Friday, 31 January 2014

Review ~ Under His Protection by Stacy Von Haegert

White Rose Trilogy #1

Hot-headed and handsome young men, dastardly villains and a beautiful and tempestuous heroine, all combine to make this an enjoyable romp through the glitterati of Victorian England. Not to be taken too seriously, the story tells of the turbulent attraction between the enigmatic Duke of Ravenswood and the passionate Greyland Kingston, a woman whose very beauty sets Victorian society blazing. However, the Kingston family, newly returned to England, are the keepers of a long buried secret, which if discovered, could compromise the stability of the English royal family.

What then follows is an enjoyable romantic adventure with a likeable heroine and a sexy swashbuckling hero who fights almost to the very death to protect the woman he loves and admires. Overall, I found much to enjoy in the story, although at times I did have to suspend belief at the historical interpretation and I was disappointed that the final edit of the book did not correct the glaringly obvious spelling mistakes, which I’m afraid became a real irritation.

However, I am sure that if you enjoy romantic historical fiction and are not too troubled by historical inconsistencies and you can overlook spelling mistakes then you are going to find much to enjoy within the story. Its characters are lively and engaging and the added frisson of sexual tension which threads through the story is nicely written without being overly salacious.

As this is the start of a proposed trilogy, my hope is that as the series progresses, the story will go from strength to strength.

My thanks to for my ecopy of this book to read and review.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Review ~ Once Upon a Timepiece by Starr Wood

January 2014

The twelve short stories which appear in Once upon a Timepiece each represent a month of the year, which on the surface should have absolutely nothing in common, and yet as you approach the month of February, you realise that there is indeed a very clever link, and the connection is a rather expensive 1946 Breitling Chronomat wristwatch.

Using the wristwatch as its focus, each of the stories demonstrates both the very best and the very worst of society; there’s greed, corruption, lust and deceit, and even as the worst sins of society are illustrated, you start to realise that when faced with a moral dilemma, each of us, almost without thinking, reverts to a lowest common denominator, namely self-preservation.

Beautifully crafted and with great skill the author manipulates each of the stories with a subtle hand, and although it may take you a little while to put together the connection, when the ‘penny dropping’ moment arrives, there is no mistaking the bond which links the story to its predecessor.

I'm really excited about this book. I am sure that it is one of those that will succeed by word of mouth , as once the book is finished there is an overwhelming need to pass the book onto someone else, so that the continuity of time passing remains a link to be cherished.

Highly Recommended.

Starr Wood is a British journalist, writer and economist. He was born in England in 1970, but grew up in Nigeria, Ras Al Khaimah, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan. In 1992, Starr graduated from the London School of Economics and began his career as a journalist working for a variety of news media in London and the Middle East. Since 1999, he has worked at The Economist Group, first in London, and then in Asia. Today, he lives in Singapore with his wife and three children. 


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

My author in the spotlight is .....Wendy Percival

Please welcome



Silverwood Books
October 2013

A hidden crime, kept secret for 60 years... but time has a way of exposing the truth…

*~ Wendy ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo ~*

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Blood-Tied?

It started with an old photograph, set as a Photo Short Story competition in Writing Magazine. It was of a family group (Edwardian, I think) standing on a railway station. I didn’t enter the competition, eventually, but I did draft out an idea for a story. When I started researching my family history, I recalled the story line and the two things fused together and became the starting point of the plot.

What can you tell us about the story that won't give too much away?

It’s about Esme Quentin, a former journalist’s assistant, who has returned to Shropshire to embark upon a new career as a genealogist and history researcher. Her sister’s apparent unprovoked attack proves to be the catalyst for Esme coming to terms with her own tragic past, as well as resolving the awkward relationship she’s always had with her sister.

Why do you choose to write in your particular genre?

I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, which I attribute to having The Secret Garden read to me as a child! I love being intrigued and surprised in stories, particularly ones where there’s a secret to unravel along the way. And they do say write what you enjoy reading!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?        

I’ve always enjoyed writing, even before I’d ever thought about ‘being a writer’. As a child, I was always dressing up and acting out elaborate stories, and I used to write great long letters to pen friends. It wasn’t until I saw a copy of Writing Magazine in WH Smith’s about 15 years ago that I wondered about writing more seriously. Even then I nearly didn’t buy it, thinking perhaps I was being a bit flaky! But eventually I went back to the rack, grabbed the magazine and marched to the check-out before I changed my mind. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Which writers have inspired you?

I used to read Catherine Cookson avidly. She tells a story so seamlessly. I was introduced to Daphne du Maurier by my mum so I’ve always had a soft spot for her books, particularly with their links to Cornwall, where I’ve been many times on holiday. Elizabeth George’s earlier Lynley novels are favourites. I’ve always enjoyed Dick Francis’s books, although I’m not at all interested in horse riding, which says a lot about his ability to capture his reader! Susan Howatch’s novels, especially her Starbridge series, are brilliant. In recent years I’ve read a lot of Peter Robinson, PD James, Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin and CJ Sansom, amongst others. But one of my absolute favourites, and probably the writer who I find the most inspirational, is “master of the double twist”, Robert Goddard.

Have you any other novels planned, and if so, can you give us a taster of what is to come?

So many people told me how much they liked Esme Quentin that, after much deliberation as to whether to go down the ‘series character’ route, I decided to write another Esme novel. Again inspired by genealogy and influences from the past, it’s set on the north Devon coast, near where I live. Esme finds a dying woman at the foot of a cliff and gets caught up with the mystery of a 19th century convict, transported to Australia in 1837. I'm currently working hard to get the final draft finished!

 More about Wendy can be found here:

Wendy is very generously giving a printed copy of Blood -Tied to one lucky UK winner of this giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you so much Wendy for spending time with us.
Jaffa and I look forward to reading more stories about Esme.


My thoughts on Blood-Tied.

Esme Quentin is worried when her sister Elizabeth is attacked in a London park. Thinking that this is a random attack by a stranger, Esme is unprepared when the police reveal that Elizabeth’s attack may not be as random as first thought. With Elizabeth gravely ill in hospital, it falls to Esme and Elizabeth’s daughter, Gemma, to delve a little deeper into Elizabeth’s personal affairs. What they discover are long buried family secrets which span over sixty years, and which open up to scrutiny all that Esme and Gemma once believed to be true.

What then follows is a finely crafted family mystery which abounds with both trickery and deception. The author has a real skill with words, and with fine attention to detail has produced a very convincing crime story. There are more than enough twists, turns and unexpected red herrings in the story to keep you guessing until the very end. I rather liked Esme, she is a determined and feisty protagonist who uses her skill as a researcher to delve into the past; however, it is her tenacity and generosity of spirit which gives the books its heart and soul and which leads eventually to the conclusion of the family mystery.

Blood-Tied works well as a standalone story, it is well presented and professionally produced to a high standard. However, I can see great potential for future character developments as Esme deserves to put her sleuthing skills to good use in future follow-ups.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Review ~ Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll

Faber and Faber
October 2013

Frost Hollow Hall stands in a frosty hollow surrounded by shadows and mystery. The murky depth of its lake holds a secret that no one has been able to discover, and yet when young Tilly Higgins is tempted to skate on the frozen lake, only an unseen spiritual presence saves her from a near death experience.

What then follows is a remarkably accomplished ghostly read which uses the atmospheric Frost Hollow Hall and its assorted clutch of characters and weaves together a story of unnatural grief and heartbreaking maternal anguish.

From the very start of the book I was enchanted with Tilly, she is a feisty and worthy protagonist and yet the supporting characters of Will, the butcher’s son, and the Mrs. Jessop, the Hall’s unfathomable housekeeper adds a delicious richness to the story. Life below stairs in Frost Hollow Hall really comes to life and the narrative is filled with just the right amount of Gothic gloom so that it never becomes clichéd. The poltergeist activity of flying crockery and ghostly visitations really do make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The lightness of the narrative and the control of both plot and malice made this book an absolute joy to read.

Aimed primarily at the young adult market, this is beautifully written historical fiction and is undoubtedly one of those excellent crossover books which will appeal just as well to adults.

More about Emma Carroll can be found on her website.

My thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for my advance reading copy of this book


Monday, 27 January 2014

Guest Review ~ The Art of Leaving by Anna Stothard

Jaffa and I were delighted to be invited to review this lovely story for 
Lindsay over at The Little Reader Library

Find out what we though about it

Thanks to Lindsay and Alma Books for the opportunity to read and review this  novel of 

My author in the spotlight is ...Phil Suggitt

I am pleased to welcome to my blog

Phil Suggitt


Dreams In Stone

Published May 8th 2013 by Strategic Book Publishing

*~Phil ~ welcome and thank you for discussing your book with us ~*

What inspired you to write Dreams In Stone?

In the days before the net I regularly corresponded with my Aunt Mary, who loved great literature. She wanted me to write a second novel, and sent me a single page idea about an old manor house in a village called Stratwick. It was based on the ruined house in the Derbyshire village of S Wingfield, which she knew well. Sadly my aunt didn't live to read the novel she inspired.

What can you tell us about Dreams in Stone that won’t give too much away?

I guess I can only repeat the page on my website!

What are your main literary influences?

No conscious influences - probably hundreds of unconscious influences! Probably every writer who could write a good, concise yarn that made me think.  

What scares you about writing books?

Writing is a compulsion, but it takes such a long time when you have other work. I am slow. I recall a character in a novel, an artist who abandons painting because he lacks the skill to reproduce the things he sees in his head. Sometimes I feel the same about writing.

What books do you like to read?

A huge range. I am not prejudiced. There are excellent works in all genres. Comics taught me to read and I still enjoy comics and graphic novels. I enjoy a great deal of literary fiction, History and Fine Art. I won't list names, because there are so many good writers I haven't read yet!

What next?

A novel about some people who use a mock-PolynesianTiki restaurant from the1950s to the present

Phil ~ Thank you so much for joining us today. Jaffa and I wish you continued success with your writing.


My Thoughts on Dreams In Stone.

Alec De Groot has recently inherited Stratwick Hall, which is a partly decaying Tudor manor house in the heart of the pretty English village of Stratwick. Alec is a bit of a drifter, he lacks ambition and the responsibility of maintaining his inheritance is really beyond his capabilities. His volatile relationship with his girlfriend, Trisha, seems to be more of a hindrance than a help.  Whilst attempting to spend time at the hall, Alec becomes attuned to the atmosphere and when sinister events begin to occur, Alec becomes entangled in the hall’s mysterious background.

What then follows is a nicely descriptive and interesting look at the dual time history of the hall and how it impinges on local society. The inclusion of some interesting characters from the village really makes the narrative come alive and the increasingly menacing aspect of the hall is well integrated into the story. Overall the interpretation of what is happening makes for interesting reading.

I found much to enjoy in Dreams In Stone, the author clearly has a love of writing and this shows in the thoughtful nature of this narrative.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sunday War Poets...

Laurence Binyon


For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 
England mourns for her dead across the sea. 
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 
There is music in the midst of desolation 
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.


Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), was a poet and art critic, born in Lancaster in 1869.  He worked at the British Museum before going to war, having studied at Trinity College, Oxford. Despite being too old to enlist, in 1915, Binyon volunteered at a British hospital for wounded soldiers in Haute-Marne, France, where he worked as an orderly.

His most famous work, For the Fallen is well known for being used in Remembrance Day services.


Friday, 24 January 2014

Review ~ Lily's Daughter by Diana Raymond

Lily's Daughter by Diana Raymond
Corazon Books

Published 24 January 2014

A poignant coming of age story set in 1930s England, told with warmth and wit

Seventeen year old Jessica Mayne suddenly finds herself alone and unable to pay her rent, when a chance discovery leads to help from unexpected quarters.

A new life beckons, while Jessica learns about past family secrets, and falls in love for the first time, all under the shadow of the advancing war in Europe.


In Lily's Daughter, Diana Raymond sensitively explores the hidden secrets of the Mayne family, a family to whom seventeen year old Jessica Mayne has only just been introduced. Jessica’s arrival at Huntersmeade, the home of her estranged aunt Imogen, opens up a wealth of new possibilities. However, it also introduces Jessica to her charming cousin, Guy, to Deirdre a wealthy heiress and also to Aaron, a Polish Jew, who has his own problems. Jessica's vulnerability clearly shows in the way she allows herself to become entangled in web of hidden family secrets, which very soon threaten to engulf her. 

What then follows is a perfectly produced coming of age story, which thoughtfully steers Jessica through a uniquely troubled time and which also, demonstrates Jessica’s overwhelming need to be loved and cherished. Throughout the story, Jessica has much to learn, not just about her new family, but also about life in general as the implicit trust which she places in people is about to be tested to the absolute limit.

Lily's Daughter, although originally written in the late 1980s, is beautifully reminiscent of a bygone era and captures perfectly the essence of 1930s England, and a time when when Europe was on the cusp of war. As conflict looms, long buried secrets and forgotten memories are poised to threaten the peace and harmony of the Mayne family forever.

Throughout the story the writing is impeccable; there is no doubt that the author has a natural writing skill. The story is warm and witty with an underlying poignancy which is quite endearing. The characters are believable and finely portrayed and very quickly start to forge their individual personalities on the story.  There are some lovely details and a poignant lyricism which makes the story a real pleasure to read and enjoy. It is also lovely to revisit a book which has been long forgotten, written by an author who conjures the spirit of a lost age so skilfully.


Diana Raymond

Diana Raymond was the author of 24 novels, theatre criticism and poems and a play about John Keats.

Her most popular novel Lily’s Daughter is now reprinted in an ebook edition by arrangement with her family.

PUBLISHED 24th January 2014
Corazon Books
Ebook £1.99
ISBN: 978-1-909752-09-2

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

My author in the spotlight is ....Mary D'Arcy

I am delighted to welcome

Mary D'Arcy



The Fine Line; First edition (21 Dec 2012)

*~Mary ~ Welcome to Jaffareadstoo~*

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

I would hope to pique the reader's interest in a number of ways.

First with the story's title. 

In my view the importance of the title cannot be underestimated.  An effective title for me is a selling point. 
Its duty is to grab attention, arouse curiosity, offer the reader an obvious or desired promise. 
Everyone can call up titles that lured them in (Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Pride & Prejudice etc)
But consider for a moment the following title: `Trimalchio in West Egg.`
Would you be sent by it?  Or how about `Under the Red, White and Blue`?  No?  These were two of the many
titles F Scott Fitzgerald considered before deciding on `The Great Gatsby.`  Similarly, `The Dead Un-Dead` became the much more terse and interesting `Dracula.`
So that titles do matter. 
I like to keep mine brief and throw in, if possible, a metaphor to make it memorable.

Next comes the opening sentence/paragraph.  

This simply has to hook the reader.  If it fails to do so they are unlikely to read beyond the first page or two.  
Assuming the reader is hooked, I then concentrate on how to tell/show the story, doing my best to have it mirror reality.
To make it entertaining, a fun ride as it were, I resort to various narrative devices like foreshadowing, the planting of clues here and there, the build up of tension, throwing in the occasional red herring. 
I like to tease, frighten, provoke, have the reader on tenterhooks wondering What on earth will happen next? 

A story works well when the reader really cares about the characters. 

So I work on character development as best I can, on dialogue which tells you more about the character than its creator can, and of course on plot.

I like to conclude each story (if I can at all) on a twist/surprise ending.

Twist endings have become the staples of modern story-telling - perhaps due to television/movies with their inevitable cliffhangers ( the only way for them to get several seasons with a high viewership).  But even if cliffhangers and twists are something of a cliche, I enjoy these enormously in other people's work.  
One likes to be surprised, to not see it coming. You feel satisfied. Entertained. That's what I aim for in my own writing.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?         

I didn't always want to be a writer.  
But I enjoyed story-telling, reading, and writing essays in school.  
It was when I won an award for an essay (written in Irish) I thought how nice it must be to be actually paid for doing something you love, and which comes fairly easily to you.
A second award much later in life made me consider taking up the pen in earnest.  
And it went on from there.  I hope to die (much much later in life) with a pen in my hand.

Which writers have inspired you?

I read just about everything and everyone. Good literature. Bad.
So (with the exception of Alan Bennet,  Joe O'Connor and Guy de Maupassant the clarity of whose prose I hugely admire) I am not inspired by any particular writer.
I did however cut my teeth on the Bronte sisters, Austen, Dickens, George Eliot.
Moving on to Henry James, Bram Stoker, Conan Doyle.
To France and Flaubert, de Maupaussant, Simone de Beavoir, Francoise Sagan.  
Forward to Graham Green, AJ Cronin, Edna O'Brien, Margaret ATwood, John Banville.  
I read thriller writers like Dan Brown, Lee Child, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Ken Bruen and make no apologies for it. Their stories - although formulaic - intrigue and entertain me. 
I love the pared down style of Roddy Doyle and Frank McCourt. And the aga sagas of Joanna Trollope. 
I consider Hanif Kureishi a brilliant, honest, and entertaining writer, and playwright/dramatist Alan Bennett (my hero) in a league of his own. 
I must say however that I have always admired American writers :  Elmore Leonard, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Raymond Carver.
The list goes on.

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

I find time to write if I exert myself and get up even one hour earlier.
I have a day job but carve out time by turning off the television, often for weeks at a time.I rarely go to the cinema (which is not a good idea) but use that time and television viewing time to make notes/read/write.
I ideally like to write in a comfortable armchair, before my open fire.

Unlike others who can write at airports or in cafes or at the seaside, I cannot seem to do this. I need solitude. Quiet.  To be enclosed, preferably at home.
Ideally, a blank wall before me. In that way I can see and hear my characters. There is a movie screen behind my eyelids which I cannot focus on if people are moving about, expresso machines shrieking, and people raising their voices to be heard above them.

Have you been involved in any other writing projects?

I wrote 3 novels in ten years and hope some day to do something with them.
One of them - `Fall of Eve` - was on the Harry Bowling long- list a couple of years ago.
`Tale of Hoffman` was shortlisted for Sitric Win a Book Deal in 2004.
The third - `Killing Time` - was among the final twelve from a long-list of twenty-three entries on the Debut Dagger Competition in 2010.

I'm waiting to retire fully before getting down to editing and re-editing any one of the above.

But in the meantime I carry on with short story writing.  It's what I love most.

Mary ~ Thank you for spending time on our blog. Jaffa and I really enjoyed reading your stories
and we wish you much success with your writing.


My Thoughts on Checking Out & Other Tales 

 Checking Out & Other Tales by Mary D’Arcy

I am not a voracious reader of short stories, but sometimes in the lull which can often happen between books, it’s sometimes nice to read a set of stories which quickly satisfy the need for something just a little bit different. Checking Out & Other Tales is one such set of short stories which gave me just what was needed to suit my mood. The book contains a series of short and snappy tales which cover a whole range of human and sometimes non-human conditions. The Tale of Terry the Turkey made me view the seasonal bird in a whole new light, and the clever twist at the end of The Cry of the Kookaburra brought a wry smile to my face.

There are twenty five stories in all, which are spread over a couple of hundred pages. Some are just a couple of pages long, whilst other take a little more time to read, but overall, I found the book a delightful mix of quirkiness, consideration and the downright eccentric.  All too often, short stories can feel a little bit of a let down as the story finishes almost before it has begun, however, there is no such problem with this book. All twenty-five stories are beautifully written and utterly complete without any need for any more or any less than what is provided.

It’s a great little book to have stashed away for those times when there is an overwhelming need to read something which entertains and brings a smile to your face.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Review ~ The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

Random House UK,Transworld Publishers
2 January 2014

Johnsey Cunliffe is the proverbial lonely boy who struggles to find his place in the world. Constantly victimised and bullied by his peers, Johnsey’s landscape in rural Ireland is as bleak as it is traumatic. His only defence is the love and support of his parents but their valiant attempt to shield Johnsey from the vagaries of life comes to a cruel end with their untimely deaths. With the demise of his parents, Johnsey is faced with a responsibility, he neither understands nor wants.

What then follows is a year in Johnsey’s life as he struggles to come to terms with an existence he doesn’t understand. The story is told in a sensitive and insightful way and the compassion contained within Donal Ryan’s writing really showcases the juxtaposition of those whose greed and corruption seeks to exploit Johnsey’s vulnerability.

Beautifully portrayed, with genuine empathy, the story abounds with a realistic sense of time and place. The unforgiving characters, who seek to exploit innocence, and Johnsey’s own inimitable style, make this a book to remember, and which inevitably lingers long after the last page is turned.

Recommended Read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers.


About the Author

Donal Ryan was born in a village in north Tipperary in 1977. 
His first novel,  (2012), won the 2012 Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and was  also longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Monday, 20 January 2014

My author in the spotlight is ....Andrew Crofts

I am delighted to welcome

Andrew Crofts

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. 

By Toby Phillips

cover - Secrets of the Italian Gardener

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (26 July 2013)

Available as a paperback or on kindle

*~Andrew ~ Welcome to jaffareadstoo~*

What inspired you to write Secrets of the Italian Gardener?

I was invited, in my capacity as a ghostwriter, to take tea with Mrs Mubarak in the palace in Cairo, just a few months before the Arab Spring toppled her husband and family from power. I was very struck by the difference between the calm, elegant world she inhabited inside the palace and the hot, crowded, angry streets outside. I think it was that evening that the seeds of the idea took root.

What can you tell us about Secrets of the Italian Gardener that won’t give too much away?

I have worked a great deal in recent years with the very rich and the very powerful, and I have been struck by how interconnected they are and how their grip on the money and the power is growing ever tighter, the gap between them and the rest of us widening at an incredible rate.

This story is set amongst those people and also asks the reader to consider whether or not they too could be corrupted if the price was right. Suppose you were asked to choose between the life of your daughter and the lives of a few hundred villagers in another country who you have never met and know nothing about. Are you sure you would make the right choice? What is the right choice? 

How different is it writing something as you, rather that ghost writing on behalf of someone else?

Oddly, it doesn't feel that different. When I am ghosting I pretty much feel as if I am that person while I am actually writing - a bit like method acting, I guess.

It's storytelling through another's eyes,  as is writing fiction with a narrator like the ghost in "Secrets of the Italian Gardener".

 What are your main literary influences?

Graham Greene was the main influence in making me want to travel to the more exotic parts of the world, along with travel writers like Paul Theroux and Jan Morris. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald piqued my interest in the very rich and the ways in which their lives are made different.

What scares you about writing?

It's always a worry that no one else will be interested in anything you have to say.

What books do you like to read?

I tend to read around whatever subjects I am writing about at the time, so I read both fiction and non-fiction, old and new. I am led to books as much for research purposes as pleasure, although the two often co-incide.

What next?

I have been commissioned to write a memoir, "Confessions of a Ghostwriter" which is due to be published in the summer.

Andrew ~ thank you so much for spending time on our blog.

 Jaffa and I wish you continued success.

My thoughts on Secrets of the Italian Gardener

In the Secrets of the Italian Gardener, Mo, a Middle Eastern dictator enlists the help of a ghostwriter, ostensibly to write his autobiography, whilst at the same time enshrining his dictatorship in history. Once inside the luxurious palace, the ghostwriter finds his time with Mo to be quite challenging, and it is only when he meets with the eponymous Italian gardener, that he can start to rationalise, not just the atmosphere inside the palace, but also to understand the challenging events in his own life.

This well thought out novella takes the reader into the inner sanctum of a Middle Eastern dictator. The story is quite fascinating and the thoughtful nature of the prose allows remarkable insight into the greed and corruption which lies at the heart of a fraudulent regime. The author clearly knows and understands this world, and uses this knowledge to good effect.

If you are looking for something just a little bit different , then I think that this perceptive little story is well worth a read.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday War Poets...

Rupert Chawner Brooke


Rupert Brooke Society Logo

The Treasure

When colour goes home into the eyes,
   And lights that shine are shut again,
With dancing girls and sweet birds' cries
   Behind the gateways of the brain;
And that no-place which gave them birth, shall close
The rainbow and the rose: -

Still may Time hold some golden space
   Where I'll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
   And count, and touch, and turn them o'er,
Musing upon them; as a mother, who
Has watched her children all the rich day through,
Sits, quiet-handed, in the fading light,
When children sleep, ere night.

August 1914

Friday, 17 January 2014

Review ~ Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Atlantic Books
2 January 2014

Daniel Kelly’s dream for fame and fortune has been measured against the sacrifices which his family have made on his behalf and he cherishes a dream that his talent for swimming will take him away from his working class background. However, when Daniel spectacularly fails at his first major international swimming championship, he begins to spiral into a whirlpool of destructive behaviour which has repercussions, not just on his own life, but also on those around him.

What then follows is an uncomfortable read which dissects a life which has turned sour with bitterness, and demonstrates what happens when all the enchantment and mystery, has turned into disappointment and failed expectation. Once he hits rock bottom, Daniel Kelly has no place else to go and so must learn to control his behaviour if he is to survive.

Like Tsiolkas’s previous book The Slap, Barracuda gets off to a slow start, there is much to take in and the expletives within the narrative take some getting used to. However, putting all this to one side, when the story does get going, and for me it took a good couple of hundred pages before I started to feel even the remotest connection with Daniel, then the story of impressive failure really starts to get under your skin.

My feeling is that the book will be something of a ‘marmite’ read – you’ll either love it, hate it, or be somewhere in the middle. I guess I’m still hovering somewhere around the middle with, it must be said, no great enthusiasm, either for the writing, or the eventual outcome of the story.

My thanks to Real Readers for my copy of this book


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Review ~ What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

jacket image for What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - large version

Special Reissue Release

16th January 2014

Was losing her memory the best thing that ever happened to her.

Alice bumps her head on the gym floor and wakes up believing that she is twenty-nine and excitedly looking forward to the birth of her first baby. What Alice doesn't understand is why she is in a gym, with people peering over her. All she really wants is her husband, Nick, and a return to normality. But what was once normal for Alice sadly is no more, and gradually as she is made aware that in reality she is a thirty-nine year old mother of three children, Alice’s whole life beings to crumble.

What then follows is a story which very quickly takes you into the notion of a woman struggling, not just with her with her identity, but also with her place in the world. And as Alice faces each new revelation there are whole range of emotions to explore from disbelief, to euphoria, and back to sadness and grief, as Alice mourns the life she once thought so precious, but which is now as ephemeral as the wind.

Liane Moriarty is a very talented Australian author. She knows instinctively how to hold the reader in the palm of her hand, and effortlessly moves between scenes, so that what could so very easily become contrived and predictable soon becomes heart-warming and convincing. The story is very easy to read; I found that I was flashing through the book in comfortable companionship with a delightful array of characters, who all add a certain richness to the narrative, which I found very appealing.

I was much taken with Liane Morarty’s book; The Husband’s Secret and am equally thrilled that

 What Alice Forgot has now been reissued.

What Alice Forgot is available from 16th January 2014 in the UK from all good book shops.

Highly Recommended.


My thanks to Katie at Penguin Books UK for my copy of this book.

Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of five internationally best-selling novels Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, and The Husband’s Story


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Review ~ Wake by Anna Hope

Random House UK
Transworld publishers
16 January 2014

Five Days in November 1920

The story takes place over five days in November 1920 and as the body of the Unknown Soldier makes its way from the fields of Northern France, to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey, three very different women are coming to terms with their own personal losses.
Hetty, is a dancer at the Hammersmith Palais, she witnesses the emotional instability of the returning soldiers as they pay their sixpence for her to waltz with them. Ada is a mother struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of her son, Michael. And Eva is a rich but bored socialite, who whiles away her time at a lowly paid job in the pensions office. The interlinking of these individual accounts does not, at first, appear obvious, but gradually as the layers of the story are peeled away, the personal stories of overwhelming loss and devastation are revealed in stark brutality.
The story is beautifully written, rich in historical detail, which is made all the more poignant by the role the Unknown Soldier played in public consciousness in the aftermath of the Great War.

I am sure that this centenary year of the commemoration of the start of World War One will see many fictional accounts of wartime. Wake will, for me, be one of the memorable ones.

Highly recommended.

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


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sunday War Poets..

To commemorate the start of Great War in 1914

I hope to share, over the next few months, the poignant work of the First World War Poets.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen


Wilfred Owen portrait

Portrait by kind permission

© David Roberts, the War Poetry Website

"All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poet must be truthful"



War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art's ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love's wine's thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.

For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed. 

Wilfred Owen


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Colossus by Alexander Cole ~ Blog Tour 2014

I am delighted to welcome 

Alexander Cole

 And to be  part of this 2014 Blog Tour


Help celebrate the publication



Published 2 January 2014
Atlantic Books

Book Blurb

Babylon, 323 BC. Alexander the Great has survived every effort to kill him. Restless, ruthless he wonders which world to conquer next. He has a new weapon - the war elephants he brought back from India. He also has a conquest in mind - the fabulous empire of Carthage.

As Alexander plots, a war elephant disturbs the peace of the camp. Only one young mahout has the courage to stop his killing rampage. And when Alexander notices his bravery, Gajendra begins a meteoric climb through the ranks of the Macedonian army. As captain of the elephants he glimpses the ultimate prize. But to become the heir to Alexander's throne he must betray everything he loves...

Colossus is an epic tale of massive evil, pitiless gods and burning cities, of dwarves, priestesses and kings. It is the story of two men - one with colossal ambition, and one who reaches for undreamed-of power. All set against the warp of history as Alexander's army approaches the gates of Rome.


Alexander ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for your novel , Colossus?

I was reading a book called The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. His descriptions of his relationships with these extraordinary animals at his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand in South Africa really startled me.

Then I saw a photograph of Hannibal and the famous Alpine crossing with his war elephants in the Punic Wars. It somehow seemed obscene, after what I had just read. I started to think about writing a novel where one of the central characters was a war elephant.

What can you tell us about the story which will pique the reader's interest?
Someone described it as Warhorse with Alexander the Great set within an alternative history. I guarantee a reader won’t have ever come across anything quite like it.

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

How much elephants eat! The Indians had a saying, that if you wanted to destroy your enemy, then give him an elephant, because keeping it would ruin him.

And words do not do justice to Alexander’s nature; for mine, a true psychopathic genius. I was surprised how history has lionised and distorted him. To me, he was a monster. His acute intelligence only made him more terrifying.

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

Writing has been my living for 30 years so making time to write is part of the discipline that has enabled that. If I don’t write, I don’t eat.

And I can write anywhere; on a table, on a sofa, in an airport lounge, during a riot. (Yes that happened in La Paz.) It really doesn’t matter to me. If I have a story in my head- and I always do - then I’m writing, wherever I am.

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

I just published a book about Isabella - under my other name. And yes, I have my next novel planned - or rather, novels. It has the same epic nature as COLOSSUS but over a series of six books. Or perhaps a sequel to COLOSSUS. We’ll see.

Alexander ~ Thank you for your insightful answers to our questions.
Jaffa and I have enjoyed being part of your blog tour.
We wish you continuing success.


My Thoughts on Colossus

Before I started reading Colossus I didn't know very much about either elephants or Alexander the Great, but the epic journey undertaken in the story of Colossus goes a long way in explaining much about both. The story begins with an introduction to Colossus, a huge war elephant who is erratically but successfully managed by one young mahout, Gajendra, who alone has the courage to manage this colossal beast. As part of Alexander the Great’s war entourage, Gajendra starts a impressive rise through the ranks of the Macedonian army to become captain of the war-elephants, but he also sees at first-hand how corruption and power are diminishing Alexander’s hold on reality.

What then follows is a well imagined alternate history, in which it is assumed that Alexander survived the Battle of Macedonia in 323BC to lead his battle troops on to the very gates of Rome.

For me, the book got off to a slow start, there is much to take in, with a complex network of characters and places to get to grips with, but about a third of the way into the novel and the story started to come together and became much more interesting.  There is no doubt that the author has the ability to tell a good story, his manipulation of the narrative and his imaginative use of history, is something that I am sure will appeal to those who have an interest in alternate history novels.

My thanks to Alison at Atlantic Books for my advance copy of Colossus and for the invitation to take part in this blog tour.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Review ~ The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Published 7 January 2014
Tinder Press

Following the lives of two women, The Invention of Wings takes us on a journey to Charleston in the deep American South in the early part of the nineteenth century. Born into a wealthy plantation family, the Grimké sisters understand the concept of slavery, and yet when Sarah Grimké turns eleven, she is presented with the gift of a ten year old slave child, who is known as Hetty ‘Handful’ Grimké. Taken from her mother, and wrapped in lavender ribbons, Hetty is presented to Sarah, ostensibly to become Sarah’s waiting maid. Sarah’s reluctance to accept Hetty as a ‘gift’, the repercussions of this action, and Sarah’s response to it, reverberate, not just on immediate impact, but on the continuing stability of the lives of those around them.

Spanning the next thirty-five years, this is the story, not just of Sarah and Hetty, but also, of those who lives come into contact with them.

Beautifully written, and based on the true and astonishing story of Sarah Grimké’s passionate fight against the use of slavery, the novel is a sensitive and heartfelt evocation of a world, hopefully long gone, in which dreadful crimes where perpetrated against humankind.

Overall, this is a difficult book to ‘enjoy’ as it reveals a shocking world of possession and rejection. However, running alongside the story of overwhelming wickedness and prejudice, the book's lasting legacy is that an abiding goodness can be found,  if hope is never abandoned.

Highly Recommended Read.

My thanks to NetGalley and Headline/Tinder Press for my advance reading copy of this book.

Sue Monk Kidd 

Sue Monk Kidd is the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.

When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon, spending more than 2½ years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and 8 million copies worldwide. Bees was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004, long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize in England, and won numerous awards.

The Mermaid Chair spent 24 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching the #1 position, and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. Kidd lives in Florida with her husband.