Tuesday 30 September 2014

Review ~ The Richebourg Affair by R M Cartmel

The Richebourg Affair
Crime Scene Books

The unexpected death of his brother forces Commandant Truchaud of the Paris gendarmerie back to his family’s vineyard in the small village of Nuit-Saints-George in the Burgundy wine district of France. Once there Truchaud finds a mystery of epic proportions, as not only is his brother’s death decidedly suspicious, but also the allegations of a devastating wine scandal threatens the good name of his family.

What then follows is a quirky and entertaining story about the vagaries of the wine production business and focuses on the petty squabbles and interfering busybodies who populate the village and who together bring warmth and wit to this light-hearted murder mystery. Initially, I found the start of the story rather slow as there is much to take in, both in terms of character development and in discovering the finer points of the wine making business However, once the characters start to come together and become familiar, the complexity of the evolving plot becomes much more convincing and there are more than enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.

It is obvious that the author clearly knows the area well and writes with confidence about the place, the people and its wine. The small village atmosphere of Nuit-Saints-George starts to come alive, so much so, it becomes easy to imagine sitting at the Café du Centre sipping creamy coffee and munching on sweet biscuits with Truchaud and Geneviève.

Overall, this is a good debut novel which I am sure will have mass appeal. I am confident that the novels will continue to go from strength to strength as the trilogy progresses.

My thanks to the author and loveprlondon for sharing this book with me.

Come back tomorrow to read an interview with the author R M Cartmel


Monday 29 September 2014

An author interview with ....Michael Wills

I am delighted to welcome back to the blog

Author of 

Wessex Turncoat Cover image
Silverwood Books

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for your novel, The Wessex Turncoat?

My main interest in history has always been the Viking period. I was considering writing a novel about Viking settlement in America. I had read that new discoveries of Viking artefacts had been made in USA and so while I was on a short visit to New York I took the chance to visit the Museum of the New York Historical Society to see if I could find out more about these. 

I was shown around by a charming elderly gentleman whose assumption was that I was interested in British history in America. As he showed me round I became more and more aware that my knowledge of the American War of Independence was sadly lacking, but I found the topic intensely interesting. Once I was home in Salisbury, I went to visit the Redcoats Museum in the City. There I learned the story of the Wiltshire Regiment and the calamity of the 62nd Regiment of Foot’s participation in the Battle of Saratoga. This was a story which had to be told!

Tell us more about the novel's background and why you chose to write about American history in this book.

What really intrigued me was the fact that such a rag tag and bobtail group of young men, many of them with very dubious backgrounds, some of them very young and inexperienced, could be melded into a formidable fighting force. Their training prepared them to face all manner of danger and to unflinchingly obey the orders, however cruel or insane, of their officers. I wondered how a typical recruit, a young lad of seventeen from a small village, would adapt to and survive the rigours of army life. Just such a person, Aaron Mew, became the centre of my story. His regiment was ordered to America in 1776 and thus most of the action of the book follows the grim tale of how he and his companions fought for a lost cause against a more numerous enemy, with a noble cause.

What was the most difficult aspect of the writing the story? How did you overcome it?

Undoubtedly, the most difficult thing for me was to learn about the intricacies of army life in the eighteenth century. I was very fortunate in having as my guides two of the foremost experts in this field, one British and one American.

Another difficulty was to understand the rigours and dangers of the journey the army made in American and to visualise the nature of the landscape. I travelled from Quebec to Saratoga to get a feel for this.

In your research for The Wessex Turncoat, did you discover anything which surprised you?
I was really surprised to discover the extent to which the British army, in the campaign I write about, was dependent on thousands of German mercenaries and Indian warriors. This really became clear to me when my American advisor invited me to watch a full scale re-enactment of the Battle of Saratoga.

What do you enjoy most about writing stories and do you write for yourself, or other people?
I have a huge interest in history, all history. But what fascinates me most is not kings, presidents and generals, but the people who lived during any particular period. I love to indulge my imagination and put together a plot which can develop into a story. Having made up a story, I have an instinct to share it.

So in one sense, I write for myself, I find it very satisfying, but such satisfaction would be hollow and short-lived if I were not able to share it with others.

What’s next?

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to visit a school to do some creative writing classes. I tried out some ideas I had for a children’s book on the Vikings. The enthusiasm of the students gave me the impetuous to get writing. The first draft is ready!

More about Michael and his books can be found here www.michaelwills.eu

Michael ~ thank you so much for sharing the background to The Wessex Turncoat. 

It's always fascinating to see just how much time and effort is spent in making stories truly come alive.

Jaffa and I wish you continuing success.


My thoughts on The Wessex Turncoat.

Aaron Mew is a naive seventeen year old when he is viciously uprooted from his simple life in a small Hampshire village. Forcibly conscripted in the ragamuffin army of King George III, Aaron is about to embark with the 62nd Regiment of Foot, in an adventure which will take him into a conflict far away from the land he calls home and everything he considers safe.

Based on factual historical evidence, the complex history of America’s Revolutionary War is described well.  The author has a good way with words, and is able to describe army scenes with an authenticity which relies much on good research, and a keen eye for the finer details of historical accuracy. There is such a keen interest in the progress of characters as they flit into and out of the story that they very soon become real in the mind, and take on personalities of their own. Aaron is an interesting protagonist, and it is interesting to watch how he makes the transition from boy to man.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting book about a period in American history of which I knew very little. The sights, sounds and smells of eighteenth century army life are brought to life in a believable way, and as Aaron progresses on his journey, I felt like I had travelled every step of the way with him.


Sunday 28 September 2014

Sunday War Poet ....

Marie Carmichael Stopes

1880 -1958

Night On the Shore

Northumberland, August 6th , 1914

A dusky owl in velvet moth-like flight,
With feathers spread on non-resistant air,
Wheels on its silent wings, brushing my cheek.
The circles of its course are interlaced
By chuckling seagull-flocks, whose wide white wing
Sweep down to settle on the bare-ribbed sand
Left rich with treasure by the distant tide.
The owl gyrates, a part of the soft air,
Then upright, solemn, on my lowly tent
Perches beside me with his eyes intent
As though upon Minerva’s shoulder.  He
And I together watch the waves of cloud
Which slowly break and ripple o’er the moon,
Silvering celestial foam from their frayed edge.
The dim ethereal curve of the wide sand
Is flecked with hard black shadows,, heightening
The fairy mountains left there in their play
By little weary waves which slid away
To slumber, cradled by the green-haired rocks.
Through the still water star-reflections deck
The red anemones with diadems.
This cosmic peace the owl and I have shared
For a whole moon of deep experience.

Tonight the moonbeams break on bayonets
Sharpened and gleaming in hot eager hands.
Tonight the swift low rush of battleships
Throbs up and down the bay, waking the waves.
Tonight my sleep in challenged in my tent
By martial voices backed by gleaming steel.
Tonight young men from cities meet the stars
When scanning the horizon for their foes.
Tonight there thrills all round our peaceful shores.

The pulsing chain of men who wait on war.
And War, insensate, drills its brutal way
Through quivering hearts and sets men’s pulses mad
With burning rage to rend the strong and fair,
If only they were born on other shores.

And yet – tonight – our young men from the town
Sleep under the high arches of the stars
And keep their watch in crystal, moonlit air,
Perforce within God’s presence ,too.


Marie Carmichael Stopes was British author, academic, campaigner for women's rights and pioneer in the field of birth control.


Friday 26 September 2014

Please join me in a virtual coffee morning.....

I am delighted to be part of this virtual coffee morning.

World's Biggest Coffee Morning

 Today people will be holding coffee mornings up and down the UK to support the fantastic work of Macmillan Cancer Support.

 Corazon Books are holding a virtual coffee morning. They have interviews and blog posts from some lovely guests, and at the end of each guest blog post you can donate directly to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Do get involved.

You can even read an interview with me 

But that’s not all! All day on Friday, Corazon Books will be donating to

Macmillan Cancer Support 

all of our profits from sales of each of our medical fiction titles bought between midnight on the 25th September and midnight on 26th September!


A Country Doctor by Jean McConnell

The Country Doctor by Jean McConnell

Young doctor Linda Ford swaps a busy London teaching hospital for a six month post at a small West Country General Practice. She soon discovers that countryside life is far from uneventful.
John Cooper, the senior doctor, warns Linda not to get emotionally involved in her cases. But Linda can’t help taking a personal interest in her patients, particularly when their problems seem to be more than medical. And as this is the late 1970s, Linda also faces some misgivings about a female doctor. Especially a young and pretty one.

Linda clashes over medical matters with Dr Peter Cooper, the older doctor’s son. But there is an undeniable attraction too. Where will it lead? And as Linda is keeping Peter’s place until he joins the practice as his father’s partner, what will her future hold?

This slice of rural life uncovers the dramas, family secrets and dilemmas which confront patients young and old. Their stories are in turn intriguing, poignant, and heart-warming.

The Country Doctor has recently reached number 2 in Amazon’s Medical Fiction chart!

Read a short extract from A Country Doctor....

My territory!

Linda Ford stopped her car on the hill, got out and leant over a gate staring across the field that sloped down into a maze of orchards and away in a pattern of lush green, yellow and dark red that typifies the western counties of England.

I’m a country doctor now, she thought. It wasn’t what she’d had in mind when she made the great decision at grammar school in London ‒ half expecting to be laughed to scorn; when she’d tentatively mentioned that she wanted to study medicine and been amazed to find that they thought she might try. At that time her ambition had soared.

Linda Ford the new Madame Curie! Shaking the world with a great breakthrough in medical knowledge!

Her parents had hardly subscribed to this dream. In fact it had taken some time to convince them that their wild young daughter was contemplating anything so at variance with the evidence of her bedroom ‒ that confusion of colourful pin-ups, scattered homework notes and non-stop pop. Their only daughter, who was so slapdash when she helped them in their little dairy on Saturdays ‒ yet knew the name of every customer.

They continued in a state of astonishment, although so consumed with pride in her endeavours, that Linda became shy of giving a hand in the dairy, knowing that all the regulars were being supplied with a blow-by-blow account of her examination struggles.
By the time she had passed her finals and taken her place amongst the junior doctors in a teaching hospital they accepted that she really was a budding medical genius....

© All rights reserved.


My thoughts on The Country Doctor

This is a light and easy read, something non-threatening, when you simply want a story that takes you back to an era when doctors had the time, and patience to look at people as individuals and not as targets on a spread sheet. The writing is gentle with some nice descriptive touches about rural life and the petty foibles and disputes which Linda encounters in her new role as rural GP are done with wit and warmth. But life in the country is not always sugar coated, and there are inevitable clashes when some of Linda’s more progressive ideas are met with cynicism, and the unhelpful comments from the senior colleagues adds another dimension to the story

If you are looking for a gritty, voyeuristic glimpse into the medical world then this is not the book for you, but if you like a gentle story about country life with quirky characters then this book may appeal. It’s something to curl up with on a cold winter’s afternoon, preferably with a cup of  milky coffee close at hand.


Please support Corazon's books virtual coffee morning.

Follow on Twitter #coffeemorning

 Cancer is the one of the toughest fights any of us can face and I know  just how special is the work of this fantastic charity.

Do help if you can.


Thursday 25 September 2014

Review ~ Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie

U.K. book cover for Gutenberg's Apprentice
September 2014

Mainz, 1450

That was the moment it all changed...

The ink was as black as Heaven's vault, the letters sharp and gripping. He stared, transfixed. In their austerity, their density, the letters made a page of extraordinary beauty...

The eponymous apprentice of the story is Peter Schoeffer, a lowly scribe who is entirely familiar with the beautiful calligraphic illuminations done by hand, but when Schoeffer becomes apprenticed to Johannes Gensfleisch, the man we know better as Gutenberg, the whole concept of mass printing starts to come alive in an entirely believable way. To have a printing machine with ink and type is a gift beyond measure and Schoeffer embraces this new technology with enthusiasm. The task of printing the Holy Bible, normally the work of scribes, was considered sacrilegious and the work of blasphemers and is not without controversy. The story starts in 1485, when Schoeffer older and wiser, starts to recount the narrative of his life to Abbot Trithemius at the Spondeim Abbey in Germany and an awkward truth of petty jealousies and driving ambition, starts to emerge.

There is no doubt that Gutenberg’s Apprentice is impeccably and realistically researched. The author clearly knows and loves this subject; her writing is accomplished and authoritative. In many ways it’s a rather a slow read, and perhaps not one that you can lose track of time whilst reading it, as there are parts of the book that require a certain level of concentration. However, I have to acknowledge that it’s an undeniably good historical study and really brings to life the background into the mystery,magic and alchemy which led to the mass production of books for the very first time.

The whole spectre of fifteenth century life is laid bare, and as all the petty jealousies and squabbles come alive, a story emerges of fierce ambition coupled with intense arrogance and overwhelming ambition. To have a book about books is appealing and to have one from such a unique historical perspective offers a whole new insight into the printing process and emphasises our continuing fascination with the printed word.

My thanks to Headline and bookbridgr for my exclusive edition of this book


Alix Christie is an author, journalist and letterpress printer.

Alix Christie

Gutenberg's Apprentice is her debut novel and is available from all good book stores 
from September 23rd 2014


Wednesday 24 September 2014

In conversation with Anne Allen ~ interview and giveaway

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo

Talking about her latest book

Sarnia Press 2014
Iphoto for email

What gave you the idea for writing Guernsey Retreat?

Guernsey Retreat is linked to my previous novel, Finding Mother, featuring a gothic mansion set on the cliffs in Torteval, Guernsey. At the end of that book, the house, La Folie, is sold and I thought it would make a fantastic setting for a natural health centre and retreat. I brought in new characters with their own stories, but some of the characters from both Finding Mother and my first novel, Dangerous Waters, make an appearance.

Tell us more about the novel's background.

I wanted Guernsey Retreat to be more of a romantic mystery, like my first book. I love anything to do with secrets and mysteries, don't you? Starting with the premise that someone had been violently killed in La Folie at the time of WWII, I thought it would be interesting for the son of that man, Malcolm, to be the future owner, converting it to a health centre. Malcolm is linked to a young woman, Louisa, whose mother is killed in a violent robbery in her home in London. Susan, her mother, urges her to find her father who Louisa has never met, and might now be in danger. Louisa tracks Malcolm down to Guernsey and they meet. Malcolm never knew he had a daughter so it proves quite interesting. The story then follows their search for the person – or persons – responsible for the two deaths. Along the way Louisa also meets someone who becomes very important to her.

What was the most difficult aspect of the writing of the story? How did you overcome it?

Later in the story the UK police are involved in bringing those responsible to justice and I was a bit hazy about police procedures. My only knowledge was that gleaned from watching crime dramas on TV – not necessarily accurate! Fortunately, my brother is a retired policeman and I was able to pick his brains although I did allow myself a little artistic licence ☺

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be?

Interesting question! My characters do seem to take on a life of their own at times, doing or thinking things I had not planned. I always end up with a fondness for the main protagonists – as long as they are 'goodies' – and in some cases will bring them back in minor roles in future books. I love to see how they grow into the lives I have created for them. ☺

How do you manage to balance writing with your everyday life and what do you do to relax?

Everyday life? Relax? What's that?! I have to admit this past year or so I have become a bit obsessive about my writing and publishing and could do with finding more balance. Perhaps I should spend more time on housework – would that count? I live alone so it's very easy to forget to dust, vac, cook etc. unless I have visitors. My favourite way of relaxing is to watch a good drama on TV unless I'm out with friends for a meal. Reading is another favourite but I don't seem to find much time for books except last thing at night or while travelling. Living by the sea does occasion the odd foray down to the beach for an ozone boost. Great for the little grey cells.☺

What's next for the Guernsey Novels?

The Family Divided is another romantic mystery and centres on Charlotte, a character from Guernsey Retreat, who helps a local man, Andy Batiste, to find out the truth behind his grandfather Edmund's death during the Occupation. Edmund was labelled a collaborator by his younger brother, Harold, and his pregnant widow fled Guernsey to escape the family's antagonism. Harold was left to inherit the family wealth which should by rights have belonged to Edmund's heirs. Andy not only wants to clear the family name, but to restore his father's inheritance.

My thanks to Anne for a lovely interview and for generously providing a copy of 

Guernsey Retreat in this giveaway.

***Giveaway is open to international entrants, but please be aware that the prize will be an e-copy of Guernsey Retreat. ***#

For entrants in the UK, a paperback copy is on offer.


Tuesday 23 September 2014

Review ~ Guernsey Retreat by Anne Allen

Sarnia Press

Two violent deaths. Separated by time, but with a final connection...

Hotelier, Malcolm has returned to Guernsey to open a health centre in the beautiful sanctuary of La Folie, plagued by the secrets of his past, he hopes to uncover the truth about what really happened to his father at the start of WW2. Louisa, suffering from the trauma of devastating loss, is determined to track down the father she never knew. In the peace and tranquillity of La Folie, Malcolm’s and Louisa’s story start to intertwine and a story of long buried family secrets starts to be uncovered.

The story is strong, slightly darker in places than previous stories but no less absorbing and from the very start of the book I was taken into a very believable world. The characters completely enchant me, so much so, they soon become as familiar as friends and I really start to care about what happens to them. I loved the burgeoning relationship between Malcolm and Louisa and their tentative steps to finding out more about their past gives the book its heart and soul. The author writes with a lovely light touch, really emphasising the bond between friends, and the hesitant, yet beguiling nature of new relationships, is explored with complete understanding and sensitivity.

There is no doubt that in this series of novels the author has captured the essence of Guernsey to perfection. The glory of the island, its places and its people really comes alive and as beauty of Guernsey starts to beguile the reader, there is a real sense of belonging, not just in the glorious descriptions of island life but in the way the minutiae of relationships is examined and controlled.

I really can’t wait to read more Guernsey novels from this talented writer.

My thanks to the author for sharing her work with me.

Iphoto for email

Come back tomorrow to read an interview with Anne Allen and a chance to win a copy of Guernsey Retreat.


Monday 22 September 2014

City Hospital ~ A Competition with a Difference....

Enter the free "City Hospital" competition to be in with a chance to have a character in a book named after you!


The "City Hospital" novels are written by Keith Miles, who has written loads of scripts and books for primetime TV and soaps. "City Hospital" is perfect for fans of shows like "Casualty" and "Holby City". It follows the lives of five medical students - Suzie, Mark, Karlene, Gordy and Bella - who share a house, and the ups and downs of working in a busy teaching hospital. Each novel mixes their own personal dramas with patients' stories. The series was a huge hit in print, and is now being reissued as ebooks for the first time.

City Hospital Book 1: New Blood by Keith Miles

Join five young trainee medics as they learn about life and love on the wards of City Hospital. Suzie, Mark, Karlene, Gordy and Bella share a house, and the ups and downs of being a medical student in a busy teaching hospital.

In City Hospital Book 1: New Blood...

An accident leaves a young life hanging in the balance. A guilty Suzie holds the key to catching the culprit.

A party goes horribly wrong when an argument has unexpected and far-reaching consequences.

Karlene discovers why it's never a good idea to get too close to a patient.

The City Hospital series is perfect for fans of medical dramas like Casualty, Holby City and Doctors.


In this excerpt Gordy makes an error of judgement ...

Mark had surprised himself. He’d really enjoyed the party. He was sorry to see their guests drift away, especially the girl who worked as a scrub nurse in one of the operating theatres at the hospital. She and Mark had had a long and intense discussion about their work.
Only a few stragglers remained. It was time to start clearing up. Mark went to the cupboard under the stairs to get out their old Hoover. As he opened the door, he jumped a mile.
Matilda was hanging there, grinning at him.
Suspended from a hook in the top of the cupboard, the skeleton was swinging back and forth. Mark steadied her with his hand. She’d certainly made an impact at the party.
Gordy came up behind him.
‘Leave the old girl there until I get back, Marco.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I’ve got to drive Lauren home.’
Mark turned and looked at him very carefully. ‘Is that wise, Gordy?’ he said. ‘You had a fair bit of that wine. Is it safe for you to get behind the wheel?’
‘Of course.’
‘You shouldn’t drink and drive, you know.’
‘It’s only a mile or two,’ said Gordy, airily, ‘And I can’t let Lauren down. I promised her a lift back to her flat and that’s what she’ll get.’ He grinned. ‘I’m hoping she’ll ask me in for a coffee.’
‘Have one before you go,’ suggested Mark.
‘And keep a lady waiting? No chance!’
Bella came up to them, holding hands with Damian.
‘We’re ready, Gordy,’ she said.
‘For what?’ he asked.
‘A lift.’
‘But I’m only taking Lauren.’
‘No, you’re not,’ said Bella. ‘Damian lives quite close to her flat. You can take us at the same time.’
‘I want to say a proper good-night to Damian.’
‘Say it here, Bella.’
‘I’m coming,’ she insisted.
‘Thanks, Gordy,’ said Damian, slapping him on the back. ‘You’re a good mate.’
Gordy’s face fell. His plans had suddenly crumbled. Instead of being alone with Lauren, he would be an unpaid chauffeur for Damian and Bella.
‘You don’t mind, do you?’ said Damian.
‘No, no!’ said Gordy with sarcasm. ‘I’ll drive anyone who wants to come. We might as well stick Matilda in the back seat as well and really fill the car up.’
Suzie came rushing up to add to his woes.
‘Lauren tells me you’re driving her home, Gordy.’
‘Don’t tell me you want a lift as well, Suzie.’
‘I want to stop you getting in a car at all.’
‘I’m fine,’ he insisted.
‘You’ve drunk too much, Gordy.’
‘That’s what I told him,’ said Mark.
Suzie was firm. ‘I’ll ring for a taxi.’
‘No need,’ said Bella. ‘We’ve got one. Gordy’s car.’
‘He shouldn’t be allowed on the road.’
‘It’s my decision,’ argued Gordy.
‘And it’s not far to go,’ added Damian. ‘There won’t be much traffic around at this time of night.’
‘I still don’t like the idea,’ said Suzie.
Gordy was in a quandary. He was very fond of Suzie and didn’t want to upset her in any way. On the other hand, three people were depending on him for a lift and one of them was the girl he’d spent most of a very exciting evening with. It was Lauren who tipped the balance.
She came over to Gordy and slipped an arm around him.
‘Sorry to keep you waiting, darling.’
He made his decision. ‘Let’s go.’
As the four of them went out, Suzie was positively seething. She couldn’t believe Gordy could be so stupid.


To be in with a chance to have a character in the next "City Hospital" book named after you, simply email competition@greatstorieswithheart.com, with your name and the answer to the question - who writes the City Hospital series of novels?

 The deadline for entries is midnight on Monday 6th October. 

A winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 8th October.

 Good luck!

 My thanks to Ian Skillicorn at Great Stories With Heart for the chance to
feature this competition.


Sunday 21 September 2014

Sunday War Poet.....

Anna Gordon Keown


Reported Missing

 My thought shall never be that you are dead:
Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.
The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face
Held something ever-living, in Death's stead.
Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
I laugh! I laugh! -- For you will come again -
This heart would never beat if you were dead.
The world's adrowse in twilight hushfulness,
There's purple lilac in your little room,
And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom
Small boys are culling summer watercress.
Of these familiar things I have no dread
Being so very sure you are not dead.

Anna Gordon Keown was an English author and poet.
 The sonnet Reported Missing, which she wrote in her youth, is her best remembered work 
and is studied extensively in schools as part of the GCSE curriculum.


Saturday 20 September 2014

Review ~ After I Left You by Alison Mercer

Random House UK Transword

A chance encounter with a friend from university causes Anna to reflect on the life she has been living in the intervening years. The past comes rolling back and Anna, plagued by memories, knows that the time has now come for her to face the truth of recollection and to grasp the chance to lay aside the ghosts of her past.

The story starts off reasonably well with some good psychological insights into what makes Anna tick. She’s an enigma, slightly offbeat, but with an incredibly damaged soul and it’s that which drives the novel forward. When the story goes back in time, as it inevitably must, I found that the main bulk of the story lacked appeal and became rather predictable and I have to admit that I had guessed Anna’s secret long before it was exposed. For me, the best part of the writing came in the descriptions of student life at the fictional St. Barts College, Oxford and it would appear that the author is putting her own personal knowledge of time spent at Oxford to good use.

Overall, it’s a book about friendship and of the choices we are forced to make, which for good or bad stay with us throughout the rest of our lives. If you like stories about old friends meeting up, all of whom have unfinished business, then this will interest you, but I'm afraid it left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my ecopy of this book

Friday 19 September 2014

Review ~ Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Penguin Books
August 2014
When a teenage girl goes missing her mother discovers she doesn't know her daughter as well as she thought in Jane Shemilt's haunting debut novel, Daughter...

The disintegration of family life is demonstrated in this story which focuses on the disappearance of teenager, Naomi. On the surface, it would seem that her parents, Jenny and Ted, both busy professionals, have their family under control, but the cracks which start to appear in the aftermath of Naomi’s disappearance show just how fragile is the gap between survival and complete devastation. The story is told in alternative chapters, mainly from Jenny’s perspective, and initially, it’s difficult to keep a grasp on what is happening in terms of time scale but eventually, the style of writing becomes easier to understand, and a story starts to emerge of family secrets, devastating lies and overwhelming tragedy.

For a debut novel, the writing is accomplished with some interesting observations made about families and the role each member must play in the bigger picture of family life. However, there were some gaps were I would have liked a little more of an in depth study. For example, I would have liked to have learned a little more about Ted, he was an interesting father figure but was peripheral rather than a shared central focus. Unfortunately, much as I wanted to like Jenny, I didn't, she irritated me so much that I had little sympathy for her plight, which, in a way, sort of spoiled the book for me. I wanted to be more emotionally involved and I was disappointed that I didn't feel more empathy with any of them.

Overall, I thought the book was an interesting look at the dynamics of family life. The final dénouement when it comes is the best part of the story and is emotional and in light of how I felt about Jenny, entirely appropriate.  

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


Thursday 18 September 2014

My guest on the blog is ....Rachael English

I am delighted to introduce the author and broadcaster

Rachael English

Orion Books

Rachael welcome to Jaffareadstoo 

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Going Back

Three or four years ago, I went for a drink with some old college friends. After a couple of hours, the conversation turned to the summer we spent working in Boston. This was back in 1988 when Ireland could be a pretty grey place and when going to America felt as exotic as going to Mars. 

A few months previously, one of the group had had the opportunity to return to Boston. Superficially, he said, a lot had changed. The diner where we ate most of our meals was now a McDonald’s. The dive bar where we drank was long since closed. Despite this, he was taken aback by how familiar the city felt. Without the help of a map, he found our old apartment. Even the smell of the underground was instantly recognisable. 

The conversation made me think about how we remember people and places, and about what it would be like to return to a city where you had spent some of the most eventful months of your life. 

Tell us three interesting things about your novel which will pique the reader's interest? 

Hmmm, that’s a good one. Going Back is told in two parts - the story starts in 1988 and later jumps forward to the present day when we get to see what’s become of all the characters, especially the main pair, Elizabeth and Danny. I’ve always loved books with a ‘time jump ’like this, and, thankfully, it seems that lots of other people do too. 

I’ve also been surprised by the amount of 1980s nostalgia that’s out there - even among people who can’t have been very old at the time. The book contains plenty of references to the fashions, fads and politics of the late 1980s, so if you have a fondness for the era of big big hair, stonewashed denim and dubious rock music, you can relive it all. 

For the third thing, I’ll quote a colleague, a young journalist where I work (for my day-job, I present a morning radio news programme). He read Going Back on his holidays and afterwards told me that he would ‘never look at me in quite the same way again’. 

Did you base any of the characters on people you know? 

Not totally, but ... in the book, there’s a character called Donal who works in a five-star hotel in Boston. He invents ridiculous stories about Ireland which he tries to pass off as the truth. He believes that the more he ramps up the poverty and misery at home, the larger the tip he’ll receive from the hotel’s wealthy guests. I know someone who may have dabbled in this practice! 

Do you outline the plot first, or do you prefer to allow the story to go wherever it takes you? 

A bit of both. With Going Back, I started with quite a detailed plan. Half way through, however, I realised that the plot relied too heavily on coincidence, so I had to make some quite significant changes. I was also surprised by the extent to which characters began to veer off in different directions. Originally, Danny’s family were quite peripheral to the story, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that they had to play a central role. 

Something similar happened with my new book, Each and Every One. The main story concerns a wealthy Dublin family falling on hard times. As I wrote, however, I found I was concentrating more and more on a subplot involving a poorer family called the O’Neills. Eventually, I found a way to bring the two stories together, even though this hadn’t been my original intention. 

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

I’m fortunate, in that I don’t need a specific place or routine. If I only have half an hour, I’ll try to make the most of it. That being said, I did take some time off work this year so that I could write in a slightly more structured way. Like many before me, I’ve found that you never really let go. I might be out for a walk of making the dinner when an idea or a line will pop into my head and I’ll have to scribble it down - or text it to myself. 

What books do you like to read? 

Just about everything. In fact, I try to read as widely as possible. It really irritates me when people say they would never read a particular genre - I hate book-snobbery. I've just finished Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which I loved. I also read quite a bit of crime fiction. I was in my publisher’s office in Dublin the other day and I managed to nab an advance copy of Michael Connelly’s new Harry Bosch book, The Burning Room. My all-time favourite writer is Anne Tyler. Her writing is so beautiful that reading it feels like singing, but there’s nothing pretentious or clever-clever about her books. 

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned? 

My new book Each and Every One has just been released, so at the moment, I'm busy with that. I'm in the early stages of writing a third book. It’s about a woman who reaches a turning point in her life and about her decisions affect the rest of her family.

Orion Books
18 September 2014

My thanks to Rachael for being such a lovely guest on my blog and for generously giving away a copy of her book Going Back to two lucky winners.

Rachael can be found on Facebook facebook.com/rachaelenglishwriter
and on Twitter @EnglishRachael

Going Back and Each and Everyone are available at all good book stores or Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Review ~ Going Back by Rachael English

It's never too late for a second chance

The concept of going back is an interesting one and begs the question whether it’s ever a good idea to allow oneself the luxury of remembering times that are over and gone. For Elizabeth Kelly, her daughter, Janey’s, decision to spend a summer in the Brighton area of Boston in the United States, brings back memories of her own time of living and working in the city as a twenty-one year old in the 1980s. At home in Dublin, Elizabeth recalls this time with mixed emotion, as not only was it the first time she had lived away from home, but it was also the summer she fell in love. What then follows is the story of Elizabeth’s American love affair with the handsome and charismatic Danny Esposito, of the life experiences she shared with her group of friends and of the need they all had to escape from the realities of life for just one idyllic summer.

I was captivated by the story from the beginning and warmed immediately to Elizabeth’s character. I loved both her naivety and her insecurities and completely understood that for one perfect moment in time, away from her home and family, and the seriousness of her relationship with her Irish boyfriend, Liam, she was able to experience all that life had to offer without any of the responsibilities. By comparison, Danny is a complete charmer, his attractiveness and uncomplicated joie de vivre, is in direct contrast to Elizabeth’s more considered attitude to life.

The author writes with warmth and sensitivity and injects just the right amount of nostalgia and humour into the story. She paints a realistic picture of living life in the 1980s and then brings it bang up to date with Janey’s own personal story in Boston in 2011. The interweaving of past and present is done in a sympathetic way and there is a realistic drawing together of all the loose strands, until in the end the story comes together just the way you would want it to.

This is an impressive debut novel by an author who clearly loves writing stories. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

My thanks to the author for sharing her novel with me. Come back tomorrow to read an interview with Rachael English and for a chance to win a copy of Going Back.


Tuesday 16 September 2014

Today my guest author is David Ebsworth...

I am delighted to welcome 

David Ebsworth is the author of a new novel about the Zulu War called The Kraals of Ulundi and I recently had the chance to ask him about the research he’d done for the story, and whether he’d discovered anything that surprised him.

 It turned out that he’d been all the way to South Africa as part of his research and this is what he told me:

It really doesn't matter how much reading you do about a location, there’ll always be something that you fail to capture if you don’t actually visit the scenery in which your novel takes place.

But this was especially true with Kraals, in which much of the action is set in the former colony of Natal, and the former kingdom of Zululand, both now part of a single distinct region of South Africa known as KwaZulu-Natal. Much of this beautiful area has changed little since 1879, so our visit to KZN in November 2013 let me capture sights and smells that would have been impossible without the trip.

More importantly, since much of the story is told from a Zulu viewpoint, it was easy to make friends among the Zulu population and get help with the book’s isiZulu language, pronunciations and culture.

And making friends so easily with those remarkable people also helped me realise how long there’s been a really close affinity between the British people and the Zulus. But it took a research trip to South Africa before I understood how deeply it ran.

To some extent, British colonial officials took advantage of that affinity to launch an illegal invasion and land-grab of Zululand in 1879, but soon paid the price when a column of 1,500 British troops was massacred by 25,000 warriors armed with only shields and spears on the slopes of Isandlwana. We can easily imagine the animosity there’d be today if a similar disaster befell our soldiers somewhere in the world.

Yet, in 1879, within months, and while the war was still raging, groups of Zulus were being brought to England to perform on theatre stages to packed houses and fêted as heroes. Zulu shows had been popular in London since the days of Charles Dickens, and they were very familiar to contemporary audiences.

The response of the British public was also surprising in the sense that the news of Isandlwana provoked far more anger against the colonial officials who’d launched the war than it did against the Zulus.

And this was a two-way process. The Zulus themselves were fighting to defend their own homeland, and they did so ferociously. But while they may have been ruthless in battle and its aftermath they grew to respect the British soldiers sent against them, despite the savage way in which those soldiers treated the Zulus in return.

It was that complex relationship that I was trying to capture in Kraals and, hopefully, the research trip helped me get it right. But it also gave us the chance to enjoy the astonishing scenery and wildlife. Wonderful country! Everybody should go there, if they get the chance.


Here’s a great review of The Kraals of Ulundi by the Historical Novel Society

More details of the novel can be found on David’s website pages

My thanks to David for sharing the details of his research with us.

It's always fascinating to see how much background work goes into writing such an interesting novel.


Monday 15 September 2014

Review ~ Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas


Annie Howarth is living what should be the perfect life. She is married to William, who is a high ranking police officer in the South Yorkshire force; they have a beautiful daughter and a lovely home. On the surface life is good, but this is 1984 and the miners strike is in full swing and for the small mining communities of South Yorkshire, life is about to change forever. When Annie discovers that her former lover has returned to town after a ten year absence, a sense of restlessness starts to pervade and she finds that old memories run deep. When scandal threatens, Annie is haunted by the repercussions which follow.

The story is absorbing, entertaining and beguiling in equal measure. Annie’s story resonates and you very quickly become involved in her life, her family and share her simple joys and in the overwhelming dilemma of her life. There’s never a lull in the narrative, never a moment when the writing doesn’t draw you into situations which are plausible and realistic and which, undoubtedly, make you sit up and take notice. The restlessness of a community at odds with itself is well demonstrated and the agitation and unease of people living through an extraordinary time is shown in the almost indolent nature of the narrative and which reflects how the story is allowed to develop.

This author never puts a foot wrong and I know that whenever a new book beckons I am in for a real treat and that as soon as I start to read the first page, the outside world ceases to exist and I become lost in a plot which keeps my attention from beginning to end. I started to read Your Beautiful Lies at six o’clock on Friday evening and didn't look up until the book was finished in the early hours of Saturday.

It was a Friday night well spent.

Louise Douglas

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

Sunday 14 September 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Harriet Munroe


On the Porch 

As I lie roofed in, screened in, 
From the pattering rain, 
The summer rain— 
As I lie 
Snug and dry,       
And hear the birds complain: 

Oh, billow on billow, 
Oh, roar on roar, 
Over me wash 
The seas of war.         
Over me—down—down— 
Lunges and plunges 
The huge gun with its one blind eye, 
The armored train, 
And, swooping out of the sky,       
The aeroplane. 
The army proudly swinging 
Under gay flags, 
The glorious dead heaped up like rags,         
A church with bronze bells ringing, 
A city all towers, 
Gardens of lovers and flowers, 
The round world swinging 
In the light of the sun:       
All broken, undone, 
All down—under 
Black surges of thunder … 

Oh, billow on billow 
Oh, roar on roar,         
Over me wash 
The seas of war … 

As I lie roofed in, screened in, 
From the pattering rain, 
The summer rain—         
As I lie 
Snug and dry, 
And hear the birds complain.


Harriet Munroe was an American writer, scholar, literary critic, poet and patron of the arts. She is best known as the editor and publisher of Poetry magazine which made its debut in 1902.