Tuesday 29 April 2014

Review ~ The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn

Little, Brown Book Group
March 2014

I am always interested to read Suzannah Dunn's interpretation of history as I know that her modern way of recounting the past is not always to everyone's taste, but for me her novels work as a refreshing change from the more conventional historical narratives.

The May Bride
is recounted by Jane Seymour, whose recollections of her sister in law, Katherine Filliol's arrival at Wolf Hall in the early days of her marriage to Jane's brother, Edward, forms the foundation for the story. Jane is irresistibly drawn towards the charismatic older girl and is devastated when that trust is later betrayed in a scandal which rocks the family’s foundation forever.

Refreshingly different, this book looks at the dynamics of a family divided, not just by infidelity, but also by the betrayal of trust, and the alteration of a family’s love and loyalty to each other.

If you want a conventional Tudor saga with the royal family playing a pivotal role, then this book may well be a disappointment to you, but if like me, you want something refreshingly different which brings the Tudor age alive in a very different way, then I am sure you will enjoy The May Bride as much as I did.

My thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown Books for my review copy of this book.


The Author

Suzannah Dunn

Sunday 27 April 2014

Sunday War Poet.....

Robert Graves



I’ve watched the Seasons passing slow, so slow, 
In the fields between La Bassée and Bethune; 
Primroses and the first warm day of Spring, 
Red poppy floods of June, 
August, and yellowing Autumn, so 
To Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow, 
And you’ve been everything. 

Dear, you’ve been everything that I most lack 
In these soul-deadening trenches—pictures, books, 
Music, the quiet of an English wood, 
Beautiful comrade-looks, 
The narrow, bouldered mountain-track, 
The broad, full-bosomed ocean, green and black, 
And Peace, and all that’s good. 

Robert Graves was an English poet and author of antiquities specialising in classical Greece and Rome. He was soldier and poet during WW1.

His most famous work I, Claudius was published in 1934.


Saturday 26 April 2014

Review ~ The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose

Atria Books
April 2014

 This novel, which is set in the 16th century court of Catherine de Medici, features the alchemical science around the production of elixirs, both poisonous and perfumed, and the intrigue associated with mystical divination of the perfumer. Creating deadly poisons for a deadly queen is not without some danger and René le Florentin, plucked from obscurity to be the Queen’s perfumer  gets drawn into dangerous circumstances.

In the present day, renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes obsessed with the work of René le Florentin, and when she discovers that he may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality, Jac becomes obsessed with the notion of René’s dying breath collection.

This dual time narrative blends the violent days of the Medici court, with 21st Century France and uncovers a story of corruption, violence and obsession, which transcends time. Although this is an interesting idea for a novel, reminiscent of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, I’m not sure that on the whole the story really really worked for me. I found myself losing interest in places, particularly with the present day narrative, which I felt was a little clumsy in places. I much preferred the 16th century story, in which  the author expertly captured the menace and obsession which is associated with the court of Catherine de Medici.

 Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for my copy of this book to read and review.

Friday 25 April 2014

Book Review ~ CAULDSTANE by Linda Gillard

A Gothic novel in the romantic suspense tradition of Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt.

....If you live in fear, you fear to live....


When ghostwriter Jenny Ryan is summoned to the Scottish Highlands by Sholto MacNab – retired adventurer and Laird of Cauldstane Castle – she’s prepared for travellers’ tales, but not the MacNabs’ violent and tragic history. 

Lust, betrayal and murder have blighted family fortunes for generations, together with an ancient curse. As members of the family confide their sins and their secrets, Jenny learns why Cauldstane’s uncertain future divides father and sons. 

But someone resents Jenny’s presence. Someone thinks she’s getting too close to Alec MacNab – swordsmith, widower and heir to Cauldstane. Someone will stop at nothing until Jenny has been driven away. Or driven mad. 

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Especially a dead woman.


 My thoughts on CAULDSTANE

When Jenny Ryan travels to Cauldstane Castle in the Scottish Highlands to meet with the enigmatic explorer, Sholto MacNab, she expects that his aversion towards female writers will prove something of a stumbling block; however, Sholto needs someone to ghost write his memoirs and Jenny is the best there is in the business. With some trepidation on both their parts, Jenny and Sholto begin the daunting task of fleshing out the glorious details of Sholto’s life and yet malevolent forces at work within the castle are set to make sure that Jenny’s task is far from straightforward.

Running throughout the narrative like a shadowy thread is a story of a spiteful spirit whose unpleasant interference threatens the very safety of those people whose affinity for Cauldstane runs deep. But where there is darkness there is also light and a delicious assortment of characters whose very personalities infuse the story with warmth and charm. From the enigmatic and tenacious Sholto, through to the mesmerising charm of Alec, the armourer whose skill at swordplay leaves Jenny, and no doubt a few other female readers, quite breathless, this story of ancient curses, malevolent mischief and illicit desire has all the ingredients of an outstanding Gothic novel.

As a reader I have devoured books by Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt and there is no doubt that Linda Gillard’s rare gift for storytelling has been influenced by her own passion for this type of Gothic romance. Her uncanny ability to create pictures with words takes you on a journey into the very heart and soul of the Scottish Highlands and as the cold stone of Cauldstane Castle trembles under your fingertips, you sense the fear and feel the ingrained majesty and loneliness of this place of ancient secrets, curses and sadness.

To lose yourself in a Linda Gillard novel is like curling up on the sofa with your best friend whose secrets are infinitely more exciting than your own and in whose company you never fail to be mesmerised.

CAULDSTANE is available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com



The inspiration for CAULDSTANE

Thursday 24 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Linda Gillard

I am delighted to welcome back to my blog

as she chats about her inspiration for her

 latest book

Linda ~ welcome back to Jaffareadstoo 

What inspired you to write Cauldstane?

At one level the inspiration was a visit to Cawdor Castle which, although ancient, is still family-owned and inhabited. As I was touring the castle, I had the idea of writing about a family who are struggling to hold on to their home and heritage. 
At another level the inspiration for CAULDSTANE was being treated for breast cancer. Many people suggested I write about my experience, but it was bad enough living it, I didn’t want to write about it. But I felt I had to find a way to assimilate it, so I decided to write an allegorical novel, about my experience, but not describing it. Cancer haunts me still, even though my treatment ended in 2012.
You don’t need to know any of this background to enjoy the novel, which is basically a gothic romance and a book about fear.

Photo courtesy of the author

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

Cauldstane is a decaying 16th century castle in the Highlands. It’s been the home of the MacNabs for generations, but in the 21st century they’re finding it hard to hold on. The family is divided. Should they just sell up or try to use the castle and estate as the basis of a business? Cauldstane is blessed with quirky architecture, red kites and a riverside location, but there’s also an ancient MacNab curse and a malevolent ghost who poisons lives and relationships and wants to drive the family out.

Cauldstane is a money pit, but the real damage is caused by fear – fear of what might happen – and, as one of the characters says, “If you live in fear, you fear to live”. Fear is a kind of wasting disease that affects each of the MacNabs in different ways. (No prizes for guessing that my ghost is how I personified cancer.)

How many rough drafts did it take before you were happy with the story?

I don’t do drafts, not complete ones. I draft a few pages, maybe as much as half a chapter, then I edit it thoroughly before moving on. When I’ve completed the chapter, I edit again. I’ll edit many times until I’m happy. Progress is slow, but by the time I get to the end of the book, it’s almost ready to publish. I edit again, but I never change much.
I don’t think I could face re-drafting a novel. I think if I knew how a book was going to turn out, I’d have little interest in writing it. For me writing fiction is about investigation and discovery. I like to be surprised!

Although your books are difficult to categorise, you do have a penchant for strong heroines and slightly damaged heroes – is there anything of Linda Gillard in any of the characters?

Oddly enough, I think you’ll find me in my heroes, rather than my heroines, but I don’t think I've ever put myself into a book, only aspects of myself.

I suppose the most “autobiographical” books are EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT. In those books I used aspects of myself to create both heroes and heroines. Calum, the hero of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY is a teacher and I used to be a teacher. There’s a lot of me-as-a-teacher in him.

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

I always write about places I know or I’ve invented, but I do quite a bit of research, especially studying photos. You can absorb so much detail and atmosphere from photos.
I’d already visited a lot of castles as research for a previous novel, UNTYING THE KNOT (yes, I have a thing about castles!) but my main sources of inspiration were Cawdor, Crathes and Craigievar Castles, all of which were local for me, living in the Highlands.
Readers often comment on the atmosphere and settings in my books but I don’t make a special effort to create them – rather the reverse. I don’t like writing description, so I always try to keep it brief. I tend to select telling details and focus on those. If you give readers a few vivid details, they’ll “fill in” and visualize the rest of the setting.
Perhaps my books are strong on atmosphere because everything seems very real to me. I see it all in my head, like watching a film. Stephen King said writing is telepathy. An author sits at her desk and visualizes the scene. A hundred years later, someone reads the book and sees the same scene. It’s a kind of magic.

Cauldstane has a malevolent spirit – do you believe in ghosts?

I think perhaps I do. I’ve written two paranormal novels featuring ghosts. (THE GLASS GUARDIAN is the other one.) When I was researching ghosts, I came to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to dismiss all the eyewitness accounts. There’s a substantial body of evidence, some of it quite convincing. I read two books by journalists who started out as ghost-sceptics and ended up converts. As a scientist explains in CAULDSTANE, physicists are beginning to come up with theories that could explain some paranormal experiences.
I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve often sensed a “presence”. There was one room in my old house on Skye where I really wasn’t comfortable. I sensed it immediately when I went to view the house before I bought it. Even though I lived there for six years, I never felt OK in that room. Neither did my daughter. We both sensed something.

Scotland is very much a character in your novels – what enchants you about the place, its people and its history?

I love the light, the accents, the wildlife, the emptiness of the landscape, the energy. I even like the awful weather! Although I'm English, Scotland is the only place I've ever felt at home. When I was a student I visited Edinburgh and fell in love with the place. Then over the years, as I saw more of Scotland, I became determined to live there one day. There’s not much of Scotland I haven’t seen and I've lived in a lot of different locations, including on a couple of islands.
I wrote my first novel (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, set on a Hebridean island) when I was living in a Norfolk suburb, pining for the Hebrides. That book allowed me to live there “in my head”.

Cauldstane is book number seven for you – do you have a favourite, and will there be a book 8?

I think my best book is A LIFETIME BURNING, but I wouldn't describe it as my favourite. At the moment my favourite is probably UNTYING THE KNOT. It was the very devil to write and I gave up on it twice, but I've since grown fond and rather proud of it.
I have an idea for an eighth novel, but I'm just at the daydreaming stage, gathering books together for research. But if the novel gets written, the main character might be a garden.

You can find Linda on her website and also on her author page on Facebook 

Linda ~ It's been a real pleasure to have you spend some time on Jaffareadstoo.

Thank you so much for sharing with us your inspiration for




Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Bard is 450....

April 23 2014

is the 450th anniversary

of the birth of

23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616

William Shakespeare

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

Whilst the actual date of Shakespeare's birth is not known, it has been assumed that he was born on or around 23rd April. His baptism date is given as the 26th April 1564. Born and brought up in Stratford-upon -Avon, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at 18 and had three children, Susanna, and twins Hamnet and  Judith.

By 1585-1592, Shakespeare was in London making a career as a writer, playwright and part owner of a company of players, known as The Lord Chamberlain's men, later known as The King's Men.

Producing most of his work between 1592 -1613, he at first wrote comedies and histories, but by the end of the 16th century he was writing tragedies and tragicomedies and was collaborating with other playwrights.

He died in 1616 and is buried at the Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon and is also commemorated at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. 


I recently reviewed two books which feature William Shakespeare as one of the leading characters.

Myriad Editions
March 2014

Aemilia Bassano, the daughter of an impoverished court musician, uses her intelligence and her considerable beauty to make her way amongst the upper echelons of Elizabethan high society. As the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre company, Aemilia, is soon noticed by the charismatic playwright William Shakespeare, and it is this abiding love/hate relationship between Shakespeare and Aemilia which is the real focus of the story. There is much debate about the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ who features in the sonnets of William Shakespeare. This novel cleverly explores the alleged fascination which the playwright had for Aemilia Bassano, and it is entirely possible that she could have been muse and his one true love.

Beautifully written, with a real authenticity, the story reads like a time travel journal, and effortlessly takes the reader into the very heart of Elizabethan London, to a land alive with political mayhem and society scandal. The glitterati of the great, and the not so good, of Elizabeth’s court are shown as bright and brittle butterflies, who flit into and out of the story with comparative ease, and yet, it is in the minutiae of daily life where the story really comes alive. With comparable ease, we are taken from the squalor and stench of death-carts and plague-pits, through to the posturing and raucous swagger of the actors who parade centre stage at the Globe theatre.  Throughout the novel, there is an authentic ripeness to the narrative with the inspired use of colourful and slightly risqué language, which helps to support the time travel idea, and thankfully, there is a good glossary which places the vocabulary into context.

There is no doubt that Aemilia’s unrivalled charm, wit and intelligence gave her the impetus to become the first professional female poet, and yet, it is her struggle for control, appreciation and survival in a male dominated world, which is her lasting legacy.

February 2014

This imagined autobiography of the life of the eminent bard starts as William Shakespeare, on his death bed, attempts to exit this mortal coil by recounting his life story to his lawyer Francis Collins. Making sense of this enigmatic playwright’s life and times is no easy feat and the author has done a commendable job in fleshing out the details of Shakespeare’s life from his early childhood in Stratford, through to adulthood amongst the glittering court world of Elizabethan politics and Jacobean skulduggery.

There is no doubt that the author has done his research extremely well and has unearthed snippets of Shakespeare’s life which shows that the bard lived a colourful and extremely lively existence. There are some lovely descriptive accounts of both Elizabethan and Jacobean England when the glittering prose really does leap off the page and by leaving nothing to the imagination the sights, sounds and smells of the era really do come gloriously alive.

There is a compelling lyricism to the narrative which is rather poetic and it certainly has more than enough historical content, in fact, there were times when I forgot that the book was a novel as it is presented more like a non-fiction account and some of the lovely literary prose is achingly reminiscent of some of Shakespeare’s own writings.

I’m not sure that this book will appeal to reading groups per se unless they have a real interest in complex historical content. My view is that this book stands rather as a multifaceted personal read and more as one to be savoured slowly rather than read at full speed.

Both these book were originally reviewed for newbooks - the magazine for readers and reading groups


Monday 21 April 2014

Review ~ Beautiful Day by Kate Anthony

April 2014

I was rather surprised by this story as on first glance I thought perhaps that the story would be a little bit fluffy. However, very soon into the book there is a real temptation to read through it very quickly, not because the book is light on content but because the story takes hold and makes you want to know what’s going to happen next.

On the surface it’s a gentle story about Rachel, who is a young single mother, trying to support her children by taking a job in a care home looking after vulnerable adults. Rachel’s confidence has been battered by a disastrous marriage but her resolve in caring for her family means that she must make sacrifices and working in such a demanding job is never going to be easy.

I think what makes the book so readable is that the story explores relationships in realistic detail. I especially enjoyed following Rachel’s interaction with her fellow care workers, and more especially with Philip, a vulnerable adult in the home, who needs a special brand of cosseting. Rachel’s chaotic private life echoes the sort of journey many single mothers make every day, as they try to juggle the responsibilities of parenthood with the very real need to make ends meet. Rachel’s return to work is never going to be easy but the deftness of the story and the realistic way in which the characters are allowed to evolve, make this book an absolute joy to read and enjoy.

On the whole I think that this is a commendable debut novel. The author has shown a real empathy with the characters she has created and more importantly she has the skill to share this vision with her readers. I look forward to more books from this talented author.

My thanks to Real Readers for my review copy of this book.


Sunday 20 April 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Siegfried Sassoon

(1886 - 1967)

A Child's Prayer

For Morn, my dome of blue, 
For Meadows, green and gay, 
And Birds who love the twilight of the leaves, 
Let Jesus keep me joyful when I pray. 

For the big Bees that hum
And hide in bells of flowers; 
For the winding roads that come 
To Evening’s holy door, 
May Jesus bring me grateful to his arms, 
And guard my innocence for evermore. 


Siegfried Sassoon was an English poet, writer and soldier. In 1916, he was decorated with the Military Cross for his bravery on the Western Front.

A Child's Prayer written in 1918 recalls the innocent joy of childhood and is in direct contrast to his grittier war poetry.
It is perhaps an appropriate choice for this Easter Sunday.

Friday 18 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is .......Amanda Hodgkinson

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Author of

Spilt Milk



Amanda ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions 
about your latest book.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Spilt Milk?

I begin writing with an image. Some small scene that captures my imagination. With Spilt Milk I saw in my mind a young woman running barefoot along a riverbank. A tall girl with long dark hair and strong legs, holding her skirts up as she ran. Why was she running so fast? Was she escaping from something? Around the same time that I began seeing this girl in my thoughts, I was staying with friends in rural Suffolk and went for a walk in the country, ending up on the banks of a small river. We were not far from main roads and modern life but there was an extraordinary timelessness to the river. I knew then, that this was the riverbank the girl ran along. This was where the novel would begin.

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

Spilt Milk is a story about sisters, motherhood and love. It begins in 1913 and traces the lives of sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh up to the 1960s. When a flood washes up a giant pike onto the sisters' cottage doorstep, Nellie is convinced that this is an omen, a sign of change. Then a travelling man arrives and both sisters fall for his charms, putting in place events that will affect not only the sisters lives but the lives of other generations to come. As Isabel Berwick says  in her recent FT review of the novel, “Spilt Milk is a refracted version of real life, that impossible mess we inherit and muddle through, yet transmuted here into something shining and meaningful, told in beautiful prose.”  

In your research for Spilt Milk did you discover anything which surprised you?

During my research into womens' lives during the twentieth century, I read a lot about the strict and controlling attitudes towards birth control and was utterly dismayed by the lack of choice and education available for most women. So often throughout that century, women faced heartbreaking choices concerning their own sexuality, love, children and marriage. Governmental control, public morality and women's lives seemed bound together in ways then which today, I think we would find hard to believe.  

Spilt Milk is your second published novel – did you feel more of an obligation to make this book even better than the first?
I did feel the pressure of writing a second novel after the first had been so well received but I also knew that I had to get on and do it anyway! And once the characters in Spilt Milk came to life, I became so caught up in the writing that those kind of worries faded from view. But yes, I do feel I am always pushing myself to write something that connects with the reader. That's the most important thing. Like most writers, I am always trying to improve my craft. 

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

I am an early morning kind of writer - I love to get up when the rest of the household are asleep and go straight to work. My writing room  is my favourite place to write. I have lots of bookshelves in there so I am surrounded by my favourite authors who give me inspiration. I also have a wall covered with post-it notes and ideas. It's my dreaming room. 

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

I do! And I am writing it at the moment. It's set during the Second World War in south west France. The novel was inspired by two things: an image of a woman having her head shaved as a punishment for collaborating with the enemy and an old photograph I found of a peasant girl picking armfuls of wild red tulips to sell at market. 

Amanda - thank you so much for spending some time with us and for  giving such insightful answers to our questions.

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

Jaffa and I are really looking forward to reading your next book.

Both Spilt Milk and 22 Britannia Road are available to buy from all good book shops and are available in both paperback and ebook format.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Historic House Short Story Competition.....

Historic House Short Story Competition (#historichouseshortstory)

Publisher Corazon Books has partnered with the Historic Houses Association to launch a special short story competition with fantastic prizes. Writers are invited to submit a short story which is either inspired by or set in a historic house.

Ian Skillicorn, publisher of Corazon Books, says: "We are looking for a compelling tale with lots of atmosphere. It can take place in the past or present, in either a real or fictional setting, so writers can let their imaginations take them, and us, whenever and wherever they wish!"

The competition is being run to celebrate the publication of the The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin. This modern classic by the bestselling "Queen of Storytellers" has recently been reissued by Corazon Books in ebook format, in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It is the first of Gaskin's novels to be published digitally. The Property of a Gentleman is a tale of intrigue, mystery and romance, set in a fictional earl's ancestral home, in the dramatic landscape of England's Lake District.

The competition's unique prizes are in keeping with its theme. The winning writer and a guest will be treated to a private tour and afternoon tea with the owners of Levens Hall in Cumbria. The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150, and a double Friends membership for the Historic Houses Association. Two runners up will each receive a double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association. Corazon Books also plans to publish an ebook anthology of the best entries, with each writer receiving royalties for their published story.

Richard Compton, President of the HHA, says: "A HHA Member property will offer great inspiration for budding writers and will make a fantastic setting for a short story. We look forward to partnering with Corazon Books and reading the entries in this unique competition."
Susie Bagot of Levens Hall says: “The Bagot family is very pleased to be associated with the Historic House Short Story Competition and looks forward to welcoming the winner to Levens Hall and telling them the story of this fascinating ancient house and garden.”

The competition will run from March 10th to September 26th 2014, and the winner will be announced during National Short Story Week (17th to 23rd November 2014).

There is no fee to enter the competition.

Good Luck 


Monday 14 April 2014

Review ~ The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

January 2014
Random House, Ebury Press

Claire Armstrong is a strong, feisty protagonist whose downward spiral into early onset Alzheimer’s disease is written with such acute evaluation that I feel like I have travelled the whole of The Memory Book wrapped up in Claire’s skin.  Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I finished this book and sat reflecting on what I had just read. I was immensely moved by the way the author really gets into the heart and soul of Claire, she tells it like it is, doesn't pull any punches and yet reveals a story which is rich in the telling and which involves the whole family; from the acute and canny observations of Claire’s three year old daughter Esther, to the heartbreak of twenty year old Caitlin as she tries to become less of a daughter and more of a mother to Claire. Shining throughout the whole of the story is Greg, Claire’s young husband, who confused and baffled by the loss of the woman he loves and desires, attempts to encapsulate the essence of Claire within the pages of The Memory Book. Claire’s mother is served a double whammy as seeing Claire’s father struggle and deteriorate at the mercy of this harsh and hostile disease makes it doubly difficult for her to witness her own daughter’s rapid disintegration into the no man’s land of merciless confusion.

The book is filled with beautiful observations written with skill and precision and such fine attention to detail that I could have continued to read on long after the book was finished. The emotional involvement with the characters is so acute that you really miss them when the story is finished.

There is nothing remotely sentimental or contrived about The Memory Book. It is bold and beautiful, heart warming and life affirming, tender and merciless all at the same time. The beautifully balanced narrative is a real joy to read and reminds us quite forcibly that "what will survive of us is love".

Without doubt this is one of my reads of the year.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for my review copy of this book.


I know from personal experience just how all consuming this disease can be as piece by jagged piece I've seen my own mother fade slowly away. It’s rather like watching the colour seeping out of a brightly painted picture and as one by one the colours of her memories bleed away I like to think that the memories are still there and that she’s just misplaced them for a while.


Sunday 13 April 2014

Sunday War Poet.....

Thomas Kettle

(1880 - 1916)

To My Daughter Betty

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor. 

Thomas Michael "Tom" Kettle (9 February 1880 – 9 September 1916) was an Irish journalist, barrister, writer, poet, soldier, economist and Home Rule politician. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, then on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlisted for service in an Irish regiment where in 1916 he met his death on the Western Front. 


I have just read The Secret Scripture by the Irish writer Sebastian Barry and am aware that this author 
took the inspiration for his book's title from the last line of this poem.


Thursday 10 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Erin Lawless

I am delighted to welcome to my blog

And to be part of her book tour

 Published 10th April 2014
Harper Impulse

Miles and Nicky are getting married. Unfortunately, their wedding party is a tangle of ex-housemates, ex-friends and ex-lovers. So this wedding isn’t just a wedding, it’s a reunion. Can anything be salvaged from the past? And what really happened between them all, back at university?


Erin ~ Welcome to Jaffareadstoo and congratulations on the publication of your first full length novel. This is such an exciting time for you, thank you for spending time on our blog.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for the story?

They say to write what you know. I knew I wanted to write a novel set at university, because that was an incredibly important and formative time for me. My boyfriend – who I met at university – and I were invited to a wedding. We winced when we saw the invitation, because in getting together we’d had a rather spectacular falling out with some erstwhile friends, who we suspected would be there. It’ll be okay, I assured my boyfriend – everyone’s on their best behaviour at a wedding. And - bam - that was my inspiration for The Best Thing I Never Had!

What can you tell us about The Best Thing I Never Had that won’t give too much away?

The Best Thing I Never Had opens with the proposal of Nicky and Miles. They decide to ask their old friends from university to be their bridesmaids and groomsmen - much to said friends' collective horror, as most of them are no longer talking. The book then jumps back five years to chart the gang's final year at university - tracing how they all came together, and how it all fell apart - before returning to the dreaded wedding, where 'five years ago' rapidly changes to feeling like no time at all...

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I have always written. I used to rewrite the endings to my favourite books as a child. When I was a teenager, I fell into fanfiction and spent thousands of hours pouring prose into the dark recesses of the internet. I used to think I’d love to be a script writer "when I grew up"  – or maybe be the one who turns beloved novels into screenplays!   
When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?

I literally can’t tell you how I find the time to write. I have no idea. I think my days must be secretly thirty hours long. I somehow fit in a day job, reading at least a third of a book a day, sleeping an awful lot and very hands-on wedding planning alongside all my social media and general living. It’s a wonder these books get written! Half of Best Thing was written on my phone, as emails to myself, as inspiration struck as I was out and about.

What's next - another novel?

I’m currently approaching the home stretch of my second contemporary romance for Harper Impulse. The story follows two protagonists: Nadia, a Russian national living in England, desperate to not get deported back to a mother country she has never known; and Alex, an administrator for the Home Office Border Control who has lost his verve, pathetically in love with his flatmate’s girlfriend and who spends far too much time on his Playstation and not in the real world. Best Thing was my love letter to student hood – this book will be my love letter to being a twenty-something lost in London.

Erin, thank you. 

It's been a real pleasure to host this interview with you and to be part of your book tour.
Jaffa and I wish you much success with your writing career. We look forward to reading your next novel.

From the beginning of The Best Thing I Never Had I was drawn into the story. The novel’s opening section begins in 2012 and allows us a tantalising glimpse into the lives of seven friends and gives us the opportunity to judge their reaction to the momentous news that two of their group have announced their engagement. What then follows is a nostalgic look back to a time when the seven friends were together at university and of the dramas, petty squabbles and lustful interludes which took place and of the continuing effects of their youthful indiscretions.

I think what is best about this novel is the believability of its characterisation and the credible way in which all the friends interacted with each other. The excitement, the indecisions and the spectacular heartbreaks are all skilfully captured, and I am sure that anyone who has ever spent time away at university, with all the intensity of feelings that retrospective nostalgia can evoke, will totally understand the powerful emotional connection which is all too evident throughout the story.

The author clearly has a passion for writing and this enthusiasm is evident in the care and attention given to bringing this story to life. The intertwining of two time frames, both past and present, is achieved quite seamlessly and the way in which the story is allowed to unfold and gather momentum is a good demonstration of the storytelling skill of the author. 

This is a commendable debut book and I am sure that the author will continue to go from strength to strength in subsequent work.

The Best Thing I Never Had is available to buy from all good book shops 
and from Amazon.co.uk
Paperback £6.99
Kindle 99p

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Review~ Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld


Random House UK, Transworld Publishers

Intrigued by the concept of twins and their uncanny bond of connection,I was interested to read this novel by the American author Curtis Sittenfeld. As always she gets right into the very heart and soul of the characters and yet allows the reader the time to make up their own mind on where the story is going.

Twins Violet and Daisy know from the very beginning that they are different, but their ability to see future events and people's secrets puts them into a very vulnerable position. When they are grown ups, Daisy changes her name to Kate and tries to hide away from her skill; however, Violet seems to relish the fact that she can predict the future and works as a medium. When a national catastrophe strikes, Vi is determined to use her knowledge to warn people whilst Kate is horrified of Violet's involvement, especially when Violet makes her predictions public on television.

What then follows is an interesting look at how the ties that bind us can very often force us apart but the love and compassion between the twins eventually begins to shine through and the family bond becomes all the stronger. There are some gentle moments of real perception as the twins acknowledge that their very differences are what make them special.

The author has again succeeded in creating remarkable characters and successfully brings small town America to life in a realistic and empathic manner.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for my digital copy of this book.


Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the bestselling novels American WifePrep, and The Man of My Dreams, which are being translated into twenty-five languages. Prep also was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, nominated for the UK's Orange Prize, and optioned by Paramount Pictures. 

Monday 7 April 2014

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

Simon & Schuster UK Fiction
February 2014

This is the second novel I have read by this author and again features the actress/ spy Clara Vine who appeared in the first novel in the trilogy, Black Roses. The story starts in Berlin in 1937 at the infamous Nazi bride school which attempts to ensure that the young women being educated there will make perfect wives for the elite SS officers. A dramatic opening sets the scene for the entire novel, which soon becomes a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten era. Clara is a feisty protagonist and very quickly gets drawn into events which are way beyond her control.

I'm not sure that, for me ,this book worked quite so well as the first book, as there were times when the narrative got a little clumsy and could have perhaps done with a bit of fine tuning before completion. My opinion is that this trilogy is better read in order as the dates move chronologically and I think would be difficult to pick up some of the finer nuances of the background to Clara’s life and personal background.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for my digital copy of this book.

Jane Thynne

Jane Thynne was born in Venezuela and educated in London. She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English and joined the BBC as a journalist. She has also worked at The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, as well as for numerous British magazines. She appears as a broadcaster on Radio 4. 


The Rose Garden by Marita Conlon - McKenna

Random House UK
Transworld Fiction
February 2014

Following the death of her adored husband, Molly O’Kelly must learn to adapt to a life without him but the prospect of maintaining a rambling family house and the disorder of her personal finances fills her with dread. Against the wishes of her daughters, Molly decides to sell her beloved Mossbawn House and move into a gardener’s cottage. In the neglected rose garden, Molly starts to find happiness again.

Set against the lovely background of rural Ireland, this book warms the heart and shows that Molly’s labour of love in putting the rose garden to rights gives her a reason to open up her heart to love once again. Filled with a delightful array of characters and rich on emotion this book takes you on a gentle journey through the pain of loss and offers hope and the promise of future happiness.

A delightful book in the style of Maeve Binchy and Cathy Kelly.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House for my digital copy of this book.

Marita Conlon-McKenna

Marita Conlon-McKenna is one of Ireland's most popular children's authors. She has written nine bestselling children's books. Under the Hawthorn Tree, her first novel, became an immediate bestseller and has been described as "the biggest success story in children's historical fiction

Sunday 6 April 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Rudyard Kipling


Rudyard Kipling.jpg

My Boy Jack

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Rudyard Kipling was an English novelist and poet. He wrote My Boy Jack after the loss of his beloved son at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

Kipling is best remembered for his short stories and children's tales.

Friday 4 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Guy Fraser-Sampson

I am delighted to welcome to the blog



Guy, welcome to jaffareadstoo can you tell us a little bit about yourself.

I write a variety of very different books, ranging from finance and investment, through history, to fiction. My economic history book “The Mess We’re In” was nominated for the Orwell Prize. I trained and practised originally as a solicitor, but now work in investment, as well as teaching part-time at Cass Business School, where I am a Senior Fellow.

Your Mapp and Lucia novels are based on the stories by E F Benson – why did you choose to continue with this traditional series?

I discovered the E.F. Benson originals when I was in my teens and fell in love with them. I suppose I have always carried the characters around with me in my head, and writing a continuation had always been a dream of mine. After all, the only criticism anyone ever makes of the originals is that aren’t enough of them!

The original stories were written in the 1920s and 1930s and can appear a little dated – how did you ensure that your books would appeal to a more contemporary audience?

That’s a difficult one. If you try to update the feel of the books even a little then you face instant criticism from the die-hard Benson fans! I suppose all I have really done is to make them a teeny bit more sexually overt. That’s more in keeping with how a modern audience would see things, and for those who say that Benson did not deal with physical passion in his books I would refer them to “Autumn Sowing”, where he describes very powerful physical longing. Apart from that I like to think that I have preserved his wonderful off-hand bitchiness, and that the dialogue is appropriate to the period.

What can you tell us about Mapp and Lucia which will pique the reader’s interest?

They are two simply dreadful women who vie with each other for social supremacy in a charming seaside town which is Rye in real life. Stratagems, schemes and downright untruths laced with massive doses of snobbery make for a thoroughly entertaining mix. BBC TV is currently filming a whole new series of the stories, which will be aired next year.

When researching the books did anything surprise you?

Not really, but the research is really important because you owe it to your readers to get the period detail right and I do also blend in quite a few real life characters, from actors to politicians and they are meticulously based on fact.

Your latest book Au Reservoir completes your trilogy of Mapp and Lucia novels – of the three books which has been your personal favourite?

I think “Lucia on Holiday” because I love Italy and it gave me a chance to recreate some real life scenes which I had experienced myself in places like Venice and Bellagio. It was also an experiment on taking some of the characters out of their usual surroundings and letting them strut their stuff in a different environment. I think it worked quite well, but it’s not really for me to say.

What’s next for you – any more novels?

I am currently writing what will hopefully be the first in a series of detective stories called “The Hampstead Murders”. I am doing this under a pseudonym which has yet to be chosen.

I am also in discussions about writing a book about the Bloomsbury Group and, should anyone be interested, I do have an unpublished narrative history of the Plantagenets!

The Mapp and Lucia Books by Guy Fraser- Sampson are available from all good bookshops
and on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk


My Thoughts on Au Reservoir

I first discovered this series when I was asked to review Lucia on Holiday  in 2012. I was completely unaware of the E F Benson stories and so with no prior knowledge I could comfortably enjoy the books quite simply on their own merit, without having to resort to comparisons with the original. Now on completing the trilogy, what is obvious is the loving care and fine attention to detail which the author has infused into the stories. The social satire is brilliantly observed, the characterisation is cleverly achieved and the warmth and wit which permeates throughout the stories is a real joy to read.

Au Reservoir now completes the trilogy which first in began in 2008 with Major Benjy, and once again sees Lucia Pillson and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint in direct competition with each other to the detriment of everyone around them. These two adversaries are quite dreadful characters and yet their sparring is a real joy to read and adds a real frisson of excitement to the stories, as it’s never obvious who will have the upper hand.  As with all good fiction, there are times when you have to suspend belief and question whether two gentile ladies really would have acted with such vindictiveness, but the great joy in reading further, is to discover that yes, they really could be utterly spiteful and cruel to those around them.

As always, I found myself laughing out loud at the improbability of their actions, completely entertained and more than a little sorry that the trilogy has now ended.

Huge thanks to Guy for giving so generously of his time to answer my questions about the Mapp and Lucia books and also to Alison Menzies at Elliot & Thompson for providing me with a review copy of Au Reservoir.


I am beyond happy to discover that the BBC will bring the books of E F Benson to life in a series being adapted for television by Steve Pemberton. More can be found on the BBC website