Thursday 31 October 2013

Review ~ The King's Grave by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

St Martin's Press
October 2013

The idea that an anointed King of England could have lain undisturbed for the last 500 years under the concrete of a Leicestershire car park caused a flurry of excitement. Along with the rest of the world, I waited in hopeful anticipation that the achingly vulnerable skeletal remains would indeed prove to be those of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings and the last king of England to be killed in battle.

In The King’s Grave, both authors give their view on the results of the archaeological dig, which took place in the summer of 2012. From Michael Jones, we are given the historical background into the life and times of Richard III, putting into context, not just Richard’s fight for the crown, but also shedding light on the complicated politics which followed the premature death of Edward IV, in 1483. Philippa Langley’s epic contribution demonstrates her absolute conviction that Richard lay beneath the letter “R” in the social services car park, and demonstrates her dogged determination in getting this project, which was so dear to her heart, from the planning stages to its ultimate conclusion.

The book is exceptionally user friendly. It enthrals like a well written historical novel, with at its centre the almost unbelievable story that a King of England could have been left alone and vulnerable for so long. As we know, the events which unfolded as Richard’s remains were uncovered are far from fiction, and only the absolute conviction from those enthusiasts who gave so willingly of their time, money and energy, meant that this project ever saw the light of day.

I stayed up long and late to finish this book, interspersing my time, with watching clips of the dig, which can be easily found on YouTube. I found the whole project fascinating to behold, not just the professionalism of those who had the difficult task of extracting Richard’s skeleton but also in the sheer skill of those experts who gave so willingly of their time to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Richard, the last Plantagenet King of England, had indeed been found.

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

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Review ~ Working Lives by David Hall

Bantam Press
 The forgotten voices of Britain’s post-war working class.

I was born into a working class family in the industrial North of England, so the stark picture of the three coal miners who gaze enigmatically out from the front cover of Working Lives, is a scene which is entirely familiar to me. As a child, I watched as my coal miner father washed off the worst of the coal dust in a bucket of water in the backyard, and I grew up with tall tales of shot firing, coal seams and underground explosions.

David Hall’s interesting and informative social history explores the lives of the working classes in post-war Britain. The inherent danger of the northern coal fields and the noise and dust of the Lancashire cotton weaving sheds formed a landscape which was difficult to escape. And, likewise, the vivid descriptions of the frenetic activity of the North Eastern ship builder, through to the heat and bellow of the Yorkshire steel works, gives the narrative a uniquely individual voice, which neither glorifies this post-war period as halcyon days, nor does it allow the facts to outweigh personal perspectives. The anecdotal stories which are interspersed amongst the factual evidence are fascinatingly poignant and are reminiscent of long lost industrial pride.

The five main chapters are well divided with some minimal overlapping as one industry is occasionally reliant on another. These sections explore in great detail the effect that these industries had on the communities they served, and the structure and political ramifications as Britain became the most urbanized industrial nation in the world.

As someone who was born well into this post war industrial period, I am always rather shocked to consider that this is now seen largely as a historical period, but there is no doubt that we owe a huge debt of honour to the sagacity of those intrepid workers who maintained the status quo during this uniquely industrial time in our nation’s history. 

In this post-war examination , David Hall has done them proud.

 My thanks to Elizabeth Masters at Transworld Publishers for my copy of this book.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Today My Author Spotlight falls on ....Ali Bacon


Ali ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to chat about your book

What is it about your book that will pique the reader’s interest?

I think my main character, a feisty eighteen-year-old, and her string of predicaments (why is she a social outcast? why is she eyeing up someone else’s boyfriend?) will sweep the reader along and I think I have achieved a distinctive and consistent voice for her. I think many people have come to it because of it’s setting on the Fife coast – a big holiday area - and of course in Edinburgh, a unique and much-loved city.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of A Kettle of Fish?

Difficult question as I am a very stop-start kind of writer. The idea was born during a holiday in 2007 (yes, that long ago!) when I was still doing final edits to a previous novel. I probably put ‘pen to paper’ in early 2008. I did go off at a good pace and I know I took a first draft to a writer’s conference in June 2009 – for me that’s a very quick write. However, after that I took a longish break (as usually happens with me) during which the plot was restructured and lots more changes made until it was picked up for publishing in spring 2012. For me 5 years seems to be standard.

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

I was determined that my book would look good and grab attention. I did try to choose an interesting title and I asked my publisher if I could employ my own designer (who just happens to be my daughter) for the cover, in the hope of having a product that would stand out. I am very happy with the results, but I have since learned that to some extent it’s better to conform to a recognisable style in matters of presentation, so maybe it has stood out a little too much! From then on it was a case of using all the tools at my disposal to get the first (e-book) edition noticed. I already had a blog and was a confirmed Twitter user so I did have a ‘platform’ from which to sell my wares. But of course so does everyone else! For a year I was a member of an online writers’ cooperative group who worked as a team on marketing and promotion, and that did provide a boost. When I went on to publish the paperback it was more a case of foot-slogging. I’ve done presentations in my local libraries and other community ventures and have recently been part of a joint project with my writing group ( which has given all of us more publicity. I have to say public appearances have not come easily, but is all part of the job. I’ve also been involved in workshops and other activities to support new writers which feels more satisfying than straight promotion.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write. Keep writing. Get help.

I think finding the right help is very important. Having been a ‘closet writer’ I went on a one-day writing course which was a total disaster. I stopped writing for quite a while. A few years later I signed up for a six-week evening course which turned out to be exactly right for me. Or maybe it was just the time that was right. Since then I've been in two different writing groups and in both of them have found ‘critical friends’ whose comments I trust. Accepting criticism is hard especially for a new writer, but we will all have to deal with it sooner or later. The next thing to learn is when to take the criticism on board and when to stick to your guns. It is your writing after all.

Which writers have inspired you?

Writers who speak to me in a direct way have mostly been mainstream women novelists like Rose Tremain, Penelope Lively, Margaret Forster, and more recently Ann Patchett. I suppose they are the people who make me think ‘If only I could write a book like that’ or even ‘maybe I could write a book like that’. Then there are other books that just sweep me away to somewhere wholly unfamiliar and they provide a different kind of inspiration. I’m thinking of the Time Traveller’s Wife, The Handmaid’s Tale or Kate Atkinson's earlier work. My first novel was about a middle aged woman coming to terms with an old love affair but in some obscure way I was kicked into writing it by Rose Tremain’s Restoration - about a courtier to King Charles II.

Can you tell us what you are writing next?

True to form I’m going off in a totally new direction again, this time by writing a historical novel. It came about because I became interested in (obsessed by?) a Victorian photographer who lived in Edinburgh and whose name has somehow kept cropping up in my life. Clearly I would have to write his story! It has taken me a while to do the research and also to get to grips with how much will be history and how much will be fiction. I’ve already made a few false starts but I think I’m pretty much ready to make a go of it now.

About the Author

Ali Bacon was born in Dunfermline in Scotland and graduated from St Andrews University. Her writing has been published in Scribble, The Yellow Room and a number of online magazines. She was shortlisted for the A&C Black First Novel Competition 2006. She now lives near Bristol. A Kettle of Fish is her first published novel.

Website and blog:

Twitter @AliBacon


A Kettle of Fish is a rollercoaster family drama set in Scotland and published by Thornberry Publishing

Buy it from Amazon UK (£1.99) or Amazon USA in Kindle format.

Print edition: ISBN 9781781768624

Ali ~ thank you so much for spending time on our blog. Jaffa and I wish you continued success with your writing career. Come back and see us soon.

Ali is very kindly offering a Kindle copy of her book to one lucky winner of this giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


My thoughts on A Kettle of Fish

Ailsa has just finished school and faces the agonising dilemma of either moving away to Edinburgh and university life, or remaining at home in Fife, with her increasingly demanding mother. Both choices brings its own set of problems, but when Ailsa is overtaken by raging hormones, and meets and falls, sort of in lust with, one of the local boys, suddenly her life starts to get even more complicated.

What I loved about this coming of age story was just how realistic it was in terms of Ailsa’s thoughts and feelings, and how the sheer draining energy of Ailsa’s mum, Lorraine was conveyed in heartbreaking detail. Time and place is captured perfectly, as is the indecision of those late teenage years, when although the world beckons, we are somehow reluctant to leave behind the safety of childhood. Drifting from one bad relationship to another, Ailsa is not just learning about her own sexuality, but is also hampered by childhood memories, and the revelation of a well kept and sordid family secret means that Ailsa needs to confront the past, before she can move on into her future.

Quite effortlessly, the author has captured not just the indecision of youth but also the sense of drifting along aimlessly with no real purpose until galvanised into action. She has combined this with a love of Scotland, from the urban environment of cultural Edinburgh, with its cafes, galleries and bars, through to the beauty of Scotland’s stunning coastline, all merge into really thoughtful and well written story.

Monday 28 October 2013

Review ~ If You Could See What I See by Cathy Lamb

Kensington Books

After years spent as a documentary film maker, Meggie O’Rourke has returned to help manage her family’s lingerie business in Portland, Oregon. Lace, Satin and Baubles is the creation of Meggie’s grandmother, a feisty Irish immigrant who controls Meggie and her sisters with a rod of iron. The bonds of family run deep and the O’Rourkes care passionately for both their exquisitely pretty lingerie and their diverse work force who create their delicate masterpieces. However, aware that the business needs a real jolt of excitement to boost sales, Meggie and her sisters have limited time to come up with a dynamic new vision. In order to entice more customers, Meggie decides to interview her relatives and employees about their first bra and special lingerie, and whilst she imagines something frivolous, what she actually gets is poignant, sweet and achingly emotional.

The story draws you in from the beginning. The gentle exploration of family dynamics is cleverly achieved and Meggie and her sisters, whilst proportionately dysfunctional have warmth and spirit, which makes for compelling reading. And yet, the real essence of the novel comes with the gradual revelation of Meggie’s past, in which something dark and dirty lingers like a bad smell, and which is revealed little by little in vivid detail.

As with all Cathy Lamb novels there is a real sense that she understands both her target audience, and the fundamental knowledge of what makes women tick. She writes so well, that in the space of just a few short paragraphs you find that you can laugh, cry and shout out loud, and still be completely bowled over by the way her characters are just so exactly right.

Overall, this is a story about family, and the truths we withhold from ourselves and others, and the courage we all need to find when faced with our own demons.

My thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for my ecopy of this book.

Cathy Lamb 

 Cathy Lamb

Sunday 27 October 2013

Review ~ Others of My Kind by James Sallis

No Exit Press

James Sallis is hailed as the master of noir, and this latest novella goes a long way to prove just how expert he is in relating a story which should be quite shocking, but, which is, in the main, an uplifting story of one woman’s determination to rise above an horrendous childhood experience. To say more about the story would be to do both the book and the author a great disservice as Others of My Kind is best read without any preconceptions of either story or character.

The author is clearly a master of the succinct; no words are wasted and each sentence is constructed with such precision that even the most provocative of scenarios, and there are a couple of events in the book which I found difficult to read, are recorded in such an unemotional sort of way, that almost without realising it, a bond forms between reader and protagonist, which lasts until the story is finished.

In any other author’s hands, this story would probably have run on for several hundred pages, but without doubt, James Sallis has said everything that needed be said in just 157 pages of sheer brilliance.

My thanks to Real Readers for my copy of this book to read in advance of its publication.

About the author

James Sallis (born 21 December 1944 in Helena, Arkansas) is an American crime writer, poet and musician, best known for his series of novels featuring the character Lew Griffin and set in New Orleans, and for his 2005 novel Drive, which was adapted into a 2011 film of the same name.


Saturday 26 October 2013

Review - Cry of the Children by J M Gregson


  A Lambert and Hook mystery....

The disappearance of a child strikes fear into the very heart any police force and Chief Superintendent Lambert and his team of officers have very few clues to follow when seven year old, Lucy Gibson goes missing after spending an evening at a local fairground. What then follows is a fairly straightforward police procedural crime story which has the added advantage of being part of a series and which will no doubt appeal to the author’s legions of fans who follow the Lambert and Hook style of crime resolution.

In many ways this is a rather gentle story, which sits oddly alongside the story of child abduction, and yet, for me, what sets this story apart, is in the finely observed character detail and in the calm attention to the minutiae of daily life. Beautifully written, the story carries the reader along without ever needing to resort to sensationalistic tactics. Sure, there is more than enough gusto in the story, but the blood and gore is firmly left at the crime scene, and sometimes I enjoy that more than standing in a mortuary with the pathologist as they poke around in someone’s insides.

The severity of the crime being investigated and the outcome of the enquiry into child abduction is resolved by the end of the book, and whilst there are no great surprises in the outcome, the journey to get there is a very enjoyable reading experience.

Expected publication January 2014

My thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for my advance e-copy of this book.


Friday 25 October 2013

Book Beginnings on Fridays....

Hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader

Book Beginnings on Fridays as stated by the host was started:

"to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires."

You can share on Google + and social media , please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings and there's also a Mr Linky on the host's blog.

 Book Beginnings : If You Could See What I See by Cathy Lamb

If You Could See What I See 
Published July 2013

Book Blurb from Goodreads.

For decades, the women in Meggie O’Rourke’s family have run Lace, Satin, and Baubles, a lingerie business that specializes in creations as exquisitely pretty as they are practical. The dynamic in Meggie’s family, however, is perpetually dysfunctional. In fact, if Meggie weren’t being summoned back to Portland, Oregon, by her grandmother, she’d be inclined to stay away all together.  


 That’s what he was wearing when it happened. 
I never wear black anymore. 
He ended up wearing red, too. 
That’s what killed my soul. 
The red. 
He haunts me. He stalks me. 
For over a year I have tried to outrun him. 
It hasn’t worked. 
My name is Meggie. 
I live in a tree house.

The premise of the story doesn't seem to live up to the opening of this book, but as with all Cathy Lamb stories there is usually more going on.....Meggie is a mystery, I'm looking forward to finding out why she is so haunted by this image..........

Thanks for visiting ~ please share your thoughts .....

Thursday 24 October 2013

Review ~ Secrets Of A Pet Nanny by Eileen Riley

Published 24 October 2013

I have to admit that whilst I have been the proud owner ....ahem....slave, of several wonderful cats over the course of my lifetime so far, I have never had a dog to care for, mainly because when I was a child, my mother always felt that dogs were too much trouble, and that cats were easier to watch over. So, the mysteries of dog ownership, has, in the main, passed me by. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the skill and sheer brilliance of those dogs who perform a service, and that I can't rejoice in the wild exuberance on the face of dog and owner as yet another ball is flung into the undergrowth.

In Secrets of a Pet Nanny , Eileen Riley has taken the relationship between dog and owner, and has used her journalistic skill to write a fascinating insight into the wonderful world of the Pet Nanny. There are well over twenty vignettes, little doggie tales which will have you laughing out loud in places, whilst other stories will tug on your heartstrings. I am sure that any dog owner will be able to identify with some of the stories, and even if you are not a pet owner, the skill of the writing and the total absorption that Eileen has in her charges, will have you turning the pages to find out just a little bit more.

Secrets Of A Pet Nanny is beautifully presented, from its colourful front cover, through to the individual line drawings which precedes each dog's story. 

I'm sure that the book would make a lovely little gift for anyone who is besotted with dogs........or for that manner, anyone who loves animal stories....

There's a chance to win a  signed copy of Secrets of a Pet

My thanks to Elliot and Thompson for my review copy of this book.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

My author spotlight falls on Eileen Riley....

Eileen Riley is a professional pet nanny, experienced broadcaster and journalist. Born in America, she rose through the diplomatic service to take on postings in Cameroon, Papua New Guinea and Washington (under President Carter), before moving to London where she fell in love with a British man and promptly quit diplomacy in favour of looking after other people’s dogs. She lives in south-west London with her family, and regular canine guests.


I am delighted to welcome Eileen to our blog and for taking the time to answer our questions about her book

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Secrets of a Pet Nanny?

My brother-in-law Bob always said that he loved reading my emails and had been asking for the 'first chapter of your book for Christmas' for years.  Many, many years. Then, one August he called up to say that he and his family would love to come spend the holidays with us. Since he lives in the US and we are in London, this was going to be a rare and very special event. And so, I decided to sit down and write him the first chapter of my book. But, what book? I had no idea, that is until I started realising that for the past several months, I had written very few emails that did not include at least one story about something funny that a dog, or his owner, had done. I had the germ of an idea, so I sat down and started writing. Sadly, he was snowed-in and never arrived for Christmas, so I just kept going, and wrote the whole book.

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

When I arrived in London as a diplomat, I had no idea that it was only the second best job in town.

When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?
Usually very late at night. I'm a night owl and like it when the house is quiet and the phone isn't ringing. My favourite place is in the front room, which I have commandeered, painted a wonderful shade of green, and turned into my study. Not that I call it that, of course. That would make the rest of the family realise what I have done.

What would you like readers to take away when they finish reading Secrets of a Pet Nanny?

I would like readers to turn the last page and put down the book, smiling and thinking about the great dogs they have known and the millions of ways in which knowing them has made their lives so much richer.

And finally a fun question:
What was easier - Diplomat or Pet Nanny?

They both have their challenges, their ups and downs. But in only one of those jobs am I adored by my clients. I will leave you to figure out which one that is!

 Eileen has very kindly offered a signed copy of her lovely book in this great giveaway.

My thanks to Eileen for her generosity and to Alison Menzies at Elliot&Thompson for the opportunity to interview Eileen.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Second Time Lucky by Sophie King

Corazon Books ~ September 2013

Stately Bridgewater House has been converted into new apartments, bringing together a disparate bunch of people, whose interconnecting lives are the focus for this interesting look at life, love, families and friendship. As each of the individual residents lives are revealed we get to know them in fine detail - there’s an aging actress who is slightly down on her luck, a bewildered and newly divorced mother of three, a misfit American PhD student struggling with infertility and the usurped lord of the manor, who has enough emotional baggage to sink a battleship. In the space of a year, the residents of Bridgewater House are about to discover that living cheek by jowl with each other makes for an eventful and hectic time.

In Second Time Lucky, Sophie King gets right into the nitty-gritty of relationships, but does so in lively style. On the surface, this is a light and easy to digest story, but read a little deeper and it tackles some really difficult subjects, like, what happens when families fall to pieces and the unbearable heartbreak of lone parents who are denied access to their children. The story also touches on grief, loneliness; financial difficulties, marital infidelity and teenage angst in such a realistic way that you can empathise and understand what each of the characters are going through. Each character is brimming with life, but none tend to outshine the other, with the exception of the dog, Hector, who is a real superstar. 
At the end of the novel, I had enjoyed a story which was well told, which had good resolution and a pleasing conclusion. 

I was left with the idea that everyone deserves a second chance.

My thanks to Corazon books for my e-copy of this book to read and review.