Monday 31 December 2012

Best of the Books in My Year...

Best of the Books in my year 2012

11.22.63 by Stephen King


Stephen King has written an incredible story, his attention to detail is superb, and his ability to invoke the America of the late 1950's, early 1960's is so utterly believable, you feel that you are walking the same streets, sitting in the same bars, and dancing the Lindy Hop at the school dance...and yet, as with all King's novels there is that underlying knowledge that all on the surface, is not as it seems...

If you've never read a Stephen King book before, - don't be fooled into thinking he only does horror, he also does Time Travel.... very well indeed.

The Book of Summers

This beautifully written coming of age novel captures the real meaning of adolescence. The faultless exploration of the indecision of young love expertly combines the demands of living a double life, with fragments of secrets, and a hint of regret.

However, the real skill of the author comes in the strength of her imagination; there is
a poignant lyricism, together with a flawless narrative which captures perfectly a little girl trying to bridge the gap between two very different worlds.

The Apothecary's Daughter

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but this one is glorious - you really feel like you have your nose pressed to the window, and are peering at the array of lotions and potions on offer inside. This rich tapestry is so wonderfully evocative of plague ridden London, you feel as if you walk the same streets and smell the same malodorous smells. I stayed up long and late to finish as I simply couldn't put it down.

The Good Father

Noah Hawley has created a very believable set of characters and events, and whilst he undoubtedly has the necessary skill as a story teller, it is his ability to dissect the minutiae of psychological profiles that keeps the reader engrossed from beginning to end. The dialogue is crisp and precise, yet never seeks to sensationalise the growing sense of disbelief, nor does it compromise on the ability to deliver a cracking good read.

Dead Scared (Lacey Flint, #2)

This is the second psychological thriller in the DC Lacey Flint/DI Mark Joesbury series and is every bit as good, if not better, than the first book. There is the same fine attention to detail that S J Bolton does so well. The narrative is finely drawn, which combined with the author’s ability to build the tension, leads the reader to experience a myriad of emotions. There is high drama, there is terror on a grand scale, and there are enough twists and turns in the plot, to keep the reader guessing until the very last page. The ending when it comes, leaves the reader wanting more.....and more ...and more...

Beneath the Shadows

This stunning psychological thriller grips from the very first page. Sara Foster has created a very believable story; she allows a skilful blend of words and reader imagination to help build the tension, and sustains a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.
This was a really easy book to get into, I found myself reading it almost in one sitting, and even several days after finishing the story, I still want to remember the details.

With this long awaited second volume in the All Soul’s Trilogy, Deborah Harkness has used her undoubted skill as a historian to successfully recreate the world of Elizabethan England. She has combined the fascinating and troubled history of the sixteenth century, with a believable and often mesmerising view of the parallel world of vampires, daemons, and witches. Interspersing the story with real historical figures is inspired, and gives a real insight into the period, and makes the story all the more believable.

Without doubt, The Virgin Cure, with its charlatans and curiosities, captures the very essence of the seamier side of 1870's New York. There is something strangely repellent about the debauched world of the nineteenth century prostitute, and yet Moth’s delicate simplicity, steals right into your heart, and flutters with spirited wonder through the worst of her experiences. Overall, The Virgin Cure is an emotional and thought provoking read, and one that will remain with me for a very long time.

The Girl You Left Behind

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the ease of transition between the dual time frames. The story starts in 1916, with the first third of the book involved with Sophie’s story. The description of her life in occupied France is vivid, and made all the more evocative by the sense of unrelenting hardship, and restriction of choices. I felt a sense of loss when Sophie’s part in the story ended, only to be drawn quickly into life in modern London, and newly widowed Liv’s despair at her dreadful financial status. With great skill, the author infuses such warmth into her characters that Liv very quickly becomes as much loved as Sophie, and as the lives of these two very different women intertwine, we are drawn into a story of devastating sorrow.

The Charter

With the author’s fine attention to detail, the stark coastal beauty of Anglesey comes gloriously alive. The legacy of the shipwreck lives on, and as the story unfolds, you can easily imagine that you are standing on the edge of the cliff path looking out over Dulas Bay, with the tang of salt and seaweed in the air, and the beleaguered ship, The Royal Charter, being tossed like a puppet in the churning waters of the Irish Sea.
It’s not often that a book comes along which covers all your favourite genres in one fell swoop, but, for me, The Charter is definitely one such book. Gillian Hamer writes with the passion of one who knows Anglesey well, and with great skill and imagination has turned this passion into a cracking good story.

Time's Echo

With most dual time narratives there is a tendency to favour one time period over another, but in Time’s Echo both time frames are equally valid with neither one trying to outshine the other. The natural blending of the story lines with parallels in both the past and the future is seamless, and as both Grace and Hawise spiral out of control, the story takes on a momentum all of its own. From the beginning the story explores the historical significance of everyday life in Elizabethan York, and as Hawise and the ordinary people go about their everyday business, a story of thwarted lust, greed and ignorant superstition begins to evolve. In modern day York, Grace battles her own demons whilst at the same time experiences the insecurities and challenges of living day to day in two very different time periods.

The Island House

In The Island House Posie Graeme Evans has conjured the ancient world in such a way that long after the book is finished the story lingers in the shadows of your mind, and as the sea breeze blows in your hair and the sound of sea birds float on the wind, the island house still resonates with echoes of the past.
One of the best dual time novels I have read in along time.

The Glass Guardian

They say that you should save the best until last, and I knew when I clicked open The Glass Guardian on my Kindle I wouldn't want to put it down, and so my Christmas ‘end of year’ treat to myself was to read the story uninterrupted once the family festivities were finished. To be immersed in a Linda Gillard novel is to lose all sense of your own time and place, as almost without realising it, you become as one with the characters she creates. With incredible skill she brings the story to life in such a realistic way that I really felt like I was sitting with Ruth in the kitchen at Tigh-na-Linne, and I actually felt a shiver of cold along my spine as the temperature in the house dropped and the emotional secrets of the Glass Guardian window were revealed.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read and comment on my reviews.
 Jaffa and I appreciate your interest and wish you all happy reading in 2013.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Review -The Dickens Dictionary by John Sutherland

The Dickens Dictionary: An A-Z of England's Greatest Novelist
Icon Books Ltd (2 Feb 2012)

Since 2012 has been the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, I hoped that reading this book would prove to be a good aide mรฉmoire, and I think that it certainly lived up to my expectations.On the whole,  I enjoy reading Dickens but don't always know where his references come from, so to have a book of Dickens information on hand whilst I was reading Bleak House was particularly useful.
I think if you are a Dickens purist then this book might be filled with information you already know well, but if like me you are an occasional Dickens reader,you may find this book to be  a welcome addition to your Dickens book shelf.
I think the author has conveyed the essential elements of Dickens and even though all the letters of the alphabet are not covered in the book, there is enough browsing information to be useful.


My thanks to NetGalley and Icon books for the opportunity to read this book.

Friday 28 December 2012

Friday Recommends

The Glass Guardian


Linda Gillard

Gripped by the sense of the past, The Glass Guardian is a paranormal story which delves into, not just the pain of love and loss, but also into the resilience of the human spirit.

They say that you should save the best until last, and I knew when I clicked open The Glass Guardian on my Kindle I wouldn't want to put it down, and so my Christmas ‘end of year’ treat to myself was to read the story uninterrupted once the family festivities were finished. To be immersed in a Linda Gillard novel is to lose all sense of your own time and place as almost without realising it you become as one with the characters she creates. With incredible skill she brings the story to life in such a realistic way that I really felt like I was sitting with Ruth in the kitchen at Tigh-na-Linne, and I actually felt a shiver of cold along my spine as the temperature in the house dropped and the emotional secrets of the Glass Guardian window were revealed.

There is so much to talk about with this novel, but to do so would reveal the heart and soul of the story, and this is definitely one of those books that you really should discover for yourself.

The Glass Guardian is a treat well worth savouring.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Wishlist Wednesday

My last Wishlist Wednesday book of 2012 

The Painter's Apprentice


The Painter's Apprentice
Charlotte Betts

Blurb from Goodreads

1688. Beth Ambrose has lead a sheltered life within the walls of Merryfields, her family home on the outskirts of London; a place where her parents provide a sanctuary for melancholic souls. A passionate and gifted artist, Beth shares a close bond with Johannes the painter, a troubled resident at Merryfields, who nurtures her talents and takes her on as his apprentice. But as political tensions begin to rise in the capital, Noah Leyton arrives at their door in the middle of the night with a proposition that turns Beth's world upside down. Meanwhile, Merryfields becomes refuge to a mysterious new guest, whose connections provide an opportunity for Beth to fulfil her artistic ambitions. But she soon realises it comes at a price. As the Glorious Revolution begins to throw the whole country into turmoil, can Beth find the courage to follow her heart and defend all she holds dear? And change the course of history for good.

I've had this one on my wishlist since I discovered that Charlotte Betts had written a second book. I read her first book The Apothecary's Daughter in March 2012 and was completely blown away by the story telling images she portrayed in this book.

I hope its not too long before I get hold of a copy of The Painters Apprentice.

Monday 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

Jaffa and I would like to wish all our friends and followers 

A very happy and peaceful Christmas

And may all your Christmas wishes come true.

Friday 21 December 2012

Friday Recommends...

Criminal (Will Trent, #7)


If I wore a hat, I would take it off to Karin Slaughter. She really does know how to crank up the tension in this latest offering. I wasn't sure at first how the story would evolve, or what would be revealed, but I was as usual, completely enthralled. As with all her books, Criminal is meticulously researched, and offers a view of Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970's, that is as bewildering, as it is challenging. As always, the writing is tight and fluid, the graphic and often violent nature of the crime depicted is compelling, and whilst never gratuitously violent, certainly manages to hold your attention.

I think this book is made all the more poignant by the inclusion of some of Will Trent's back story, and as his burgeoning relationship with Sara Linton gets off to a shaky start, we are allowed a glimpse into what makes this enigmatic man tick. It was interesting to view the younger Amanda Wagner and her colleague, Evelyn Mitchell, in their early days as young detectives, battling not only the criminal underworld but also fighting to be heard in a chauvinistic male environment.

I always finish the last page of a Karin Slaughter novel completely emotionally exhausted, not just because I give up sleep in order to read just a little bit more, but because without fail, she manages to infuse her characters with so much independent spirit that you can’t fail to invest emotionally in the story.

I am delighted to learn that the Will Trent series of novels are to be made into a series of feature films.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Review -The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts

The Last Boyfriend


Nora Roberts

The Last Boyfriend (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, #2)
Piatkus (1 May 2012)

This is the second book in the Inn BoonsBoro series and it is every bit as good as the first book.

This story sees the development of the Inn with much more focus on the interior design and the excitement building towards the grand opening. As always there is the added mystery of the ghost in residence, and the delightful romance between Owen and Avery is explored with charm and warmth.

I guess reading a Nora Roberts novel is like curling up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate, it's deliciously warming and slightly indulgent, and absolutely the best thing on a cold and wet winter day.

There is a web site for the real Inn Boonsboro which is a fascinating addition to reading the books.

And reading the history of the place really makes the books come alive.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Wishlist Wednesday...

I am delighted to be part of wishlist Wednesday which is hosted by Dani at pen to paper

The idea is to post about one book each week that has been on your wishlist for some time, or maybe just added.

So what do you need to do to join in?

Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.

Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.

Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it's on your wishlist.

Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of her post.

Put a link back to pen to paper ( somewhere in your post.

Instructions for a Heatwave
Due to be published by Headline in March 2013.

Book Blurb is from Goodreads...

The stunning new novel from Costa-Novel-Award-winning novelist Maggie O'Farrell is a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the legendary heatwave of 1976.

It's July 1976. In London, it hasn't rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn't come back.

The search for Robert brings Gretta's children - two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce - back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.

I'm always excited when there is a new Maggie O'Farrell book on the horizon and this will be heading my wishlist for 2013.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Review - The Queen's Secret by Victoria Lamb

The Queen's Secret

The Queen's Secret


Victoria Lamb

This Elizabethan historical mystery is set in 1585 when Queen Elizabeth I visits Kenilworth, home of her favourite, Robert Dudley. Robert is desperate to marry Elizabeth and hopes that by wooing her at Kenilworth she will finally consent to be his wife. However, Elizabeth is as capricious as she is beautiful and with flirtatious cynicism she is content to leave Robert waiting for her decision. However, waiting in the wings is one of Elizabeth’s beautiful ladies in waiting, Lettice Knollys, wife of the Duke of Essex, who is more than happy to accommodate Robert Dudley’s attentions. Elizabeth is incensed by the growing attraction between Robert and Lettice, and undertakes the services of Lucy Morgan, a young singer in her entourage, to spy on the couple. Combined with the ostentatious portrayal of life in the Elizabethan court,  is the story of Lucy Morgan, a young woman who is well used to the world of espionage.Gradually,she uncovers a plot that will have devastating consequences, not just on on Elizabeth’s court, but also on Lucy herself.

The story is well written with a compelling and intricate plot. The twists and turns are well explored and it soon becomes a fascinating dialogue between the main characters. The Elizabethan court is portrayed as a hotchpotch of scheming skulduggery, but it is the skilful inclusion of an intricate mystery at the heart of the novel which really makes for fascinating reading.

It is reassuring to note that The Queen’s Secret is the first book in a proposed series of stories about Lucy Morgan.

My thanks to Lynsey  at Transworld for a review copy of this book.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Review - Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others
Published 1 November 2012

Among Others


Jo Walton

"It doesn't matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books." 

Mor Phelps is a complicated teenager, her belief in fairies and magic sets her apart from the other girls at the boarding school she is forced to attend. However, it is her love of books, and science fiction in particular, which offers her a respite from the segregation and bullying tactics. In the form of a series of journal entries, we are introduced to Mor’s world, and through some quite intricate narration, we are allowed a glimpse into the thoughts and dreams of this rather complex character.
Initially, I thought the book was difficult to get into, and had to re-read parts of the earlier narrative to see whether I had missed any clues into Mor’s background. However, I found that about a third of the way into the novel, the story really started to take off, and Mor becomes a undeniably articulate narrator. Her love of literature really is her saving grace and the book references which are scattered like pearls of wisdom throughout the story add an interesting dimension.

In Among Others, Jo Walton has created an entirely believable world where love, loss and madness, intermingle with a story about self-discovery and self-awareness. As a young teen, I read avidly the Mallory Towers books of Enid Blyton, I am sure that my thirteen year old self would have devoured Among Others with equal gusto.

As a book group read, I feel that this would be something of a marmite book; love it or loathe it; it would certainly divide opinion, but would most surely get people talking!

My Thanks to Newbooks for a review copy of this book.

Friday 14 December 2012

Friday Recommended...

In the Kingdom of Men


Book Blurb from Goodreads

Raised in a two-room shack by her strict Oklahoma grandfather, Gin Mitchell knows a better life awaits her when she marries home town hero Mason McPhee. Even so, nothing can prepare her for what’s to come when Mason takes a job with the Arabian American Oil company in 1960s Saudi Arabia.

My Review

Taken from the city orphanage as a seven year old, and raised by her fanatical Methodist grandfather, Virginia “Gin” Mae Mitchell has a harsh and troubled early life. When in her mid teens she rebels against this severe upbringing, and determined to leave her grandfather, she uses marriage to Mason McPhee as her escape. When Mason accepts a job working for the Arabian American Oil company in Saudi Arabia, both he and Gin struggle to conform and adjust to a new way of life. As Mason begins life on the oil rigs, Gin is segregated in the women’s compound in Abqaiq, where she is given more than she ever thought possible. With a houseboy and gardener at her disposal, and amongst the discontented older wives, she learns to live the life of her dreams. But this is 1967, Saudi Arabia is a country on the edge of great change and company wives must learn to live within the strict boundaries of Shariah law. Whilst the oil company employees seem to live on the edge of paradise, civil unrest is never far away, and as Mason begins to suspect that all is not as it should be within the company, Gin also learns that freedom comes at a price.

With great skill the author conveys the stark beauty of a country which is as wild as it is beautiful. Wonderfully descriptive, the story is very easy to read, and very quickly becomes a real page turner, so much so, I stayed up long and late to finish it.

I am sure that book groups will love this one, there is much to discuss, not just about the politics of Saudi Arabia in the 1960s, but also the moral and ethical implications of plundering oil and the way in which the country treated its women. 

My thanks to Newbooks for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Guest Author - John Auckland

I am delighted to introduce



Book Blurb


 The Universe is dangerously close to collapsing. With a shady authority known as the Time Police on their tail, will the Timeseekers be able to save us all? Their only hopes rest with the prophesied 'chosen one' who - rather unexpectedly - turns out to be a kind old lady called Barbara. However, Nana Barb, as she is affectionately known by her seven grandkids, one great-granddaughter and the members of her local bridge club, becomes lost in time after the physicist who lives next-door accidentally activates her new invention. Unfortunately the only people who can save Nana Barb (and the entire Universe) are her hapless grandson Dave, his best and idiotic friend Simon and the beautiful yet clumsy physicist Louise. Guided by the omnipotent tentacles of the Fates, Nana Barb ventures through time desperate for a good cuppa, in the process meeting her long-dead parents, spawning a new religion and picking up a futuristic android companion.Will Dave and his new friends shake off the deadly Time Police? Will the Timeseekers stop the Universe from collapsing? And more importantly, will Nana Barb ever get a decent cup of tea?

The Adventures of Nana Barb
Ecademy Press Ltd (4 Sep 2012)

My Review

When I first started to read Nana Barb I wasn't entirely sure that I would be drawn into the adventures of a time travelling granny, but do you know what, I really enjoyed the story – it’s very cleverly composed to be neither too fantastical nor too patronising to its audience, and even now on finishing the book, I’m still not altogether sure where it’s audience lies. I suppose I would liken it to an offshoot of The Hitch Hikers Guide, certainly there are elements of that great book lurking in the shadows, but really Nana Barb is a creation of her own. I don’t want to spoil the plot by relaying the story – so my only advise is – if you’re intrigued by a time slipping granny and a hapless bunch of intrepid sidekicks, then give this book a chance – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, I wasn't.!


John has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for jaffareadstoo

Welcome John,

What inspired you to become an author?

I have always felt I've got a lot to say - whether anyone wants to listen or not is a different matter! I suppose I didn't really consider the possibility of writing for a profession until my early twenties. I used to be in the events industry and I reached the peak of where I could get to, so I started looking for a new career. I used to write a lot of scripts for Murder Mystery events and I enjoyed thinking of different situations, characters and outcomes. I decided to go back to university to learn to write properly, and I've not looked back since.

Where did you get the inspiration for Nana Barb?

During one of my University seminars we learnt how to write comedy. We were asked to think of a quirky character and place them in an unusual situation. I knew a charming elderly lady who would always say highly inappropriate things that made people laugh. I thought it would be funny to make her travel through time, and so The Adventures of Nana Barb was born.

Do you write stories for yourself, or other people?

I think every writer writes for selfish reasons, to appeal to their inherent self-interest. However, Steven King is probably the most successful author in modernity quite simply because he predominantly writes for his audience. I've always felt you should pick the person who does something better than anyone else and copy them. So in short, I would like to write for myself, but I try very hard to write for my audience.

Which writers have inspired you?

The list is huge, but the biggest influencers would be Douglas Adams for inventing the genre of comedic sci-fi, J.G. Ballard for writing great stories that were thought-provoking, Michael Crichton for writing mainstream books around fantastical ideas and Bret Easton Ellis for writing with an edge.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

Not really. I write anywhere and everywhere! I have very little time and an incredibly busy life, so wherever there is a hard surface to lay my laptop.

What are you writing next?

I'm writing the second instalment of The Adventures of Nana Barb, called Lost in Space, which will be out this time next year. I'm also working on my first literary piece, which is about a CEO of a pharmaceutical company who is developing a cure for ageing. It has a huge twist that I hope will wow readers. 

John , thanks so much for taking the time to appear as a our guest author today. Nana Barb is a great concept, Jaffa and I wish you continued success.

Monday 10 December 2012

Review - Hands On Healing Remedies by Stephanie L. Tourles

This nicely illustrated book with 150 recipes for old fashioned remedies is a pleasure to read and is one of those books that will sit happily on your book shelf until you need to look for inspiration for a healing remedy. Most of the ingredients used are commonly found and nothing requires the reader to have a degree in biochemistry to understand. I loved the idea of Sweet Annie Serenity Oil - how I need some of that in the run up to Christmas, and I can almost smell the aroma of Simple Lavender Infused Oil - what a lovely idea to use this year's lavender crop infused in sweet almond oil. Interspersed amongst the holistic remedies are snippets of stories and little bonus tips which all add together to make a really lovely book. Reading through it reminded me little of my grandmother who always had a jar of comfrey steeping in a jar which she would apply to cuts and bruises.

It just proves that sometimes the old remedies are equally as good as new and often chemically bound alternatives.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Review - Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth
November 2012

Sweet Tooth


Ian McEwan

Following her time at Cambridge University and after a brief affair with an older tutor, Serena Frome is groomed for the intelligence services, however, Britain in 1972 remains a closed bastion of male supremacy, and women in MI5 are still treated as little more than glorified secretaries. When Serena is recruited to the aptly named Sweet Tooth mission, the story takes on an altogether more complicated rhythm and as the seeds of deceit and disillusionment are sown, the intelligence of the narrative starts to emerge.

Overall, the story is well thought out, the characters are believable, and although at times I was irritated by Serena, I think she was representative of educated women of the time, who frustrated by the lack of advancement endeavoured to discover the world for themselves, without really knowing what they were striving to achieve. The rather lost and forlorn feel of England in the 1970’s, with the decline of the Cold War and Britain’s struggle under an avalanche of unrest, is eerily accurate.

There have been times when I have been profoundly disappointed by McEwan’s novels, but I'm relieved to note that Sweet Tooth is back on track. I read the book quickly, which is a first for me, as I sometimes find McKewan’s books a little over complicated to read with ease, but Sweet Tooth engaged my interest from the start and soon became a real page turner. 


My thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for a review copy.

Friday 7 December 2012

Friday Recommended...


The Island House
Hodder & Stoughton (2 Aug 2012)

Mystical Pictish Gods combined with the power and superstition of ancient Christianity and the ruthless power of the Vikings, all merge together in this fascinating and compelling dual time historical novel. Freya Dane is the modern day protagonist who after her father’s tragic death inherits the Scottish island of Findnar. In order to complete her PhD in archaeology, Freya must make sense of her father’s handwritten notes about the history of the island he once called home. But the island is steeped in mystery and has its own terrible story to tell, and all too soon Freya is aware that ancient forces are challenging her to put right a terrible wrong.

Without doubt this is one of the best dual time books I have read in a long time. The author has managed to convey time and place quite beautifully so that neither time period outshines the other, and the air of menace which lingers in the air is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The characters both ancient and modern are vibrant and compelling and the added power of ancient superstition resonating across centuries forms a stunningly good story.

In The Island House,Posie Graeme Evans has conjured the ancient world in such a way that long after the book is finished the story lingers in the shadows of your mind, and as the sea breeze blows in your hair and the sound of sea birds float on the wind, the island house still resonates with echoes of the past.

If I could give it more than five stars, I would.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Guest Author - Mhairi McFarlane

It is my pleasure to introduce 

Photo Courtesy of the author

Author of

You Had Me At Hello
 Avon (6 Dec 2012)

Mhairi has kindly taken the time to tell us all about her life as a writer.

Welcome Mhairi to Jaffareadstoo.

What inspired you to become an author?

I love writing, and it's the only thing I can do to any vague standard of competence. Seriously. I'm omni-useless. But I don't think unless you're frighteningly posh and confident and Oxbridgey that you graduate with an idea you can write fiction for living though. (And even if I had tried to, you probably need a bit of life under your belt and practice before you'd produce anything half-decent anyway.) So I went into local papers instead. I have a theory that feature writing is the most amazing flat-pack starter kit for fiction - you get the main characters and quotes supplied, and the setting, you choose the description, select the best bits of dialogue, add the colour and the mood. (Does all this sound luvvie? I am really worried about sounding luvvie, especially with only one book under my belt.)

Fast forward to me turning 30, working at local paper in Nottingham, fairly sure I didn't want to make the leap to nationals, and being asked to write Bridget Jones' Diary style copy for an advertising supplement. A little light came on somewhere that said: 'Ooh this is a fresh challenge, and a really, really fun one at that.' Not long after, I went on a holiday to New York, and waving a chick lit at my brother in Heathrow I said: 'I could write one of these!' and he said: 'Prove it.' You do need that person to set you the test, I think. Otherwise, it just stays something you say every time people talk 'dream jobs' in the pub.

Where did you get the inspiration for You Had Me At Hello

Various places - I had the best time at Manchester University, so the book's a love letter to those years. Like Rachel, I had a very good male friend from London on my degree course, who made me laugh a lot - the passage about trying to scam out of revising Old English using past papers is taken from real life (I should stress there was no romance in our case though!) I knew I wanted to write a contemporary romance and one morning, thinking about getting in touch with a friend, I thought: 'Imagine how incredibly poignant and vivid a lost love from those years would be, given how poignant and vivid uni memories are anyway.' And it went from there.

By the way, when people ask 'where do you get your ideas from?' top tip: lying in bed when you should be getting up, spending too long in the bath and generally gazing out of rain-spattered windows is highly underrated. Obviously actual productivity needs to kick in at some point...

Do you write stories for yourself, or other people? 

That's a very good question. Both! Is the annoying answer. I write first and foremost to please myself. I try to find a story that makes me laugh, or feel romantic, or sad, create characters I love (or want to boo-hiss.) There's a truism that you have to please yourself first and I heartily agree, it's the only reliable yardstick of quality you really have. If you don't believe in it, why should anyone else? Also, on a practical level, how the hell do you power through 100 thousand words of something you're not in love with? It's interesting - you know how there's sometimes debate about badly-written or dubious novels that are huge hits? There are some bestsellers that might not make the mark as great prose, but I've yet to find the one where the author wasn't writing with enthusiastic conviction and smitten with their story. (No contradictions please! I've warmed to this theory..) Enthusiasm translates. 

But, obviously, it's not as if you can write without an audience in mind. I think the journalist is too hardwired into me, not to do that. I have trusted friends, and my brother, who give me the earliest feedback. If I convince them and make them laugh, I take it as being broadly on the right track.

Do you have a special place to do your writing? 

Hah, only my shamefully messy attic! As well as the necessary desk and Mac, it features a giant bubblegum-pink glass lamp from Ikea, a cartoon from my old paper of me getting kicked up the arse by the Jolly Fisherman in Skegness (long story) and a LOT of junk. I'm so going to have to get a set dressing pot plant and do a frantic tidy up if I ever get in one of those My Study, Where I Produce My Magnificent Art features. It's usually women in Hampstead with French windows opening onto a herb garden, heirloom furniture and solid-silver picture framed pictures of their beautiful family isn't it? *looks balefully at Viz calendar, fluffy cat rolling in the dust* 

Can you share with us your next writing project?

It's another funny romance (or hopefully funny) with Avon which comes out in December 2013. It's about a Greek woman in London who's had the absolute worst time at school, the roly-poly geek bullied to hell, and grown up to be successful and attractive. And then meets one of the old enemies, the school heartthrob (that word sounds very 1955 now doesn't it! What else do you say? Hero of the football field is vaguely American, somehow?) at a reunion. And at first they hate each other, but....shenanigans and lols and heartbreak and catharsis. And a grumpy grey pedigree cat called Luther, inspired by own dim feline, Mr Miffy.

If You Had Me At Hello was a pop culture take on the Persuasion plot, this is Pride & Prejudice. Not that I'm comparing myself to Jane Austen directly, as obviously I'd come off pretty badly.

And finally for fun..

What books are on your bedside table?

Ooh bloody hells *rifles around to check* David Simon's Homicide! Hah, how un chick lit! I read it ages ago but loved it and need to post it back to my dad. More appropriately for my genre: JoJo Moyes 'Me Before You', as I follow her on Twitter and heard her books are great, only just started it. Lisa Jewell 'After The Party' which a friend lent me, I love Lisa Jewell (my favourite: 'Vince & Joy'). And the proof copy of my book. It's possible when I first got the proof copies in, I took one to the pub with me, because I couldn't stop gazing at it, as if it was my newborn. DID I SERIOUSLY ADMIT TO THAT? It seems I did.

Thank you and good night.

Mhairi - thanks so much for spending time with us - it's been great fun !

We wish you continued success in your writing career.

You Had Me At Hello is now available in paperback
and also as an eBook

Enter this giveaway to win a paperback copy of You Had Me At Hello (UK only) - Closes 7th December 2012

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Wishlist Wednesday...

I am delighted to be part of wishlist Wednesday which is hosted by Dani at pen to paper

The idea is to post about one book each week that has been on your wishlist for some time, or maybe just added.

So what do you need to do to join in?

Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.

Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.

Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it's on your wishlist.

Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of her post.

Put a link back to pen to paper ( somewhere in your post.


From Goodreads

From the best selling author Lyn Andrews comes a compelling historical epic set at the endlessly fascinating Tudor court about the most infamous woman of the age - Anne Boleyn - and the man who loved her before she became queen. From the moment Henry Percy, the future Earl of Northumberland, first glimpses the beautiful Anne Boleyn he is captivated and quickly proposes marriage. Anne has been taught to use her charms to her advantage and to secure her family's position of power at court. She sees that Henry Percy's affection is sincere and agrees to marry him. But a match of the heart has no place in a world where marriage is a political manoeuvre. Torn apart, the lovers are exiled to separate ends of the kingdom. For Henry a lifetime of duty awaits, while he remains true to the only woman he will ever love. But he is not the only man to be bewitched by Anne. And when King Henry VIII determines to make her his queen, the course of history is changed for ever.

My fascination with the enigmatic Anne Boleyn began when as an impressionable eleven year old I watched the film Anne of the Thousand Days . For me there is always the ever present conundrum of, what if Anne had married Henry Percy?

Most certainly the course of British History would have been forever altered, but whatever would romantic historians have written about in the 20th and 21st century ?

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Guest Author - Annemarie Neary

It is with great pleasure I introduce 

Photo courtesy of the author

Author of

A Parachute in the Lime Tree
Published by The History Press Ireland


April 1941. German bombers are in the air, about to attack Belfast 

Oskar is a Luftwaffe conscript whose sweetheart, Elsa, was forced to flee Berlin for Ireland two years before.War weary, he longs for escape.

In remote Dunkerin, Kitty awakes to find a parachute trapped in one of the lime trees. When she discovers Oskar, injured and foraging for food in her kitchen, he becomes a rare and exciting secret.

But Ireland during the ‘Emergency’ is an uneasy place, and word of the parachute soon spreads.

Meanwhile Elsa is haunted by the plight of the parents she left behind. With the threat of Nazi invasion, she feels far from secure.

A chance encounter with Elsa, and Charlie, a young medical student, finds himself falling in love.

Oskar, Kitty, Elsa and Charlie. Their lives intertwine in a climate of war, exile and ever-uncertain neutrality.

Annemarie welcome to jaffareadstoo ...

What inspired you to become an author? 

I always wrote a bit but only started taking it seriously about 4 years ago. Now, I can’t imagine not writing – I'm obsessed with it. I don’t really see myself as an author. Somehow, that seems too big a word for what I do.

Where did you get the inspiration for A Parachute in the Lime Tree?

I grew up in Ireland and it always seemed to me that we were at the edge of things. Ireland was neutral during the war and that sense of being on the periphery is fertile territory for fiction. All my stories start with a ‘what if?’ In this case, what if a man fell from the sky?

What comes first the plot, or the people?

For me, the people come first (or perhaps, the dilemma). The plot emerges by pulling coherent strands out of a large mass of material once the initial splurging has taken place. 

Where did your research for the book take you?

I read a huge amount about the period, most of which I never even used. I also spent at lot of time in the newspaper library – photos and small ads are so illuminating. I corresponded with various people, both on and offline (a former Luftwaffe crew member, the widow of a German internee in Ireland, people who just lived in Ireland during that time.)

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

I work at home most of the time – at a desk overlooking Clapham Common. That means red buses, dog-walkers, and the thump of footballs. I work in the London Library too because sometimes it’s best just to turn your head to the wall.

Can you share with us your next writing project?

I have finished a second novel, working title Siren. I hope to send it out on submission very soon. I have also got enough stories for a Venice collection and I'm developing ideas for a couple more. I love writing short stories, but each one takes a huge amount of work as I do a lot of re-writing. I'm roughly 35,000 words into third novel. I haven’t looked at it for several months, so I hope it’s still bubbling away inside somewhere.

And finally for fun.. 

What books are on your bedside table? 

I have an awful lot of books on my bedside table that I never seem to get to. My husband sleeps like a cat, 
so it’s hard to read in bed without waking him. However, these are the books at the top of my pile 

Annemarie , thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and for giving such a fascinating insight into the writing of your book A Parachute in the Lime Tree.

Jaffa and I wish you continued success with your writing.

Find out more about Annemarie on her website

Monday 3 December 2012

Review - The Land Beyond Goodbye by Barbara Scott Emmett

THE LAND BEYOND GOODBYE by Barbara Scott Emmett
Kindle Edition, 244 pages
Published June 23rd 2011 by Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh

Book Blurb from Goodreads

1987. The morning after the Great Storm. A letter drops through the door of Jess Whitelaw's London flat and sets her on a journey through the Australian Outback and her own damaged psyche.

In the heat and dust of the Northern Territory, Jess’s protective armour is chipped away as painful truths are revealed. Tension builds like thunderheads heralding the start of the Wet.

My thoughts

The wild and often cruel landscape of the Australian outback is expertly captured in The Land Beyond Goodbye. From the beginning of the story it is obvious that the author has an affinity with this untamed landscape and uses this knowledge to bring together a skilful and at times spiritually moving story of one woman’s gradual awakening into what is significant and meaningful in her life. Interestingly, the story is not as it first appears, I expected a love story, but what I got was a multi-layered and quite intricate narrative, which blended mystery, mysticism and complexity to really good effect. At times the quirkiness of the characterisation left me a little bit unsure, as some of the main protagonists are not easily likeable, however as the story progresses and the characters start to blend together, the story then becomes a detailed and perceptive look at human nature.


This is is my first book by Barbara Scott Emmett and as I enjoyed it so much I am sure I will be looking out for more of her work in the future.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Guest Author - Tracey Sinclair

It gives me great pleasure to welcome back the author Tracey Sinclair who very kindly gives us a fascinating insight into writing her latest short story.

A Vampire walks into a Bar

 Photo courtesy of the author

The problem with being a writer is that the characters you write about never really leave you alone. (OK, there are actually loads of problems with being a writer, including your friends thinking you spend all day in your PJs eating biscuits – OK, that’s quite often true – your mum thinking you know JK Rowling and your bank manager thinking you’re a vagrant, but let’s stay on topic.) So when I finished my first urban fantasy novel Dark Dates earlier this year, it was a relief that I already had an idea for a sequel planned out, something I could throw myself into without having to leave the world I had fallen so in love with.

But when it became clear that due to other work commitments (that pesky bank manager again!) it would likely be next spring before the sequel would be completed, I felt like I wanted to do something to bridge the gap between books, so the idea of doing a short story set between the two started to germinate. I was inspired, also, by two of my favourite writers, Jim Butcher and Kelley Armstrong, who regularly publish short stories set in their central universes, but also do interesting things with them. Butcher’s Dresden Files books are narrated by Harry Dresden, so he has used his short stories to put across other viewpoints of his character (my favourite is narrated by the white vampire Thomas Wraith). Armstrong, admitting she felt strait-jacketed by calling her series Women of the Underworld, uses short stories to give a male perspective on that universe. But how to do that without ruining the continuity of a book that had quite a definite ending?

Salvation came – as salvation so often does – from Joss Whedon. I remembered the episode of Buffy where Angel came to town without her knowing, and so I thought: what would happen if I create a story where my heroine and narrator, Cassandra, is actually unaware of what is going on around her, so it doesn't impact on the timeline of the books, and allows us to get an outside perspective on her and her world? The idea of her two suitors – the vampire and the vampire hunter – having to put aside their differences for her sake came to mind, and I loved the idea of the two of them being forced into a ‘buddy movie’ scenario, complete with arguments, tension and flirtatious banter (let’s not forget, Laclos is almost as keen to get into Cain’s pants as he is to get into Cassandra’s) and a nice little trip round London, my home town, thrown in for good measure. I wanted it not only to be a treat for those readers who've told me how much they liked Dark Dates, but also something any fan of the genre could enjoy without any knowledge of that book. It was enormous fun to write, and while it does mean I've had to rewrite a lot of the sequel, throwing in references for people who read the story without alienating those who don’t, I hope people enjoy it.

Tracey is the author


Dark Dates (Cassandra Bick Chronicles 1)


**A Vampire Walks into a Bar (Cassandra Bick #1.5)

A Vampire Walks Into a Bar (Cassandra Bick Chronicles 1.5)

**Just for this weekend A Vampire Walks into a Bar is a free Kindle download on Amazon- but if you want my advise also download Dark Dates , and read the first book - it's a great read !