Saturday, 24 June 2017

Close to Home ...June Francis

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Today I welcome North West  Writer

June Francis

Hi, June and a very warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author?

I have lived in Liverpool all my life within the roar of the football fans when there is a home match at Anfield but I was born in Blackpool as my mother was evacuated there for my birth during WW2. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. I married the boy I met in the local cinema in our mid teens and we were courting for six years. Life was different in the fifties. I wanted to be a writer at school and my English teacher told me I had a great imagination but terrible handwriting. I didn’t believe a working class girl could become an author so I was a cash clerk for ten years and then after leaving work to have my first son I started a playgroup in the church hall and was in charge of that, unpaid, for another ten years by then I had another two sons.

When the youngest started school I not only became editor of the church magazine I joined a writers’ group in Crosby and began sending off articles to magazines. For a year they all came back and then arrived that wonderful moment when I received some encouraging attention from the editor and a short time later I had my first article accepted about Christmas customs around the world, I went on to write more articles about various customs but my second article accepted was about how I was a terrible cook but eventually became a good one. After writing articles I entered a synopsis and five hundred words of an historical romance for the writers club competition and came second but I also won the cup for endeavour. A published writer of Mills & Boon told me to finish my novel and send it to them as they had started an historical imprint and were looking for authors. It took me two years to get the book right but eventually it was accepted, along with another one I had written set in Chester and North Wales. I had another two accepted before deciding I wanted to write a novel set in Liverpool which took me two years as it was a different genre, by then I had an agent. It was accepted after being turned down about five times, by Judy Piatkus and she sold on the paperback rights to Bantam and the large print rights to Magna.

Your books are written in North West England, but not always set in the North West – how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

I have always enjoyed history but didn’t start taking an enormous interest in local history until I began writing about it. Having said that my mother used to talk about her background, she had been in service, and about her family history and I’d visit aunts and uncles and my grandfather who still lived in different areas of the city. My maternal grandfather was a sailor and my paternal grandfather had worked at various jobs around the docks. His father was a Norwegian sailor, one of my brothers was a sailor, so I had strong feelings for family and for seafarers, as well as my home city and the magic of faraway places with strange sounding names. My mother-in-law had also been a great help to me, after being widowed she spent Sunday afternoons at my home and talked about her past which was very different to my mother’s, but both were strong working class women who’d had sorrow in their lives and lived through interesting times as had their husbands. My being a war-baby means that I remember something of post-war times, through the forties when the yanks were still on the scene and the fabulous musical fifties and sixties which shaped Liverpool in more recent times as much as it being a port did in the past.

As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

It can be difficult promoting them beyond the North West but I do have a website and a blog and am on Facebook. Also setting parts of books in other places can help them sell elsewhere. I have set parts of stories in the South of England, the US, Australia, Ireland, France. I have cousins in the US and friends in Australia who get the word around about my books.

In your research for your books, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

I set a medieval romance in Ireland, also part of a saga, so visited Dublin and the Wicklow Hills. I took my youngest son Daniel with me as it was the school summer holidays at that and took our bikes and caught the ferry across the Irish Sea. We rode up from Dublin into the Wicklow Hills which are lovely but the weather was unbelievable hot so it was a hard slog and the tarmac melted and stuck to our tyres. There was definitely a magical feel about the countryside, as well as an emptiness. At that time I knew little Irish history. We were staying with a friend from church’s cousin and her husband and family on an erstwhile farm but they did no farming despite having several acres of land. They did have a few hens and ducks but no running water and the lavatory was in an outhouse with roses growing around the door. They had a huge old fashioned fireplace and burned peat. They had six children and the husband had delivered two of them at home. She was English and I think he was, too. He had been a lecturer in German and she had been one of his students. They had travelled around the world and came back broke. He had bought the house a few years before so they settled down there. They made us very welcome and Daniel and I would go with a couple of the children to fetch water from the river and also pick wild garlic. When the weather broke we returned to Dublin and stayed in the Georgian youth hostel there. They made us very welcome. Unfortunately Dublin Castle was closed and covered in scaffolding, so no research there but we did visited the museum and Trinity College which were interesting and dropped some coins in the hat of a woman and her baby begging on a bridge over the river Liffey. The only downside was the proclamation in the college or museum which contained the words our enemy the English. I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach, thinking how back in Liverpool half the population had Irish blood. At that time I believed I didn’t have a drop, but since tracing my family tree I’ve discovered a great-great grandfather who was a weaver and settled in Manchester. His daughter married a Manchurian and they moved to Liverpool.

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

The North West has several cities of note with decent shopping centres, theatres and cinemas and art galleries, as well as several seaside resorts, attractive market towns and villages in lovely countryside and a coastline that has some great beaches and coastal walks as well as a National Trust red squirrel reserve. It also has two Tudor houses, Speke Hall and Rufford Hall. There are also two airports; Liverpool’s John Lennon and Manchester. Liverpool also has a new cruise liner terminal as well as a heritage waterfront which includes the Albert Dock, a Maritime Museum, a Liverpool Life Museum and a Beatles’ attraction and the Echo arena. Both Manchester and Liverpool cater for the classical music lovers with music halls and orchestras of note and both have universities and famous football teams. There is the beautiful city of Chester on the River Dee, with a world renowned zoo a few miles away and North Wales almost on the doorstep, as is the Wirral.

The North West has given birth to not only many a writer but also musicians, comedians, actors, sculptors and artist finding inspiration in its maritime and industrial history and its kind and gutsy people.

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

I belong to a local writers group that meets twice a month as well as two other groups that meet less often, one in Wales and the other in Southport. We also keep in touch online.

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

Very supportive and there are opportunities to do signings and talks at books shops and libraries of which I have done many, as well as to women’s groups in church halls and the like. I am booked as one of the speakers at a forthcoming Litfest in Penny Lane, South Liverpool in October. Liverpool and Manchester both have good libraries in the city centres, most important for research for writers.

If someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?

I have written 37 books so not an easy question. Probably A MOTHER’S DUTY which is set in a hotel in Liverpool in the latter years of the 1930s and the early years of WW2. The heroine is widow Kitty Ryan who owns the hotel and has three sons. There is a sequel called A DAUGHTER’S CHOICE.


More about June can be found on her website by clicking here or on her blog by clicking here

Find on Facebook

Huge thanks to June for being such a lovely guest today and for sharing her love of Liverpool with us 

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Rebecca Mascull


Friday, 23 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to  be hosting one of the stops on today's  blog tour for

The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

What's it all about

Harper Impulse
23 June 2017

One chance isn't always enough…

Everyone expects great things from Emma Billings, but when her future gets derailed by an unexpected turn of events, she realises that getting back on track means travelling in a different direction.

She finds that new path in the closed-down pub on Carlton Square. Summoning every ounce of ingenuity, and with the help of her friends and family, she opens the Second Chance Café. The charity training business is meant to keep vulnerable kids off the streets and (hopefully) away from the Metropolitan Police, and her new employees are full of ideas, enthusiasm … and trouble. They'll need as much TLC as the customers they’re serving.

This ragtag group of chancers have to make a go of a business they know nothing about, and they do get some expert help from an Italian who's in love with the espresso machine and a professional sandwich whisperer who reads auras, but not everyone is happy to see the café open. Their milk keeps disappearing and someone is cancelling the cake orders, but it's when someone commits bloomicide on all their window boxes that Emma realises things are serious. Can the café survive when NIMBY neighbours and the rival café owner join forces to close them down? Or will Emma’s dreams fall as flat as the cakes they’re serving?

What did I think about it ...

In this second book we see the welcome return of Emma who we met in The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square. We are now a couple of years further on and Emma is not only embracing young motherhood, but she is also about to realise her ambition of opening a cafe in Carlton Square which sells teas, coffees and delicious cakes. This is no ordinary venture, as Emma is determined to make a success of her newly fledged business whilst, at the same time, giving vulnerable youngsters a unique chance of learning a useful skill.

As with all of this talented author’s work, the book gets off to a zinging start. Emma is a feisty heroine, and her solid determination to make her business succeed against all the odds makes for some lively banter between the deliciously quirky characters, who flit into and out of the action, and who give the story its heart and soul.

As with any series, it's much better to start from the very beginning in order to really get to know the characteristics of the story, and yet, this book can easily stand on its own merits as a standalone, as the author does a great job of bringing everything to life in such a way that you soon start to feel comfortable with the place, and become equally fascinated by its people.

Written, as always, with genuine warmth and with the author's fine eye for detail, this story shows both the best and the worst of people, but what really shines through is the author's absolute commitment to entertaining storytelling, which always makes her books such a joy to read from beginning to end.

Best read with ...A half-caffeine, no-foam, fat free, triple shot latte..

About the Author

Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters. Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power comedies under her own name.

Follow on Twitter @MicheleGormanUK

My thanks to the author for her kind invitation to be part of this lovely blog tour.
You can read my review of The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square by clicking here


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

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

Do Not Become Alarmed Blog Tour

Penguin Viking
June 2017

What's it all about..

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship's safety. 

One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents - now turning on one another and blaming themselves - try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

What did I think about it...

A Central American cruise should have been the holiday of a lifetime for Liv, Nora and their respective husbands and children, and at first everything is going well. The children flourish on board the ship and join in with all the many activities and the adults finally start to relax away from the pressures of life. That is until a fateful decision is made to go ashore and whilst the husbands go to play golf, Liv, Nora and the children are taken on a separate excursion which goes disastrously wrong. What then follows is a frightening portrayal of what can happen by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story is told from the perspectives of the parents, alternating with that of the children, which works as it allows an insight into the two strands of the story, which is all so necessary to maintain momentum. The author captures the parent's utter fear as they realise that something has happened to their children which is beyond their control and their abject misery and gut wrenching sadness is palpable.  The children’s resolve is tested to the limit as they are taken into a situation which is terrifying, and yet, even though their ingenuity is commendable, there were times, particularly in the later chapters, when I had to suspend belief, as I didn’t quite feel that some of their situations rang true.

Whilst I enjoyed reading the story, I do feel that some parts of the novel worked better than others. There are some elements which could have been left out entirely, whilst other, more important issues could have been expanded upon to add a little more depth and clarity. However, there is no doubt that this is one of those frightening scenarios that you hope will never, ever, happen to anyone's children on what should be an idyllic holiday.

Do Not Become Alarmed is published on 6th July 2017 

Follow on Twitter @mailemeloy #DoNotBecomeAlarmed

My thanks to the author and also to Josie at Penguin for my review copy of this book and also for the invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Follow the tour until the 31st July 2017


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Woman in the Wood by Lesley Pearse

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on this very special blog tour to celebrate 

the author, Lesley Pearse's 25th novel.

On this blog tour each of the blog tour hosts will share a factoid about one of Lesley's books..

Lesley's Seventh Novel ~ Charlie was published in 1999


The Woman in the Wood is a powerful, passionate and sinister tale of a young woman's courage, friendship and determination from one of the world's favourite storytellers.

Fifteen-year-old twins Maisy and Duncan Mitcham have always had each other. Until the fateful day in the wood . . .

One night in 1960, the twins awake to find their father pulling their screaming mother from the house. She is to be committed to an asylum. It is, so their father insists, for her own good.
It's not long before they, too, are removed from their London home and sent to Nightingales - a large house deep in the New Forest countryside - to be watched over by their cold-hearted grandmother, Mrs Mitcham. Though they feel abandoned and unloved, at least here they have something they never had before - freedom.

The twins are left to their own devices, to explore, find new friends and first romances. That is until the day that Duncan doesn't come back for dinner. Nor does he return the next day. Or the one after that.

When the bodies of other young boys are discovered in the surrounding area the police appear to give up hope of finding Duncan alive. With Mrs Mitcham showing little interest in her grandson's disappearance, it is up to Maisy to discover the truth. And she knows just where to start. The woman who lives alone in the wood about whom so many rumours abound. A woman named Grace Deville.

Lesley Pearse

Visit the author's website

Visit on Facebook 

Follow on Twitter @Lesley Pearse 

#LoveLesley #TheWomanInTheWood

Follow the Blog tour until 25th June

My thanks to the author for continuing to enthral us with her unique brand of story telling and also to Darran at edpr for the invitation to be part of this very special blog tour.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ I know My Name by C J Cooke

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

I Know My Name Blog Tour

15 June 2017

What's it all about...

Komméno Island, Greece: I don't know where I am, who I am. Help me. A woman is washed up on a remote Greek island with no recollection of who she is or how she got there.

Potter’s Lane, Twickenham, London: Eloïse Shelley is officially missing.

Lochlan’s wife has vanished into thin air, leaving their toddler and twelve-week-old baby alone. Her money, car and passport are all in the house, with no signs of foul play. Every clue the police turn up means someone has told a lie…

Does a husband ever truly know his wife? Or a wife know her husband? Why is Eloïse missing? Why did she forget?

The truth is found in these pages…

What did I think about it...

I Know My Name is an addictive psychological mystery which draws you in from the opening chapter - a chapter which leaves you with more questions than it does answers. I'm being deliberately vague as this really a book which is easily spoiled by giving too much away.

All I will say is that the story fired my imagination from the beginning so that I never really knew what was going to happen next or indeed which character was telling a version of the truth. So many unanswered questions form the basis of the plot which is taut, tight and beautifully recounted.

The author definitely knows how to crank up the pressure and in I Know My Name the tension exists from the very beginning. I really had no idea where the story was taking me, which is why I read it quickly over the space of just a few hours, partly because I couldn't put it down, but also because I wanted to find out just what was going on. As with all psychological thrillers there is a sting in the tail, which I didn’t suspect until it was upon me and then everything fitted into place beautifully.

What that twist is, well, you’ll have to find out for yourself…

I Know My Name
is one of those books which is just perfect for the holiday season, pack it in your travel bag and be prepared to suspend time ..

Best Read with...cherry tomatoes, olives and pitta bread..

I KNOW MY NAME by acclaimed poet and academic CJ Cooke is being published in several other languages and a TV adaptation is in development. CJ was inspired to write the novel through her work in creative writing interventions for treating mental illness

Follow on Twitter @CJ_Cooke_Author #IKnowMyName

My thanks to the author and also to Felicity at Harper Collins for my review copy of

I Know My Name and also for the kind invitation to be part of this blog tour which runs until

the 22nd June


Monday, 19 June 2017

Review ~ The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

Harper Impulse

What's it all about...

When Emma’s boyfriend Daniel pops the question with a ring the size of a small country, she suddenly realises just how different they are. She’s the Eastenders to his Made in Chelsea. She wants a low-key wedding with close friends and family in Uncle Colin’s pub, while Daniel’s mother is expecting a society do that their high-brow guests won’t forget!

How on earth can Emma put together a celebration fit for Lords and Ladies on a shoestring budget? Not to mention the fact her cross-dressing Uncle Barbara wants to be a bridesmaid, her best mate Kelly can’t stand Daniel’s best friend Cressida, and her dad is too proud to accept any help from Daniel’s family towards the costs.

There’s three months to go until the big day. Will Emma’s happy-ever-after end in disaster?

What did I think about it...

What I like about this author's writing is her ability to entertain her readers and right from the start in The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square we are entertained by a cast of characters who melt right into your heart.

As Emma and Daniel are soon to discover, planning their wedding and trying to keep both sides of their, very different, families singing from the same hymn sheet is going to be tricky. And as anyone who has planned a wedding knows, the route to a perfect wedding day is nearly always littered with unexpected obstacles.

There is a lovely light touch to this romantic comedy which has all the right ingredients for a fun filled, read. With her trademark warmth and wit, the author gets right into the heart of the story, from her colourful array of characters, through to the insightful way she weaves into the story, the notion, that it really isn't about the size of the wedding it's all about the love in your heart.

A lovely summer read.

Best Read With...a glass of gently sparkling champagne and a slice of wedding cake...

About the Author

Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters. Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power comedies under her own name.


Twitter @MicheleGormanUK

Read an interview with Lilly Bartlett here

My thanks to the author for inviting me to read and review

 The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

During WW1 the small town of Étaples, in the Pas de Calais region of northern France, became a vast Allied Military camp, and was also the site of a several successful field hospitals. Wounded soldiers, including my husband's grandfather, were taken there to be treated before being returned to the front, or en route back to England for more extensive treatment. 

British Army Camp at Étaples
© IWM (Q 58089)

Due to a severe shortage of trained nurses, the field hospitals relied heavily on the work of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses, who, whilst unskilled, became the stalwarts of the service. During the four years of war 38,000 VADs worked in hospitals and served as ambulance drivers and cooks.

Nurses in the Princess Victoria's Rest Club for nurses at Etaples.
© IWM (Q 3170)

The writer, Vera Brittain spent eight months as a VAD nurse at Étaples between August 1917 and April 1918 and wrote of her experiences there in her memoir, Testament of Youth, and in her poem The Last Post, which she wrote at Étaples in 1917.

Female Ambulance Drivers, with their vehicles at Étaples
June 1917
© IWM (Q 2441)

Étaples provided care for hundreds of patients as well as being a  military training camp, supplies depot and a detention base for prisoners. At any one time there could have been upwards of 100,000 people there. On this one site there were many hospitals who catered for as many as 22,000 patients.

A patient in traction on the officers' ward at No. 24 General Hospital at Etaples, France.
© IWM (Q 8033)

In order to boost morale there was a royal visit to France by King George V and  Queen Mary 3-14th July 1917 where they visited strategic sites including the hospitals at Étaples.

Queen Mary of Teck talking to the wounded soldiers
 at the St John Ambulance Hospital at Etaples, 6th July 1917
© IWM (Q 2512)

The Étaples military camp was one of the largest of its kind and as such did not escape military bombardment. The camp was bombed by Germans in 1918 with many casualties and fatalities.

Étaples War Cemetery is now a six hectare site which houses the graves of 11,500 soldiers who died from wounds or disease sustained during this conflict.

My husband's grandfather was successfully treated at the hospital in Étaples and returned to the front where he continued to serve until the end of the war. 

As always, I am indebted to the IWM and their WW1 collections for the opportunity to share these photographs.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Close To Home ~ Melinda Hammond

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern Writer

A very warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Melinda. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author?

I am a storyteller, it is something I have done since a child, keeping school friends entertained, even before I knuckled down to the long haul of writing a whole book! I have been published since the 1980s and now have over 40 books published. I began writing Regency romance as Melinda Hammond and still publish historical novels under this name, and I also write historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon as Sarah Mallory.

Your books are written in Northern England, but not always set in the North. Have the people and the northern landscape shaped your stories in any way?

Confession time – I am a West Country girl who moved to the Yorkshire Pennines nearly 30 years ago and absolutely love it!

Yorkshire Pennines

I have written several books set in the North, including my latest ones for Harlequin, The Duke's Secret Heir (out now), which is partly set in Harrogate, and Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance (published in September 17).


The moors where I live have been used for the settings for two of my earlier novels, although I changed the location names to give myself a little artistic licence. They are still two favourite books.

One is the Melinda Hammond novel, Winter Inheritance (first published as The Highclough Lady) and the other, writing as Sarah Mallory, The Scarlet Gown.


I think the cover of Winter Inheritance might be of interest, because I took the background photo myself and it is literally yards from my front door.

Since moving to the north I have become much more interested in the Industrial Revolution, and I even wrote one Sarah Mallory novel which involved a southern lady marrying a Yorkshire mill owner (To Catch a Husband). It is a romance, of course, but it does touch upon the harsh reality of factory life.


In your research for your books, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

Oh, lots of places, including a couple of trips to Waterloo! Thinking specifically of the North of England, the old mills and factories here are a constant reminder of the country's industrial heritage. I spent some years working in what had once been a cotton mill, and it was easy to imagine how busy and noisy it must have been – and the hard lives of the factory workers. I also have a book set on the Northumberland coast, all empty beaches and brooding castles, which has yet to be published. It is there, nagging away and I hope before too long to publish it.

If you were pitching the North of England as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

You are never far away from huge tracts of emptiness! That is what drew me to the North in the first place. As a writer I love the wide open spaces, the ability to step outside and walk the moors with just the curlews and lapwings for company. It is also wonderful in dead of winter, when everything is covered with snow. There is a timelessness about the North, perfect for a historical novelist to imagine what life was like centuries ago. The people, too, are pretty special, very friendly and welcoming.

North of England

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

I am a member of the Romantic Novelists Association (the RNA), which has several northern chapters. I am also a member of the Society of Authors and a patron of the Lancashire Authors Association, although I can't attend as many of their events as I would like. With the internet it is much easier for authors to keep in touch, and I have friends all over the country. However, it is also good to meet up and have a good natter from time to time, so I try to get to some of the RNA's local chapter meetings as well as their annual conference. There is also a group of authors around West Yorkshire who gather in Hebden Bridge occasionally for a lunch, which I really enjoy. One of the problems is balancing the desire to socialise with the need to write – it would be very easy to spend all my time lunching or meeting up with authors and not doing any work at all!

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

There are a number of writing and reading groups locally, and I am always happy to talk to them. I have spoken to local WI groups etc, and of course libraries are amazingly supportive, running workshops and talks. There aren't many bookshops around here, but even the local Tourist Information Centre has held book signings for me in the past.

As a writer based in the North does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

I have never really considered living in the North a drawback as far as marketing is concerned, mainly because so much is done online these days. All my Melinda Hammond books are sold as e-books these days, so online promotion is the way forward – although having said that, many of the hardback editions are still available in libraries. Mills & Boon do run library-based initiatives, and I have run several workshops on romantic and historical fiction.

If someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?

Oh heavens, there's a question! My Melinda Hammond novels are what can be terms "sweet" romances, The Sarah Mallory books a little hotter! Readers might like to start with the books I mentioned that are set in the north, or if someone likes a little more adventure then my Sarah Mallory novel, A Lady for Lord Randall, features scenes from Waterloo that I absolutely loved writing.


You can find out more about Melinda:

On her website
Follow on Twitter @SarahMRomance
Visit on Facebook
Find on Amazon

Warmest thanks to Melinda for being our very welcome guest today and for talking about her writing and sharing her love of  the North with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature

Coming next week : June Francis


Friday, 16 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the Widdershins Blog Tour

I'm excited to be able to share this fascinating and informative guest post


Helen Steadman, the author of Widdershins

What kind of people were accused of witchcraft during the 17th century?

Many people who were tried as witches were often simply cunning women who provided plant-based medicine, midwifery and healthcare services for those who were unable (or unwilling) to pay for a physician. Likewise prone to suspicion were barber surgeons who also provided plant-based medicines and carried out blood-letting, bone-setting and amputations.

Other people who often fell under suspicion included the green women who gathered plants to provide the ingredients for cunning women and barber surgeons to prepare simples (herbal remedies made from a single plant) as well as more complex medicinal compounds. For instance, a green woman might pick elder berries and sell them to the cunning woman.

The cunning woman would then boil the elder berries with honey or sugar, along with warming spices, such as ginger or cinnamon, to create a curative linctus.

The resulting elder-berry linctus would then be sold to villagers to prevent or cure coughs, colds, flu and lung diseases. A close look at the freshly picked sprigs of elder berries will show that the sprigs resemble the inner lung, which may be why elder is associated with the lung. 

Beyond this, suspicion also fell on neighbours when times were hard. It seems it was easier to accuse a neighbour of witchcraft than to accept that sometimes bad luck was behind horses going lame, babies being miscarried or crops failing. It must have also been a convenient solution to anyone you didn’t like the look of, who posed any kind of threat (whether real or imagined), or who might have posed a burden on the community – for example, the old, the poor, the disabled.

But it wasn’t just those administering folk medicine who risked accusation of witchcraft. Men of the cloth were also not safe. In the south of England, John Lowes, the vicar of Brandeston was swum; because he floated, he was then further tested and interrogated after being kept awake for several nights, before finally confessing to witchcraft.

Interestingly, it seems that the Rev. Lowes conducted his own burial service shortly before his execution. It’s interesting, not just because it’s strange to conduct your own funeral, but because most witches found guilty of witchcraft were put to death ‘without benefit of clergy’, which imperilled their eternal souls. So perhaps this was Lowes' attempt to ensure that he at least had a Christian funeral.


Wallace Notestein (2010) [1908] A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718. New Haven, CT: Yale University.

Dilston Physic Garden runs excellent courses in botanical medicine. For more information, click here

About the Author

Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen. When she’s not studying or writing, Helen critiques, edits and proofreads other writers’ work, and she is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Impress Books
1st July 2017
'Did all women have something of the witch about them?’

Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.

From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.

Huge thanks to the author and also to Natalie at Impress Books  for the kind invitation to be 

part of this blog tour. You  can follow the Tour on Twitter #Widdershins

You can read my review Widdershins by clicking here


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Mayfly by James Hazel

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting one of today's stops on the The Mayfly Blog Tour

Charlie Priest #1
Bonnier Zaffre
15 June 2017

What's it all about...

A mutilated body discovered in the woods.
A murderous plan conceived in the past.
A reckoning seventy years in the making . . .
When lawyer Charlie Priest is attacked in his own home by a man searching for information he claims Priest has, he is drawn into a web of corruption that has its roots in the last desperate days of WWII.
When his attacker is found murdered the next day, Priest becomes a suspect and the only way to clear his name is to find out about the mysterious House of Mayfly - a secret society that people will kill for.
As Priest races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

What did I think about it...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave springs to mind during this novel, which introduces us to the enigmatic, Charlie Priest an ex-detective inspector now turned London lawyer. When Priest finds himself embroiled in an mysterious investigation which stretches back to the despicable days of the Second World War, and to the ghastly business taking place at the Buchenwald concentration camp, he realises that in searching for modern day clues he is set to reveal macabre secrets from the past.

The story starts off with real impact which thus sets the scene for the rest of the novel which is fast paced and furious. There is much to take in, not just in terms of plot and menace, but also in character analysis as we try to understand more about Charlie Priest and about what makes him act in the way he does. That Priest is supremely flawed comes as no surprise, all great investigators usually are, but what makes him all the more fascinating is in trying to piece together the way he operates in the midst of all the hidden shades of his dissociative personality.

The mystery at the heart of the novel is well thought out and appears to have been meticulously researched so that everything that happened in the novel felt authentic. However, as with any new series and particularly when there are interlapping time frames, it can take a while for the story to sit comfortably, and I had to do a little bit of flipping back and forth until I had all the different characters firmly in my head.

The author writes well and with conviction, and for a debut novel, The Mayfly is decidedly polished. There are more than enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing right until the end when all the pieces of this complex puzzle finally slot into place. 

I am sure that this new series featuring Charlie Priest will continue to go from strength to strength, as, undoubtedly in The Mayfly, it has got off to a rollicking good start.

Best Read With...a couple of lemon sole , well cooked and several mugs of Earl Grey tea...

Before turning his hand to writing, James Hazel was a lawyer in private practice specialising in corporate and commercial litigation and employment law. He was an equity partner in a regional law firm until he quit legal practice to pursue his dream of becoming an author. He has a keen interest in criminology and a passion for crime thrillers, indie music and all things retro.

Follow on Twitter @JamesHazelBooks #TheMayfly

My thanks to the author and to Emily at Bonnier Zaffre for the opportunity to read this book and the kind invitation to be part of The Mayfly Blog Tour


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Blog Tour ~ Always In My Heart by Pam Weaver

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

Always In My Heart Blog Tour

Pan Macmillan
15 June 2017

What's the story all about...

1939. When war is declared, fifteen-year-old twins Shirley and Tom are evacuated from London to the coastal town of Worthing in Sussex by their mother to keep them safe. Shirley is bright and resourceful – her brother gentle and slow to understand the world around him. When the twins are taken in by local farmer Gilbert, their new home quickly proves to be far from a rural dream. They are forced to labour all day and prevented from contacting home, while Gilbert’s pregnant wife lives in fear of him. Meanwhile, their mother Florrie has stayed in London to be treated for tuberculosis, and the arrival of an unexpected visitor brings back painful memories from the past to haunt her… 
As winter sets in on the farm, Shirley discovers Gilbert is hiding a deadly secret. Will she be able to find a way out for everyone?
And can the power of family bonds help them to survive their ordeal and reunite with their mother at last?

I'm really thrilled to be able to share with you today this exclusive extract from 

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver

The birth of Janet Oliver’s baby.

Mr Oliver came to the stairs and shouted up at Shirley.

‘Stay where you are, Gilbert Oliver,’ said Granny Roberts. ‘This is no place for a man.’

‘What’s going on?’ he said. ‘What are you doing in my house, you interfering old bid—’ Having reached the landing, he could see the three of them: Janet panting slightly, Granny Roberts mopping her brow with a piece of muslin and Shirley putting down the tea tray.

‘The girl’s having her baby,’ Granny said coldly.

Mr Oliver seemed slightly flummoxed, but then he said, ‘Tell her to hurry up, then. I need a hand with the milking in the morning.’ He pointed a finger at Shirley. ‘And you – get back downstairs.’

‘I need her here,’ said Granny Roberts. She seemed totally unfazed by Mr Oliver’s belligerent attitude. ‘I’m not so young as I used to be. I need the girl with me.’

Mr Oliver opened his mouth to say something, but at the same time Janet cried out as another pain came. He didn’t stay. They heard him clattering his way downstairs, and shortly after that, the back door slammed.

Janet’s little girl was born at eight forty-five. Mr Oliver had been back a couple of times to demand help in the milking parlour, but each time Granny Roberts sent him packing. When she told him the baby had been born, he made no attempt to come up and see her. Shirley washed the baby as Granny Roberts said her hands weren’t so good because of the arthritis. If seeing the baby emerge into the world wasn’t amazing enough, giving her a bath in a bowl of warm water was the most fantastic thing Shirley had ever experienced. She felt an instant link with the child, and the fact that it was December 17th and so close to Christmas made it feel all the more special.

At around ten o’clock, Shirley went back downstairs. Mother and baby were sleeping and Granny Roberts was anxious to get back home to her husband. They put the afterbirth on the fire, and the towels went into the scullery sink to soak in Drummer Boy Blue until Shirley could light the copper and give them a good boil. It had been a long night for all of them, but they felt contented. Granny Roberts said it was good to feel useful again, and even Tom was happy. He’d been working flat out in the milking parlour. Lucky it was Sunday and there was no school. Trudging to the village after the night they’d all had would have been a hard task. Shirley prepared breakfast for everybody. They were all ravenous.

‘Aren’t you going upstairs to see the baby?’ Granny Roberts asked Mr Oliver as Shirley offered to walk her home.

‘What fer?’ he said, pulling on his jacket. ‘One baby is much the same as another.'

Pam Weaver was partly inspired to write her latest book Always in My Heart by the discovery of her secret half-brother.They unknowingly grew up together in the same village, as her mother had an affair with an American GI in 1944, and she was raised by a neighbour. 

Pam's saga novels, There's Always Tomorrow, Better Days Will Come, Pack Up Your Troubles, For Better For Worse and Love Walked Right In, are set in Worthing during the austerity years.

Pam's inspiration comes from her love of people and their stories, and her passion for the town of Worthing.

My thanks to the author and her publishers, Pan Macmillan, and also to Bethan at edpr

for the invitation to join in with this Blog Tour and also for their kind permission to share this 

exclusive extract from Always in my Heart

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver is out now from Pan Macmillan (£6.99 paperback)