Friday, 23 February 2018

Review ~ Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Pan Macmillan
8 March 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

Pop...1 Pop...2 Pop...3

When a gunman enters the McKinley Elementary School, six year old, Zach, his teacher Miss Russell, and the rest of his class huddle together in the closet, however, the pop, pop, pop, of gun fire can be clearly heard. Hiding in the dark and with no clear knowledge of what is happening they wait for someone to save them. When help finally arrives, the nightmare begins, and, in the aftermath of the tragedy, the small community around McKinley need to face up to the knowledge that such a despicable act happened on their doorstep.

Current and timely, in light of the recent school shooting in the US, Only Child gives us the story from the perspective of six year old Zach. It is his voice that leads us through the aftermath; his are the thoughts, feelings and observations, as is the way he perceives what the grown-ups around him are doing. His father, Jim immersed in his work no longer has time to listen and Zach's mother, Melissa, buries her grief and sorrow in a hate campaign against the perpetrator and always seems to be angry.

Insightful, sensitive and acutely observed, the author has with a subtle and delicate touch recreated the voice of a child and even as Zach struggles to explore his thoughts and feelings, so the adults around him are also trying to make sense of a world gone mad. Such is the strength of the story that my heart ached for Zach who desperately needed some TLC and good trauma counselling and yet his feelings, so very often, seemed to be brushed aside as the ‘grown ups’ slid into defence and attack mode.

All too often these terrible atrocities flash onto our TV screens and the world sits up and takes notice for a little while without ever really considering what happens to these small communities when the TV companies disappear and folks are left trying to pick up the shattered remnants of their lives. Beautifully written and astutely perceptive Only Child shows quite powerfully the trauma of loss, sadness and total incomprehension that surrounds a mass shooting. 

Zach’s story in Only Child brings this powerfully into focus.

About the Author

Rhiannon Navin

Rhiannon Navin grew up in Germany before a career in advertising took her to America. Now a full-time mother and writer, she lives in New York with her husband, three children and two cats.

ONLY CHILD is her first novel and with this story Rhiannon hopes to help bring about change and contribute to the important conversation about US gun control in a meaningful way.

Twitter @rhiannonnavin #OnlyChild

Only Child will be published in hardback on the 8th March by Mantle
Out in ebook now.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review ~ The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

22 February 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

What's it all about..

In the three years since her husband died in a car accident, Lili has just about managed to resume her day-to-day life as a single mother and successful illustrator. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work and watch TV like a pro. But there's still the small problem of the aching loss she feels inside.

When she's commissioned to illustrate a series of horticultural books, and signs up to a weekly gardening class, finally her life starts to bloom again.

The class provides Lili with a new network of unexpected friends - friends with their own heartaches and problems - and, maybe, another chance at love

My thoughts about it...

Lilian has had her share of life's difficulties but, three years after she was tragically widowed, she is bravely battling on, looking after her two children and keeping her job as a textbook illustrator. When she is offered the opportunity to illustrate a series of vegetable guides she is little taken aback when the proviso for her getting the job is that she must attend a vegetable growing class at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden. This is really far out of her comfort zone but with her children and sister accompanying her, Lilian finds that gardening opens up all sorts of unexpected possibilities.

Getting to know new people gives Lilian new found confidence and it was  interesting to see how her character progressed throughout the story. There are some lovely light hearted moments which made me smile but there also some quite sad reflective moments as Lilian, after a difficult few years, and with the help of her friends starts, to look forward into the future.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is a charming and inspirational story about finding out about what makes you truly happy. The author writes well and the novel has a lovely contemporary feel. I especially enjoyed reading the lovely gardening snippets which are interspersed throughout the novel.

Published today by Sphere.

Twitter @amplecat 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Author Interview ~ Elisabeth Gifford

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to welcome back to the blog the best selling author

Hi and welcome back to Jaffareadstoo, Elisabeth. Thank you for taking the time to come and talk with us today about your latest novel, The Good Doctor of Warsaw.

Atlantic Books
1 February 2018

Doctor Janusz Korczak is the eponymous doctor in The Good Doctor of Warsaw. Tell us about him and why you decided to tell his story.

I came across his quotes as a young mum and teacher and found them so helpful. You get pressures coming at you from all directions to be perfect and busy and Korczak helped me find a new perspective: he said just know your child and what they need. I began researching Korczak and came across Roman Wroblewski in Sweden, the son of two young teachers who worked with Korczak in the ghetto. So few people survived the ghetto and I realised the story would be lost if I didn’t try and tell it. Above all I wanted to share Korczak’s ideas on listening as the fabric of love. 

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is set in Poland during WW2. In researching the book did you visit Warsaw and did anything leave a lasting impression on you? 

Warsaw itself was an unforgettable experience. It is the site of a double tragedy. First the Jewish ghetto and it’s people were annihilated by the Nazis, then Hitler ordered the rest of Warsaw destroyed. The beautiful medieval centre was rebuilt from old photos and records but the Jewish ghetto is gone apart from a few sections of wall and various pavement markers, and a few buildings. The little white synagogue where Sabina was married is still there – it was a Gestapo stable during the war, as is the church where the girls went to obtain their false papers to escape the ghetto. The original orphanage built by Dr Korczak by some miracle is still standing and largely unchanged. It was an incredible experience to visit the place where he had cared for so many children, and where Misha had been a student teacher.

Mixing historical fact with fiction must be quite a challenge – how do you get the balance right without compromising on authenticity?

I kept to the facts but I did have to fill in missing information such as clothes, conversation and housing from research and then from imagination. I guess it’s the same principle as a historical film where there’s care taken to be accurate and authentic but you have to make decisions about filling in what is missing. Roman read the text and corrected errors which was challenging but essential.

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

I feel as though they are friends. Korczak’s words, books, and diary are all part of my life now and he has altered the way I approach relationships and caring for children. I think I put more value on listening and getting to know other people from different cultures and generations as probably the most important thing we can do. It makes for a happier life for children when they feel listened to and safe.

The Good Doctor Of Warsaw is a powerful story and your style of writing is very much ‘from the heart’. Did writing the book take its toll on you emotionally, and if so, how did you overcome it?

Yes, it was quite hard to read so many difficult things. But a story gives the cause and effect between the things that happen so I wanted to show how the ghetto had come about. I didn’t want to make a gratuitous list of difficult things, but rather to include enough to give readers a clear view of the history and of people’s choices and character. I believe it is a story that still informs the way Europe and modern society work and that made me keep going. I did take quite a long break from writing afterwards and fortunately had a restorative trip planned.

Without giving too much away, what do you hope readers will take away from reading The Good Doctor of Warsaw?

We can see childhood as an expert activity belonging to the parents who are under pressure to do it perfectly and may end up pressurising their own children in ways that make them unhappy. Kids don’t just belong to the parents, they belong to themselves, and really their welfare is the concern of all of us. So long as a society puts children as their highest care, then we will have a good nation. And children save us : Korczak said that when nations stop holding on to the hand of a child, then the world flies apart – which is what happened in Nazi Germany and in the Warsaw ghetto when so many children were taken away.

Huge thanks to Elisabeth for sharing her thoughts about The Good Doctor and for her insightful answers to my questions.

You can read my review of the book  here 

More About the Author

Elisabeth Gifford's debut novel, Secrets of the Sea House, was shortlisted for the historical writers' Association Debut Crown. She is married with three children and lives in Kingston Upon Thames.

More about Elisabeth can be found on her website

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @elisabeth04liz #GoodDoctorofWarsaw

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Book Feature ~ The Trip of a Lifetime by Monica McInerney

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to feature the latest novel by Monica McInerney

The Trip of a Lifetime

Michael Joseph
Penguin Random House
8 February 2018

A heart-warming multi-generational drama about homecomings from the Number One
bestselling author, Monica McInerney

I always thought memories were unchangeable. Set in stone, shaped by the years. But there are always others too, ones you haven’t let yourself remember . . . ’ 

The wilful and eccentric Lola Quinlan is off on the trip of a lifetime, taking her beloved granddaughter and great-granddaughter with her. More than sixty years after emigrating to Australia, she’s keeping a secret promise to return to her Irish homeland. 

But as she embarks on her journey, the flamboyant Lola is still hiding the hurtful reasons she left Ireland in the first place. What – and who – will be waiting for her on the other side of the world?

Publishing in February The Trip of a Lifetime is the perfect book to look ahead to spring with and beat the winter blues.  For fans of women’s fiction that packs an emotional punch, readers who enjoy Jojo Moyes,  Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly will fall in love with Monica’s writing. 

The Trip of a Lifetime shot straight to No. 1 in the Australian bestseller chart and the Top 10 in Ireland.

Those who have followed the fortunes of the Quinlan family which began with The Alphabet Sisters will be pleased to know that A Trip of  a Lifetime which sees Lola returns to her native Ireland, follows, Lola's Secret .

Monica is a superstar in her native Australia - she's the #5 bestselling author across all adult fiction 

Her books have combined worldwide sales of over 1.3 million.

You can find out more about the author on her website 

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @MonicaMcInerney

Monday, 19 February 2018

Blog Tour ~ The Last Day by Clare Dyer

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for The Last Day

And to welcome the author

Hi Claire, welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for spending time with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author?

Firstly, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this Q&A. It’s a real treat! 

I guess I’ve always written (or had aspirations to). I remember sitting at my grandmother’s bureau when I was a girl and writing shockingly bad poems and short stories. I studied English at Birmingham University in the early 80s but then got sucked into the world of work and bringing up my family, so it was only when my kids were in their teens that I finally lifted my head above the parapet and thought, ‘Hey, why not give writing a try again?’ 

I went on a Cornerstones course and met Julie Cohen who introduced me to Reading Writers, the longest-running writing group in Reading and, on joining I began to work with some wonderfully supportive people who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was getting it wrong but who also celebrated with me when I got things right!

From there it was mainly because of the people I met on the way who gave me the encouragement and context to push myself to completing whole novels and then, when I thought I was ready – which I obviously wasn’t – I started the whole submission thing. There have been many rejections along the way, but what’s been fantastic is the whole learning process I’ve been on and the characters who have peopled that journey. I wouldn’t have been without any of them for all the world!

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for The Last Day?

The idea came to me when I was sitting at my desk and I hastily started writing down some notes for it. I wanted the book to be about an older woman and her ex’s new young partner. Originally, it was to be based around four portraits which would represent the changing relationship between the two women. It’s altered a bit along the way, obviously, but I what I wanted to explore was a different paradigm to the norm: one where the women actually liked one another!

Will you explain to us a little more about the plot without giving too much away?

The novel is told from three viewpoints: Boyd’s, his ex-wife Vita’s and his girlfriend Honey’s. 

When Boyd finds himself in financial straits he asks Vita if he can move back into the home they used to share and bring Honey with him. Vita says yes because she’s over him and it doesn’t bother her either way whether he’s there or not. 

However, living together is unsettling for all of them. Each has their own secrets and desires and the past has the tendency of bumping up against them and knocking them off course. I can’t say too much without giving the game away, but needless to say they each end up in completely different place than the one in which they started!

How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer?

I’m more of a see-where-it-goes sort of writer. I have a basic plot outline but find that the characters tend to dictate where and how it develops. For example, in The Last Day, Vita’s POV was originally in the third person, but on the second rewrite, she pushed herself centre and forward and started waving her paintbrush at me and telling me what she should say next and so I had to put her in the first person after that!

Also, whilst I knew how the book was to end, I tried not to tell myself so that I would keep the same element of surprise in the writing that I hope the reader will experience when they read it!

Do you have a special place to write and where do you do your best thinking?

I’m very lucky in that I have a writing room at home. It faces my garden and since my kids have left home at least one, if not all, of my three cats tend to spend their days with me. Ideally, I like it to be quiet but living in Reading that’s not always possible, especially because each of my neighbours have had or are having major extensions done to their houses!

However, I also like to write in other places. I relish going on writing retreats to, for example, Retreats for You in Devon or Tŷ Newydd in North Wales but my absolute favourite writing place is Kalkan in Turkey. I think we’re on our 16th and 17th holidays there this year and there’s nothing better than sitting on the terrace of the villa where we stay with my laptop in front of me and gazing out over the bay as the sun sparkles the water.

Having said all this, my best thinking I suppose happens either at night in bed when I can’t sleep or in the swimming pool where I go for my thrice-weekly swim. The dark and silence of the night and/or the focus of thinking of nothing but counting lengths does, I find, free up my mind to sort plot problems or character dilemmas.

Are you your worst critic and why?

Oh yes, certainly! I think it’s a writer’s natural state to be in a constant state of doubt and despair. Whenever I write I have the good fairy on one shoulder telling me I can do it, and the bad fairy on the other, telling me what I’m doing is rubbish and doesn’t make sense. Even reading the proof copy of The Last Day was a rollercoaster: one minute I’d be telling myself, ‘This is OK, you know,’ and the next, I’d be wracked with uncertainty. The only way to counter this, I believe, is to put your trust in your characters. It’s their story, after all!

And finally ...If your life was book what would be the title?

My family have said that, due to my fashion choices, they are considering putting the words, ‘Here lies Claire Dyer, she wore beige’ on my headstone, so maybe the book of my life could be called ‘The Woman Who Wore Beige’!!!

Thank you again for featuring me on your site. It’s been a huge pleasure!

The Dome Press
15 February 2018

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and for the invitation to be part of the blog tour

What's it all about..

Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. 

Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back in to the house they both still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. 

Of course, Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy - or so it seems.

However, all three are keeping secrets.

My thoughts about the book..

Vita enjoys her own company, immersed in her artwork, she appears self-contained and in control. When Boyd, her amicably estranged husband, falls on hard times, Vita is persuaded, almost against her better judgment, to allow him move back into what was once their shared home along with Honey, Boyd's much younger girlfriend. This unlikely ménage seems a strange combination but as their shared experiences start to merge and coalesce, so the secrets of their lives start to be exposed.

The whole idea of the last day is very skilfully developed and without saying anything at all about the plot, I was completely taken in by the whole concept of time passing. Through a fascinating three stranded narrative the circumstances of the story are revealed by Vita, Boyd and Honey. All three characters have distinct voices and the author, very cleverly, allows them time to tell their stories in their own unique voices, without any one of them outshining the other. I was engrossed by all three characters, but I was especially captivated by Vita, whose strength and determination wraps around her like a shield.

The Last Day is a beautifully written novel which shows remarkable insight into the subtle nuances of a fractured marriage, where past hurts have long gone unreconciled and where disappointment and sadness have lingered for far too long. The author carries the reader along, not with a plot that shouts and screams to be heard, but rather with a delicate blend of thoughtful reflection, so that before long, The Last Day fills spaces in your mind that you never knew existed.

Claire Dyer’s novels, The Moment and The Perfect Affair and her short story, Falling For Gatsby are published by Quercus. Her poetry collections, Interference Effects and Eleven Rooms, are published by Two Rivers Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College. She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.

In 2016, Claire penned and performed a poem for National Poetry Day, called The Oracle, for BBC Radio Berkshire.

Visit the author's Website

Follow on Twitter @ClaireDyer1 #TheLastDay @DomePress

And do visit the other blog tour stops for more exciting content.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

WW1 War Tourism

During the war military authorities had occasionally allowed grieving relatives to visit the graves of their family members but this was only possible if the fighting was sufficiently far away for there to be no danger.

At the end of the war it became obvious that people would wish to visit the battlefields, and not just those tourists who had a burning desire to see the places where the action took place, but also for those families who had lost relatives in the mud of Flanders and who wanted to pay their respects.

The first tourists started to visit the battlefields as early as 1917. Michelin, the road map and tyre manufacturers, published its first Illustrated Michelin Guide to the Battlefields about the Marne (6-13 September 1914). Even with the war raging not very far away tourists wanted to see first hand the devastation and destruction.

In 1919, the travel company Thomas Cook started organised trips to the Western Front but travel was expensive and the areas around the battle sites were often impassable. Those visitors who wanted to visit the graves of loved ones had to first obtain a special pass from the Directorate of Graves Registration/Imperial War Graves Commission. By 1918, some 587,000 graves had been identified and a further 559,000 casualties were registered as having no known grave.

Church groups and charitable organisations also became involved in helping poorer families, particularly women, to visit the Western Front. The Church Army and the St Barnabas Society would arrange itineraries, meet people at Boulogne and even offer hostel accommodation in disused army huts.

Tourists in Ypres, Whit Monday, 1919.
Q 100481 © Jeremy Gordon-Smith
Imperial War Museum

Whit Monday tourists outside the Cloth Hall, Ypres, 1919.
Q 100486 © Jeremy Gordon-Smith
Imperial War Museum

The tourist trips were at first thought to be distasteful and disrespectful however, the pilgrimages continued and grew in popularity. They offered a valuable service and brought a much needed boost to the economy as the visitors needed places to stay and they bought food and drink and also souvenirs and mementos to take back home. 

On the blog yesterday I featured a historical fiction novel, In Love and War by Liz Trenow which focuses on the individual stories of three women who visited the battlefields of Flanders looking for clues about their loved ones.


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ In Love and War by Liz Trenow

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back in time to ... Flanders, 1919

Pan Macmillan
January 25th

My thanks to the publishers for the copy of the book

It was understandable that once the First World War was over grieving relatives would want to visit the towns and villages of Flanders to see the places where the lives of their loved ones had ended so violently. Within a few short months of the Armistice in 1918 travel operators, like Thomas Cook, were organising tours to the battlefields, which although a comfort for some, were also seen by others to be in poor taste and disrespectful to the war dead.

In July, 1919 Ruby, Alice and Martha have their own reasons for visiting the small Flemish village of Hoppestadt. Each of them have lost someone important to them and whilst their backgrounds are very different, their shared loss binds them together in ways they could never have imagined. The women find out, to their cost, that searching for loved ones is fraught with worry and whilst they each have a different story to share, it is the rawness of their grief and their need to understand what happened which eventually unites them.

The repercussions of The First World War are still profoundly real in 1919 and this story highlights the struggle of those small communities who were trying so desperately to bring some semblance of order to areas which had been devastated by war. The descriptions of the remnants of the battlefields and trenches and the huge expanse of grave markers particularly at the Tyne Cot cemetery are so vividly described that I felt like I was seeing them at first hand.

Impeccably researched and beautifully written In Love and War is a gentle story with a powerful message. Its quiet realism doesn’t seek to sensationalise what happened during the momentous years of WW1 but rather focuses on the emotional impact of loss and of the eventual hope of reconciliation.

Twitter @LizTrenow #InLoveAndWar