Monday 30 April 2018

Author Spotlight ~ Ali Bacon

I'm delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo

Ali Bacon

Talking to us today about her novel, In the Blink of an Eye

Hi and welcome, Ali and thank you for spending time with us today.What inspired you to write In the Blink of an Eye?

Linen Press
11 April 2018

I was writing my previous novel, 'A Kettle of Fish' (partly about the Edinburgh art scene) when I came across an exhibition of the work of D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson. In fact I was already dimly aware of this iconic partnership and something made me take a closer look. I got hold of Sara Stevenson's wonderful 'The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill' (Yale 2002) which amongst the consideration of the art and science and analysis of the many wonderful plates, contained nuggets of D.O. Hill's personal story. I was simply hooked on the moments of triumph and tragedy and felt impelled to bring all of this to a wider public.

Without giving too much away what can you tell us about the story?

When it comes to writing a novel I think the main question is 'Who's story is this' and it took a degree of courage to decide that although the central figure of the book is D.O.Hill (1802-1870) I also wanted to tell the untold stories of those around him, many of whom are immortalised in photographs. So in a way it's a series of snapshots, mostly of women, but I hope with a constant thread running through it of how D.O. Hill resolved the difficulties in his life.

David Octavius Hill is the main protagonist of In the Blink of an Eye. Tell us about him and why you decided to tell his story?

D.O. Hill was a central figure in Edinburgh society and the Scottish art world. He has become known for the artistry of the images he created with Robert Adamson which are thought to be a product of his sociable and charismatic nature as well as his artistic experience. However to me he is very much a tragic hero. Even before the point where 'Blink' begins, he has lost his wife after the birth of a son who also did not survive. He is left to bring up his young daughter (immortalised in the picture and on the cover of the book) alone. 

What followed - his partnership with the technical genius Robert Adamson - in modern terms could be seen as a 'bromance', although in fact Adamson was twenty years younger than Hill so maybe it was more of a father and son relationship. Of course this alliance also ended in tragedy and the end of the photographic (calotype) business, a huge turning point for Hill. With further tragedies to follow and the 'millstone' of his debt to the Scottish Church still to be paid, it would be a long time before he could find, as I see it, a degree of personal peace.

When combining historical fact with fiction it must be quite a challenge to get the balance right. How do you manage this without compromising on authenticity?

That was the hardest part! Of course my research was far from exhaustive and I did tweak the facts even as I knew them (but only very slightly). Having had the good fortune to meet a number of experts from the photographic community I wanted to satisfy them as well as the fiction-reading public. Maybe a tall order! And one which eventually led me down the 'episodic' route. I tried a more conventional novel with a unified plot but was just too aware of making things up which didn't feel true to me. So far I've had approval from both quarters - photo-historians and fiction readers - but we'll have to see if everyone feels the same, or if the book will have the kind of impact I would like it to have. 

In the Blink of an Eye is set mainly in Victorian Scotland. In researching the background to the story did anything leave a lasting impression on you?

The ever-present shadow of death in the pre-antibiotic era is the most striking. D.O. Hill was the eighth (hence the Octavius) of his family and of these only three survived beyond early adulthood. And the family were reasonably well off i.e. not victims of poverty. The other things I noticed were the surprising similarities to our own era. They may not have had email but the Victorians (and people of most eras!) were enthusiastic writers of letters and journals. Today's bloggers are only following in their footsteps. Trollope's postal service came along in the 1830s just in time to ease communication between Scotland and Wiltshire. And despite the lack of cheap air travel or motorways, they travelled an incredible amount, both locally - often on foot - across the U.K. and also internationally.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. Do they ever dictate how the story progresses or do you stick with a writing plan from the beginning and never deviate?

I am not big on pre-planning a novel and frequently flounder or change direction. In fact knowing the general outline of this story from the outset interfered with my usual mindset of discovering the story as I write. My usual approach is to have an ongoing plan in my head which changes as I go along. Towards the end I write a 'working synposis' to try and get hold of the overall shape of the thing. If it's impossible to write convincingly there's something wrong with the book and I try to see what that is in terms of the arc of the story. This time I also ditched my plan to play up the romantic possibilities of my hero (D.O. Hill was very good looking by the way!) but in the end I shied away from actual romance while leaving, I hope, a few perceptible undercurrents.

David Octavius Hill
By permission Preus Museum, Norway

And finally …can you share with us anything about your next writing project?

This book has become all-consuming and I'm looking at a project (not necessarily writing!) which might develop from it. Other than that I am quite interested in sticking with history and a couple of artists or writers who I think could be up for a 'treatment'. So watch this space I suppose - or given my level of productivity, maybe that should be 'check back later!

About the Author

Ali Bacon was born in Fife and graduated from St Andrews University. After a career as an academic librarian, her first novel, Kettle of Fish, was published in 2012 by Thornberry.

Chapters from In the Blink of an Eye have been listed in literary competitions and excerpts were performed at the St Andrews Photography Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016.

Twitter @AliBacon

Amazon UK

Linen Press

Huge thanks to Ali for spending time on the blog with us today. Find out more about her writing by visiting her website or connecting on social media.

My review of In the Blink of an Eye can be found here

Sunday 29 April 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Ordinary Lives of the First World War

Knitting for the First World War Soldier

The London Guild was established in 1882 and provided garments for London orphanages. In 1914 the guild was renamed as Queen Mary's Needlework Guild which began to supply garments to the troops during WW1. The Guild continues today as The Queen Mother's Clothing Guild.

In 1914, Queen Mary encouraged women to make garments for the soldiers overseas from knitting socks and hats, to sweaters, belts and scarfs, every item was useful and greatly appreciated.

Lord Kitchener asked the Queen to get involved in providing 30,000 pairs of socks. Every magazine and yarn supplier entered into the spirit and soon women,men and children, across the land were knitting for the troops. The British Red Cross Society produced a pamphlet, Needlework and Knitting Instructions which sold for 6d. 

Launched in 1911, the Women's Weekly magazine encouraged their readers to get involved and regularly printed knitting and sewing patterns which became known as soldiers and sailors comforts. However, wool became scarce and outgrown hand knitted items were frequently unpicked and remade into more serviceable items.

Women's Weekly
World War I Collector's Issue

Even recuperating soldiers were encouraged to knit !

A convalescent soldier knitting a scarf while recovering from his injury.
© IWM (Q 54079)

Of course, knitting for the troops wasn't just happening in the UK. Similar activities were taking place in the United States and overseas.

Club girls all over the United States co-operate with the Young Women's Christian Association in the making of garments for soldiers in the Army. Photo shows: A group of women knitting.
© IWM (Q 110340)

Disabled Indian soldiers knitting socks for the troops abroad at the Queen Mary's Technical School.
© IWM (Q 52571)


Saturday 28 April 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ Blog Tour ~ Tapestry of War by Jane MacKenzie

On Hist Fic Saturday

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Tapestry of War

Allison & Busby
19 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for the invitation to be part of this blog tour

What's it all about..

Amidst the horrors of the Second World War, love and friendship bring two strangers together across conflict-ravaged continents.

In Alexandria, Fran finds her life turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. In place of the luxury and stability that she is used to, she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty.

Meanwhile, on the Firth of Clyde, Catriona works day in, day out nursing injured servicemen. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become entwined – bringing love and friendship to both.

My thoughts about it..

Tapestry of War is the story of two quite different women who live out the momentous latter years of the Second World War, each trying to manage as best they can when all around them seems to be falling apart. 

For Fran Trevillian, living in war torn Alexandria, the life as she once knew has changed beyond all recognition, and as military personnel take over the port of Alexandria, Fran's work as a local newspaper reporter gives her a unique insight into this troubled world. Catriona MacNeill has lived in Scotland all her life but her work as a nurse takes her away from her home, on the beautiful Isle of Islay, and into the larger towns where she helps to nurse those injured servicemen who have been sent back home to recuperate.

The devastating effects of the war come alive in a credible and sympathetic way and I especially enjoyed the very human approach to the overwhelming effect of loss and tragedy. The two different locations, one in Egypt, and the other in Scotland, come alive in the imagination and I enjoyed following in Fran and Catriona’s footsteps as they went about their lives, coping as best they could with the difficulties around them. The lives of these two incredibly strong women overlap in a meaningful way and whilst the majority of Tapestry of War highlights their individual stories, it will be their shared connection which gives the story its ultimate conclusion.

The author writes well and has a fine eye for historical detail. It is obvious, in the way that the people and locations come alive so vividly that a great deal of historical research has been done in order to make everything feel so authentic and believable. The uncertainty of wartime with all its sadness and tragedy is beautifully managed, and the themes of love, loyalty and friendship which run like a thread throughout Tapestry of War, make this one of those stories which lingers long after the last page is read.

Jane MacKenzie has spent much of her adult life travelling the world, teaching English and French everywhere from the Gambia to Papua New Guinea to Bahrain, and recently working for two years at CERN in Geneva. She now splits her time between her self-built house in Collioure, France, and the Highlands of Scotland, where she has made her family home. She is the author of the best-selling Daughters of Catalonia.

Twitter @JaneFMacKenzie #TapestryofWar

Hist Fic Saturday ~ Apricots and Wolfsbane by K M Pohlkamp

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back to ...16th Century, Tudor England

Filles Verte Publishing

My thanks to the author for sharing her book with me

Apricots and Wolfsbane is set against the dark years of Tudor England and introduces us to Lavinia Maud, a young woman whose endless fascination for poisons and their uses will take her into some very dark places. There's something endlessly fascinating about a beautiful young woman going about the deadly business of poisoning. That she is also a paid assassin adds a delicious frisson of excitement to what is a decidedly deadly sort of story.

When Lavinia confesses her sin of murder, she does so only in the hope of appeasing her conscience and not with any intention of giving up her profession. However, as her increasing skill at the alchemical art takes her into some very shadowy places, Lavinia learns to her cost that people are not trustworthy, and that with success comes a degree of dangerous responsibility.

I found the opening chapter of Apricots and Wolfsbane quite impressive and I knew that this would be a good omen for the rest of the story which really fires the imagination, bringing Tudor England to life with all its dark and dangerous corners. The historical aspects of the story sit very comfortably alongside the darker elements and I enjoyed watching how the mystery at the heart of story played out within the wider context of different poisons and their possible uses.

The author has a really interesting way of writing the narrative so intimately that you feel as if you walk in Lavinia’s shadow as she practices her deadly trade. I even looked up Wolfsbane, not because I want to poison anyone with it, but just so I would be able to recognise it if ever I came across it in the English countryside. It's a really pretty colour but its effects are deadly and dangerous.

Apricots and Wolfsbane is an impressive debut novel, with some genuine surprises and some very dark elements which make for fascinating reading. I hope to see lots more of the same from this talented writer.

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife to the love of her life, a proud mother of two, and a Mission Control flight controller. Originally from Wisconsin, she now resides in Houston, Texas.

Twitter @KMPohlkamp

Friday 27 April 2018

Review ~ The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle

Hodder & Stoughton
19 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book
What's it all about..
Whatever their friends and teachers might have expected, neither Danny nor James is currently running the country.

Depressed and unemployed, Danny is facing an ultimatum from his girlfriend Maya: if he doesn't get out and get a job, she's leaving.

It was an accident that changed James's life and now he is looked after affectionately by his parents. But his sister Martha believes that the role of full-time carers is destroying their lives - and infantilising her brother.She suggests that James should go into a respite home while her parents take a break.

This is the story of Danny and James, but also of the families who love them and of the women they love. It is a story of many surprising twists, by turns funny and sad, painful and uplifting, and marks a brilliant new stage in the writing career of one of Britain's favourite novelists.
My thoughts about it..

From the very start of this lovely book I was immersed in the combined story of Danny and James.

Two men who once had so much potential but then life and the fickle finger of fate intervened and sent them both travelling along a bumpy road which neither of them could ever have envisaged.  Both men once attended the same school as boys and whilst they were not exactly close friends they did, sort of, know each other. Years later, they meet as adults but by this time their circumstances have changed beyond measure.

The blossoming of an unlikely friendship between Danny and James, is the basis for this story which will take them away from their comfort zones and into a world which, if they are brave enough, is alive with possibility.

The author has really captured the unpredictability of life, and of how the repercussions of this change in fortune can have a devastating effect on friends and family. In many ways it's a sad story about lost opportunities but the writing is filled with such warmth and wit that the sadness becomes bearable. And yet, it's not all about unhappiness, although, both James and Danny have more than their fair share of misfortune, but rather, it's more about the way that both of them deal with the hand that fate has played them which gives the book its heart and soul.

I've read several books by this talented author and have enjoyed every one of them but there is something rather special about The Man I Think I Know which really caught my imagination, so much so that I read the story with both tears and smiles, and by the end of the story I felt as if I had said goodbye to two friends.

About the Author

Mike Gayle

Previously an Agony Uncle, Mike Gail is a freelance journalist who has contributed to a variety of magazines. His bestselling novels include My Legendary Girlfriend, Mr Commitment, Turning Thirty, His'n'Hers, and Brand New Friend.

Twitter @mikegayle

Blog Tour ~ Ghost by Helen Grant

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the blog tour for Ghost

Fledgling Press
19 February 2018

My thanks to the publishers and Love Books Group for the invitation to be part of his tour and for my e-copy of the book

What's it all about ...

Langlands House is haunted, but not by the ghost you think.

Augusta McAndrew lives on a remote Scottish estate with her grandmother, Rose. For her own safety, she hides from outsiders, as she has done her entire life. Visitors are few and far between - everyone knows that Langlands House is haunted.

One day Rose goes out and never returns, leaving Augusta utterly alone. Then Tom McAllister arrives - good-looking and fascinating, but dangerous. What he has to tell her could tear her whole world apart.

As Tom and Augusta become ever closer, they must face the question: is love enough to overcome the ghosts of the past?

My thoughts about it..

There is a distinctly creepy feel to Ghost, as right from the beginning there is something odd about the young woman, Augusta who lives, in isolation, at the gothic Langlands House with her grandmother. When Rose, her elderly grandmother mysteriously disappears, Augusta, too used to being hidden away from people, is distrustful and wary of strangers. And then Tom enters into Augusta's life which adds a whole new dimension to what is a deeply unsettling story.

The chilling atmosphere at Langlands House only gets stronger as the story progresses, and I especially enjoyed the creepiness and the gradual rise in tension which is pitted against the barriers and obstacles which Augusta uses to protect herself from harm. That she learns of life from reading books in the Langlands library allows us a delicate glimpse into Augusta's mindset, which is both sad and troubled.

The author writes well and knows how to keep the momentum of the plot ticking along so that you are carried forward, both by the atmosphere, and also by the setting, which is deliciously creepy. There are one or two surprises, and some genuine twists and turns towards the end which I didn’t see coming.

Ghost is a genuinely spooky story which kept me entertained from beginning to end.

About the Author

Helen Grant writes thrillers with a Gothic flavour and ghost stories. Her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and won an ALA Alex Award in the US. Her other books include the exciting Forbidden Spaces trilogy. 

Helen's latest novel Ghost (Fledgling Press 2018) is set in Perthshire, where she has lived since 2011. When she is not writing, Helen loves to research the lost country houses of Scotland and to visit the sites where possible. Her experiences of exploring these fascinating places inspired her to write Ghost.

Twitter @Helengrantsays #Ghost



Thursday 26 April 2018

Blog Tour ~ Rebellious Spirits by Ruth Ball

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the Rebellious Spirits Blog Tour
on its penultimate day

Elliot & Thompson
19 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and the invitation to be part of this blog tour

A delicious history of Britain’s secret, exciting and often dangerous love affair with booze

From the first Malt Laws in Scotland and the restriction on gin in Hogarth’s London to the bootleggers of the Second World War and the modern speakeasy, Ruth Ball charts our enduring relationship with illicit alcohol. 

A former bartender and founder of the bespoke liqueur company, Alchemist Dreams, Ruth’s flair with spirits can be seen in the many recipes, both traditional and modern, that pepper the pages of Rebellious Spirits, inviting you to drink along as you discover the true taste of the past.

My thoughts about it..

I absolutely love this book. Not just from the illicit booze perspective which fills the book with the most wonderful snippets of history, but also from the point of view of the alcoholic recipes, which even though some of the ingredients bring tears to your eyes, it wouldn't half be great fun to sample a few of the concoctions.

Divided into eight sections we travel from the days of monks and monasteries, with its recipes for spiced wine and Aqua Vitae, through to the great and the good of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with the rise, and rise, of alcohol producers. I especially enjoyed chapter three, which is all about the Gin Craze and of the introduction of gin, during the reign of William of Orange in the early 18th Century, and of its association with highwaymen, outlaws and revolutionaries!

Rebellious Spirits is a great little book for anyone who loves the odd tipple and if they also enjoy historical detail, well, it's a winner, winner ๐Ÿ˜Š

I'm thrilled to be able to share this exclusive extract especially chosen with Jaffa in mind

Puss and Mew Shop – Rebellious Spirits by Ruth Ball 

There was one place where you might get a better quality of gin – the only kind of gin shop that could stay in one place without too much fear of informers for long enough to develop a reputation for good gin: the Puss and Mew shop. There’s a wonderfully colourful tale in the biography The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet about how the shop was invented. Bradstreet was quite a character, and his biography is full of unlikely anecdotes. It’s about as likely that he actually invented the Puss and Mew shop in anything like the way that he describes as it is that he really turned back Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army single-handed. But since he tells such a good story, it’s much more fun to believe him than to call him a liar. 

In 1736, after a spell as a government spy, Irish adventurer Captain Bradstreet arrived in London on the promise of an army commission. When the commission failed to appear, he was left in a strange city with only a few pounds to his name – but he was a resourceful man, and an educated one. He took a copy of the Gin Act and read it through. He found that for an informer to turn him in they had to know his name, and he also found that it was illegal, even for a magistrate, to break down his doors to find it out. 

He had a friend rent a small house and lend him the keys so that not even the landlord would know his name. Then he bought a large picture of a cat. Why a cat? We will probably never know. Perhaps it just happened to be the first picture he found that was the right size for the window. He got his cat, and he nailed it up so that it covered his window. Then he cut a hole for its mouth and pushed a small pipe out under its paw, which he bent up to a funnel inside the house. He told a few local gossips that his magic cat would give gin to anyone who fed it pennies, and he shut himself up for business. 

The first day was slow, alone with his magic cat; but soon he had so many visitors coming to feed that cat and call, ‘Puss, Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin’ that his neighbours had trouble getting in and out of their houses. It was at that point he decided that he was lonely, and invited a beautiful prostitute to assist him. The rest of his story is far too lurid for these pages, but he did keep up the business in good company for a few months – until imitators started cutting into his trade. Then he moved onto new and even more improbable schemes. As a result, all over town you could find the sign of the cat and call out ‘Puss!’ to be answered with a ‘Mew!’ and a glass of gin passed through a hole, poured through a pipe or delivered to you via a drawer. The magic cat had multiplied! 

… Gin-sellers and their customers were typically not just poor, but also cold. In the days before central heating, keeping warm could be difficult, and so it was common to drink just about anything that could be heated hot. One of the favourite drinks was called ‘gin & hot’, a hot mixture of ale and gin. I’ve tried it out on a few willing victims and received a mixture of confused enjoyment and absolute dis-gust; I guess it must be an acquired taste. Usually the drinks were heated up by plunging a red-hot poker into the cup, which was easy and wonderfully dramatic, but did have a tendency to get ash in your drink. 

Gin & Hot: The Alchemist’s Version 


25ml gin 

25ml sugar syrup 

½ pint ale 


Sharpening steel (or other suitable clean metal utensil; just be sure it doesn’t have a plastic handle) 

Oven glove 

Large mug (or suitably heat-resistant glass; an old-fashioned dimple glass with a handle is perfect) 

Put the sharpening steel into a hot oven for 10–15 minutes until thoroughly heated. Put the gin and syrup into your mug, and then top up with the ale. Carefully take your hot steel out of the oven using an oven glove, making sure you have a good grip. Plunge your steel into the mug and stir. 

Enjoy the dramatic sizzle as the iron plunges in and then sip your warm, foamy mug of gin & hot.

About the Author

Ruth Ball is related to Admiral Edward Vernon, the man who invented grog as a way to serve the rum ration to the navy in 1740. She is a chemist and former bartender, and was the founder of Alchemist Dreams, a company dedicated to making handmade liqueurs blended to order for clients such as the British Library and the Science Museum Group. She is the author of Rough Spirits and High Society: The Culture of Drink (British Library, 2017). Having grown up in the Peak District, she now lives in London where she works at East London Liquor Company.

Follow on Twitter @AlchemistDreams #RebelliousSpirits


Wednesday 25 April 2018

Blog Tour ~ All Rivers Run Free

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on the All Rivers Run Free Blog Tour

19 April 2018

My thanks to the publisher for my invitation to be part of this blog tour

What's it all about..

Brittle but not yet broken, Ia Pendilly ekes out a fierce life in a caravan on the coast of Cornwall. In years of living with Bran - her embattled, battering cousin and common law husband - she's never yet had her own baby. So when she discovers the waif washed up on the shore, Ia takes the risk and rescues her. And the girl, in turn, will rescue something in Ia - bringing back a memory she's lost, giving her the strength to escape, and leading her on a journey downriver.

It will take her into the fringes of a society she's shunned, collapsed around its own isolation. It will take her through a valley ravaged by floods, into a world not too far from reckoning. It will take her in search of her sister, and the dark remembrance of their parting. It will take her, break her, remake her, in the shapes of freedom.

My thoughts about it..

Ia Pengilly lives a solitary life on the Cornish coast, eking out a desolate existence, relying on her considerable wits and her innate ability to salvage the gifts the seas throw up. Her joyless relationship with her much older cousin, Bran, who uses and abuses her, and simply doesn't care enough to love her, is as bleak as her existence.

Set in some futuristic world where neither hope nor charity is allowed to flourish, gangs roam and pilfer, and when the light is on in Ia's isolated caravan, men, with their own specific needs, come a-calling.

There is a cold, cheerlessness to the story which I found utterly compelling and the barren nature of Ia's life is offset against the poetic quality of the words which rumble and turn at every opportunity. I loved the unique way that the prose skittered and danced, and was so in tune with the nature of its surroundings that it became totally immersive. I knew I was impressed when I read the opening paragraph three times, and so mesmerising is the narrative that even further into the novel I had to keep turning back to re-read a word, or a cleverly constructed sentence.

All Rivers Run Free is a story about self-discovery and self-worth, and of how lives are shaped and moulded by those we love, who are carried close to our hearts. It's also about a ferocious need to survive in a world where the dark shades of grief and loss are allowed to colour everything.

Natasha Carthew has been published previously as a poet and young adult writer and her books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award and shortlisted for several national awards including the Branford Boase. She lives in Cornwall with her girlfriend of twenty years and spends most of her time writing outdoors in all weathers. Her identity as a country writer has led her to become a survival expert, a trained walking-guide and to teach Wild Writing workshops.

Twitter @NatashaCarthew #AllRiversRunFree


Tuesday 24 April 2018

Blog Tour ~ Half A World Away by Sue Haasler..

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be hosting today's stop on the Half A World Away Blog Tour

The Dome Press
12 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and the invitation to be part of the blog tour

What's it all about..

Gripping love story set in 1980s Cold War East Berlin. For fans of William Boyd and Helen Dunmore. A new genre for an established author.

Charming and talented Alex dreams of becoming a professional saxophonist while working long hours in the family bakery. 

Detlef, lonely, repressed and a small-time Stasi informer, develops an obsessive love for him. But Alex has eyes only for Nicky, an English woman visiting East Berlin as an au pair. With no natural outlet for his feelings, Detlef’s passion becomes destructive, his need for approval enmeshed with the latent homophobia of the regime. 

As Alex takes up with more successful musicians, he moves closer to influencers considered subversive by a state that has eyes and ears anywhere, and Detlef’s passions threaten to endanger them all.

My thoughts about it..

Half A World Away is a classic love story set against the backdrop of East meets West. Set in 1987, in East Berlin, when Nicky, from London, travels there to work as a nanny for an Englishman and his child. There she meets and quickly falls into a relationship with Alex, a talented musician who works in the family bakery by day, and plays jazz by night.

That this love affair is difficult from the beginning is down to, not just the circumstances the young couple find themselves in, but is also due to the machinations of someone whose desire for Alex takes us into some very dark places.

East Berlin in the years before the wall came down was a very different place. All influences from the west have been eradicated and whilst people are expected to conform to the regime there are those who bravely fight against the system, often to their cost. I am old enough to remember the days before the Berlin wall came down and I think that the author has captured perfectly that shadowy quality of East Berlin when no-one outside of the country really knew what was going on there, or of how people lived their lives. For Nicky, a girl, from the West to visit the East was difficult enough, but then to form a relationship with someone there was fraught with difficulty from the very beginning.

The quality of the writing is such that the story really came alive for me. I was fascinated by the way people were encouraged to spy on each other and that what little luxuries they had could be taken away in an instant. And although the 'West' with its Macdonalds and shopping malls was just a short train journey, it really was half a world away, and couldn't have been more different.

This could very easily have developed into very heavy story but with a lightness of touch the author brings everything alive in a very readable way and I enjoyed seeing East Berlin through Nicky's eyes whilst at the same time allowed myself to follow in Alex's footsteps into a very different world.

Beautifully written, and in perfect step with time and place, Half A World Away is one of those stories which stays with you long after the last page is turned.

Sue Haasler is the author of four romantic fiction titles. She has been commissioned by the BBC to write an authorised tie-in to Holby City. Originally from Durham, she is married with an adult daughter, and lives in London.
Twitter @pauseliveaction


Monday 23 April 2018

Blog Tour ~ Songs by Dead Girls by Lesley Kelley

Jaffareadstoo is excited to be hosting today's stop on the Songs by Dead Girls Blog Tour

Sandstone Press
19 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers and to Ruth Killick Publicity for the inviatation to be part of the tour and my copy of the book

What's it all about...

Nobody likes the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team, least of all the people who work for it. An uneasy mix of seconded Police and health service staff, Mona, Bernard and their colleagues stem the spread of the Virus, a mutant strain of influenza, by tracking down people who have missed their monthly health check. 

When Scotland’s leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn’t speaking to her, placate the professor’s over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost. 

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

My thoughts about it...

A deadly pandemic has affected much of the population and in order to control the spread of this deadly virus, Health Enforcement Teams are employed to make sure that people attend a monthly health check. These stringent regulations are essential if the virus is to be contained and those who skip the test are hunted down.

The North Edinburgh Enforcement Team is on the case of two people who have flaunted these regulations. The investigative skills of HET operatives, Mona and Paterson, are needed in order to find the whereabouts of a leading academic who is about to miss his monthly check-up. Their undercover investigation takes them to London, where they encounter all sorts of problems. Meanwhile back in Scotland, the HET are on the trail of a missing prostitute, who may have links with the darker side of Edinburgh life.

This is a really interesting premise for a story; I especially enjoyed the dystopian feel to the narrative, particularly around the Orwellian tactics used against those individuals who missed their monthly check-ups. The double mysteries at the centre of the story are well plotted and I enjoyed the fast pace of the novel, and allowing two different sides to the story, one in London, and the other in Edinburgh, adds an interesting dynamic.

Songs by Dead Girls is now the second book in the Health of Strangers series and even though I haven’t read the first book, I was soon able to pick up the story and could follow the background reasonably well, although it took me a little while to get to understand the quirks of the central characters. The North Edinburgh Enforcement Team are an odd bunch of people, however, their lively wit and petty squabbles add an interesting dynamic to what is potentially, a dark and rather sinister working environment. That they continue to survive ,and thrive, in this setting is testament to the author’s skill in bringing this dystopian world to life in a lively and entertaining way.

Lesley Kelly has worked in the public and voluntary sectors for the past twenty years, dabbling in poetry and stand-up comedy along the way. She has won several writing competitions, including the Scotsman’s Short Story award in 2008. Her debut novel, A Fine House in Trinity was long-listed for the William McIlvanney award in 2016. She lives in Edinburgh.

Twitter @lkautho #songsbydeadgirls

@sandstonepress @rkbookpublicist

Sunday 22 April 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

In the spring of 1918, Lady Northcliffe, the wife of the founder of the Daily Mail newspaper, appealed for women to remember a loved one by donating a pearl from one of their necklaces in order to raise money. Capturing the imagination of the country, The Pearl Appeal went on to become one of the most successful fundraising campaigns of the war. The event raised over £94,000, roughly £5 million in today's money, and amongst the first to donate was Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother, which soon encouraged many others to follow suit.

To mark 100 years since the original campaign, the British Red Cross is reviving its Pearls For Life Appeal to help support people in crisis throughout the world.

You can find out more about the British Red Cross Appeal by clicking here Pearls for Life Appeal

I recently came across this interesting book which explains the Pearls before Poppies appeal in more detail. It's definitely on my wish list!

The History Press
March 2018

What's it all about..

Drawing on the archives of the Red Cross, Christie’s and the Victoria and Albert Museum, this book traces the story of the Red Cross Pearl Appeal throughout the eventful year of 1918. Interweaving the story of the campaign with the personal stories behind individual pearls this book provides a snapshot of a world that was changed forever by the war. 

Saturday 21 April 2018

His Fic Saturday ~ The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back to ...14th Century, England

February 2018

My thanks to the author for sharing her novel with me

The Cold Light of Dawn is now the fourth, and possibly the last, book in this epic historical saga which brings the medieval world of Edward III so vividly to life. 

In this latest adventure we meet up again with Adam and Kit de Guirande as they flit between their countryside manor house, at Tresaints, and the Royal court. As in previous novels, their life is just as eventful and, as they immerse themselves in the scheming and political manoeuvrings of the Edwardian court, so they find that, as always, danger is never very far away.

With Edward II believed dead, the English court is very much at the centre of controversy, and even as the new young King, Edward III, starts to flex his political muscles, there are still courtiers who gravitate towards Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer. With his allegiance to his young king stretched to breaking point, Adam de Guirande, once again finds that his loyalty towards his mentor, Mortimer, will be tested to the absolute limit of even his, considerable, endurance.

It goes without saying that I am greatly enamoured of Adam de Guirande, who is fast becoming one of my favourite literary heroes. I love his ability to be at the heart of the action, whilst at the same time keeping his integrity intact. Adam and Kit's ardent love for each other shines like a beacon throughout, and the moments spent with them in the quiet of their bed chamber adds a really delicious blend of passion and spice to the story.

'Real life' historical personalities truly come to life in the hands of this skilful writer and by the end of this novel I really felt as though I had walked in the shadow of Roger Mortimer and, whilst not always in tune with his actions, by the end of the story, I had come to respect his ability as a political operator, and will, most certainly, miss his commanding presence. That there was also another sad departure of a character I had grown to love took me completely by surprise and, it must be said, that I shed a little tear and mourned his loss rather more than Mortimer's.

There is something rather wonderful about this exciting historical series which, with every successive story, grows in depth and complexity, and which offers a fascinating glimpse into life at one of the most controversial royal courts. The historical aspect is beautifully researched and, whilst the author takes one or two liberties, there is always a real sense of authenticity which captures perfectly the sights, sounds and sensations of a busy medieval world.

Steeped in history and alive with all the brilliance of a medieval court at the height of its power, The Cold Light of Dawn commands your attention. The story glitters and swirls around those vibrant personalities who made their mark on history and whose exciting stories deserve to be retold.

That the author feels this could be the end of The King's Greatest Enemy series is something I feel I must challenge, as to be without Adam de Guirande in future stories is not something I wish to contemplate. 

More .....please ๐Ÿ˜Š

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga

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Follow on Twitter @abelfrageauthor

Friday 20 April 2018

Blog Tour ~ Guilt by Amanda Robson

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on the Guilt Blog Tour

19 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for the invitation to be part of this blog tour and also for my copy of the book

What's it all about..

There is no bond greater than blood . . . 

When the body of a woman is found stabbed to death, the blame falls to her twin sister. But who killed who? And which one is now the woman behind bars? 

Zara and Miranda have always supported each other. But then Zara meets Seb, and everything changes. Handsome, charismatic and dangerous, Seb threatens to tear the sisters’ lives apart – but is he really the one to blame? Or are deeper resentments simmering beneath the surface that the sisters must face up to? 

As the sisters’ relationship is stretched to the brink, a traumatic incident in Seb’s past begins to rear its head and soon all three are locked in a psychological battle that will leave someone dead. The question is, who?

My thoughts about it..

There is a distinctly dark feel to Guilt which is apparent from the very start of the novel when a murder is committed, and the subsequent build up to the reason for this dreadful crime will take us into some very dark places indeed.

Non-identical twin sisters, Miranda and Zara, have a close and loving relationship, that is, until Sebastian, Zara’s less than charming boyfriend appears on the scene, and who seems determined to drive a wedge between the sisters. That this three way relationship causes problems is perhaps something of an understatement, and there are times when the emotional pull of the story really bites hard, especially as it covers some rather disturbing themes.

Told from the view point of the three main protagonists, the story slips comfortably between past and present and also between Zara, Miranda and Sebastian, and as their fascinating narratives unfold so the tension starts to increase. The story moves along at considerable speed, and the deliciously short and, at times, snappy chapters are perfectly proportioned to allow for quick reading. Some psychological thrillers just cry out to be read in one sitting, and that’s how Guilt worked for me, as I really couldn’t wait to see how the story played out in the wider scheme of things.

There is no doubt that in this her second psychological suspense novel, the author has really played to her strength. She has a real skill for getting into the finer details of what makes people tick, how they think, act and react is all closely considered, with never a drop of anything superfluous that could get into the way of good storytelling. And in bringing the characters of Miranda, Zara and Sebastian to life, she has once again, given us a story with a real sense of edginess and yet, which also has its basis in stark reality.

Beautifully observed and written, Guilt is one of those cleverly woven stories which really performs to the strength of its title as the feeling of culpability runs like a thread throughout the whole of the novel.

After graduating, Amanda Robson worked in medical research at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and at the Poisons Unit at Guy’s Hospital where she became a co-author of a book on cyanide poisoning. Guilt is her second novel.

Twitter @AmandaRauthor #Guilt