Saturday, 31 August 2013

Review ~ Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden

Random House Uk
Ebury press
20 June 2013

Mistress of the Sea is set in 1570 against the background of Elizabethan England when glorious sea voyages led to the allure of prosperity, and the magnetism of inscrutable sea captains gave the illusion that foreign wealth was there for the taking. Abandoning her mother, two enthusiastic suitors and a wealthy home amongst the merchant class of the port of Plymouth, Ellyn Cooksley stows away on board Drake’s ship bound for Panama. But also on board Drake’s ship, The Swan, is Ellyn’s sickly father and Ellyn’s erstwhile admirer, Will Doonan, whose primary reason for the voyage is to avenge the fate of his lost brother Kit. However, Will is horrified when the stowaway is revealed and this knowledge will put his loyalty to the test, not just to Ellyn and her father, but also to his sea captain.

Taking as her inspiration, Sir Francis Drake’s first great endeavour, the attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train' in Panama, the author has weaved together a story which abounds with nautical intrigue, and with meticulous care and research has produced a realistic historical adventure, complete with rollicking high seas, the lure of Spanish bounty and a frisson of romance.

Nicely written and with an obvious fine eye for historical accuracy, this is a commendable debut novel and the launch of a new talent in historical fiction.

My thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Ebury Publishing

Friday, 30 August 2013

Book Beginnings on Fridays...

Hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader

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

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

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

Book Beginning: A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd


A bit of blurb
thanks to Goodreads

A mystery that explores the dark lives and unexplained secrets of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein....The story of the Shelleys is one of love and death, of loss and betrayal. In this follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s, Lynn Shepherd offers her own fictional version of that story, which suggests new and shocking answers to mysteries that still persist to this day, and have never yet been fully explained.


The West Wind

We began before thick in autumn fog; we open now in the fury of  a west and winter wind. Above us high loose clouds drive across a steep grey sky, and beneath our feet the dead leaves are driven before the unseen air like ghosts from an enchanter......

Without doubt this is my favourite genre..dark Victorian Gothic with a hint of doom and long buried secrets...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Review ~ Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver

August 29th 2013
The précis of this novel about a retired Police Detective investigating a missing family for a female friend set out an interesting story to come, but between jumping from past to present and first person to third person, it proved difficult to settle into a smooth read, requiring too much adjustment of reading style and not inconsiderable thought process to weave the progress of the story into a coherent path.

Over-elaborate descriptions of simple tasks, flowery language and too much information made for a rough, overcomplicated narrative and I found myself having to stop, reassess and occasionally even backtrack in order to put events into order. This proved not the best way to try and follow what should have been a gripping investigative thriller where the plot, twists and turns slowly unravelled to reveal the real story.

The characters were quite believable but had too much background information clouding their current places in the story. There was far too much incidental detail throughout, and I found myself skimming through weather details, descriptions of houses and areas, graphic geographic detail, and non-relevant personal information of characters to try and keep the pace of the unfolding story alive.

As the plot unwound, the narrative fell to first person only, which tended to make the previous third person storyline irrelevant, and eventually the main character became just too perfect in his role, escaping from impossible situations whilst seamlessly knitting together a very convoluted plot far too easily, resulting in an improbably happy ending.

My thanks to Real Readers for an advance proof copy of this book and to JDB who kindly provided this guest review.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review ~ Venus in Winter by Gillian Bagwell

July 2013
Venus in Winter charts the first forty years in the life of Bess of Hardwick, from her early life as a gentlewoman in the service of Lady Zouche, through to her subsequent marriages, and life at the centre of the Tudor court. As one of the most successful women of the Tudor age, there is no doubt that Bess always had her eye on the main chance, and in using her unique appeal, she succeeded in securing an advantageous place in society. Her many marriages, she had four, took her to the very pinnacle of success, but unfortunately, Bess learned that heartbreak came with triumph, and she was certainly no stranger to sadness.

The story reads very easily, there is the same fine attention to detail and the meticulous research we have come to expect from this author’s writing. Rich in detail and alive with treachery, the story of Bess of Hardwick is a fascinating read, the complexity of court intrigue and the corruption and greed of some of the major Tudor personalities comes gloriously alive in a tale of classic ambition and ruthless pride.

There is no doubt that had she been alive in the 21st century, Bess of Hardwick would have been a female entrepreneur in charge of a global company. She was feisty, determined, and as a woman placed in the midst of Tudor England her consummate ambition and spirited determination to succeed was unsurpassed.

 This is another great historical novel from this talented author.

My thanks to netgalley and Penguin Group Berkley, NAL/Signet Romance, DAW

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My Guest on the blog is Elisabeth Gifford....

I am delighted to introduce to you

Photo by kind permission

author of 

1 August 2013

A Bit of Book Blurb

Scotland, 1860. Reverend Alexander Ferguson, naïve and newly-ordained, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the Hebridean island of Harris. His time on the island will irrevocably change the course of his life, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after Alexander departs. 

It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child's fragile legs are fused together - a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why?

Elisabeth I'm delighted to welcome you to the blog and thank you 
for visiting us to chat about your book Secrets of the Sea House

You set Secrets of the Sea House on the Hebridean island of Harris - how important is location to your story?

Harris in the Outer Hebrides is almost another character in the story. I thought we’d make one or two visits there, but we were soon smitten and kept going back. It was a combination of the wild beauty of such empty spaces, and the isolation so far out in the Atlantic that made it feel like stepping back in time. It’s a bit of an effort to get there, and that’s helped preserve the old crofting ways. It’s one of the last outposts of Scots Gaelic. (See the book trailer to hear Gaelic psalm singing.) Writing the book was almost a way of recreating the place when I was back home in London doing the 8 am commute. Just thinking about the vast beaches and skies, I could feel my heartbeat slowing and calming.

I also loved the island legends of the seal people. I first came across them when my small daughter told me with awe that she’d heard from her island friend that magic people came out of the sea. Later, I found out that the sea people legends had something very real behind them.

Looking down over Seilebost and Luskentyre in Harris
Photo courtesy of the author

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

Perhaps the same thing that piqued mine. I couldn’t believe it when I came across a real letter to the Times reporting a mermaid sighting by a Victorian schoolmaster – and in some detail. Whatever he saw, he was certainly convinced it was real. I read the research on the sea people legends by John MacAulay and his theory was that the many mermaid sightings once reported around Scotland contained hints of an ancient people who really did visit the Hebrides from the ice age onwards, and still did up to 200 years ago – the time of the letter.

What do you love about Writing?

There are two things that I really love. One is being in the moment, being in a place and letting yourself experience that. I want to find ways of trying to transpose that experience to the reader through words and images and by attention to detail. The second really fun thing about writing is story. I’m a bit of a nerd for studying the craft of story; that’s probably why I ended up doing the creative writing MA. I love how story follows a person’s journey as they grow and change – or don’t - and reach where they need to be. Story comes from getting to know a character. This morning, the last of my characters in the new book finally told me how her story was going to end. It was a bit of a surprise, but then I’m only the writer.

Also, I was very affected by Talking of Love on the Edge of a Precipice, by Cyrulnik. He had a traumatic time as a child in Nazi-held France, but now works to help people build resilience to trauma through how we choose to tell our stories; what we choose to see and believe. Story can entertain but it can also do some very deep work.

Which writers have inspired you?

I read nearly all the classic nineteenth century French novels as part of a French degree– not so useful for jobs at the time, but essential now. Maupassant, Flaubert and Balzac are my poster boys. After that it’s Marilynne Robinson, and lately Catherine O’Flynn and Tan Twan Eng.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

I have various nooks round the house. Living in London with a family it would be a problem if you had only one area where you could work. It depends if there’s building work, music lessons or bright sun. I pick up my laptop, and move to a quiet space. I didn’t think I could, but I can work anywhere quiet now. The book was started in a remote cottage in Drinishader, Harris, but some of it was written in an airport, and some in hot and humid Beijing. I try to spend so many hours a day alone, in a quiet place with the laptop.

Can you tell us what are you writing next?

It’s a story about girl who runs away from her wedding, and at the same time the groom’s father is struggling with a secret he’s never told his family. It’s a story that stretches back to the Second World War before it’s finally untangled. It was thrilling to uncover that my husband’s grandfather had been part of a community around the Madrid embassy carrying out covert operations to smuggle Jewish refugees through Spain to safety. We only found that out through researching the book. We went out to Madrid and ate in some of the same cafes where they would have met and operated and we were shown photos by the café owner.

I like how writing a book can really surprise you!

Book Trailer on You Tube

You can find out more about Elisabeth on her website 
And find her on Facebook at Elisabeth Gifford Author

My 5 ***** Review

This dual time narrative is set on the tiny Hebridean island of Harris and focuses on the secrets of the enigmatic Sea House which  in the 1990s is the dilapidated home of  Ruth and Michael who are doing their utmost to turn the house into a family home. When they unearth a set of tiny baby bones which are buried beneath the house, Ruth is determined to discover their tragic secret. Ruth’s quest for the truth will take her back in time to the 1860s, when Reverend Alexander Ferguson, a naive and newly ordained minister,   takes up his new post on the isolated island, and whose time at the Sea House will be challenging and fraught with danger.

This is a really accomplished first novel, from an author who clearly loves to write intricate and detailed stories. Her obvious love of the folklore and legends of the islands is beautifully explored and her interpretation of both time strands is quite seamless. Her fine attention to detail and the way she allows the evocative unfurling of the story, makes for a captivating read.

I enjoyed this novel and hope that the author comes back soon with another lovely story.


Elisabeth thank you so much for chatting with us - it's been a pleasure to host this blog interview with you.

 Do come back and see us again soon.


Monday, 26 August 2013

Review ~ Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Random House UK - Transworld Publishers
July 2013

In 1972, two seconds were added to the clock in order to correct the rotational force of the earth.  Under normal circumstances this change wouldn't be especially noticeable, but to eleven year old Byron Hemming and his friend James Lowe, the outcome of these extra two seconds will have a devastating effect on both their lives. In order to protect Byron’s gently dysfunctional mother Diana from the consequences of a tragic chain of events, the boys launch ‘Operation Perfect’, in the hope of protecting Diana from further harm.

Throughout the narrative there is a clever blending of two time frames. In 1972, we have the evolving and compelling story of Byron and James. Whilst in the present day, we have the story of Jim, a man struggling with mental health issues, who has not yet found his rightful place in the world. At first there is no indication why these two stories should be joined together but over time the connection between the two is sympathetically revealed.
 The characterisation is excellent with a real sense of them taking you into their lives; they could so easily be people you know.

The story is beautifully written from start to finish, and although rather sad in places, there is a real uplifting feel, and the ending when it comes is, quite simply, perfect.

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

I featured this lovely story 23rd August 2013 on my post on Friday Book Beginnings - find it here 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Review ~ Zealot by Reza Aslan

Published July 16th 2013 by Random House
I’m intrigued by the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, not from any religious perspective but more to discover more about Jesus the man, and the era in which he lived. This interesting novel by Reza Aslan goes some way to bring the man to life in a realistic way, which has nothing to do with the biblical version, but has lots to do with the history and unpredictability of life two thousand years ago.

There is no doubt that Jesus was a passionate and focused activist, by the very nature of the time in which he lived, he needed to be both purposeful and decisive, and I think that this book goes some way to explain some of the rationale behind his actions. However, even after finishing this novel, my image of Jesus the Nazarene remains one of a peaceful and enlightened saviour and though I am interested to have read Reza Aslan’s interpretation, my personal image of the man Jesus remains unchanged.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for my ecopy of this book to review.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Review ~ Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Ballantine Books
July 9th 2013

This interesting story takes us between two continents and two world wars and is told exclusively in the form of letters between the main characters. At first I found this a little disconcerting as the time sequences flutter around, but once I understood the general idea of the story, I became involved with what was happening. Primarily, the book unfolds a love story but at the same time it also captures the somewhat hedonistic attitude of living and loving during war time.

I’m not a huge fan of epistolary style novels, and I think had the book been just about one time frame, then the exclusivity of the correspondence could have become rather two dimensional. However, for me, the inclusion of a later story certainly saved the day and helped to keep the mystery alive, and in a way kept me turning the pages, although if I’m honest I would have preferred a straightforward narrative.

For me the real star of the story is the island of Skye itself, which is captured beautifully.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for my review copy.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Today I am a Happy Winner..

I was recently informed that I had won third prize in a monthly prize draw competition. 

Out of  a list of possible prizes I chose a Happy Box - what could be better...

All beautifully packaged

And they all smell divine !

The Gift Box included:

What a lovely start to the August Bank Holiday 

Book Beginnings on Fridays...

Hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader

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

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

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

Book Beginning : Perfect by Rachel Joyce

The Addition of Time

.......In 1972, Two seconds were added to time. Britain ‘agreed’ to join the Common market, and 'Beg, Steal or Borrow' by the New Seekers was the entry for Eurovision. The seconds were added because it was a leap year and time was out of joint with the movement of the earth. The New Seekers did not win the Eurovision Song Contest but that had nothing to do with the Earth’s movement and nothing to do with the two seconds either......

A bit of book blurb

In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.
Then Byron's mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron's perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

 I remember 1972 very well - but don't recall the addition of two extra seconds to the clock - so obviously this had no effect on my teenage self. However,  the book shows that Byron is very bothered by this addition and the story proves why ........

What do you think?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

My Guest on the blog is Andrew McBurnie

I am delighted to welcome to my blog 

Andrew McBurnie

Photo by Kind permission of the author

Andrew -welcome to jaffareadstoo and thank you for visiting us to talk about your book

Andrew McBurnie (18 Sep 2012)

The blurb

Teenager Adrian Thorby is about to experience a week of embarrassing and comic incidents. But he's scared. It's 1962, the week of the Cuban missile crisis, and the world is threatened by nuclear war. He's a science-fiction fan who fears he will never live to see a futuristic world of high-technology, including space travel and robots, and will never have a girlfriend.

Adrian lives in Hull, a north-eastern English city still half-flattened by WW2 bombing. He assumes that with his country’s experience of intense bombing during the last war, there will be a swift introduction of emergency preparedness measures. But everyone continues with their lives as normal. Nobody prepares; Adrian begins to think the grownups must all be mad.

He is also secretly in love with a girl from another school, is troubled by sexual thoughts, and through some awkward moments begins to wonder if he really has the brains to participate in a technological future. The seven days of “Fear Week” narrate his exploits, blunders and embarrassments during the nuclear crisis, and his yearnings for the girl of his dreams.

Andrew - what is it about your book that will pique the readers interest?

I didn't think about this when I wrote Fear Week, but after consideration, I would say:

  • "Fear Week" depicts a kid's attempt to find his way during a week when modern civilization seems about to destroy itself, a period that few people seem to know about now.
  • There aren't many novels about the Cuban Missile Crisis that are set in such an apparently unlikely location: Hull. In fact, there is only "Fear Week".
  • Despite the serious topic, the book has (I think) some amusing scenes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of Fear Week?

About three years; mainly in the evenings after work, including rewrites and corrections.

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

After putting "Fear Week" up on Amazon and Smashwords, I didn't do any marketing at first, and it was was greeted with… massive silence. Then I researched ebook marketing, and review blogs particularly. I found several online lists of ebook reviewers, some indicating genre and other preferences.
I didn't do any mass emailing to the lists, aka spam. I used the lists, and the results of my own google searching, as follows:

For each candidate review site, I:

  • Examined the website to check that my novel matched the reviewer's preferred genres and make sure they would accept self-published novels (many don't), and if they did accept self-published novels, that they also accepted e-books (some don't).

  •  Double-checked to make sure there wasn't a temporary notice up saying that their schedule is full and so they aren't considering any new novels at the moment.

  • Selected UK reviewers at first because I thought "Fear Week" might be a bit 'British', but that seemed not to be the case in the end.

For my email to the site owner, I:

  • Attempted in most cases to address in some small way to information contained in their site.
  • Made certain to respond accurately if they had particular formatting and content requirements in review requests.
  • As additional information following the novel's summary, added that I'd had "Fear Week", professionally proof-read, and usually mentioned that I've previously published short stories in print magazines.
  • Rarely attached a copy of the novel itself unless specifically requested on the reviewer's website.
  • Once I got my first good review (from the Historical Novel Society) I started mentioning it in all my emails.

It's been a long process since I started because most of the review sites I examined were quite interesting, and I liked seeing what they thought of books that I'd read. I would usually find one or two suitable candidates a day, but sometimes none, so the process has continued over about five months so far.

I've recently begun to look at personal blogging and social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, etc; but have not had the time to put much effort into it yet.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

(In addition to writing a good story…) Be prepared to spend serious money on professional editors, at least two. Otherwise don't waste your time or a reviewer's time.

Which writers have inspired you?

Anton Chekov, Jane Austen, Ray Bradbury, Eric Blair, Muriel Spark, Phillip K Dick, J G Ballard, Frederick Pohl.

Andrew - it's been a pleasure to have you on the blog today. 
Jaffa and wish you continued success with

 My review of Fear Week

This is an interesting and well written coming of age story. Adrian Thorby is a typical teenager; he has his head in Science fiction stories, but at the same time fantasises about the pretty girl he sees riding her bike to and from school. But this is 1962, and the Cuban missile crisis is about to rock the world, and suddenly the fear of a nuclear event is very real. This story narrated throughout the eponymous ‘fear week’ echoes the fears of many people who thought that the world was about to end. Adrian fears he will never live to see the world of his Sci-Fi fantasies. 
I really enjoyed this story; it made me laugh out loud in places and yet there were some real focus moments of shock and fear. I was a very small child during this scary week of 1962, so have no first hand recollections of what the experience was like, but this story goes some way to explain just what a scary prospect it was to live through the possibility of a nuclear crisis. Adrian is a quirky narrator; you can’t help but warm to him. His interaction with his parents and siblings was a joy to read, but what really made me smile was Adrian’s relationship with his peers at school. The issue of the lost copy of Harold Robbins’s The Carpetbaggers had me remembering a similar incident I had with a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I think that the author has done a splendid job of recreating a very believable scenario, whilst at the same time keeping the narration light and interesting. 

If you like well written social commentary then I'm sure that this story would appeal to you.


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cat Sense:The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

Penguin UK
29th August 2013

Like all cats lovers I am constantly on the lookout for a definitive book which contains everything I need to know about the enigmatic creature called Jaffa who shares my home. 

John Bradshaw's interesting and entertaining book goes a long way to satisfy my curiosity and has some really interesting snippets of information. The book is divided into well ordered chapters which cover cats in all walks of life, from the feral hordes who have to scavenge for survival, through to the pampered and cosseted world of the adored domestic feline.
The chapters are many and varied and begin by covering the history of the cat and cat archaeology before going into more specific detail about the domestication of the cat and the way in which we humans fit into the cat’s world. There are also some lovely black and white drawings interspersed amongst the narrative and lots of useful diagrams and charts.

The author has a real fondness for the feline and has used his skill and knowledge to good effect and has produced a book which is entertaining but which is also informative and a real delight to read.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK for my digital copy to review.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review ~ Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

October 2013

Bellman and Black is a quietly reflective novel which explores the Victorian’s morbid fascination for death, and in doing so, uncovers an unusual story about the pain of bereavement.

William Bellman is brought up by his widowed mother. He is an average sort of child, not given to flights of fancy, and yet as a small boy he commits a despicably cruel act, which will have far reaching consequences. As he grows to adulthood, William is offered the chance to better himself by working at his uncle’s mill, where he soon proves to be a valuable asset. Blessed with a charmed life, William Bellman is the epitome of Victorian prosperity, until misfortune introduces him to a mysterious man in black whose macabre hold over William’s life forms the basis for this interesting and compelling story of Gothic obsession.

When I first started Bellman and Black, I thought that it was a rather unassuming book as nothing much seems to happen for a good third of the novel. However, there is a stealthy quietness to the story which sneaks up on you, and as the morbid fascination for the ritual of death starts to evolve, the sparseness of the narrative becomes more absorbing and offers a disturbing insight into the Victorian fascination for death and dying. 

With great precision, the author has captured the very essence of Victorian funereal etiquette, from the intense and varied quality of the black bombazine used for mourning clothes, to the voyeuristic observation of unseemly grief. There is an almost hypnotic quality to the story and a distinct creepiness which seeps into your mind. Reading the story late at night you sense a chill in the air, and almost without realising it, you start to observe rooks in a whole new light.

Diane Setterfield’s first book The Thirteenth Tale was a distinct success; however, my feeling is that this one will be a bit of a slow burner, not because the book lacks appeal, but because the brooding nature of the narrative may not be to everyone’s taste.

I have a huge fascination for dark Victorian Gothic literature - so I'm firmly ensconced in the loved it camp.

My thanks to for the opportunity to read this book in advance of its
 October Publication.

Bellman and Black is to be published by Orion on the 10 October 2013
available at Lovereading or will be waiting on a shelf at a bookstore near you.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Review ~ Love on a Midsummer Night by Christy English

Sourcebooks Casablanca
6 August 2013

Anything is possible in the moonlight

Arabella, Duchess of Hawthorne is recently widowed, but when her dead husband’s duplicitous nephew makes his dishonourable intentions clear, Arabella realises that she has no choice but to flee London. In desperation, Arabella seeks help from her previous love, the dissolute roué Raymond, Earl of Pembroke, who still retains an echo of the man she once loved and lost. Both Raymond and Arabella have dark secrets which threaten their future happiness, and yet bubbling beneath the surface is a story of thwarted passion and unrelenting danger. 

The skilful storytelling of this delightful author brings to life this lovely Regency romance which is a continuation of the story she started in How to Tame a Willful Wife, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In this second book of the series - Love on a Midsummer Night, the author brings to life A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is always a danger when retelling a classic story that it can become a bit of a caricature of the original, but I found that I was completely beguiled by the ‘will they, won’t they’ love affair between Arabella and Raymond, and hoped that they would be able to reconcile their differences. 

It’s really not necessary to read the books in order as they confidently stand alone, however, because some of the characters overlap, it is perhaps more interesting to start with book one and enjoy the series from the beginning.

If you like historical romantic fiction then do give this author a try.

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

More about Christy English and her books can be found on her website.

Shakespeare in love #1

Friday, 16 August 2013

Book Beginnings on Fridays..

Hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader

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

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

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

Book Beginning : Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Instructions for a Heatwave
Tinder Press
February 2013
An imprint of Headline Publishing Group

Highbury, London

The heat, the heat. It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from the bed and down the stairs. It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome: it lies along corridors, it circles around curtains, it lolls heavily on sofas and chairs. The air in the kitchen is like a solid entity filling the space, pushing Gretta down into the floor, against the side of the table.

...I am intrigued by this opening paragraph and need to understand why heat is inhabiting the living space and I wonder why Gretta feels so overwhelmed that she has to sink to the floor.....


A bit of the blurb
 thanks to Goodreads

It's July 1976. In London, it hasn't rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn't come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta's children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.


I've chosen this book to read now as we've had a reasonably hot summer in the UK, which these days is something of a rarity - our summers are now notoriously rainy. I remember very clearly the long hot summer of 1976 - I was just out of school and in a serious romance. The whole hot summer stretched endlessly ahead of me - long lazy days, skies the colour of blackbirds eggs and a summer of love.....

.......and yes, reader , I married him !

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Season is Coming : 20:08:2013

Published 20 August 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Welcome to Scion: No safer place

Set in 2059, in a dystopian future where London is a hot bed of intrigue and moral turpitude, nineteen year old Paige Mahoney, is a dream walker and clairvoyant, working as part of an elite criminal underworld in the notorious Seven Dials area of Scion London. On a rainy day, and due to a catastrophic error of judgement, Paige is kidnapped, drugged and taken to the secret city of Oxford, where she is assigned to a Rephaite, who becomes her master, and who is as mysterious, as he is deadly. In this whole new world, complete with its own syntax and idiom, Paige must learn to curb her natural instincts, or risk the consequences.

The Bone Season is unlike anything I have ever read before, and so far out of my comfort zone, that I am at a loss to know where to start to evaluate the story, but I can’t do the author or the story a disservice by describing all that happens. Heck, even after finishing the book, I still don’t know half of what happens, but what I do know, is that this is a remarkably good debut novel. The strength of imagination needed to control a world within a world is finely explored, and the inspired use of original and highly inventive terminology adds authority to a story which ultimately takes you by surprise and leaves you, in the end, wanting more. Thankfully, there is a wonderful glossary which reveals a vocabulary which gets to be so utterly familiar, you find that you want to drop the vernacular into your own life; I mean who can resist a good Flash House?

There are going to be the inevitable comparisons made between The Bone Season and recent trends in popular fiction, and yes, it does have some of the magical elements of Rowling’s Harry Potter, the otherworldliness of Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and some of its own shades of grey in the relationship between keeper and voyant , but ultimately, what’s important is that you should read the book on its own merits, and judge it against none – merely enjoy a good story, settle in and take your seat for a ride to Scion London.

My thanks to Chloe at and Bloomsbury for my ARC of this book and to the author for an introduction to a whole new world. 

Samantha Shannon wrote this novel when she was nineteen. The Bone Season has already been sold into 18 languages and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and Jonathan Cavendish (Bridget Jones’s Dairy) have optioned film rights through their British production company, the Imaginarium Studios.

I have one copy of The Bone Season for one lucky UK reader in this great giveaway.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Through my letterbox this week.

.....This fine selection of books to read and review have arrived since the beginning of August....

I think that there's enough to keep me going for the next week or so

and this doesn't include an equal amount of e-books which have been downloaded onto my kindle from indie authors and NetGalley..

Thank you  for trusting your work with me .

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty 
~ with thanks to Penguin~


Dance the Moon Down 
~ with thanks to the author R L Bartram ~


The Night I Danced with Rommel by Elisabeth Marrion
Princes in Exile by Richard Denning
~ with thanks to the Historical Novel Society~


Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver
~with thanks to Real Readers~


Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield
~with thanks to Lovereading,


The First Blast of the Trumpet
~ with thanks to the author Marie MacPherson~


The King's Exile by Andrew Swanston
~with thanks to Transworld~


Monday, 12 August 2013

The Knitted Teddy Bear by Sandra Polley

Anova Books
Collins and Brown
This edition 29th July 2013

Who could be uninterested in this picture of two adorable teddy bears?

They just scream "knit me". 

The book is divided into several different projects which range from patterns suitable for those with minimal experience, to those bears which need time, patience and a whole heap of know-how. The bears range from heirloom bears with moveable joints, to those teeny tiny bears which can be made from scraps of wool over the space of an afternoon. 

Some have wardrobes of clothes to get to grips with; whilst others are happy to wear just a sweater. In all the patterns, the instructions are clear and concise and each step is well explained. There also some nice pictures which really bring the bears to life. 

As terminology varies between the US and the UK regarding wool type, it’s nice to have a combination of instructions regarding the type of yarn. All the wool used is fairly standard and should be available from good wool stockists. 

There are also instructions about creating bears from recycled yarn as “Teddy bears aren’t fussy and can be made from oddments left over from other projects”. 

The pattern designer, Sandra Polley, is an experienced crafter and has used this knowledge to create some truly special bears. This is a lovely book for anyone who loves knitting teddy bears, and is equally lovely for those who like to look at good-looking bears, and then maybe persuade someone else into making them. 

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

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The walk in my week...

My view of history is largely influenced by the imagination of those talented authors who bring history to life in the books I love to read. Whenever possible though,  I like to visit areas of historical interest, and luckily the area I live in has an abundance of historic sites.

This is Whalley Abbey in Lancashire, and the walk in my week led me to explore the remains of this beautiful  thirteenth Century Cistercian Abbey, and also to walk along the meandering banks of the River Calder.

River Calder

The Cistercian Abbey of Stanlow, in Cheshire, moved to Whalley in 1296. The Church was built between 1330 and 1380.

Only the foundations of the church remain. The remains of the former monastic buildings are more extensive. The west range, which was the lay brothers' dormitory, consists of two stories, and is roofed.

The Abbot's lodging and Infirmary were not completed until around 1440

The first stone was laid by Henry de Lacy in June 1296 and at least part of the site was consecrated by the Bishop of Whithern in 1306. Building proceeded slowly and the foundation stone was laid in 1330. Stone for building the abbey was obtained from local quarries. 

Supporting Pillar

A royal licence to build a crenellated wall round the site was obtained in 1339. The church was completed in 1380 but the remainder of the abbey was not finished until the 1440s. In 1480 the North East Gatehouse, which provided a new entrance to the abbey, was completed. In the 16th century, John Paslew, the last Abbot of Whalley, reconstructed his own lodgings and added a Lady Chapel. The abbey closed in 1537 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. Also that year Abbot Paslew was executed for high treason for his part in events connected with the Pilgrimage of Grace the previous year.

After the dissolution of the Monastery in 1537, the property passed into private hands, and it was adapted to make an Elizabethan Manor House. It remained a private residence until 1923, when the Church of England acquired possession.

The ruins of the abbey have been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

It  is still a sacred place and an area for quiet reflection.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Book Beginnings on Fridays...

Hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader

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

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

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

 Book Beginning : Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

October 2012
4th Estate
An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers

Chapter One

The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane's heart. She rowed upstream to see wood ducks, canvasbacks, and ospreys and to search for tiger salamanders in the ferns. She drifted downstream to find painted turtles sunning on fallen trees and to count the herons in the heronry beside the Murrayville cemetery. She tied up her boat and followed shallow feeder streams to collect crayfish, watercress, and tiny wild strawberries. Her feet were toughened against sharp stones and broken glass. When Margo swam, she swallowed minnows alive and felt the Stark River move inside her.


......This opening paragraph is so descriptive, I can sense the river as it meanders along, and the wildlife on the bank of the river is so tantalisingly close, I feel like I can almost reach out and touch the ferns and watch the ducks as they glide in the water. 
I yearn for the creaminess of the crayfish, the pepper of the watercress and the explosion of sweetness as the tiny wild strawberries shatter in my mouth, but more than anything, I want to know about Margo Crane ....


A Bit of Book Blurb..
..thanks to Goodreads..

Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman travelling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

I picked up this book this week in one of my cheap book shops and was primary intrigued by the cover of the beautiful girl pointing a gun at something or someone, and was tempted to read more...

Please let me know if you would be tempted by this book.

Thanks for looking at my Friday Book Beginnings.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Review ~The Humans by Matt Haig

Canongate Books
May 9 2013

There's No Place Like Home

I have a fridge magnet which reads “I am diagonally parked in a parallel universe” and this is exactly how I felt whilst reading this latest offering from the pen of talented author, Matt Haig. There is no doubt that he is the master of the slightly quirky story, and effortlessly creates a whole set of scenarios which in reality shouldn't work, but which invariably do work very well.

In The Humans he has created a brave new world which is seen through the eyes of an unnamed alien who has been sent to earth to take over the persona of Cambridge mathematical genius Professor Andrew Martin, who has recently cracked the elusive Riemann Hypothesis, the outcome of which will change the human race forever.

As always, the story draws you in from the beginning, and before long you are laughing out loud at some of the one liners, most of which are inspired - there’s are so many to choose from, but my favourite has to be:

A cow is an Earth-dwelling animal...which humans treat as a one-stop shop for food, liquid refreshment, fertiliser and designer footwear.

To write any more about the story would be to do the book a great disservice. It’s one of those books which deserves to be read in one sitting with no misconceptions. It will make you laugh, it will make you smile, and ultimately it will make you feel good.

Read it.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Review ~ The Ways of the World by Robert Goddard

The Ways of the World
Bantam press
July 4 2013

The blurb

1919. The eyes of the world are on Paris, where statesmen, diplomats and politicians have gathered to discuss the fate of half the world’s nations in the aftermath of the cataclysm that was the Great War. A horde of journalists, spies and opportunists have also gathered in the city and the last thing the British diplomatic community needs at such a time is the mysterious death of a senior member of their delegation. So, when Sir Henry Maxted falls from the roof of his mistress’s apartment building in unexplained circumstances, their first instinct is to suppress all suspicious aspects of the event.

But Sir Henry’s son, ex Royal Flying Corps ace James ‘Max’ Maxted, has other ideas. He resolves to find out how and why his father died – even if this means disturbing the impression of harmonious calm which the negotiating teams have worked so hard to maintain. In a city where countries are jostling for position at the crossroads of history and the stakes could hardly be higher, it is difficult to tell who is a friend and who a foe.  And Max will soon discover just how much he needs friends, as his search for the truth sucks him into the dark heart of a seemingly impenetrable mystery.

My Review

It is the spring of 1919, and in the aftermath of the Great War, delegations meet in Paris to determine the outcome of the peace process. Sir Henry Maxted, a British diplomat, who has come out of retirement for the conference, falls to his death from an apartment in a salubrious part of the city.  When Henry’s sons, Ashley and James arrive in Paris, to determine the truth about their father’s unexpected death, they are met with bureaucratic indifference, which creates a series of unanswerable questions. Determined to get to the cause of his fathers’ death, James ‘Max’ Maxted stays on in Paris, and is determined to leave no stone unturned in his quest for the truth.

After an initial slow start, the book starts to gain momentum about a third of the way through, when the narrative seems to take on more energy and becomes more focused. What then follows is a cleverly constructed espionage novel, which takes in, not just the whole conniving world of intelligence and counter intelligence, but also the slightly risqué and decadent Paris of the early 1900s. There is no doubt that Robert Goddard is the master of this type of historical narrative, he carefully blends factual history alongside fictional situations in such a seamless way that you actually believe that you are walking the same streets, and drinking in the same bars and cafes. Max is a worthy narrator, brave, pragmatic and with a degree of stubbornness which no doubt hails from his time as a fighter ace during the bombing campaigns of WW1. His drive and ambition are exemplary, and yet it is his tenacity in the face of extreme danger which gives the book its core strength.

Overall, I thought the book was well written and found that it delivered enough convoluted threats , double crosses and triple twists, to keep me entertained until the very end.


My thanks to Transworld/ Bantam Press for my review copy of this book.

I read this book as part of the Historical Reading Challenge 2013