Friday, 31 October 2014

My Halloween Read ~ This House is Haunted by John Boyne

17307162
Random House
Transworld
2014

Take a pinch of Jane Eyre, a snippet of Dickens, stir together with a spoonful of Wilkie Collins and mix in a whole load of classic gothic gloom and you’ll have an idea of just how good John Boyne is at expressing the darker side of Victorian life.

When Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk in the winter of 1867 she is a twenty one year old orphan; her father having recently died. Impecunious circumstances force Eliza into making the decision to relocate from London to the rather bleak environment of Gaudlin Hall where she is to be governess to Isabel and Eustace. Her arrival at the hall is fraught with danger and on meeting the children she is frighteningly aware that there are no other adults present and yet the children clearly expect her arrival. And there is no sign of her mysterious employer, the enigmatic H Bennet. From the beginning of the story , it is clear that this is a place of momentous secrets. The malevolent presence which lingers in the shadows, and which enfolds itself around Gaudlin Hall creates a realistic atmosphere of fear and as the tension racks up, you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

There is no doubt, that John Boyne is a classic storyteller. His unique ability to get right into the heart and soul of his characters is evident in the way he portrays Eliza who could so easily have become a caricature of Victorian maidenly distress, but instead he makes her into a classic unstable narrator, in whose company you wonder just what’s going on, not just inside her head, but also in the way she comports herself.  The gothic gloom of the rest of the story is classic horror with a supernatural plot, an isolated and shadowy manor house and whole bucket load of secrets, all these components  help to turn This House is Haunted into a rather special spooky story.




My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for my copy 

of 



*~*~*


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Review ~ A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

22845483
Simon & Schuster
October 2014

The story of love, loss and wartime memories are nicely portrayed in this historical narrative which tells the story of Fay Knox and her mother Kitty, both of whom have long buried memories of Paris. Kitty was a naive young woman when she went to Paris in the 1940s to study music, whilst there she met and fell in love with Eugene Knox, a young American doctor and together they made a life with their baby daughter, Fay. Twenty years later, Fay appears to have some shadowy memories of Paris but her mother has never been willing to explain anything to her about her early years. Returning to Paris in 1961, Fay attempts to uncover some of her mother’s long buried secrets, with surprising results.

What then follows is a nicely written historical dual time story which takes the reader between two very different time frames and between two very different young women whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the events of the Second World War.

The starkness and imminent danger of occupied Paris is particularly well done. I enjoyed the way the story conjured up the atmosphere of living during a time of great unrest and it is obvious that the author has researched the period well and writes with some authority. The 1960s time frame had a charm all of its own and I enjoyed seeing Fay blossom from a rather naive ingénue, into a more confident and assured young woman. The overwhelming theme of the novel is about memory and the ties that bind us together and that fact that shared memories also have the power to both hurt us and protect us.

Whilst I don’t think this is the strongest of Rachel Hore’s books, I did enjoy the story and am sure that most of her fans will enjoy it too.


*~*~*

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Review ~ If I knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Would Never Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel


20821177
Tinder Press
30 October 2014

Caught between the past and the present, this book shows a community in turmoil and of lives irrevocably changed by circumstances.


Long Island 1972, and in the fictionalised town of Elephant Beach, the working class community face a time of great social and economic change. For Katie and her friends, newly graduated from high school, it is a time of discovery and of great personal development, but amongst the awakening of new found desire, lies the horror of lives irrevocably changed in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam.

What then follows is an evocative, and at times emotional, look at the dissatisfaction which dominated American social history during the early part of the nineteen seventies. The unhappy image of young men with lives permanently altered by dissatisfaction and of young women caught up in hopeless situations is captured in minute detail, and at times makes for uncomfortable reading. The carelessness of unprotected sexual encounters and the dark escape into drug abuse, sits uncomfortably with casual racism, and yet interestingly, there is a fundamental optimism along with the hope that life can only get better.

Initially, I found the book difficult to get into as there is much to take in, but by about a third of the way into the book, I began to appreciate more the true nature of the story and became more emotionally involved with the characters. There is no doubt that the author is writing with authority, and is entirely comfortable recounting a story which has a realistic historical feel to it and which works as a social commentary about a determined working class community during a time of great social change.




Thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for giving me the chance to read this book in advance of its publication as part of the Lovereading review panel.


If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Would Never Have Let You Go 

is published on the 30th October and will be available from a good book store near you.


For more reader reviews about this book please go to






*~*~*






Monday, 27 October 2014

Dylan Thomas Centenary...



was born in Swansea on the 27th October 1914

A black and white photo of Thomas in a book shop, he is wearing a suit with a white spotted bow tie.




Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

In the sun born over and over,

I ran my heedless ways,

My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

Before the children green and golden

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

In the moon that is always rising,

Nor that riding to sleep

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


****








Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday War Poet ...

Ivor Bertie Gurney

1890 - 1937



To His Love

He's gone, and all our plans
   Are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswold
   Where the sheep feed
   Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
   Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
   Under the blue
   Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now ...
   But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
   With violets of pride
   Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
   And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers—
   Hide that red wet
   Thing I must somehow forget.




Ivor Gurney was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. At the outbreak of war he volunteered as a private in the Gloucestershire regiment but was initially turned down because of poor eyesight. 
 He joined the 2nd and 5th Gloucestershire regiment in 1915.
 He was wounded and gassed in 1917 while serving in France.


***



Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review ~ Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin

Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin
Corazon Books
September 2014


Sara Dane is the story of an eighteenth-century young Englishwoman who is unjustly sentenced and transported to the penal colony of Australia. The novel follows Sara's struggle to raise herself from the status of a convict to a position of wealth and power. She faces many challenges, from the savage voyage aboard a convict ship to the corruption and prejudice rife in New South Wales. Life in the Colony is harsh, and Sara has to contend with natural disasters and convict outbreaks, as well as the snobbery of the high society she wishes to enter.


When I clicked my e-reader to start the story of Sara Dane, I was instantly taken back to my teenage years when I devoured Catherine Gaskin novels and could hardly wait until my mother had finished with her copy before I grabbed it from her.

Reading Sara Dane is like being reunited with an old friend, I knew the story that of the transportation of this feisty heroine into the penal colony in Australia, but what I had forgotten was the overriding charm of the story and the way the author draws you into the period with good writing and fine attention to detail. Of course, the writing style may appear a little dated and there is less reliance on immoral shenanigans but what you get in abundance is adventure on a grand scale and some lovely light and shade touches, which make the reading of this story so pleasurable.

Sara Dane is a great historical romp by an author who was completely at the top of her game. She completed this story 1954 and after its publication Sara Dane became one of her best known books and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. If you have not been introduced to this fine writer before and you enjoy historical stories on grand scale then you could do no worse than to give Catherine Gaskin a try. Or, of course, you may be like me and wish to meet up again with an old friend, either way, I am sure you will be well entertained.



My thanks to Ian Skillicorn, at Great Stories with Heart, for reissuing this story and for being given the opportunity to read and review Sara Dane for a new book audience.






About the Author



 Catherine Gaskin



***





Friday, 24 October 2014

Review ~ Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

18586485
Transworld
July ~ 2014

The scent of frangipani brings memories of the past hurtling back to Felicity and even though she knows she must meet her husband outside their favourite London restaurant, she can’t help but follow where the scent of frangipani leads her. For Felicity, the reawakening of memories stirs powerful emotions; she feels like she is in love, blissfully and ecstatically so, the only problem is that these feelings are targeted towards an ex-lover and not her husband.

The story that follows sees Felicity and her husband, Quinn taken to the very brink of desperation, as Felicity tries to make sense of a world in which she feels increasingly out of control. The scent of nostalgia is a very poignant force and this remarkable story delves beneath the surface of memory to investigate the very powerful and emotional recall which comes when certain fragrances are triggered; it is her reaction to these powerful triggers which causes Felicity so much heartbreak. And as Felicity starts to behave appallingly towards Quinn, such is the power of the story, that far from being irritated by Felicity’s uncaring attitude, you simply can’t help but be moved by her plight. I wanted to wrap her up in a blanket to keep her from harm but the story veers off in such a thought provoking direction that no amount of comfort blanket would ever protect Felicity and Quinn from what is to come.

In Where Love Lies the destructive nature of a love out of control is taken to the very limit of endurance, and the examination of raw emotion is beautifully portrayed. There is no doubt that Julie Cohen has the ability to get right into the heart and soul of her characters, she makes you, the reader invest emotionally, so that their story becomes your story, so much so, you simply can’t do anything but read on until the story is finished.

Read it ...or miss out !


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




 Julie Cohen


***

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Author in the spotlight is ...Kerry Wilkinson

I am delighted to welcome Kerry Wilkinson to the blog to talk about his latest book in the Jessica Daniel series of crime novels.

21847680
Jessica Daniel #8
Macmillan
2014
Kerry Wilkinson



Hi Kerry ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo...


What inspired you to write a crime series?

It was a bit of an accident in that the plot for Locked In - my first book - dropped into my head unexpectedly one Saturday. If the plot for a wacky space opera with singing ducks had made its appearance known instead, I think my life might have taken a different turn.


What makes a good villain?

Someone whose motive is sound. He or she might be evil to everyone else's eye - but if the villain truly believes in their own actions, that's what makes them scary. It's why explanations such as, "The bad guy's crazy" is such a cop out.


Are you a plotter.... or a start writing and see where it takes you sort of writer?

I plot everything methodically, chapter to chapter. The final draft doesn't necessarily end up the way I'd originally plotted but it's there or thereabouts.


What scares you about writing books?

Nothing. There's nothing to be scared of.


What books do you like to read?

All sorts. I recently finished Stephen King's Mr Mercedes, which is a thriller. I'm reading Columbine, a non-fiction telling of the massacre and I'm also into Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley - a comic about choices, which is utterly brilliant. I never limit myself to one genre.


What’s next ?

There's another Jessica book, Scarred For Life, out in early 2015; then the second of my young adult-fantasy trilogy, Renegade, in April/May. I'm writing new stuff at the moment, too. I always have something on the go. I feel lazy if I'm not doing five things at once.


More about Kerry can be found here:



Twitter @kerrywk




Kerry - thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on crime writing. We wish you continuing success with your writing.


*~*~*




***

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review ~ Crossing the Line by Kerry Wilkinson

21847680
Macmillan
September 2014


Detective Inspector Jessica Daniel is newly promoted and facing a series of challenges which test her expertise and resources to the limit. Working the grim and dangerous streets of inner city Manchester is never easy and when a series of unrelated crimes spiral out of control, for her own peace of mind, Jessica needs to keep one step ahead of the criminal fraternity. The story gets off to a good start with the punchy investigation into the violent assault on a local councillor; then when further crimes start to escalate, Jessica and her team realise that they have something very dangerous to investigate.

This is my first experience of reading Kerry Wilkinson’s Jessica Daniel’s crime series, and as this is book eight, I felt like I had come rather late to the party. There seems to be a lot of back story to catch up on and there are oblique references to events of which new readers know nothing. I’m afraid, that I felt a little bit lost at times, which is why it’s always better to start at the beginning of a well established series. However, being a northerner, I did enjoy the Manchester setting, and the darker elements of Mancurian life were brought realistically to life.

Overall, the story was interesting and well controlled, although I did think that the first half of the book was a little slow in getting going, but once Jessica and her team started to work together better, the story became more interesting.

I’m not altogether sure that I would invest in the series from the beginning but if you like realistic northern crime in a gritty and uncompromising setting then my advice would be to start with book one, which was Locked In, and take it from there.


Amazon UK


My thanks to Sam Eades at Macmillan for my review copy of this book.


*~*~*

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review ~ The Waiting Game by Sheila Bugler

22842404
Brandon
An Imprint of O'Brien Books
2014

Watching. Waiting
Watching. Waiting.
Watching. Waiting


In this chilling psychological thriller, someone is stalking the weak, bringing fear and trepidation to a group of seemingly unrelated characters. The plot moves along reasonably well and there are enough twists and turns in the story to keep you guessing until at least mid way through the book, when I did then guess the perpetrator. I rather liked the short and snappy chapters, and the author did a reasonable job in bringing the characters to life, although I would have liked a little more oomph in DI Kelly’s character as she comes across as rather one dimensional.  Ellen Kelly seems to be set adrift in a world in which she has only a short grasp on what's happening around her. Caught up in a relationship which seems to be out of control and with a shadowy past which at time threatens to overwhelm her, she seems an unlikely leader of a criminal investigation team. 

As this is the second book in the series, and not having read the first book, I may well have missed some vital information which would have made the book work better for me. I’m not saying that it’s uninteresting, and if you like crime novels in the style of Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, then I am sure this will work for you, it’s just that I expected a little more and at times felt underwhelmed, as if I had read all this before.


My thanks to Real Readers and Brandon Books for my review copy of this one.


*~*~*

Monday, 20 October 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Claire Dyer

I am delighted to introduce to the blog




The Perfect Affair
Quercus
2014
Claire Dyer







Claire ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for chatting to us about your book 
The Perfect Affair.




Where did you get that first blinding flash of inspiration for The Perfect Affair?


It actually came via two sources. Firstly, I was shown a photograph of a reception held sometime in the 1960s to mark the launch of a ship. There was something in the way two of the people in the photograph were standing which told me that there was more to their relationship than met the eye. They were studiously not looking at one another and yet I could feel a tug of connection between them and so started thoughts about writing a novel about characters torn between love and duty.


Secondly, I drove by a house one day which had the most amazing stained glass in its front door and this got me thinking about doorways and about the sun throwing colours onto a hallway floor. To me doorways are liminal places and so I wanted Eve and Myles to meet on a doorstep and for this boundary to represent the struggle between right and wrong that they experience in their relationship.




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


There are two stories in the novel: one chronicling Rose’s affair with Henry in the 1950s and the other following Eve and Myles’s relationship in the present day. What I wanted to show most of all are the choices the two women face in their respective generations and how some of these choices are very different from one another and also how some are very much the same. There are therefore quite a number of motifs linking the two narratives. Moreover, I didn’t necessarily want pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of their respective situations but instead to give voice to the heartbreak people can suffer and cause when they find themselves falling in love with someone they shouldn’t.



Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be?

I always go into a period of mourning when a book comes to an end. You’re right, I do live with them and it’s a 24/7 thing so when it’s done I experience a kind of grief. My characters move into my head and heart and even if I don’t do it consciously, I find I'm working on plot points or the scenes they will people when I’m going about my daily business. Therefore when I do sit down to write, it’s like they’re real and have been there all along and are speaking through me and so I don’t actually have much of a say. It’s all a bit weird really!


And, I guess that because of this my characters can and do change as the novel progresses. In The Perfect Affair Rose was supposed to be a bit part but she became more and more vocal and visible and, rather than it being a conscious choice, her story spilled out concurrently with Eve’s. I guess the only person who really stayed as I had intended him was Henry, but then that’s Henry for you; constant and steady!


Which character in the story did you identify with the most?

I suppose it has to be Eve because we are roughly the same age and my sons have recently been the same age as Eve’s daughter is in the novel, so there is a lot I can identify with in her life. However, to make us different from one another I made her tall with long straight hair whereas I am short with short curly hair and this helped me distance myself from her and see her story more objectively!



Are you a plotter...or ...a start writing and see where it takes you, sort of writer?


A bit of both. I do plot the overall arc of the novel; I decide on my settings and time frames and sketch out my characters and do whatever research is necessary but then I kind of let the story take over. I find my books have their own narrative urge and that if I over think things this doesn’t leave room for invention. What I love the most is sitting at my keyboard and seeing what happens. Obviously in doing it this way there are good days and bad days! I usually do have a rough idea how the book will end but don’t like to admit this to myself so as to keep it a surprise for me as well as the reader! This all changes, of course, in the editing process when I have to hone and buff my prose and ensure everything ties up but the first draft has, in the past, tended to be a bit of a voyage of discovery!


Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced your writing?

Yes I suppose I do. I like books that make me think, that I have to work at to tease out their meaning. Like with poetry, I like novels I come out of knowing more than when I went in! I recently did an MA in Victorian Literature and so hugely admire the technical and narrative skills of writers such as Eliot and Dickens. My favourite novel ever is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and I’m a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway but also love Margaret Atwood, Anna Quindlen, oh the list is quite endless! I am a voracious reader and am currently reading The Magus by John Fowles, have just re-read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell and The Guernsey Litearary & Potato Peel Pie Society and a recent favourite has been Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen. I’ve also just completed another MA, this time in Poetry, and have fallen completely for the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. She is, as a friend recently said, like a cat. She always falls on her feet in her poems! I do so envy her this!


What’s next?


I am currently working on another novel which is a multi-point-of-view, multi-generational story set between 1987 and now and which has trust as its core theme. So, I have my work cut out!


More about Claire can be found on her website.






Claire~ Thank you it's been a real pleasure to learn more about the writing process and the fascinating background to The Perfect Affair.


Jaffa and I wish you continuing success with your writing career.





*~*~*




Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols
1893- 1944





Noon

It is midday; the deep trench glares….
A buzz and blaze of flies….
The hot wind puffs the giddy airs….
The great sun rakes the skies.

No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.

Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire,
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in hell's frying fire.

From out a high, cool cloud descends
An aeroplane's far moan,
The sun strikes down, the thin cloud rends….
The black speck travels on.

And sweating, dazed, isolate
In the hot trench beneath,
We bide the next shrewd move of fate
Be it of life or death.



Robert Nichols was an English writer, poet and playwright.
He was educated Winchester and Oxford. He was in the trenches for only a few weeks before being invalided out with shell-shock in 1915, never to return.
 He worked for Ministries of Labour and Information.


*~*~*




Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review ~ The Man from Berlin by Luke McCallin

23111744
No Exit Press
27 November 2014


The Man from Berlin is a complicated historical thriller set during the chaos of WW2. In Sarajevo in 1943 Abwehr Lieutenant Stefan Hende is found dead, shot by killers unknown. Linked to his death, is the brutal murder of Marija Vukie, a beautiful socialite and propaganda film maker. The deaths, instead of being assigned to the local military police, are assigned to Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a military intelligence officer, who is trying very hard to keep a low profile. However, this case throws him into the very heart of political corruption.

As this is the first in the series there is rather a lot to take in about Reinhardt. His past history is complex and his strong ethical convictions often place him in direct contrast to those he serves. As a thriller, it works. The writing is assured and competent with a fine eye for detail. The plot is well controlled and the intricacies of German war politics are accurately portrayed.

 However, I have to say that I struggled with the book; this was largely due to the unfamiliarity of Yugoslavian names, and the added complexities of reading about a time in history of which I know very little. However, if you are looking for a literary historical thriller and don’t mind getting to grips with a complex and intricate story line, then this first book in the Gregor Reinhardt series is a good place to start.



My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.




Luke McCallin


***

Review ~ The Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler

23111727
No Exit Press
18 December 2014

In 1914, war correspondent Christopher Marlow ‘Kit’  Cobb arrives in Vera Cruz, Mexico to report on the complexities of civil war.  En route to a meeting with the revolutionary Pancho Villa, Marlowe assumes a false identity in order to pursue the German diplomat Friedrich von Mensinger. However, his journey is fraught with danger and very soon Kit finds himself caught up, not just in perilous political intrigue, but also in a dangerous intimate relationship with a young Mexican woman, who may have more than a passing interest in the revolution. Kit is a dangerous protagonist, a man of great contradictions, and his overriding belief in getting things done is the fundamental focus of the novel.

There is no denying that the author is adept at this particular genre, and controls the narrative in a very accomplished way. The story is complex, full of adventure and unfurls almost like cinematography, until you can almost imagine it being one of those late night movies that grabs your attention, until almost without realising, and against your better judgement, you get drawn into the story. The plot is well controlled and very detailed; however, I have to say that I struggled with the book, particularly in the first two thirds, when I was very tempted to give up. The story, well written though it may be, just didn't grab my attention fully, and I must admit to skim reading over parts of the narrative.

If you like complicated historical fiction and enjoy starting an adventurous thriller series from the beginning then The Hot Country is a good place to start, as this sees the commencement of the Christopher Marlow Cobb series of books of which there are now three.


My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.


*~*~*




 Robert Olen Butler


***

Friday, 17 October 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Rebecca Mascull

I am delighted to introduce Rebecca Mascull

chatting about her book








Rebecca Mascull
Author of The Visitors (2014) 
Song of the Sea Maid (2015), 
Published by Hodder & Stoughton.





Rebecca ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo....



What inspired you to write The Visitors?

As with any novel, a number of things came together to influence this book. I worked with deaf teenagers when I was training to be a teacher and I realised how ignorant I was about the challenges of deaf communication and education. I shared a bus ride with a deaf lad called James and we had a fascinating conversation in my notepad, where I asked him questions about what it was like to be deaf. I also saw a film about Helen Keller when I was a teenager and was fascinated by how it must feel to not only have no sight or hearing, yet also to have no language. I tried to imagine how one could think without language. I wanted to explore my main character's mind and her transition from a pre-language state to that of communication. I wanted to set it at a time when deaf-blindness was misunderstood and see how my protagonist pushed against those restrictions, so that's one reason why I chose the late-Victorian period. Those are some of the influences that shaped 'The Visitors', but there are likely to be many more rattling around inside my head!


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

'The Visitors' is the story of a Victorian child, Adeliza, who becomes deaf and blind at a very young age. Without language she is desperately frustrated and almost feral, with a caring father who doesn't know how to help and an ill mother. Her only friends are the Visitors, who she talks to in her head. Luckily, she meets a young hop-picker on her father's hop farm who knows how to communicate through finger spelling and teaches her language. The story follows Liza on her journey through learning to communicate and beyond, to the truth about the mysterious Visitors.


Are you a 'plotter' or are you happy to let the story go wherever it takes you?

Yes, I'm very much a plotter. I write a detailed synopsis and then an even more detailed chapter plan before writing, which I then follow as I'm writing the first draft. However, in everything I've written, I always end up going off the track of my original plans. Often, the characters themselves drive this. I might have a certain plan for a character and they turn round and say, NO thank you, I'm off to do this! It is a curious thing, but there's no turning them once they've done that. I've found you can't shoehorn a character into a plot they don't fit and one must listen to that voice that tells you where they should be going. As a writer, I feel it's very important to be open to that voice, which I believe comes from the sub-conscious and is the driving force behind the most profound parts of novel writing, and probably most artistic endeavours.

What are your main literary influences?

I couldn't say I would know what influences each book that I write, as that's part of the mysterious process I've described above. Also, I try not to read any novels while I'm actually engaged in writing the first draft, as I'm terrified of being influenced, actually! I would hate anyone to say - ooh, she must have nicked that from such-and-such a writer! But of course, every novel I read enters into the back of my mind and stays there, to surface when you least expect it. I would say that there are certain writers that inspire me to be a better writer - those include Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, J. D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a very recent discovery, Elizabeth Jane Howard. All of these writers influence me in terms of writing books in which I've lost myself and continue to haunt me. That's how I want to feel about my own books and how I'd want a reader to feel about them too, hopefully!

What scares you about writing books?

What a great question! Gosh, I think it's about the book not turning out in the way you wanted. I have a vision of a book before it's written and it's always this glorious piece of transcendent art...but it never turns out exactly that way! Instead, a novel is a rag-tag bundle of words and images and fleeting impressions that goes some way towards what you intended, but once written it resides in the mind of each and every reader. And there's nothing the writer can do to control that, and if you're lucky, a reader might experience a moment of that transcendence you were reaching for, and in the end, that's enough. But I do believe that fear - the worry that the book won't live up to your early vision of it - is a good and useful thing, as it drives you to make it the best book it can be.

What books do you like to read?

Well, I've mentioned some of my favourite writers above; others would include Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, Raymond Carver, Jack London, Marilynne Robinson - a real mixed bunch! Mostly, I'll read anything if the writing grabs me - the quality of the prose is the thing that keeps me reading, not the genre or writer's reputation or previous work. For example, I think Ian McEwan is a very fine writer indeed and 'Atonement' is one of my favourite novels of all time, but I couldn't finish 'Saturday'. The same with John Fowles. Even Dickens - I didn't finish the Pickwick Papers or Barnaby Rudge, but I devoured the others. That's also about a particular plot or set of characters, that chime with me, that move me and make me want to carry on inside their world. You can't quantify that and it's random and therefore elusive. The magic of books!

What's next?

I've just finished the copy-edit of my second novel for Hodder and Stoughton. It's called 'Song of the Sea Maid' and is the story of an C18th orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. It'll be published in June 2015. I'm also into the early stages of research for my third novel for Hodder, set in the early years of the C20th. It's at that lovely, shadowy stage where I don't know what's going to happen, and I love that bit! Before the proper hard work starts, yet this early stage is where a lot of the character and plot development begins and is a crucial part of the process. 

Hopefully, it will turn out well...Wish me luck! 


Find out more about Rebecca here:


Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/rebeccamascull



Instagram http://instagram.com/rebeccamascull




Rebecca ~ it's been a real pleasure to have you visit our blog.

Jaffa and I look forward to reading your next book Song of the Sea Maid in 2015.

Come back and see us again soon.

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review ~ The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull

22926491
Hodder & Stoughton
July 2014
Imagine if you couldn't see

couldn't hear
couldn't speak...

Then one day somebody took your hand and opened up the world to you.



 In late Victorian England on her father’s hop farm, Adeliza Golding is born with very little sight. Tragically, as a three year old, and after a bout of scarlet fever, she loses her hearing and cataracts obstruct her vision even further. She becomes increasingly isolated; unable to communicate and trapped and lost in a world of darkness. Her father tries in vain to understand her, but has neither the knowledge nor the patience to overcome Liza’s disabilities.

In her darkness and confusion, Liza’s only communication is with the visitors, ghostly visions she speaks to in her head, who bring her neither comfort or joy, but who are her only way of making sense of her dark and dangerous world. One day, Lottie, a young hop picker takes Liza’s hand and begins to draw the shape of words, and suddenly the world beckons Liza in a way that she could never have envisaged.

What then follows is a beautifully written and very poignant coming of age story, in which Liza matures and grows into a strong and courageous young woman. With Lottie’s companionship, Liza is able to make sense of a changing world which sees her leave the familiarity of the Kentish hop fields, and head towards the unknown territory of the Boer War. The sweep of history moves effortlessly and very cleverly takes the reader on a voyage of discovery. We view the world through Liza’s eyes, which damaged though they are, offer a unique perspective on everything around her.

The overriding theme of love, friendship and survival make this one of those stories that stays with you long after the last page is turned.

It is a commendable debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from this talented author.


Do come back tomorrow to read an interview with Rebecca Mascull


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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Review ~ Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

23111719
No Exit Press
To be published
February 2015

Dark secrets combined with horrifying revenge form the basis for this cleverly controlled and decidedly creepy thriller.


The dark menace of Hold the Dark permeates throughout the narrative until you begin to feel an ice cold chill of dread. In the Alaskan village of Keelut, wolves have allegedly slinked right into the village in order to take away small children.  When her six year old son disappears Medora Slone enlists the help of wolf expert Russell Core, who must try to get to the heart of this horrific mystery. And when Medora’s husband, Vernon, is invalided out of the army, he returns from Iraq hell bent on finding his son and wreaking revenge.

Hold the Dark is exceptionally bleak, and probably not a story to read if you are feeling downhearted. However, even though the story is uncompromisingly desolate, there is no escaping that it captures your attention from the beginning and literally gets right under your skin. The core of its darkness comes in the uncompromising violence which is threaded throughout the book, and whilst this is not to my personal taste, I acknowledge that it adds credibility, not just to the barrenness of the story’s landscape, but also to the obdurate nature of its characters.


As thrillers go it held my attention throughout, however, I must say I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the book was over and the darkness receded.



My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.

Edited

 ** Now published 26th February 2016 **

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Launch Day ~ Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman


is very pleased to announce the publication 

of

Notting Hill Press

14 October 2014




Cinderella meets Falling Down in this wickedly funny tale about having it all

Carol is perfect… at least that’s what everyone thinks. In reality she’s sinking fast – her family treats her like their personal assistant and her boyfriend is so busy with work that he’s got her single-handedly running their relationship. Not that her job is any easier. As the only woman on the bank’s trading floor she spends twelve-hour days trying not to get sworn at or felt up by colleagues who put the "W" in banker.

How long can she go on pleasing everyone else before she snaps and loses it all?

With humour and empathy, Perfect Girl lays bare the balancing act that working women face in a man's world.





PERFECT GIRL is available on Amazon now, and will also be on iBooks, Kobo and Barnes and Noble.





Monday, 13 October 2014

Review ~ Listellany by John Rentoul



Hardcover, 128 pages
Publication date: 9 Oct 2014
List price: £9.99
ISBN: 9781783960040



I find that avid readers are very methodical people who love nothing better than keeping a good list, either of the books they have read, or of books they have yet to read. So, to have a little book totally concentrating on a list of top ten interesting facts about absolutely everything, really appealed to my avid reader’s sense of order.

Every week in the Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul publishes a top ten based on suggestions from the great British public. Putting all these suggestions into a handy little reference book is an inspired idea. As contained within, are lists upon fascinating lists and answers to questions you never knew you needed an answer for; from the ten worst Beatles songs, through to the top ten of English Monarchs and from the top ten of everyday lies, to the top ten fictional villains

I really enjoyed my first read through of this book, at 128 pages it is concise enough to read in one sitting; I found myself, more than once, with a wry smile on my face. Only the British can get excited by the top ten of Best British place names and only a reader will mutter in disapproval at a list of Books people buy but don’t read!

It’s one of those precious little gems that list lovers will want to keep in a handy place so that they can peruse it time and time again. It would make a perfect gift for a methodical reader like me, or for someone who simply likes a good list.


My thanks to Alison Menzies at Elliot & Thompson for my copy of this book to review




About the Author


  John Rentoul



John Rentoul is chief political commentator for the Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for theIndependent. He is the author of The Banned List and Questions to Which the Answer is "No!".


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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Seigfried Sassoon

(1886 - 1967)



Absolution

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes 
Till beauty shines in all that we can see. 
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free. 

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass. 
We are the happy legion, for we know 
Time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass. 

There was an hour when we were loth to part 
From life we longed to share no less than others.
Now, having claimed this heritage of heart, 
What need we more, my comrades and my brothers? 


*~*~*


Siegfried Sassoon was an eminent soldier, writer and poet. His war poetry about WW1 form some of the most influential work of all the war poets.


He is one of my favourite poets and Absolution is one of my favourite WW1 poems.

It makes me cry every time, for a generation of lost young men and women.


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