Friday, 25 May 2018

Review ~ Beyond the Arch by David Evered

Troubadour Publishing
January 2018

My thanks to the author for my copy of this book
When we first encounter, Peter Bowman he seems to have a well ordered, middle class life in London. He has a comfortable marriage to his wife, Ann, and an uneventful career as a solicitor. However, when Ann is unexpectedly called back to the North East to be with her father, who is very ill, Peter spends time, away from Ann, exploring the North East on his own. He meets, Sally, an attractive young woman with whom he feels an instant connection, and it is this attraction, along with a personal tragedy, which acts as the much needed catalyst for Peter to take charge of his life.

The story is set in the late 1960s, the age of permissiveness and liberalism, and yet this freedom of thought and action seems to have bypassed Peter who is approaching middle-age with something of a heavy heart. He feels unsatisfied, and in order to discover what he wants from his life, he needs to makes some drastic changes.

The author writes well, with an understanding of time and place, and both the writing and the dialogue, compliment this period in history. However, it took me a little time to feel an affinity with the characters, I wasn't even sure I liked Peter very much at first, but as the story progresses, especially when the action moves to France, I felt like I understood him a little more, and became interested in just how Peter and Sally's story would eventually play out.

In Beyond the Arch there are some interesting, and astute, observations about the vagaries of life, the perils of relationships, and of how fate can, so often, take our lives in an entirely unexpected direction.

David Evered’s professional career was in academic medicine and research. He has been a consultant physician in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the Deputy Head of the UK Medical Research Council, a Special Adviser to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO – Lyon) and a Trustee of Macmillan Cancer Support. He has lived in Newcastle, London and France and is now retired. He and his wife live in rural West Berkshire. This is his first work of fiction.

Twitter @david_evered

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review ~ The Feather Thief by Kirk W Johnson

26 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

This book really took me by surprise as I had no idea that bird feathers were such a valuable commodity, and, as such, are open to thievery on really a grand scale. That's just what happened in the summer of 2009 when twenty year old musician, Edward Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire and stole a huge assortment of wild bird specimens which had been collected centuries before by some of the very first naturalists.

I expected the book to mainly concentrate on this audacious theft, which of course it does in some detail, however, the early part of the book concentrates on the obsession with collecting natural specimens, initially for curiosity and then for scientific research purposes, but also in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for use by the fashion industry. I was shocked to learn that by 1900 some two hundred million North American birds were killed every year in order to satisfy the need for bird feathers for use in the millinery trade, and, as bird numbers depleted so the net worth of their precious feathers increased.

By the time Edward Rist had his fascination for bird feathers, their usage had become consistent with  the world of salmon fishing, where intricate flies, made from original and highly prized rare bird feathers, exchanged hands for large sums of money. The chapters which detail the Tring Heist are absolutely fascinating, and as the reasons for Rist's theft becomes apparent, so the strange and very secret subculture that exists around fly fishing comes vividly to life. I was astonished to learn of the lengths that some people are prepared to go in order to obtain the feathers they crave, and I was equally disturbed to find out that large sums are paid for extremely rare bird feathers. 

The book is an absolute page turner, beautifully written by a man who was determined to see this story told, and he does so with real flair, and fine attention to detail, so that even if you know absolutely nothing about birds, like me, or indeed fly fishing, like me, you can't help but be drawn into this fascinating true crime story. There are also a number of very interesting photographs and illustrations which help to put the subject into context.

I read The Feather Thief constantly surprised, and more than a little upset at the thought that so many billions of beautiful birds have died to satisfy our whims and fancies. I will never look at displays of bird feathers in quite the same way ever again.

Kirk W. Johnson

Kirk Wallace Johnson is the author of To Be a Friend is Fatal and the founder of the List Project. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the American Academy in Berlin, and the USC Annenberg Center. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and daughter.

Twitter @KirkWJohnson #TheFeatherThief

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Review ~ Not Without Risk by Pete Trewin

Not Without Risk
AIA Publishing

My thanks to the author for my copy of this book

Martin Bennett works behind the scenes for a regeneration company which is working on new ideas to bring prosperity back to Merseyside. Liverpool seems to be a place which is crying out for redevelopment, but, as Martin discovers, to his cost, that not everyone is of the same opinion.

Not Without Risk is a complex thriller which takes us on a lively journey through the sinister underworld of the city of Liverpool. It’s a place where all manner of shady individuals ply their trade, and thanks to a few bent coppers who turn a blind eye, they always seem to succeed in keeping one step ahead of the law. When Martin witnesses the suspicious death of an old adversary, he inadvertently gets drawn into this criminal netherworld, a world which is inhabited by unethical lawyers and equally corrupt politicians.

Trying to put together all of the pieces of this complicated jigsaw puzzle is what makes Not Without Risk such an entertaining read. I enjoyed getting to know Martin, he’s a likeable chap, and even though when we first meet him he’s slightly down on his luck, he rises to the challenges that the story throws at him with great aplomb. His lively banter with his colleague, Lester, and their thwarted efforts at getting fit made me laugh out loud, especially at the descriptions of Lester’s somewhat dubious sport attire. 

I found much to enjoy in Not Without Risk, not just because I’m a northerner and could appreciate the dry wit and ready repartee which is so reminiscent of this part of the country, but also from the way the author really brings Merseyside, and in particular, Liverpool, to life in such a convincing and entertaining way. 

Pete Trewin is the author of three crime mystery novels – with a touch of noir – set in Merseyside and the north of England.

Pete Trewin

Twitter @PeterTrewin

21920582 24626718

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Spotlight on Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings by Authors on the Edge..

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.

Authors on the Edge
18 May 2018

My thanks to the authors for my copy of this book

Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings

Sometimes what you need is right there waiting for you...

Miss Moonshine’s Wonderful Emporium has stood in the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge for as long as anyone can remember. With her ever-changing stock, Miss Moonshine has a rare gift for providing exactly what her customers need: a fire opal necklace that provides a glimpse of a different life; a novel whose phantom doodler casts a spell over the reader; a music box whose song links love affairs across the generations. One thing is for certain: after visiting Miss Moonshine’s quirky shop, life is never the same again...

I'm delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo, Helena Fairfax to tell me all about 

Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings

How a Beautiful Building in Hebden Bridge Inspired 9 Northern Romance Authors

A few years ago a group of northern romance writers began to meet up regularly in Hebden Bridge for lunch and a chat. This old mill town is the perfect place for us to meet, as it lies on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire - and we now call ourselves Authors on the Edge!

Hebden Bridge is also a lovely place for a day out, with little streets full of interesting shops, a canal towpath to wander down, lined with narrowboats, and stunning views of the hills and the moors all around. An article once called Hebden Bridge ‘a little rain-soakedparadise’, and even when it’s raining here (which it does a lot) there are lots of caf├ęs to keep dry in – which all happen to serve delicious varieties of home-made cake!

The nine of us romance authors – that is, Mary Jayne Baker, Sophie Claire, Jacqui Cooper, Helena Fairfax (me), Kate Field, Melinda Hammond, Marie Laval, Helen Pollard, and Angela Wren - have just released an anthology of stories, which are all linked together. When it came to the setting for our collection, the ‘rain-soaked paradise’ of Hebden Bridge was obviously the perfect place! Our central character, who appears in every story, is called Miss Moonshine, and she’s the eccentric owner of a quirky shop on Market Street. We based Miss Moonshine’s shop on a real building in the town. There are lots of lovely old buildings in Hebden Bridge, but the Heart Gallery in particular seemed absolutely just right. 

Heart Gallery
Hebden Bridge

If you look at the photos, you’ll see the windows of the gallery building are quite high off the ground. This is because it was originally built for use as a Baptist Chapel. The lintel over the doorway shows the year 1777. There is a beautiful rowan tree outside the door, and an arch of roses at the entrance. There is so much about the outside of the building that makes you want to step inside. It was perfect for our stories.

Heart GalleryHebden Bridge

Melinda Hammond (who writes for Mill and Boon as Sarah Mallory) starts the anthology off with her Regency romance, and she reveals what Miss Moonshine’s shop was like two hundred years ago:
‘…a strange sort of shop, for the windows, though large, began at least four feet from the ground. A lamp burned in one of the windows, its golden light glinting on the objects displayed. A Malacca cane with a chased silver top was propped against the glass in one corner. In front of it was a metal birdcage and a bronze desk-set that appeared to be missing one of its inkwells. In the centre of the window was a small shepherdess figurine that could be French. 

Then comes my own story, set in 1908, when the heroine is amazed to see a gleaming motor car parked outside Miss Moonshine’s. The car belongs to the hero, and…well, I don’t want to give too much away! The stories go on to show Miss Moonshine’s Emporium as it is today –and it lives up to its name as a Wonderful Emporium! Miss Moonshine is the same mysterious, quirky and marvellous character throughout.

Working on this anthology, with this brilliant group of northern authors, has been really good fun from start to finish. We’ve even started to believe that Miss Moonshine is a real character, and that’s she’s worked her magic on all of us.

Available from Amazon in print and as an ebook. 

Follow on Twitter #authorsontheedge

Find out more about the Heart Gallery  in  Hebden Bridge

My thoughts about Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings ..

This collection of nine romantic short stories, each with a theme in common, really lightened my heart and, as each story ended, I was left with a rosy, warm glow, and an eager anticipation of what was to come in the next magical story.

Each of the stories are a perfect length to be read over a cup of tea and a Jaffa Cake, and even though the stories differ in content and even in timescale, the fine attention to detail and the love of writing comes across with each author's delicate contribution.

The appeal of good short stories is that they showcase just what the author is capable of, and it gives the reader a chance to sample the author’s individual writing style. And even though in Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings the nine authors have very different writing styles, the generosity they have to each other in their collaboration works really well, with none of them wanting to outshine the others, and all of them making a generous contribution to the anthology as a whole.

It would be unfair of me to choose a favourite amongst the nine as I found something equally enjoyable in all of them, so I won’t single any out, but what I will say, is that this team of best-selling northern writers have a real hit on their hands with Miss Moonshine and her Emporium, and I really hope that they go on to work in partnership again in future anthologies.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Review ~ Queen of the North by Anne O'Brien

31 May 2018

My thanks to the author for sharing her book with me 

What's it all about ..

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

My thoughts about it..

When Henry of Lancaster usurped the throne from Richard II in 1399, it was a far from amicable take-over of power, as it opened the country to the possibility of counter claims to the English crown. Elizabeth Mortimer is married to Henry Percy, the heir to the earldom of Northumberland, better known in history as the volatile and impetuous 'Hotspur', and even though Percy's involvement in English politics results in danger and uncertainty, it is through Elizabeth’s Mortimer connection to royalty where the real challenge comes, as Elizabeth is determined to see that her young nephew, Edmund Mortimer, pursues his legitimate claim to the English throne.

What then follows is a gripping story of politics, ambition and thwarted power which has its foothold firmly established in the unsettled atmosphere of a country which has been divided, not just by the political ambitions of people who merely wanted power for the sake of power, but also from those game players who truly believed that right was on their side.

Into this incredibly masculine world of control and authority, Elizabeth tries to make her voice heard and it is thanks to the skill of this talented writer that she comes to life in such a realistic and positive way. All too often the important women of history are side-lined by their sexier and more powerful male counterparts, and yet, as is so often the case, the women who endured and who worked surreptitiously in the background often had huge influence on the way that events eventually played out.

The author writes with passion and authority deftly bringing medieval England alive in all of its convoluted glory. There are plots and counter plots, meetings with the Welsh Prince, Owain Glyn Dwr, and time spent at the spectacular Northumberland castles of Alnwick and Warkworth and through all of the political maneuverings, Elizabeth Mortimer comes across a determined and hugely intelligent woman who felt that she and her family had grievances aplenty against a king who was, quite simply, not listening. That it doesn't bode well for Henry Percy is enshrined in history but what Queen of the North gives us so vividly is Elizabeth's interpretation of events as they unfolded during the momentous years between 1399 and 1408.

Mixing historical fact with fiction is a difficult challenge especially as so little is documented historically about Elizabeth Mortimer and yet, the author has succeeded really well in bringing her entirely to life, and gives Elizabeth a clear voice which is as bright and distinctive as the woman herself.

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in history at Manchester University and a Master's in Education at Hull. she lived in the East Riding for many years where she taught history.

Leaving teaching-but not her love of history-Anne turned to writing and her passion for giving voice to the oft forgotten women of the medieval era was born. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth century cottage in Herefordshore, an area steeped in history and full of inspiration for her work.

Twitter @anne_obrien #QueenoftheNorth

Queen of the North will be published on the 31st May 2018 by HQ

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

Morale Boosting Songs of WW1

Florrie Forde

Florrie Forde was a popular music hall entertainer who came to England, aged 21, from Australia. She made her first appearance on the London stage in 1897 and her powerful performances and charismatic stage presence meant that she was soon in demand. Her popularity, as a vaudeville act, made her one of the most sought after entertainers of the early twentieth century,

Her morale boosting songs during World War One were some of the most popular songs of the time.

These included songs which are still remembered today.

Down at the Old Bull and Bush
Pack Up Your Troubles in your old kit bag
It's a long way to Tipperary
Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

Jack Dunn, son of a gun, somewhere in France today
Keeps fit doing his bit, up to his eyes in clay
Each night after a fight to pass the time along
He's got a little gramophone that plays this song

Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town
Take me over there
Drop me anywhere
Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester, well, I don't care!
I should love to see my best girl
Cuddling up again we soon should be
Hurry me back to Blighty
Blighty is the place for me!

One day, Mickey O'Shea, out in a trench somewhere
So brave, having a shave, trying to part his hair
Mick yells, dodging the shells and lumps of dynamite:
"Talk of the Crystal Palace on a firework night!"

Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town
Take me over there
Drop me anywhere
Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester, well, I don't care!
I should love to see my best girl
Cuddling up again we soon should be
Hurry me back to Blighty

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty was written by Arthur J. Mills, Fred Godfrey and Bennett Scott in 1916. It was popular during the First World War and tells a story of fictional soldiers on the Western Front suffering from homesickness and their longing to return to "Blighty"..

During a recent visit to the IWM (North) I bought a set of WW1 memorabilia which contained a few replica WW1 morale boosting postcards and came across this image of a soldier in the trenches listening to this song and imagining himself back home with his folks and his sweetheart.

You can listen to Florrie Forde sing Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty 
by clicking on the You Tube link below.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ The Pharmacist's Wife by Vanessa Tait

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back to ...Edinburgh,1869

12 April 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

The Pharmacist's Wife takes us back in time to the mean and moody streets of Victorian Edinburgh, back to a time when it was commonplace for women to be at the absolute mercy of the men who married them.

When Rebecca Palmer marries Edinburgh pharmacist,Alexander Palmer, she imagines that her life will be comfortable and even though the marriage is largely passionless, she doesn't question her husband's ability to know what's best for her. However, the controlling nature of her husband, and his experimental foray into the dark world of drug and drug addiction, leads Rebecca into some very dark places, especially when Alexander's experimentation of these new drugs threatens Rebecca's very sanity.

Whilst this is a dark and disturbing visit to Edinburgh, with all its shadowy and shady places, there is no doubt that everything comes alive beautifully, and so atmospheric is the narrative that you really feel as if you are living life alongside Rebecca, and watching in horror as her husband's controlling grip pulls ever tighter.

The author writes of Rebecca's struggle and manipulation so cleverly that the horror of what's unfolding makes you reel in disbelief and yet, it is Rebecca's strength of character and her determination to pull herself out of the darkness which gives the story its absolute strength.

The Pharmacist's Wife is a beautifully written Victorian melodrama which brings mid-nineteenth century, Edinburgh to life in all its dreadful detail and the story vividly highlights the plight of so many Victorian women who were never allowed to have their own voice.

Vanessa Tait grew up in Gloucestershire. She went to the University of Manchester and completed a Master's degree in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College. The Pharmacist's Wife is her second novel.

Twitter @vanessa_tait