Friday 31 July 2015

The Author in my Spotlight is ...Joanne Limburg

Today I am delighted to introduce 

Sharing her thoughts 


Atlantic Books

Joanne ~ A huge welcome to Jaffareadstoo.

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

Until I was nine, I thought I wanted to be a scientist, but then I wrote a poem at school that really impressed my teacher, so I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to be a writer instead. I’ve been writing in one form or another ever since. 

When I was in my early 20s, I took a writing course with the Open College of the Arts and it was the poetry I enjoyed most, so I began to apply myself seriously to reading it and learning how it was done. I published my first poem in a magazine when I was 25. That would be twenty years ago now.

What can you tell us about A Want of Kindness that won’t give too much away?

A Want of Kindness is a novel about Queen Anne’s life in the years before she came to the throne. She is ten when the book opens, and in her mid-30s at the end. The narrative follows her as she grows up, makes friends, marries, has children and also – sadly – loses children. By the time Anne became Queen, she had lived through the reigns of her uncle, Charles II and her father James II, as well as the ‘double-bottomed’ reign of her brother-in-law William of Orange and her sister Mary. 

Mary and Anne grow up in a slippery Court world, a world of moral contradictions. On the one hand, they are expected to honour their father James, and to show loyalty to him when he becomes King; on the other hand, they are taught to revile his religion, Catholicism, and to believe that a Catholic monarch can never be trusted. Mary is then married off to William of Orange, a staunchly protestant opponent of the most powerful of all Catholic monarchs, Louis XIV. When James becomes King and his second, Catholic wife, gives birth to a son who could displace the Protestant sisters in the succession, Anne is faced with a difficult moral choice.

In your research for the book did you come across anything that surprised you?

I was used to thinking of Anne as a Stuart afterthought, a rather passive character who became Queen simply because William died and it was her turn. And it is true that she is not obvious protagonist material: she is an ordinary-looking, ordinarily intelligent, poorly-educated woman, too shy and short-sighted to participate very actively in Court life; if she has any force of character, it lies not in her ability to act, but in her stubborn resistance to the actions of others. 

What drew me to her in the first place was her history of pregnancy loss, which was something I and many other women I know have experienced: I wanted to find a way to explore this in my writing, and the 300-odd years that came between Anne’s birth and mine offered a safe buffer for me (and for readers) which I thought would allow to deal with this upsetting subject matter. At this point, the book I thought I was planning was a non-fiction book called Anne’s Babies, about the history of obstetrics, pregnancy loss and women’s health.

But then I began to read Anne’s story, and I was surprised to find that – like so many other people – I had underestimated her: what I found was a complex woman who played a quiet but decisive role in the events which would ensure that her Catholic half-brother could never become King. The strength of her passion – for her children, her husband, her friend Sarah Churchill, for the Anglican Church – made a powerful impression on me and made me want to learn more about, not only what happened to her, but also how she experienced what happened. Which meant I would need to take on her perspective in the writing. Which meant that I had to surprise myself by writing a novel.

What would you like readers to take away from the story?

That just because a woman is short-sighted, overweight, sickly and hesitant, it doesn’t mean she can never be the protagonist of her own story. That the birthing chamber was always women’s field of battle and the struggles they experienced in it deserve to be commemorated, as do the lives of the children they lost. And that coming to terms with our lives as we get older – what’s happened to us, what we’ve done – is hard, hard work.

Have you been inspired by any particular era, author or book?

The obvious one is Wolf Hall – it came out just as I was beginning to research the book, and it reminded me just how much historical fiction can do. Other biographical novels that have inspired me to try harder are The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald and Janice Galloway’s Clara. 
I, Claudius was encouraging as it told the story of a dynasty through the eyes of an apparently unpromising character.

Georgette Heyer deserves a mention too. I grew up reading her books and I learned a lot from the way she would site her characters in their historical and material context and make sure they stayed in it.

But my favourite fiction writer has to be Muriel Spark. When I write fiction, I’m always asking myself, subconsciously: What Would Muriel Do?

What’s next ?

At the moment, I’m working towards a PhD in Creative Writing, writing a memoir and a critical piece to accompany it – very different from A Want of Kindness! I’m also hoping that my third poetry collection for adults will come out in the next two years.

But I do plan to return to Anne, in due course…

Find Joanne on her website
Follow her on Twitter @JoanneLimburg

 Huge thanks to Joanne for her thoughtful answers to my questions and also to Karen Duffy at Atlantic Books for her help in organising this interview.


Thursday 30 July 2015

The author in my spotlight is ...Rosie Thomas

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Rosie Thomas is the author of a number of celebrated novels, including the bestsellers The Kashmir Shawl, Sun at Midnight, Iris and Ruby and Constance. Once she was established as a writer and her children were grown, she discovered a love of travelling and mountaineering. She has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, spent time on a tiny Bulgarian research station in Antarctica and travelled the Silk Road through Asia. She lives in London.

Her latest novel Daughter of the House is published 30th July 2015

Harper Collins

Daughter of the House is the new novel from The Sunday Times bestselling author, Rosie Thomas. 

A superb slice of early twentieth century life, taking the reader from the pre-war suffragette movement, through the shell-shocked suffering of post-war Britain, through to the age of spiritualism, the roaring twenties and beyond. 

Born in to a theatrical background, Nancy Wix is not a woman to be held back by family or class. At a young age she discovered clairvoyant abilities that would change her whole life – from a boating accident that leaves three strangers dead, to visions of the Great War to come, Nancy strives to change her fate. When she meets an enigmatic and handsome young man, an opportunity arises to escape the life she seems destined to lead – but can she rely on a man who leads a double life, or must she look inside herself to break free?

Rosie ~ A very warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo.....

What inspired you to write Daughter of the House? 

I loved all the characters in its predecessor, The Illusionists, and especially the old theatre of magic and illusion, the Palmyra. I wanted to revisit its hidden mirrors, secret doors and magnetic currents, so to write the story of Nancy – the daughter of the theatre – was a beguiling prospect. But I needed to give her an extra twist, to take her beyond her parents’ realm, so I made her a gifted clairvoyant. The book is really about how Nancy deals with the conflicts set up by her strange gift. 

In your research for the novel, did you discover anything which surprised you? 

I was startled to learn just how popular Spiritualism was in the years after 1918, and how many people from all walks of life followed it. So many lives had been lost during the Great War that people needed a way of making sense of what had happened, as well as the hope of being able to make contact with the sons and husbands on the ‘other side’. There were very many charlatans and fake mediums making money and reputation from exploiting this very human need. 

Do you have a routine when you’re writing? 

Yes, an implacable one. Exercise first for an hour at least. I used to run and do weights, but nowadays it tends to be brisk walking or yoga or Pilates. I wear a FitBit and if I haven’t done my steps for the day I feel bad! Next I take a bowl of cereal to my desk, read through yesterday’s pages while I’m eating it, and then get going. I keep at until I’ve written 3 pages, about 1500 words, and then I’m done for the day. 

What keeps you motivated as a writer? 

I don’t know if I’m motivated or not? I suppose after 20-odd books I must be although I tend not to think of it like that. I write because it’s what I do; because I’ve been lucky enough to make a living at it from the very beginning; because it’s closely bound up now with who I am. I mean, if that doesn’t sound too bogus… 

What do you want readers to take away from your books?

The memory of a good story well and satisfyingly told, I hope. Also maybe an awareness of layers beneath the surface, of implications and associations not necessarily essential for plot but still available for further reflection if that’s what the reader requires. 

What’s next ? 

Aha! I’ve just last week been away for a short holiday and while I was away I heard a story that made me sit up and listen very hard. Great setting, interesting period, but there’s a lot of research to be done. I’m going to take it little bit further over the summer. It may come to nothing, in which case I’ll return to the project that has been in the planning for a year or so now. 

I’m too superstitious to say any more at present! 

Follow Rosie on her website

Huge thanks to Rosie for taking part in this interview and to Louise Swannell at Harper Collins for her help in arranging everything.


Daughter of the House is published
30th July 2015


Wednesday 29 July 2015

Animals at Weddings by Sophie King ~ Guest Post and Competition

I'm delighted to welcome Sophie King  back to the blog

Animals at Weddings by Sophie King

He was the star of my first wedding in his grey top hat and smart whiskers. The photographer couldn’t get enough of him. “Any chance of another ear nibble?”

No. It wasn’t an over-enthusiastic groom.

He was a small little black puppy called Tramp. And I was madly in love with him. My then-husband’s secretary had given him to us as a wedding present and she’d brought him along to the wedding. How sweet was that?

Amazingly, Tramp behaved himself impeccably. Perhaps he knew he was setting a trend. Because back in those days (I was a very young bride!), it wasn’t as fashionable as it is now to have animals at a wedding.

Snakes, cats, tortoises, fish , hamsters and even a monkey ... All these are apparently “common” guests in the audience when a couple seals the knot. At least, that’s what I discovered when doing my research for my novel “The Wedding Party”.

But they can cause chaos as Tracey, a shop manager from London, found out. “My fiancé is obsessed by his pet snakes. They’re not dangerous but it took me a while to get used to them. When he said he wanted them to come to our wedding, I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. I said I’d only allow it if they came in their travelling cage. But his brother took one out jsut after our vows, to show it to another guest. She screamed and then everyone began to scream. We had to stop the service until he took it out of the church.”

Maybe the happy couple should have got married outside like Jill and George, a farming couple from Yorkshire. They were hitched in a field, surrounded by their sheep. “We didn’t want them to miss out on our big day,” said Jill. “Mind you, it took ages to get the sheep poo off the bottom of my dress.”

Too much information!

In the United States (where else?) exotic animals are a must for any couple who want a wedding with a difference. One couple from Florida got married with a pair of llamas next to them as they said “I do” on the beach. And in Las Vegas, there is even a lion ranch where couples can tie the knot as close to the lions as safety permits.

Elephants are considered to bring good luck according to some cultures. Perhaps that’s why one groom arrived on top of a large Dumbo – again in Vegas.

But before you start making a list of your must-have pets, you need to think about whether it’s fair on them, say the experts. Animals aren’t like wedding guests. They can’t be expected to be quiet during a service and hang around afterwards for the photographs. They need the right conditions – including the correct temperature and food. You also need permission from the wedding venue. Remember that snake wedding I mentioned earlier? It turns out that no one had told the vicar. Snakes might be part of the Adam and Eve story but that doesn’t mean they make good wedding guests.

Maybe it’s safer to stick with a rabbit. “Our Floppy is very domesticated,” says Holly, a bride from Devon. “I carried her down the aisle instead of a bouquet. She loved it.”

Really? But how did she know?

Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of proposing and are still summing up the nerves, you could always ask your dog to do the deed for you. That’s what Martin did after living with his partner for five years. “One evening, our Labrador padded into the kitchen with a note attached to his collar,” said Sandy from London. “It read 'Will you marry me'?”

Did she say “yes”?

Of course. In fact, she didn’t even paws (get it?) for thought ...

NOTE: Some of the names in this post have been changed!

©Sophie King

Sophie King’s popular romantic comedy is published in a brand new e-book edition. 

Shortlisted for Love Story of the Year by the Romantic Novelists’ Association in 2010.

Great Stories With Heart
'An absorbing, feel-good novel ‒ I really enjoyed it.' Penny Vincenzi

When Monique and Geoff decide to tie the knot they soon discover that love second time around brings special challenges. And not just for them. There are ups and downs for family, friends, the wedding planner, and even the vicar as the big day approaches.

Geoff’s ex-wife can’t accept that he has moved on. Could a chance meeting help Helen come to the right decision about her future?

Their daughter, Becky, doesn’t approve of her dad’s bride-to-be. But as she juggles motherhood and a high-powered career, will she realise it’s her own marriage that needs most attention?

Janie was sacked from her last job as a wedding planner for being so disorganised. Is she really the right choice to help the happy couple get hitched without a hitch?

Mel swapped a job in advertising for a new life as a vicar. But can she keep her faith after an accident which turns her family’s world upside down?

Family and friends learn that the course of true love never did run smooth, and there really is no such thing as a stress-free wedding. But can they each still find their own happy ever after?

Amazon UK

Follow Sophie on her website
Twitter @sophiekingbooks



To celebrate the publication of "The Wedding Party", thanks to the lovely people at gift experience company Tinggly, we have a voucher worth £80 for any one experience worldwide from their Essential Collection. The ideal present for friends or family who are about to tie the knot!

To be in with a chance, simply email your answer to the following question to by midnight BST on 10th August 2015.

Question: What is the name of Geoff's daughter in "The Wedding Party" by Sophie King?

See the full range at Voucher must be used by 25/6/2017. Entry will be chosen at random. Emails and contents will not be shared with any third party and will be deleted after the competition. Competition run by Wyndham Media Ltd. Judges decision is final. 

Good luck!



Tuesday 28 July 2015

My thoughts on Go Set A Watchman ~ Harper Lee

William Heinemann
Penguin Random House
July 2015

When you have a book that you really, really love, you always have at the back of your mind what it would be like if you could read it again, entirely anew and as fresh and bright and shiny as a new penny. I never thought that I would be given the opportunity to take another look at To Kill A Mockingbird, a book I first read and fell in love with, some thirty years ago, when it was already twenty years into its role as a classic of American literature.

So Go Set A Watchman was duly delivered, opened, perused and finally read...and here are my thoughts...

We meet Jean Louise Finch, in 1954, aged twenty six, as she returns home, from New York, back to the small town of Maycomb for her annual two week vacation. Her father, Atticus, now seventy two years old is crippled with arthritis, but still practicing law. Aunt Alexandra maintains the status quo in the Finch household, as Calpurnia, their black housekeeper is now retired and has not been replaced.

With obvious similarities and unique differences, the story emerges of a small town in turmoil. Racial tensions and hostilities are at breaking point and even as times are changing, there are those in Maycomb for whom time stands still. Racial differences which were glossed over in To Kill A Mockingbird suddenly become dangerously real, and for Jean Louise it becomes a time of great revelation, as she and those around her start to re-evaluate their own moral compasses.

Parts of the story are sophisticated beyond measure, with wonderful wry, observations which do credit to Harper Lee's undoubted skill as a writer. There are some beautifully observed small touches and some real treasures, like this about Atticus:

"On some days he wore two watches: he wore two this day, an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch. The former was habit, the latter was used to tell time when he could not move his fingers enough to dig in his watch pocket. He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size.”

There is, of course, much debate about the portrayal of Atticus in this version, which shows him as both flawed and imperfect. I think it’s probably important to put this change of his character into context within the era in which this version was written. It was a time of significant racial unease and of gross moral turpitude, and rather than totally destroy Atticus's image as the great defender, it shows that he was a product of the time in which he lived. However, Jean Louise feels the loss of her father’s conscience keenly, as would any child when their beloved parent is held up to scrutiny and found to be culpable.

"Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience'

Knowing the book's content, and of course, I'm not going to reveal more, as that would spoil it, but I can see why this version of the story was rejected by the early publishers. To print this, even in 1960, would have been akin to lighting the blue touch paper and running for the hills. I can see that a more sympathetic version, in To Kill A Mockingbird, as seen through the eyes of the child Scout, would be far more acceptable at that time, to a wider audience.

Of course, the book’s not perfect, that’s why it was rejected and there are parts of the narrative which are clumsy, and which undoubtedly came out much better in To Kill A Mockingbird, but there are also some wonderful literary gems, which I’ll let you discover for yourself.

So, my initial reaction to Go Set A Watchman is that it deserves to be read alongside To Kill A Mockingbird, not to replace it or spoil it, but to augment it. It's time to allow a few ghosts to be laid to rest , and to take Go Set A Watchman as the literary gift it undoubtedly is, and to allow Harper Lee's unique voice and wry observation to take flight once again.

Isiah 21 : “ for thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth”

About the author

Harper Lee

Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She is the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and has been awarded numerous literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Monday 27 July 2015

The Author in my Spotlight is.... Lucienne Boyce

I am delighted to welcome 

Sharing her thoughts about her latest novel

Silverwood Books

Lucienne ~ welcome back to Jaffareadstoo....

What can you tell us about Bloodie Bones that won't give too much away?

Bloodie Bones is the first in a proposed series of historical detective novels featuring Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster. Although the Runners were based in Bow Street in London, they were often sent around the country to help solve cases. In Bloodie Bones Dan is sent to a village near Bath to solve the murder of a gamekeeper. The murder is connected with recent protests by the local people against the enclosure of ancient woodland, and Dan finds himself in the middle of a volatile situation as they vent their rage in vandalism, arson and riot.

When you were doing your research for the story, did you discover anything which surprised you?

I was surprised by the extent of the protests against the enclosure movement, and it was in fact these discoveries that were a major inspiration for the novel. People tend to regard the enclosure movements as part of a progressive narrative of history – as by and large “good things” that benefitted the country, for example in improved agricultural efficiency and output. But if you look more closely you’ll see that this interpretation is open to question, and it’s soon clear that the benefits, if any, were not widely shared. In fact, land enclosures often spelt disaster for rural working people, who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and were forced into the growing cities to form the cheap labour force for expanding industrialisation. I was particularly taken by the realisation of the emotional impact of land enclosures on people, which are given eloquent and heart-rending expression in John Clare’s amazing poem The Mores – a poem which underpins the novel. 

Are you a plotter ...or a start writing and see where we go kind of writer?

I’m a plotter. I work out a synopsis in advance of writing, but I don’t sketch in every detail. So, for example, I’ll know Dan has to get from Place A to Place B but I haven’t decided exactly how that will happen. I’ll have a few ideas in my head and as the story develops I can gauge what works best in terms of both plot and characterisation.  

Bloodie Bones is the first in a series of mystery stories featuring Dan Foster - where did the original idea for the series come from, and is Dan the person you expected him to be?

I’d been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed writing the mystery elements of my first novel, To The Fair Land (also set in the eighteenth century – about the search for the anonymous author of a book about a voyage to the South Seas which involves the hero getting to the bottom of old and new crimes), and more to the point that readers were telling me they enjoyed those aspects of the story. I’ve always loved detective fiction – I’m a huge fan of Lord Peter Wimsey for example. And I have a long-standing interest in the eighteenth century, a period when I think many of the systems we live with today were established or developed – including the policing system. The Bow Street Runners were the forerunners of our CID, and even without the assistance of modern forensic processes many of their investigative methods are remarkably familiar. So it seemed natural to combine all that and come up with a Bow Street Runner as the main character.

As for Dan’s pugilism, well the eighteenth century was a violent era, blood sports were tremendously popular, and I prefer not to gloss over that. On the other hand, Dan isn’t a thug, so for him boxing is form of defence; it’s also a noble art – as indeed it was to many people of the time; and it’s something that redeemed him, a former street child, from a brutal, violent life.

Is he who I expected him to be? In many ways yes, he is, but as the series develops we’ll see him struggling with his personal issues too – his unhappy marriage, his love for his sister-in-law, his growing distaste for an oppressive legal system. Where will all that take him? I’m not absolutely sure yet!   

What's the most enjoyable thing about writing ...and what's the most frustrating ?

I love everything about writing: the research, the drafting, even the editing though it can be nerve-wracking! Research involves reading so many wonderful and fascinating books, visiting locations, museums, art galleries, talking to people...Drafting is when you sit down and out of all that try to coax your imagination into creating the story: the feeling when that happens is tremendously rewarding. Editing is absorbing and if you love and care about language even the knotty points of grammar have a strange allure. Above all, there’s a real pleasure in seeing your work improve with the help of professional editors – though it is hard work and there’s often initial despondency when you realise something you thought was good actually doesn’t work all that well.  

The most frustrating thing is when I feel I don’t have time to write!

What do you want readers to take away from your books?

I’d like them to enjoy them, of course, but also share me with me some of the things that are important to me and that the books are trying to express: the qualities of compassion, equality, care for the environment, hatred of cruelty to animals, of oppression, injustice and poverty. Dan’s own background as an abandoned child destined for a life of crime, and the cases he’s involved in, all reflect these preoccupations.

What's next for Dan?

I’m working on the second Dan Foster Mystery, in which he’s sent to work undercover on the trail of what I might anachronistically call a “cop-killer” in one of the reform societies of the 1790s. This was the London Corresponding Society, which campaigned for an end to government corruption and changes to the electoral system, including adult male suffrage. Inevitably, of course, the idea of female suffrage was still regarded as something very outlandish except by wonderful women like Mary Wollstonecraft! The government tried to stamp out these societies by arresting the leaders, clamping down on their publications, banning meetings and so on. Dan, who prefers a straightforward murder any day, is drawn into these murky dealings much against his will in a chase that will lead him from the radical clubs of London to the mutinous decks of the Royal Navy’s ships at the Nore. And meantime, relations with his wife continue to deteriorate and the novel ends with him getting quite a life-changing surprise!    

©Lucienne Boyce
July 2015

You can find Lucienne on her website
or on Twitter @LucienneWrite

My review of Bloodie Bones 

Huge thanks to Lucienne for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully. 

Jaffa and I look forward to meeting up with Dan again, hopefully... very soon...!


Sunday 26 July 2015

Sunday WW1 Poet...

The songs of the Great War


featured this month

Tune : Keep the Home Fires Burning

They were summoned from the hillside,
They were called in from the glen,
And the country found them ready
At the rallying call for men
Let no tears add to their hardships
As the soldiers pass along,
And although your heart is breaking,
Make it sing this cheery song:
Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There's a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come home.
Overseas there came a pleading,
"Help a nation in distress."
And we gave our glorious laddies -
Honour bade us do no less,
For no gallant son of Freedom
To a tyrant's yoke should bend,
And a noble heart must answer
To the sacred call of "Friend."
Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There's a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out

'Til the boys come home.

Composed by Ivor Novello with words by Lena Gilbert Ford.



Saturday 25 July 2015

Review ~ The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine

The Confectioner's Tale
Random House UK
Transworld Publishers

La Belle Époque in France is a time of great change and for Guillerme du Frere, the chance to travel to Paris is an opportunity not to be missed. At the renowned Patisserie Clermont in Paris, Guillerme discovers not just the sensational art of confectionery, but also falls in forbidden love with Jeanne Clermont, the confectioner's daughter. Eighty years later,  PhD student, Petra Stevenson is determined to protect the good name of her recently deceased grandfather, from a biographer who is determined to sully her grandfather's reputation.

What then follows is an interesting dual time story which intertwines the story of Guillerme, with that of Petra's search for the truth. As dual time narratives go, I thought that this was an interesting story, with perhaps the events of 1909 Paris overshadowing the 1988 search that Petra undertakes. If I'm honest, I found myself more entranced with the story of Guillerme and Jeanne and of their illicit romance amongst the spun sugar and melted chocolate, than with Petra and her search for the skeletons in her grandfather's closet. But as the story starts to come together, and as the loose ends coalesce and combine, a story of intrigue and long buried secrets starts to emerge.

Overall, this is a nicely written dual time story with some lovely descriptions of Paris in the early part of the twentieth century. A bittersweet love story which sweeps across two very different time frames, which I am sure will appeal to those readers who enjoy this type of historical fiction.

Laura Madeleine

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK ,Transworld Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.


Thursday 23 July 2015

Review ~ Normal by Graeme Cameron


I'm not sure I knew what to expect when I started to read this book about a serial killer. I'd read a few reviews that said they had found themselves laughing during reading it which I thought seemed entirely incongruous about a book about serial killing but in reality I found that some parts of the book were funny but I'm still not sure it was funny in a 'good way'.

The story is darkly observed, almost a definition of what can be classified as normal, It's well written, quirky , totally original and quite, quite different from the usual crime thriller genre.

I read it quickly which I think is the best way to deal with it. And don't think too deeply and don't try to rationalise something which is as entirely removed from normality, as it's possible to be.

My thanks to Mira and NetGalley for the chance to read something different. 


Tuesday 21 July 2015

Review ~ Another Heartbeat in the House by Kate Beaufoy


An old house full of memories is the focus for this dual time narrative which is set in the 1930s and the 1840s and combines the stories of Edie Chadwick and Eliza Drury. Two women who are living a hundred years apart and yet, the story of a house, shrouded in mystery, binds them irrevocably together.

The story is nicely divided with a clear delineation of who is speaking and the time in which the chapter is set. There is a distinct difference between the time frames and both of these young women are adept at telling their story, although, if I'm honest, I did rather prefer Eliza's story in the 1840s,  as Edie's talking dog,  Milo, did irritate me a little, and yet, I know he was the necessary focus for Edie's internal dialogue about the mystery she was uncovering.

I read the book quickly, immersing myself in the cultural aspects of rural Ireland with Eliza and her love affair with the married, Jameson St Leger, which was romantic and sweet, and yet somehow, I felt lacking real passion. I'm also not terribly convinced that Eliza's rather unorthodox relationship with William Makepeace Thackeray was realistic enough but it added a literary interest, particularly in light of Eliza's passion for writing. I enjoyed learning about Eliza's life story and felt that her feisty personality came across well. Edie, on the other hand, I felt was rather bland and found myself drifting through her chapters in the hope of getting back to Eliza's story.

Overall , it was light easy read for a summer afternoon in the garden but lacked a certain oomph which I'm afraid, for me,  makes it a bit underwhelming.

My thanks to NetGalley and Transworld for my copy of Another Heartbeat in the House 


Monday 20 July 2015

Review ~ A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Tinder Press

I'm a bit late to the party with this one, and it seems rather incongruous to be reading about a place called Winter in the middle of an English Summer, but that's where the incredulity stops, as before I'd even got to the end of the first few pages, I was completely hooked on this quietly confident novel which explores the concept of family and what that means in its broadest sense.

There is real authenticity to the narrative, from the golden age of Edwardian England, to the stark, unforgiving backdrop of the Canadian wilderness, the author does a commendable job in allowing the the novel to tell its own unique story. There are no unnecessary words, no superfluous descriptions and no altered imagery, just glorious storytelling. There is much to take in: the opening scenes are brutally graphic and at first, made me wonder where the story was taking me, and so, I was ill prepared for the actual beauty of the story, and the evocative way in which Harry Cane's story is told, piece by beautiful piece.

Other reviewers far more eloquent than I have said, that words don't do this book enough justice, and I absolutely agree with that premise. It really is  one of those books which should be read in glorious detail with no preconceptions, and whether you choose to read it in the heat of summer or during the frost of a bleak midwinter, just be prepared to lose track of time, because once started, you won't want it to stop until Harry's story is told.

My thanks to NetGalley and Headline / Tinder Press for my copy of A Place Called Winter.

Patrick Gale

Sunday 19 July 2015

Sunday WW1 Poet...

The Songs of the Great War


my theme for this month's 

Tune:- It's a Long Way to Tipperary

Up to mighty London came
An Irish lad one day,
All the streets were paved with gold,
So everyone was gay!
Singing songs of Piccadilly,
Strand, and Leicester Square,
'Til Paddy got excited and
He shouted to them there:

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye Piccadilly,
Farewell Leicester Square!
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

Paddy wrote a letter
To his Irish Molly O',
Saying, "Should you not receive it,
Write and let me know!
If I make mistakes in "spelling",
Molly dear", said he,
"Remember it's the pen, that's bad,
Don't lay the blame on me".

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye Piccadilly,
Farewell Leicester Square,
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

Molly wrote a neat reply
To Irish Paddy O',
Saying, "Mike Maloney wants
To marry me, and so
Leave the Strand and Piccadilly,
Or you'll be to blame,
For love has fairly drove me silly,
Hoping you're the same!"

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye Piccadilly,
Farewell Leicester Square,
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

Extra wartime verse

That's the wrong way to tickle Mary,
That's the wrong way to kiss!
Don't you know that over here, lad,
They like it best like this!
Hooray pour le Francais!
Farewell, Angleterre!
We didn't know the way to tickle Mary,
But I learned how,over there!

This is easily one of the best remembered war time songs. It was first sung by the troops as they made their way to France in 1914.

It was written in 1912 by Jack Judge and Harry Williams.


Saturday 18 July 2015

Review ~ What If by Rebecca Donovan


Aimed quite firmly at the young adult/ teenage market this is the story of what happens when we try to rediscover ourselves and Cal Logan finds to his cost that life is never simple. When he sees a girl who reminds him of his ex -girlfriend, it sparks a series of events which makes Cal question everything he once thought was true. It's a story about friendship, relationships, and of the ties that bind us irrevocably together. It's a bit like reading a jigsaw puzzle and about the crazy way that life has of mixing up the pieces just when you thought you had them in some semblance of order.

Sadly, I am not in the age demographic for this sort of novel, having left my teenage years a long, long time ago, and probably because of that I occasionally felt that the book lacked a certain oomph, but then being more used to reading adult fiction, I recognise that this is due more to my reading taste than in anything lacking in this novel. However,  I do recognise that it's one of those books I would have dearly loved to have been able read when I was at school when the angst of doomed love affairs seemed altogether  far more important than anything else going on in the world.

The author does a good job of bringing the story to life in a realistic way and I'm glad that I've had the chance to read something a little out of my comfort zone..

My thanks to Penguin for my copy of What If..

Rebecca Donovan


Review ~ The Secrets Sisters Keep by Sinéad Moriarty


We first met the Devlin sisters in Me and My Sisters (2012) and The Secrets Sisters Keep continues the story of Julie, Louise and Sophie and the ups and downs of their lives as mothers, sisters and lovers.  

As always,  the story draws in you in from the beginning and exudes such warmth that you can't help but be beguiled by all the sisters.All their stories are realistic and well observed. There's Julie, who is coming to terms with unexpected wealth and whose quartet of feisty young sons keep her busy. Louise, the corporate lawyer whose controlled approach to life includes the care of her beloved daughter, Clara. And then, there's Sophie, who fears growing old and who sees her ex- husband comfortably playing happy families with his new, and much younger lover.

And yet, despite, the close bond between the sisters , they all have secrets which they would rather keep hidden, but as with everything else in their lives, they realise that sometimes it's important to have someone to share the bad bits with as well as all the good stuff.

I really enjoyed this story. It covers some tough issues which everyone can relate to and yet presents them in a very readable format. It's not necessary to have read Me and My Sisters as the story is very easy to pick up and their are a few hints to the past which makes this current story fall into place very easily.

A lovely book for a quiet read in the garden on a sunny afternoon.

Sinéad Moriarty

My thanks to Penguin for my copy of  The Secrets Sisters Keep.


Friday 17 July 2015

A Want of Kindness by Joanne Limburg

Atlantic Books
July 2015

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to read something about one of our more enigmatic Queens of England, and I have to admit that, despite my love of all things historical, I was woefully ignorant of the life and times of Queen Anne. Sure, I knew all about her more charismatic uncle, Charles II, and sort of, understood the politics behind the events that happened during the reign of Charles' successor, and Anne's father , James II, but of his two daughters, Mary and Anne, I knew very little.

What A Want of Kindness aims to do is to give an imagined life to the young Anne of York, from her early childhood, through to her accession as Queen of England, and by using documented letters and absorbing historical detail, the author succeeds in bringing this feisty young girl to life. The splendid latter years of the Stuart era come alive, and the liveliness of the Restoration court with its plots and counter plots, along with the internal politics, all help to make this a fascinating and lively read. 

The story is quite complex, there is much historical information to take in, so I didn't read it quickly, as I wanted to try and learn as much as I could. The author has a clearly done an enormous amount of research and this shows in the intelligent and introspective narrative, and the way in which the history is allowed to speak for itself. I grew to really like Anne, in fact I liked her rather more than her sister Mary, and sympathised greatly with her, as she struggled with numerous pregnancies, in her desperate quest to have a living child and so maintain the Stuart dynasty.

In this the 350th anniversary of the birth of Queen Anne, this is a timely and fitting celebration of her life and times and is a commendable debut historical novel.

My thanks to Real Readers  and Atlantic Books for my review copy of this book