Monday, 29 February 2016

Blog Tour ~ A guest post by Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher's Hook..

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to welcome you to the first stop on 


Janet ~ a huge welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for sharing your thoughts about keeping a diary and your inspiration for your novel, The Butcher's Hook...

When I was nine, I started keeping a diary. Using those tiny (they measure about three inches by four)  Letts page-a -day journals , I faithfully recorded my doings and thoughts. For years, as I moved house, I packed the little volumes up without opening them. About twenty years ago, contributing to Danny Baker's radio show, the subject of diaries came up. I mentioned mine and, in the way of these things, Danny suggested I read some extracts aloud. For a few weeks I opened their pages at random and offered my young self up to public edification. My first thought was- I was rather priggish. Secondly, I was massively self-absorbed. I was a young teenager in the Seventies. Quite large events were happening on the world stage and closer to home- the Beatles broke up, we went decimal, terrorists attacked the Munich Olympics, that sort of thing. They mostly passed my teenage self by. We might have had troops in Northern Ireland, I was more concerned with whether Helen Copp would turn up to choir practice. We might have won the World Cup - but would Upper Sixth Greg fancy me?

Reading more diaries over the years - it's a form that's always fascinated me, with its  'is this for history and for me?' stance, I realised that I often wasn't alone in this solipsistic attitude. Most people are concerned with living their lives, getting through things and recording the prosaic. History is what happens when you look back- as you write your diary it's just daily life. Some notable diarists have, of course, coloured in our knowledge of past times with their vivid accounts of political and social events. And in the course of my research, I was very grateful to them. But I'm just as indebted to the ordinary note-takers, the letter writers and list-makers who had no idea that what they wrote would be held to any account. I drew on their domestic doings with glee.

While I love stories set in times gone by, when I started writing The Butcher's Hook I had two objectives - aside from those concerned with characters and plot. I wanted Georgian London as a backdrop, not centre stage ( the people I imagined were not at the mercy of great historical events) and I wanted to flesh out my (hardly original ) certainty that, despite their world looking, sounding and indeed smelling different from ours, they felt the same. All the big emotions -like  love, hate, greed, sorrow and the rest- and all the small ones, too -such as irritation or laziness-  haven't changed over the years.

That's where my diaries came in useful. Granted, I chose a year - 1763- where nothing much did happen (I didn't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the story with neglecting to mention a big battle or without anyone dying of a virulent, widespread illness) but I wanted Anne to navigate her path without commenting on the bigger picture. Just as Janet Michell Ellis did. And in that respect - but obviously in NO other, we're very alike!

About the Author

Janet Ellis trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes. 

She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. The Butcher's Hook is her first novel.

Janet Ellis at Lyric theatre, Hammersmith   26.5.09

Do visit the author on her website

Follow on Twitter @missjanetellis

The Butcher's Hook was published on the 25th February by Two Roads Books


Huge thanks to Janet for her kind invitation to join her blog tour and for giving us such a fascinating insight into her inspiration for The Butcher's Hook.

Please visit the other stops on the tour which runs until Friday 4th March

I'm in great company with Vanisreading today where you can read a Q&A with Janet Ellis.



Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered... Guest Author, Georgia Hill

As part of my ongoing tribute during this centenary of WW1, I am delighted to feature the work of some excellent authors who have written novels set during The Great War

Please welcome the author

Georgia Hill

The inspiration for writing comes in many shapes and forms. I’ve been writing and thinking about While I Was Waiting for a long time. Maybe much longer than I think. So, what made me write a book set during World War 1?

After a sunshine-filled, hot summer of political uncertainty, August 4th 1914 saw Britain declare war on Germany. It was to become one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, with an estimated 9.7 million dead.

One of the war dead was my great-grandfather, David Batham.

He was killed in 1915. Too old to enlist, he volunteered anyway. His brother had been taken prisoner early in the war and it made David determined to serve his King and country. Fatally injured by an exploding shell, he left behind a widow and three young children.

My great-grandfather was often talked about. His son, accompanied by my father, made the journey to his military grave in La Brique Cemetery in Belgium. His daughters, who I remember as old ladies, would reminisce but not just with pride. Their loss, fifty or so years later, was clear to me, even as a young child.

Maybe because of this, my father developed a passionate interest in the Great War, which he passed down to me. We were a reading family and made weekly trips to the local library – it was the highlight of my week! My childhood home was full of books. My father was a keen reader of biography and history and my mother still loves to read romance. It’s no surprise that my reading taste is wide. I have several of my father’s favourite books and one of them is this.

Great War Book.

It’s not a book for the faint-hearted and certainly not one I would let children look at. However, when I was young, it held a morbid fascination for me. It’s a collection of photographs which depict the horrific realities of the Great War. The reader is spared nothing. You are left in no doubt as to what happens to frail human bodies when faced with shells and explosions. Uncensored, it possibly wouldn’t be published now and once seen, it stays with you.

I remained interested in World War 1 as a teenager. In the late 70s two series hit the television screen. One was an adaptation of K M Peyton’s Flambards books and one was Testament of Youth. I loved both, read the books and strongly identified with the heroines. Later, I gobbled up Sarah Harrison’s much underrated The Flowers of the Field and read Birdsong just as avidly.

More recently, when looking round a National Trust house, I was moved by seeing the bedroom of a son of the house. It was kept just as it was when he had left it to go to war, never to return. And in another big house, I learned that not just one son went to war but all three. And all three died.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how this  percolated down to make me want to write While I Was Waiting. As well as having all these things to inspire me, a writer soaks up conflict, universal themes and big issues. The Great War offers all that and more.

It’s 101 years since World War 1 began. It paved the way for a new Europe, another world war and changed the lives of everyone, be they serving soldier, munitions girl or fatherless child. It continues to shock, horrify and inspire even now. While I Was Waiting is my tiny and very humble tribute to all those who loved, suffered, fought and died.

I used to live in London, where I worked in the theatre. Then I got the bizarre job of teaching road safety to the U.S. navy – in Marble Arch!

A few years ago, I did an ‘Escape to the Country’. I now live in a tiny Herefordshire village, where I scandalise the neighbours by not keeping ‘country hours’ and being unable to make a decent pot of plum jam. Home is a converted oast house, which I share with my two beloved spaniels, husband (also beloved) and a ghost called Zoe.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely, though prefer to set my novels closer to home. Perhaps more research is needed? I’ve always wanted to base a book in the Caribbean!

I am addicted to Belgian chocolate, Jane Austen and, most of all, Strictly Come Dancing. Keep dancing, everyone!

Buying and contact links:

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @georgiawrites

Huge thanks to Georgia for sharing her inspiration for her interest in WW1

It's been a real delight to have you as our guest today.


Saturday, 27 February 2016

Blog Tour ~ The Last Thing I Remember by Deborah Bee

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be  hosting today's stop on the 

Blog Tour

Part of the Bonnier Publishing Group

Imagine waking up and being unable to move, unable to see, unable to communicate. Your past is a blank piece of paper and you don’t even know your own name. But you can hear. And the only way to piece together your life is to listen to the people around you…

Hi Deborah ~ thank you for inviting us to be part of your blog tour and for sharing your inspiration for 

I think it all started with Betrayal, by Harold Pinter that I saw in Covent Garden. The story is told backwards. The play begins with a couple who are separating. They’ve been having an affair for years. The next scene is earlier; they look younger and are still in the throes of the relationship. Each scene goes backwards until in the final scene, we see how they met. It’s a great twist at the end. Not what I was expecting at all.

My story starts with a coma victim, Sarah, with Locked In syndrome. She is brought into hospital after an apparent mugging. She has no memory. She can’t move, see, blink, breathe on her own. But she can hear. So she is piecing her life together through what her family and the medical team are saying. As she begins to remember her childhood, the reader is taken back in time to discover who Sarah is and how her experiences have shaped her personality and brought her to this point.

The other thing I love about Betrayal is how Pinter plays with our sympathy. Each scene casts a different character as the baddy and the victim. By the end of the play you’ve felt alternately sorry for/angry with the couple having the affair, and their spouses. I tried to bring some of that idea to The Last Thing I Remember. I wanted to misdirect the readers through the unreliable evidence presented by Sarah, through lack of memory or understanding and Kelly, her fourteen year old next door neighbour.

Nora Ephron’s Heartburn is always by my bed for a quick dose of inspiration. The group therapy I stole from her. In her version her heroine, Rachel, gets followed to her group by a thief who steals the diamond ring that she had been given by her husband. When she gets the ring back and takes it to the jewelers to get it mended, she discovers her husband has bought a diamond necklace for someone else, the woman he is having an affair with. It is so brilliantly funny while being heartbreakingly sad.

My heroine, Sarah, is in a heartbreakingly sad situation. Her doctors are doubtful. Her family is desperate. So I introduced an antidote to Sarah, Kelly – a second protagonist who is loud and funny, foul-mouthed (very) and sassy. I alternated the narration chapter by chapter. That dual narrative structure allowed Sarah to reveal things about Kelly that Kelly would never say. And vice versa. And it relieved the tension that Sarah’s situation created.

Gone Girl came at a good time for me. I was really unsure of the dual narrative structure because everyone advises against it. It was so successful in Gone Girl that I had the confidence to keep going. 

About the Author

Deborah Bee studied fashion journalism at Central St Martins. She has worked at various magazines and newspapers including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Times and the Guardian as a writer, a fashion editor and later an editor. Currently, she is a Creative Director in luxury retail.

Do visit the other stops on the blog tour which runs between February 25th and March 5th 2016.

Huge thanks to the author for sharing her inspiration for The Last Thing I Remember and also to Hannah at Midas PR for her invitation to join this blog tour.


Friday, 26 February 2016

Blog Tour ~ February Fiesta with Hannah Fielding...


Hannah Fielding

Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean. 

To date, Hannah has published four passionate, evocative novels: Burning Embers, a ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya; the award-winning Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’, set in Italy; and books 1 and 2 of the Andalusian Nights trilogy, set in sultry Spain, entitled Indiscretion and Masquerade. She is currently working on her fifth book, Legacy, which will publish this spring.

24663271  18816562  Indiscretion (Andalucian Nights, #1) 26019431

A glimpse of Burning Embers....


When she woke up, the sun was setting rapidly, casting its reflection on the treetops, the rocks, and the water, painting them with the most beautiful shades of orange, purple, and crimson. The vague recollection of a dream played on the edge of her mind in which Rafe whispered her name tenderly and brushed her lips with a kiss. Coral dragged herself up on her elbows, her eyes still filled with sleep, her body still numb with a pleasurable indolence. She blinked, and then her eyes widened. Was she still dreaming?

He emerged out of the lake, the declining sun drenching him with aureate light, the droplets on his body iridescent in their beams. He walked confidently toward her, almost every inch of his sculptured body exposed in his black swimsuit. Each sharp contour of muscle glistened, each limb unfolded with lithe grace as he approached, his eyes riveted on her. Coral watched spellbound, a yearning surging up within her, eager and expectant. The air around them trembled with infinite anticipation.

He was taking his time, and Coral felt that he was deliberately delaying, tormenting them both with the ache of unsatisfied desire until it was so overwhelming that neither of them could bear it any longer.

A few paces from her, Rafe stilled. Coral stared up at him, her lips slightly parted, and their eyes met and held. He reached out a hand, his face intent.
©Hannah Fielding

You can read my review of Burning Embers here

Hannah is offering this wonderful prize in this amazing Blog Tour giveaway..

Main Prize – A £100/$150 Amazon Gift Card

Runners-up Prizes – Each of Hannah Fielding’s novels in paperback (INT postage)

Find out More Details here

Please use this Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway

Huge thanks to Hannah for inviting me to be part of her fabulous February Fiesta Blog Tour and good luck to all those entering this generous, giveaway opportunity.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

Blog Tour ~ Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's Blog Tour stop on

**Publication Day**


The Borough Press
An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
February 25th 2016

Edith Hind, the beautiful, earnest Cambridge post-grad living on the outskirts of the city has left nothing behind but a streak of blood and her coat hanging up for her boyfriend, Will, to find. The news spreads fast: to her parents, prestigious doctor Sir Ian and Lady Hind, and straight on to the police. 

Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw soothes her insomnia with the din of the police radio she keeps by her bed. After another bad date, it takes the crackling voices to lull her to sleep. But one night she hears something. A girl is missing. For Manon the hunt for Edith Hind might be the career-defining case she has been waiting for. For the family this is the beginning of their nightmare. 

As Manon sinks her teeth into the investigation and lines up those closest to Edith, she starts to smooth out the kinks in their stories and catch the eyes that won’t meet hers. But when disturbing facts come to light, the stakes jolt up and Manon has to manage the wave of terror that erupts from the family.

My thoughts:

When talented post-grad student, Edith Hind goes missing, only a smear of blood left in the kitchen of her home suggests that foul play may have played a part in her disappearance and yet, for DS Manon Bradshaw and her investigative team, the clues don't really stack up, and what's left behind starts to open up more questions than it does answers. All too poignantly, those who are left behind must try to rationalise what has happened, but for her parents, boyfriend, and best friend, Edith’s disappearance is so out of character that they can find little rational explanation. However, piece by tantalising piece the story starts to unravel, and very soon it becomes obvious that there is more going on in Edith’s life than could ever have been imagined.

Some of the story, particularly at the start can seem a little slow, but do stay with it, as once the investigation gets underway, the action, whilst never frenetic, develops quite nicely into a cleverly imagined whodunit. There are several sub plots, which add interest, and I especially enjoyed getting to know and understand DS Bradshaw. She is quite an enigma, often appears lost and lonely in her personal life, and yet is focused and determined when working professionally. I rather liked this flaw in her character as it made her appear more realistic. The other characters, which flit into and out of the story, are nicely balanced and add nice distinctions of light and shade. There are lots of twists and turns, red herrings and also some whopping great clues, which all add up to a really satisfying read.

I think that DS Manon Bradshaw and her investigative team could be developed into a really good crime series. I’m sure that in the hands of this talented writer more adventures could very easily be persuaded to come their way...

Best read with… Several glasses of a rich, organic red wine, heavy on the tannin and slices of mature cheese on crumbly crackers...

Courtesy of Susie Steiner

Find Susie Steiner her on website

Follow on Twitter @SusieSteiner1

Do visit the other stops on the tour

My thanks to the author for her invitation to join in with this blog tour and to Hayley at Harper Collins for sending me the ARC of Missing, Presumed.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review ~ Viral by Helen Fitzgerald..

Faber and Faber Ltd

When twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen you in a compromising situation which makes you slither and crawl with humiliation, there really is nothing that you can do to feel remotely better about yourself.  Teenager, Su Oliphant-Brotheridge is about to find out just how bad her life can get when a compromising video clip of herself in a Magaluf nightclub goes viral.

What then follows is a very modern story about the pitfalls of social media, particularly when mobile uploads can make or break people in milliseconds. The author does a commendable job of weaving the story away from its rather shocking opening sentence and delivers a salutary tale about the quirks of modern family life and of the petty jealousies which so often simmer below the surface. I think it also highlighted the insecurity of someone living in an environment not of their own choosing, of the heart-breaking search for lost identity and the complicated enigma of sibling rivalry.

The story sets off a cracking pace and never falters in what it sets out to deliver which is a moralistic story about what happens when private goes public. There is no doubt that many readers will pick up the book just to read the six words which make up its opening line, but the book is about so much more than that. It’s not all about shabby voyeurism, it’s also about calculated revenge and the search for identity, it’s about family and a feeling of belonging and it’s also about hope for a future which at first glance seems damaged beyond repair.

Perhaps if more people were to read of the unimaginable horror of what ‘could’ happen when a mobile phone gets into the hands of someone with no moral scruples, maybe, just maybe… it might make them think twice about what they share with the world.

Best read with…a strong cup of tea and a plate of your favourite biscuits…

Helen Fitzgerald

Find on Twitter @FitzHelen

My thanks to Faber and Faber and NetGalley for my copy of  Viral. 


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Review ~ Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat

Perrat Publishing
November 2015

Blood Rose Angel takes us back to a dark and dangerous time, when Héloïse, the local midwife is forced to choose between her family’s wellbeing, or those who are suffering the devastating effects of the Black Death, the notorious plague which strikes at the very heart of the medieval community of Lucie-sur-Vionne.

As always, time and place is beautifully authentic and from the start of the novel I was transported back in time to the complicated dangers of living in 14th century rural France.  Arm in arm with Héloïse, I wrapped myself in a warm cloak, and travelled alongside her as she tended to the travail of the peasant women of Lucie-sur-Vionne. The tension is palpable; the shadowy atmosphere is filled with gloom and is all too sadly complicated by uneducated prejudices and widespread hysteria. Inevitably, Héloïse finds out to her cost, that with knowledge comes responsibility, and as the superstition of local folk is allowed to fester and gain momentum, perilous forces take flight, and even as she is drawn into the fight for survival, always at the heart of the novel, is Héloïse’s absolute conviction that she is following her destiny as the keeper of the Bone Angel talisman.

What I like about this author’s writing style is the way in which she allows both characterisation and plot to have equal importance, with neither one attempting to outshine the other. The medieval setting comes gloriously alive, with all the sights,sounds and smells of the medieval world, and yes, also the petty indifferences, which are so reminiscent of this dangerous time. However, Blood Rose Angel is also inhabited by vibrant and memorable characters who take command of their story and as they leap fully formed onto the page, we are allowed a tantalising glimpse into the intricacies and sadness of their daily lives.

Having travelled the Bone Angel Talisman journey from its inception with Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel, there is no doubt that Blood Rose Angel is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.  I was enthralled in the story from start to finish, and by the end, was completely immersed in medieval French culture, and it must be said, rather sorry to say goodbye to Heloise. However, as with all good stories which have been well told, I know that her story will always quietly linger in the shadows of my imagination.

Whilst Blood Rose Angel concludes the story, as with Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel, all the novels can be read comfortably as standalone historical fiction.

Best read with.... wooden cups of yeasty ale and rich, currant pastries liberally soaked in wine ....

Spirit of Lost Angels 18717717 27420618

About the Author

Visit Liza Perrat on her website
Follow on Twitter @LizaPerrat

Amazon UK

Triskele Books

Read an extract from Blood Rose Angel 

You can sign up for her email newsletter where you can find a fabulous free copy of
Ill fated Rose a short story that inspired The Bone Angel series,

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


Monday, 22 February 2016

Review ~ Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

19 May 2016

Reminiscent of the style of Daphne du Maurier, Black Rabbit Hall’s air of Gothic mystery invokes the long forgotten summer of 1969, when everything changed for the Alton family.

The four Alton children, Amber, Toby, Barney and Kitty, spend idyllic summers at Pencraw Hall in Cornwall, which due to its proliferation of rabbits, is known locally as Black Rabbit Hall. They spend cheerful carefree days running wild as only children can, sharing games, building dens, chasing rabbits and squabbling amongst themselves. But even the most idyllic paradise is not without tragedy and on the night of a great storm something happens which will change the lives of the Alton children forever. Thirty years later, Lorna and her fiancé, Jon are looking for the perfect wedding venue and Pencraw Hall, whilst far from perfect, seems to reach out to Lorna, although she doesn’t know why.

What then follows is an interesting family saga which looks, at both the Alton story and Lorna’s connection to it. The mystery at the heart of the novel is nicely explored and whilst the story seems rather slow and languid at times, it does nurture a real sense of atmosphere. The faded grandeur of Black Rabbit Hall becomes almost as much a character in the novel as the people and I enjoyed exploring its dark and shadowy corners, and of course, speculated on the mystery which was being revealed, piece by tantalising piece.

There is much to enjoy within the story, as the author does a commendable job of recreating the past. The secrets and lies at the heart of the novel are well explored and both the older and the more modern parts of the story come together well. In the hands of this competent author, the mystery of Black Rabbit Hall, which has been hidden for thirty years, is about to be revealed.

 Best Read with…. glasses of ice cold milk and fat pieces of Peggy’s ginger cake.


Find more information on her website 

Follow on Twitter @evepchase

Find her on Facebook 

Amazon UK

My thanks to Penguin and Reading Panel for my review copy of 

Black Rabbit Hall

Available to buy online and at all good books shops from the 19th May 2016


Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered ....

On the 21st February 1916 the Battle of Verdun began

The Battle of Verdun, was fought from 21 February – 18 December 1916, it was one of the largest battles of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies.

The battle raged for ten terrible months and resulted in over 250,000 deaths making it one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the war.

Thousands were injured,and so horrific was the fighting that others, quite simply, disappeared without trace.

Today the forest of Verdun is littered with the scars of its painful past. The ground is still littered with unexploded shells, strewn with barbed wire and poisoned with arsenic.

The forest is considered a no-go zone area and nothing grows there.


THERE are five men in the moonlight
That by their shadows stand;
Three hobble humped on crutches,
And two lack each a hand.

Frogs somewhere near the roadside
Chorus their chant absorbed:
But a hush breathes out of the dream-light
That far in heaven is orbed.

It is gentle as sleep falling
And wide as thought can span,
The ancient peace and wonder
That brims the heart of man.

Beyond the hills it shines now
On no peace but the dead,
On reek of trenches thunder-shocked,
Tense fury of wills in wrestle locked,
A chaos crumbled red!

The five men in the moonlight
Chat, joke, or gaze apart.
They talk of days and comrades,
But each one hides his heart.

They wear clean cap and tunic,
As when they went to war;
A gleam comes where the medal's pinned:
But they will fight no more.

The shadows, maimed and antic,
Gesture and shape distort,
Like mockery of a demon dumb,
Out of the hell-din whence they come,
That dogs them for his sport:

But as if dead men were risen
And stood before me there
With a terrible fame about them blown
In beams of spectral air,

I see them, men transfigured
As in a dream, dilate
Fabulous with the Titan-throb
Of battling Europe's fate;

For history's hushed before them,
And legend flames afresh,—
Verdun, the name of thunder,
Is written on their flesh.

Laurence Binyon


Saturday, 20 February 2016

Review ~ Redemption Song by Laura Wilkinson

Accent Press

After a catastrophic event, Saffron retreats to the peaceful Welsh town of Coed Mawr. There she learns to shield herself from further hurt and in doing so, the impenetrable barrier which surrounds her seems insurmountable. Living with her mother, Rain, is never going to be easy, as both women have sorrows which they would rather not explore. There is much to understand between mother and daughter, made all the more complex by Rain’s role as the local Baptist minister and by the secrets which exist between them. And then, into the mix comes Joe, a man with enough secrets of his own, a loner, who starts to take an interest in Saffron, which then opens up a whole different web of intrigue.

After an initial slow start, the novel gradually expands into a perceptive look at the minutiae of lives irretrievably damaged by circumstances. The story is well controlled and the characters, whilst not always likeable, have a realistic edge to them which helps to carry the story along. I think that the author has done a fine job in looking at what makes people act in the way they do. The ambiguity of all of their lives is well explored, and there are some interesting turn of events, which help to maintain interest throughout the story.

So, all in all, I found this to be a good read, with a character driven plot and more than enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.

Best Read with….Croissants, buttery and warm from the oven and a dark roast coffee, thick with cream..

Visit her Facebook page

Twitter @ScorpioScribble

Find a guest post by the author here

My thanks to Laura Wilkinson for sharing her novel with me.


Friday, 19 February 2016

Review ~ At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

The Borough Press
An imprint of Harper Collins
March 8th 2016

" The problem was, you couldn't go west of California, and Robert had never run anywhere but west..."

Black Swamp, Ohio, in 1838, is a place sinking in the mud of its own despair. James and Sadie Goodenough just about manage to eke out a living in the black mud which gives the swamp its name. Misery and desolation seem to go hand in hand, and even the simple joy of raising a family doesn’t lift either James or Sadie’s spirits. James finds comfort as a simple arborist, tenderly nurturing his Golden Pippin apple trees in the hope of securing a dream which will make the land his own. Sadie finds her own brand of comfort in the sharpness of applejack, an alcoholic by-product of apple growing, which is as tart as her tongue. The Goodenough children bear the brunt of James and Sadie’s petty indifference and for the children their only means of survival is the hope of escape.

What then follows is a sparse and beautifully written account of a moral journey which will span over fifteen years and which will see, the youngest Goodenough son, Robert, wandering throughout the pioneer lands of America always heading west, as that seems like the only place for him to go. Finding work with a plant collector, Robert discovers that his love of the land, of tending seedlings and observing the giant Californian Redwoods, brings him the peace he so desperately craves.

Part observational account and part epistolary, At the Edge of the Orchard is not just a love affair with the land and the wonders of nature, it’s also a story about self-determination and self-belief. There is no doubt that, in the hands of this imaginative writer, Robert Goodenough’s unique journey of self-discovery is both heart-breaking and uplifting in equal measure.

At the Edge of the Orchard is a story about family. It’s about the unbreakable bonds that tie people together and of the challenges that life can bring.

Best read with...Crunchy bites from a sweet Golden Pippin and several glasses of tart and punchy Applejack cider...

About the Author

Tracy Chevalier

Visit on Facebook
Follow on Twitter @Tracy_Chevalier

My thanks to The Borough Press and Reading Panel for my review copy of 

Available to buy online and at all good books shops from the 8th March 2016


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Book Excerpt from The Changing Season by Steven Manchester...

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo

Steven Manchester is the author of four #1 bestsellers: Twelve Months, The Rockin' Chair, Pressed Pennies and Gooseberry Island. His long-anticipated novel, The Changing Season, is currently available for pre-order. Steve is also the author of the award-winning novel, Goodnight, Brian. He has written A Christmas Wish (Kindle exclusive), Wilbur Avenue (novelette), Just in Time (novelette) and The Thursday Night Club (novella), while his work has appeared on NBC's Today Show, CBS's The Early Show, CNN's American Morning and BET's Nightly News. Three of Steven's short stories were selected "101 Best" for Chicken Soup for the Soul series and he is the produced playwright of Three Shoeboxes. When not spending time with his beautiful wife, Paula, or their four children, this Massachusetts author is promoting his works or writing.

The Story Plant
February 23 rd 2016

This was supposed to be a simple summer for Billy: one more lazy expanse of time before college began. He'd fill the hours playing with Jimmy—his canine best buddy—going camping and doing all the things he promised Jimmy they'd do before Billy left. But that was before the accident that shook the entire town. It was before the summer job that turned into something so much more than a way to get a paycheck. And it was before Vicki. This summer was destined to be many things to Billy, things he didn't truly understand until now. But it was definitely not going to be simple.

An enormously touching, richly textured, deeply moving novel of new adulthood, The Changing Season is an experience to savor—with special appeal to dog lover’s.

Read an excerpt here:

The Changing Season 

The beach was nearly deserted. After erecting their tent and establishing a cozy campsite, Jimmy trotted to the water. As Billy looked on, the silver-faced mutt walked in slowly—like an old man easing himself into a warm bath—the reckless abandon he’d once been known for completely gone.
Jimmy swam for a bit before sitting in the shallows with the water line at his chest.
Billy waded in and took a seat beside him where they sat for a long while, looking out onto the horizon. While the tide gently lapped at their chests, Billy wrapped his arm around Jimmy’s shoulder. “This is the life,” he whispered.
A seagull landed on the sand a few feet from them. Jimmy just sat there, watching the squawking bird with mild interest. “You must be tired, Jimmy. Back in the day, you would have chased that vulture until you collapsed.”
Jimmy stood and took chase, but it was a haphazard effort.
“Half-stepper,” Billy teased the dog and stood to go for a walk and dry off.
As they strolled along the coastline, Jimmy shook the salt water from his coat. He also took breaks, long breaks, acting like he was exploring.
“I know you’re stalling,” Billy told him, “and it’s okay.” At least your spirit’s still willing, Billy thought, getting choked up.
When Jimmy slowed even more, Billy headed for the campsite. The sea grasses had lost their summer hue and were now brittle, snapping in half as Billy and Jimmy walked through the abandoned dunes.
They reached camp and sat together again where Billy discovered that the pads on Jimmy’s paws were dry and cracked. One was even bleeding, which Jimmy licked for some time. Billy pulled the big moose into his lap. “Too many miles on those old tires, huh?” he whispered, before noticing the patch of missing fur on the mutt’s hind quarter—a souvenir from a vicious fight he’d won in his glory days. A mean stray had swaggered into the backyard looking for trouble. Unwilling to let it go, Jimmy gave the growling stranger all the trouble he could handle. That one battle scar had been rubbed and patted thousands of times throughout the years, the family being forever grateful for Jimmy’s sacrificial love and fearless devotion. As they sat side-by-side, Billy rubbed it again.
Resting his head in Billy’s lap, Jimmy’s eyes squinted while he enjoyed the heavy scratching.
Billy worked his hand up the old dog’s body, stroking Jimmy’s head and kneading the scruff of his neck. “I love you, buddy,” he said. “You know that, right?”
Jimmy licked Billy’s hand.
“And I need to go away pretty soon…to college.”
Jimmy licked him again.
“The last thing in the world I want is to leave you, but I…” Billy stopped from going any further. A wave of tears was waiting to break on the shore just behind his eyes.
As though Jimmy understood, he nestled deeper into Billy’s lap and began giving Billy’s hand a thorough bath.
With his free hand, Billy rubbed Jimmy’s chest up and down—fast and hard—exactly the way the old mutt liked it. As he did, he looked up and noticed a bank of even darker clouds had gathered above. “Looks like rain,” he told Jimmy. “Hopefully, there’s no thunder.”
They napped in the tent, Jimmy appearing much less worried about his nails on the air mattress than Billy. They curled up together, the rain pitter-pattering on the light canvas above. “It’s just a shower,” Billy told him. As good a guess as any meteorologist would make, Billy thought, though it doesn’t matter either way. As they began to nod off in each other’s arms, Jimmy snored peacefully. Billy stared at his best friend’s face, studying every nook and cranny—memorizing every crease and line. But it was silly. He knew Jimmy’s face better than his own. And I’m going to miss it something awful, he thought, swallowing back the lump in his throat. While the rain picked up and began thumping on the tent’s roof, Billy closed his eyes.

When they awoke from their afternoon siesta, Jimmy stood on the wobbly air mattress and yipped in pain. Once the sound of playful banter, Billy knew it was from pain now. “You okay?” he asked, massaging the dog’s haunches and working out the knots as he’d watched Arlene do many times. “Feel better now?” he asked, stopping.
Jimmy reached up with his right paw and scratched Billy’s hand, gesturing that he continue.
After a few more minutes, Billy stopped again. “Better?” he asked.
Jimmy licked Billy’s face once before slowly stepping off the jelly-like mattress.
Billy hurried to throw two baby aspirin into a glob of peanut butter and fed it to the mutt.
When they came out of hibernation, the air was cool and fresh. The trees glistened from the rain. Billy looked up. The clouds had dispersed, leaving behind the last of the day’s light.
The sunset was a palate of coral pinks and greens, with swirls of purple brushed in. The light softened—like the ambiance of an expensive romantic dinner, before fading into the distance and becoming twilight. There was a giant pause, as if the world collectively exhaled after filing another day into the history books. Billy and Jimmy sat together on a sturdy fold-out chair, silently sharing the magic. Billy took a deep breath and sighed.
Jimmy did the same.
Billy laughed. “Copycat,” he whispered.
The beach had always been the place where Jimmy was free to romp and roam—to explore. And each year he did just that. But not this year. Jimmy nuzzled into Billy’s lap again, where he awaited the attention Billy had always showered on him.
“You’re a good boy,” Billy whispered, as he scratched the gentle canine under his chin. He shook his head. “Although you haven’t been a boy for a long time.”
In what seemed like minutes, a million flickering stars covered the dark sky. Billy and Jimmy got up to take another stroll. They walked a few feet when they happened upon a giant puddle. Moonlight was trapped in the puddle, along with Billy and Jimmy’s reflections—the two of them standing knee to shoulder. While Billy smiled, Jimmy bent at the water’s edge and began to drink, sending ripples through the portrait. “Don’t drink that, Jimmy,” Billy scolded him. “You have fresh water back in the tent.”
Jimmy paid him no mind and kept lapping loudly, slobbering all over himself and depositing an equal amount of back wash.
Billy shook his head. “Whatever, it’s your stomach.”
They made it down to the water’s edge again and stood together in the silence for a long, long while. It was as though neither of them wanted the night to end, as though both of them needed more time together. Billy closed his eyes and listened to the tide. The ebb and flow was constant but random, like surround sound lapping the shore on the left, right and center.

The night grew cold, real cold for the time of year. Billy was surprised he and Jimmy couldn’t see their breath. The drop in temperature was significant, reminding Billy once again that summer was quickly coming to an end. It was a cold slap to the face—literally. I’m moving away in just a week, he thought. One week! He looked down at Jimmy, glad that his furry friend had no concept or fear of time.
Billy built a campfire, which wasn’t easy considering that everything was still damp from the rain shower. But sitting by a campfire had always been his and Jimmy’s thing, the perfect atmosphere to spend quality time together, so he worked hard to get the fire going.
They sat together in silence for a long time, hypnotized by the swaying flames and the rhythm of the rolling tide. When it was time to turn in for the night, Jimmy licked his paw, running it across his face for the day’s final bath. They both stood and stretched, leaving behind a handful of glowing embers and heading for the tent.
Kneeling beside the air mattress, Billy said his prayers. As he crawled in beside Jimmy, he left on the battery-operated lantern for his timid, four-legged friend, knowing that two D cell batteries would be killed in the process.
While Jimmy snored, Billy watched as their silhouettes moved randomly on the ceiling of the tent. He locked onto them, hypnotized by the shadows dancing above. His eyes grew heavy and he yawned. Within seconds, the shadows grew smaller until they disappeared.

Billy watched Jimmy—as a puppy—crying because the bedspread was covering his eyes. Jimmy’s claustrophobic, he realized. “It’s play time,” he told the dog, tricking Jimmy into thinking they were going to horse around. The garden hose and bottle of dog shampoo, however, made the smart dog whimper. Billy laughed. When he looked back, Jimmy was stretched out flat on his belly, all four legs pin straight like he’d been strapped to the torturer’s rack. Billy did a double-take and Jimmy was wearing the cone of shame so he didn’t bite at his stitches after being neutered. Poor guy, Billy thought, and then yelled at the dog after he’d torn a pillow to shreds. In the next scene, an older Jimmy chomped on ice cubes, spraying them everywhere like a broken snow cone machine. And then they were fishing, both of them young again. Jimmy whined as he watched the small perch swim in circles in the bucket. He placed his paw on the lip of the pail, pulling it to him and dumping the flopping fish into the grass—in some sad attempt at freeing the prisoners. Billy laughed again and a moment later, he was watching on in horror as Sophie dressed the poor dog in some ridiculous outfit for one of her lively tea parties. Sophie played with Jimmy’s ears, his paws, his tail; the mutt just lay there, as if he understood it was the price he had to pay for free meals. Jimmy’s the ultimate pilot fish. Billy shook his head, while a water sprinkler soaked the summer grass and Jimmy exhibited another example of his terrible drinking habits. Billy could see himself falling out the tree in the backyard and grabbing his arm; the pain was mind numbing. While he healed, Jimmy never left his side. Billy then looked down to find that his cast was gone. He looked up again and Jimmy was smiling at him, his teeth covered in tartar build-up. “Have you been kissing a skunk?” he teased the dog. “You have a bad case of gingivitis, buddy…or is it halitosis?” Billy passed the groomer’s window and noticed that he’d grown tall. Jimmy was beyond ecstatic to see him; his nails had been clipped, his fur trimmed but his eyes were as wide as two chocolate pies. “What did she do to you, boy?” Billy teased the frightened dog.

Billy awoke, panting like a dog himself. He looked over at his tent mate, who was still snoring peacefully on the air mattress. “Oh Jimmy,” he muttered and wrapped his arm around the drooling heap.
Billy shook the cobwebs from his head and tried to make sense of it all. It was just a dream, he realized. Fragmented and confused in time and context, he’d dreamed about Jimmy. There were glimpses of the past and present merged together, as though Jimmy’s life had been thrown into a blender and Billy was enjoying each experience with him a second time. He pushed himself closer to Jimmy until he could feel the rise and fall of the dog’s breathing. “I love you so much, buddy,” he whispered, before falling back to sleep.

© Steven Manchester

The Changing Season is published by The Story Plant on the 23rd February 2016

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 My thanks to the author for sharing this excerpt from his novel,