green Pig, a charity based in Brighton and Hove.

Twitter @DorothyKoomson #TheBrightonMermaid



Amazon UK

The Brighton Mermaid is published by Century today

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Blog Tour ~ Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on Meet Me at the Museum Blog Tour

17 May 2018

My thanks to the publishers and Random Things Tours for my invitation to be part of this Blog Tour 

What's it all about..

Sometimes it takes a stranger to really know who you are When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing. Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?

What did I think about it..

This gentle, epistolary novel focuses on the shared experiences of two unlikely people who start a correspondence based on their shared interest in the Tollund Man. Their interest in the Iron Age isn't really what the story is about , although I did find some of the descriptions of Tollund Man quite fascinating, however, it is in the quiet build-up of a relationship between two lonely people where the story finds its heart.

The letters between Tina Hopgood in Bury St Edmunds and museum curator Anders Larsen at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark gradually expose the loneliness of their lives and their regret at time passing. Their considerate and, almost, rueful recollections of the relationship they each have had with their respective spouses and children, adds a perceptive glimpse into those reminisces which come all too frequently in later life.

There's a real difference in reading a novel which is entirely epistolary as it gives the story a unique ability to get right into the minds of the characters and Meet Me at the Museum, succeeds where perhaps a conventional novel wouldn't, as it allows a unique perspective into the souls of the correspondents in an intimate and inclusive way.

Quietly thoughtful with a sensitive and considerate look at all the vagaries of life, Meet Me At The Museum is a story which is expressed with kindness, gentle humour and an awareness that love can be found, often in the most unlikely of places.

ANNE YOUNGSON worked for many years in senior management in the car industry before embarking on a creative career as a writer. She has supported many charities in governance roles, including Chair of the Writers in Prison Network, which provided residencies in prisons for writers. She lives in Oxfordshire and is married with two children and three grandchildren to date. MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM is her debut novel, which is due to be published around the world.

Twitter #MeetMeAtTheMuseum


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Blog Tour ~ The Dissent of Annie Lang by Ros Franey

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on The Dissent of Annie Lang Blog Tour

Muswell Press
8 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers and Random Things Tours for my copy of this book and my invitation to be part of the blog tour

What's it all about..

Set in the 1930’s, this novel explores the dark space between public and private morality and charts the journey of brave formidable Annie Lang who dissents from her parents’ path to right the wrongs hidden in the heart of her own family.

What did I think about it..

We first encounter Annie Lang in 1932, at the start of the novel, when she is a seventeen year old student newly returned from France. Rather cleverly, we are guided back, by her, to the time of her childhood, in the aftermath of a family tragedy, which releases memories of her growing up with her brother, Fred and sister, Beatrice.That this tragedy darkens her life, and that of her siblings, goes without saying, but it is also the sad and rather gloomy story of Annie’s troubled upbringing, in a deeply religious house, by her indifferent father and her unpleasant stepmother, which really cuts to the quick.

In many ways, The Dissent of Annie Lang is a cleverly controlled coming of age story in which Annie finds some hidden and horrible truths and yet, it is also the story of Annie’s absolute determination to right a wrong which threatens the stability of the whole of her family. Throughout the story I was beguiled by Annie, by her spirit, her waywardness and her ability to get into mischief, and even though the oppressive nature of her home threatens to drain away any happiness from her, she is able to find some lighter moments with her dog, Nana. 

Beautifully written and utterly engaging, The Dissent of Annie Lang takes us into the very heart of a fractured family and even in the oppressive atmosphere of this deeply troubled household, Annie's indomitable spirit refuses to be intimidated. Her toughness and steadfastness in light of such a deeply disturbing secret is what made me keep turning the pages and the author has instilled in Annie such a lively spirit that you can’t help but be on her side throughout the whole of the story.

Ros Franey grew up in the Midlands where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.

Twitter @rosfraney #DissentofAnnieLang


Monday, 14 May 2018

Blog Tour ~ Mr Peacock's Possessions by Lydia Syson

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on Mr Peacock's Possessions Blog Tour

17 May 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and the invitation to be part of this blog tour

What's it all about..

The novel is loosely based on the incredible true story of Tom Bell who settled on an uninhabited pacific island with his family in 1878, six hundred miles north of New Zealand, in the Kermedecs, and who Lydia is related to by marriage.

What did I think about it..

After several failed financial ventures, the eponymous, Mr Peacock gathers together enough money to purchase Monday Island, a remote place in the Pacific Ocean. He then embarks, with his family, on a journey of discovery to a magical place with deserted beaches, wonderful waterfalls and clouds of birds. However, the Peacocks, find out, to their cost, that living on such a remote island isn't quite the idyll it seems. 

Living so eccentrically seems to come, almost, naturally to the family but eking out an existence takes its toll on their welfare and eventually they realise that, in order to survive, they need help. And then, unexpectedly, a group of young men, who are native Pacific islanders, and also Christian converts, arrive on the island, but with their arrival comes uncertainty, thus giving the story a whole new dynamic.

Setting the novel in 1879 is inspired as it allows the characters to behave with all the constraints placed upon them by society as a whole, and yet, their very freedom on the island, is peppered with uncertainty and deeply dark secrets. Mr Peacock's Possessions has, at its heart, a family who are so dysfunctional, that it takes a while to get into their way of thinking and to understand their strained relationship with each other,

Within the whole of the Peacock’s island adventure there is much to digest, not just in the preciseness of the story, which focuses on survival and sustainability, but also on the quirks and foibles of the individual family members, and in particular that of the eldest daughter, Lizzie, a feisty and determined girl, who is more than a match for her wayward and obstreperous father.

Interspersed between the chapters about life with the Peacocks there is an interesting narrative by Kalala, one of the young islanders, in which we are given a very different view of the family, and of what’s happening to all of them on Monday Island.

The author writes well, and has used considerable research, alongside some personal family history, to bring this story alive. That this is done in such a distinctive way is credit to her skill as a storyteller, which brings Monday Island, the place and its eccentric inhabitants so vividly to life.

Lydia Syson is a fifth-generation North Londoner who now lives south of the river with her partner and four children. Lydia began her career as a BBC World Service radio producer, after receiving a double first in English from Oxford and an MA in critical theory from Southampton University. She has since written three critically acclaimed historical novels for young adults, each in some way inspired by the radical backgrounds of earlier generations of her family. Mr Peacock’s Possessions is Lydia Syson’s debut literary fiction novel for adults.

Twitter @LydiaSyson #

@Bonnier Zaffre

Amazon UK

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

Scheduled (or reserved) Occupations

In March 1916 voluntary enlistment wasn't deemed sufficient to meet the demands of war. Under the terms of the Military Service Act 1916 all medically fit single men between the ages of 19 and 41 were deemed to have enlisted in the armed forces on 2 March.

In May 1916 a second Government act extended conscription to married men and the age limit was lowered to 18. Conscripted men had no choice about which service, regiment or unit they joined.

By 1918 the age range had been further extended to age 51.

There were some exemptions to the call up :

Coal miners
Iron and steel workers who produced vital equipment and ammunition.

The Forces at Home: Recruitment poster showing a small girl sitting on her father's knee captioned 'Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?
© IWM (Q 33122)

Those who considered themselves exempt due to poor health, disability or family restrictions, had to apply to a tribunal to be considered for exemption.

Those who were exempt from military service were issued with papers and badges to prove they were undertaking war work. This lessened the societal pressure on those who didn't or couldn't join up and gave them the opportunity to show that they were working in the national interest.

First World War 'On War Service' badge. 'On War Service' badges were issued by the government and private firms from December 1914 onwards to signify that the wearer was engaged in essential war work.

This is a circular enammelled metal badge with '1915' in gold-coloured metal inlaid within a maroon horizontal band (forming a diameter) of the white enamel centrepiece which is in turn enclosed by a blue band bearing in gold the inscription: 'ENGAGED ON GOVERNMENT WORK.

© IWM (INS 7804)