Thursday, 21 September 2017

Review ~ Verdi : The Man Revealed by John Suchet

Elliot & Thompson
September 2017

It's always a real treat when one of these sumptuously produced books arrives for me to read and review and to have a glimpse into the life of Guiseppe Verdi, one of the greatest operatic composers , written by one of my favourite Classic FM presenters is, for me, something to really get excited about.

With wonderful glossy pages, this meticulously researched biography is easy to read and wonderfully informative, and  if, like me, you have little knowledge of the life of these great composers...well, to have everything you need to know in one lovely, glossy volume is a wonderful idea. I really enjoyed flipping through the book and reading chapters at whim, always finding something interesting and fascinating to learn about this most complex of individuals.

The author writes with real authority and includes, in this biography, all those snippets of information about Verdi's greatest works which are so important. From Rigoletto to Othello, La Traviata to Aida, all human emotion is to be found within his great catalogue of works, and the author ensures that all these are included and described in a very readable way. I particularly enjoyed reading of Verdi's early life in Italy, and the confusion surrounding his date of birth made me smile. 

Beautifully illustrated, the book is a sumptuous and beautiful journey through the whole of Verdi's very eventful life which I am sure will appeal to music lovers everywhere.

Verdi: The Man Revealed would make a perfect Christmas present for any classical music lover. My copy is definitely one to keep and cherish.

If you enjoy reading about the musical greats, then perhaps consider these composer

 biographies written for Classic FM by John Suchet

Published by Elliot & Thompson


26204875  16655520

About the Author

John Suchet presents Classic FM’s flagship morning programme, from 9am every weekday. His informative style of presentation, coupled with a deep knowledge of classical music, has won a wide spectrum of new listeners to the station. Before turning to classical music, John was one of the UK’s best-known television journalists. As a reporter for ITN he covered world events, including the Iran revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Philippines revolution. He then became a newscaster, regularly presenting ITN’s flagship News at Ten, as well as all other bulletins, over a period of nearly twenty years.

John has been honoured for both roles. In 1986 he was voted Television Journalist of the Year, in 1996 Television Newscaster of the Year, and in 2008 the Royal Television Society awarded him its highest accolade, a Lifetime Achievement Award. John has been given an honorary degree by his old university, the University of Dundee, and in 2001 the Royal Academy of Music awarded him an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his work on Beethoven, having written six books on the composer, including the highly acclaimed Beethoven: The Man Revealed (2012). His bestselling biography of the Strauss family, The Last Waltz: The Strauss Dynasty and Vienna, was published in 2015.

My thanks to Alison at Elliot&Thompson for my review copies of these books


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Reviews ~ These Darkening Days and Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers

Moth Publishing
22 September 2017


As autumn draws in, a series of unexplained vicious attacks occur in a small northern town renowned for being a bohemian backwater.

As the national media descends, local journalist Roddy Mace attempts to tell the story, but finds the very nature of truth being brought into question. He turns to disgraced detective James Brindle for help.

When further attacks occur the shattered community becomes the focus of an accelerating media that favours immediacy over truth. Murder and myth collide in a folk-crime story about place, identity and the tangled lives of those who never leave.

My thoughts about it ...

Those who have read this author's previous book, Turning Blue, will be entirely familiar with both lead protagonists in These Darkening Days. Roddy Mace, the struggling journalist, once again combines forces, with disgraced, Cold Storage, detective, James Brindle, and in their own indomitable style they endeavour to find out just what is happening in this dark corner of the Yorkshire Dales.

When a woman is found brutally attacked, the police hunt is on to find the perpetrator, which in this secretive Pennine valley town is easier said than done. Before long it becomes apparent that this vicious attack is the core of something which runs much deeper, and the desperate race against time to discover the attacker is fraught with difficulties and distractions. Tensions run high and secrets run deep and neither the town nor its occupants are prepared to give up their secrets easily.

To say more would be to give far too much of this complicated plot away, so rather than spoil it, I will concentrate on the interest I have in this author, who conjures time and place so realistically that you really feel like you stalk the high Pennine moors in company with misfits and murderers. The visceral nature of these stories are not for the faint hearted, and if you haven’t read Turning Blue, then I would suggest that you do before embarking on this one, as to understand the author and his writing you need to start at the very beginning. There is a dark lyricism to the stories, which is perhaps slightly more powerful in Turning Blue, which, believe me, takes a dark tale to the very extreme of darkness, but which is no less authoritative in These Darkening Days.

These Darkening Days is a compulsive and, at times, a distinctly uncomfortable read which brings rural-noir to life in a very convincing way. The brooding landscape of the high moors and the secluded nature of a small town at odds with itself is brought vividly and realistically to life. 

Small town crime has never been so interesting.

Moth Publishing

The depths of winter in the isolated Yorkshire Dales and a teenage girl is missing.

At a derelict farm high up on a hillside Steven Rutter, a destitute loner, harbours secrets. Nobody knows the bleak moors better than him, or their hiding places.

Obsessive, taciturn and solitary, detective Jim Brindle is relentless in pursuing justice. But he is not alone in his growing preoccupation with the case. Local journalist Roddy Mace has moved north from London to build a new life. 

As Brindle and Mace begin to prise the secrets of the case from tight-lipped locals, their investigation leads first to the pillars of the community and finally to a local celebrity and fixture of the nation's Saturday night TV. 'Lovely Larry' Lister has his own hiding places, and his own dark tastes.

My thoughts about it...

In the deep darkness of a snowy winter a local girl goes missing and for this small Yorkshire town life will be disturbed to such an extent that neighbour will look upon neighbour with more than a hint of suspicion. The malevolent forces which exist and flourish in the lonely corners of this wild and unforgiving landscape give refuge to the most depraved of individuals. That these debauched residents are well known within the town gives credence to the saying that you should keep your enemies close and your friends even closer. Steven Rutter is a depraved loner, eking out a miserable existence in the dilapidated and unkempt farm he vaguely calls home. That he has been victimised and abused throughout the whole of his miserable life lends a dark fascination to the overall visceral pull of the novel.

I read Turning Blue with an almost gruesome fascination, it’s not for the faint hearted and if you are offended by violence and graphic sexual description, then this is not the book, or the writer for you. It must be said that I did, at times read with one eye open and always with an air of trepidation about just what was going to happen next.

So, I will put the shocking contents aside and concentrate on the writing which is very good, and which is, at times, quite lyrical, something I really didn’t expect to find in a crime novel. The Yorkshire landscape is described in awesome detail and both the place and its people come vividly to life. It took a while to get used to the author’s distinct writing style, the no ‘speech marks’ confused me a little, but once this lack of punctuation sat more comfortably, and as the story started to bite, this, became no problem at all, but is perhaps worth mentioning.

Turning Blue is a dark and gloomy tale but which is perfectly written by an author who has given this rural noir genre a glorious new lease of life.

About the author

Benjamin Myers is an award winning writer His novel Beastings (2014) won the Portico Prize For Literature, was the recipient of the Northern Writers’ Award and long listed for a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Award 2015. Pig Iron (2012) was the winner of the inaugural Gordon Burn Prize and Richard (2010) was selected as a Sunday Times book of the year. Turning Blue (2016) was named Book of the Year 2016 by Loud and Quiet magazine and his recent novel The Gallows Pole ( 2017) has already won the Roger Deakin award.

Find out more on his website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @BenMyer1 @MothCrime

My thanks to the team at Moth Publishing for my review copies of these books

These Darkening Days will be published on the 22 September 2017


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review ~ Midnight at the Bright Ideas Book Store by Matthew Sullivan

William Heinemann

What's it all about...

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the 'BookFrogs' the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when youngest BookFrog Joey Molina kills himself in the bookstore’s upper level, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions: Trinkets and books, the detritus of a lonely, uncared-for man. But when Lydia pages through his books, she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

My thoughts about it...

I was really excited to receive my review copy of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, not just because of the tactile nature of its beautiful midnight blue hardback cover but also because any novel which features a book store is a sure fire winner with me.

When Lydia Smith discovers Joey Molina, one of her regular book customers, dead on the upper floor of her bookstore, this sad event opens up, for Lydia, a whole heap of secrets which she never knew existed. That Joey's life may be interwoven with Lydia's comes as something as a shock to her and the journey she must take in order to discover more about herself, and Joey, is both enlightening and frightening in equal measure.

I found that I was soon engrossed in the story, the writing is good and the plot development is maintained with a fine eye for detail and the complicated nature of the relationships within the novel added necessary light and shade. There are some deeply flawed characters, particularly Lydia's widowed father, Tomas, who had more than enough secrets of his own and the relationship between father and daughter is upsetting and at times, reveals far more questions than it does answers. I enjoyed the way the story combined both past and present . The mystery at the heart of the story is interwoven with some quite dark moments, particularly with those uncomfortable secrets which, if left unchallenged, can fester and destroy everything around them. 

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a well written debut novel by a talented new author.

About the Author

Matthew Sullivan grew up in a family of eight spirited children in suburban Denver, Colorado. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he has taught writing and literature at colleges in Boston, Idaho and Poland, and currently teaches writing, literature and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State. He is married to a librarian and has two children and a scruffy dog named Ernie.

More about the author can be found on his website by clicking here 

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore


Monday, 18 September 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Waterway Girls by Milly Adams

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

7 September 2017

October 1943, West London

Nineteen-year-old Polly Holmes is leaving poor bombed London behind to join the war effort on Britain’s canals.

Stepping aboard the Marigold amid pouring rain, there’s lots for Polly to get to grips with. Not least her fellow crew: strong and impetuous Verity, whose bark is worse than her bite, and seasoned skipper Bet.

With her sweetheart away fighting in the RAF and her beloved brother killed in action, there’s plenty of heartache to be healed on the waterway. And as Polly rolls up her sleeves and gets stuck into life on board the narrow boat – making the gruelling journey London up to Birmingham – she will soon discover that a world of new beginnings awaits amid the anguish of the war.

My thoughts

When nineteen year old Polly Holmes leaves her home in bombed out London and joins a female crew of canal boat operatives in October 1943, she is little prepared for the changes that this decision will bring to her life. At first, due to an uncomfortable feud with Verity, a fellow crew member, Polly struggles to become accustomed to life on the canal. But gradually, under the watchful eye of skipper, Bet, the young crew members start to work together as a team and the arduous journey of taking the narrow boat from London to Birmingham is filled with excitement and adventure.

In The Waterway Girls the author brings together a group of feisty young women and describes vividly the hardships and trepidation that accompanied them on their canal journey. Life was tough, not just for the women who were recruited by the Ministry of Transport’s waterways training scheme, but also for the established canal folk who had, for so long, made the canal systems their home. Tensions run high and for Polly, Bet and Verity life on the canal is never without its complications.

Before reading this novel, I was unaware of the WW2 initiative of training women to crew canal boats in order to keep freight and other cargo on the move during the worst of the war years. Rather as the Land Girls kept the agricultural side of things going, so the Waterway Girls ensured that cargo and merchandise travelled safely from depot to destination, often in hazardous conditions.

I think that the author captures time and place really well and combines the descriptions of eventful life on the canals with the personal stories of the crew members. There is heartache a plenty ahead of them, but there is also a sense of hopefulness, as they each become accustomed to a new way of life.

The Waterway Girls is the start of a new saga series by this author and I am sure it will appeal to her many fans.

More about the author can be found on her website by clicking here

Milly Adams lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, dog and cat. Her children live nearby. Her grandchildren are fun, and lead her astray. She insists that it is that way round.

Milly Adams is also the author of Above Us The Sky and Sisters At War.

Follow the tour on Twitter #TheWaterwayGirls 


Do visit the other blog tour stops

My thanks to Becky at Penguin Random House for the invitation to be part of this blog tour and also for my review copy of The Waterway Girls.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

War Poetry written in 1917 became rather more sceptical of the war 

Two Fusiliers

By Robert Graves

And have we done with War at last?

Well, we've been lucky devils both,

And there's no need of pledge or oath

To bind our lovely friendship fast,

By firmer stuff

Close bound enough.

By wire and wood and stake we're bound,

By Fricourt and by Festubert,

By whipping rain, by the sun's glare,

By all the misery and loud sound,

By a Spring day,

By Picard clay.

Show me the two so closely bound

As we, by the wet bond of blood,

By friendship blossoming from mud,

By Death: we faced him, and we found

Beauty in Death,

In dead men, breath.

Robert Graves was an English poet and author of antiquities specialising in classical Greece and Rome. He was soldier and poet during WW1.

His most famous work I, Claudius was published in 1934.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Hist Fic Saturday ~ The White Camellia by Juliet Greenwood

On Hist Fic Saturday let's go back in time

to the ...Edwardian age

Honno Press

BeatriceTressillion is trying to make a new life in London having been forced to leave her home, at Tressillion House, in Cornwall. Caught up in the suffragette movement, the whole concept that women could have their own voice, is for Bea, a tantalising, and it must be said, enlightening prospect.

Sybil Ravensdale is a strong willed and independent woman, who having made her fortune as a hotelier in America, returns to the Cornwall of her youth, and finds herself in the envious position of being able to buy the stately, Tressillion House .

On the surface neither of these two women should have anything in common but the thread of Tressillion House binds the two together and gradually a story of dark secrets, lost inheritances and secret love emerges.

There is much to enjoy in this beautifully written Edwardian saga which looks more closely at the changing attitude to women and of the danger of forging an independent path, which Sybil discovers to her cost. The author writes with descriptive ease and brings both the stark beauty of Cornwall and the exciting streets of London to vivid life. I especially enjoyed the sections at the eponymous White Camellia tearoom in London, with its hum of female voices and the prospect of a slice or two of the White Camellia's delicious tea loaf. But there is so more to the story than descriptive slices of cake, there is an underlying mystery and an ever present sense of intrigue.

Lyrical, descriptive and beautifully redolent of a bygone era, The White Camellia is one of those lovely historical sagas which is meticulously researched and written so lovingly by an author who really makes history come alive.

More about the Author can be found on her website by clicking here 

Twitter @julietgreenwood

My thanks to the author for my copy of The White Camellia

Other novels by this author

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Friday, 15 September 2017

Blog Tour ~ 99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's  stop on the 

99 Red Balloons Blog Tour

Avon Books
September 2017

Here's the blurb..

Two girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter? 

When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge. 

What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems? 

Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared… 

This is a gripping psychological thriller with a killer twist that will take your breath away. 

I am delighted to introduce the author, Elisabeth Carpenter to Jaffareadstoo to tell us all about her debut novel..

Welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Elisabeth. Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for 99 Red Balloons?

A missing child is every parent’s worst nightmare. I wanted to explore the impact it might have on the lives of the wider family unit. I hope I’ve treated this subject with respect as it’s so emotive and horrific.

Without giving too much away – tell us three interesting facts about the story which will pique the reader's interest.

I’ve added the point of view of the child who goes missing, as I’ve not read many books on this subject that do that.

I’ve tried to combine pace with characterisation to, hopefully, make the characters come alive in the mind of the reader.

Part of the book is set on an RAF base in Germany. I lived there when I was a child (many, many years ago!).

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. Do they ever dictate how the story progresses or do you stick with a writing plan from the beginning and never deviate?

It takes a few months to get to know my characters, so by the time I’ve gone back to the beginning of the completed first draft, I have to take out things they wouldn’t do or say.

Sometimes the plot will emerge organically, giving the cast a situation that they must deal with, but I always have an ending in mind, which is fluid and often subject to change.

I love the start of a book when literally anything can happen. I try not to get too bogged down with what I had planned – if I’m bored with what I write, it’ll be boring to read. If I ever reach the stage of writing for the sake of it, I close the laptop and read, or watch a box set. I’ll be five minutes in and an idea will pop into my mind.

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

I’ve read and really enjoyed some of the psychological thrillers that were published recently. I was totally blindsided by the twist in Gone Girl. I also enjoy novels that have a light science fiction element to them, such as The Time Traveller’s Wife and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. These books have influenced me greatly, as they go quite deep into characterisation, which is what I’ve tried to do in 99 Red Balloons.

I love Sally Wainwright’s work. Happy Valley is genius, and I thought Last Tango in Halifax had excellent characterisation, humour and warmth.

99 Red Balloons is a great book title - if your life was a book, what would be its title?

Ooh good question! I’m a big Beatles fan, so if I were to choose a cheesy title it would be All You Need is Love. But, if I were to choose a title based on my writing career so far, I’d choose Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House.

Can you share with us anything about your next writing project?

Anna’s mother, Debbie, was last seen on holiday in Spain when Anna was just a baby. Thirty years later, the family receives an email from someone claiming to be Debbie.

The narrative follows Anna in her search for her mother, and Debbie in 1986 during the days leading to her disappearance.

About the author

Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston with her family and has been awarded a Northern Writers' Award bursary from New Writing North, and she was long-listed for the Yeovil Literary Prize (2015) and the MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015). Two of Libby’s flash fiction pieces were shortlisted on – where she is now part of the judging team.

You can follow her on Twitter @LibbyCPT

Do visit the other Blog Tour stops

My thanks to Elisabeth for sharing her work with me and for answering my questions about 
99 Red Balloons. 

My thoughts about 99 Red Balloons..

When Emma’s eight year old daughter, Grace goes missing, the investigation into her disappearance opens up family secrets which have been buried for far too long. The story, told by multiple narrators, really gets into the heart of the mystery surrounding the abduction, but as time goes on, it becomes obvious that there are more questions than there are answers.

I really enjoyed getting to grips with this clever psychological suspense story which focuses on the dark and deadly secrets which are so often at the centre of a family disaster, and as more and more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle start to fit together we are given a unique insight into certain events which happened a long time ago. There's always something really disturbing about reading a story about a missing child and I thought that the author showed the emotional vulnerability of Emma's family really well and conveyed their defenselessness and also their inherent weaknesses as a family unit. That there are some dark family secrets to be revealed becomes obvious as the story progresses and it’s really interesting to see how the author allows these secrets to be exposed at their own pace without revealing too much, too soon.

When reviewing psychological suspense stories I am always conscious of not revealing very much as to say more would be to divulge far too much of the plot, and, believe me, this really is one of those stories which you need to read with an open mind. The mystery at the heart of the story is well handled and there are more than enough surprises in between to keep you guessing right up to end.

As a debut novel 99 Red Balloons works on several levels. There is great attention to detail, all the characters are finely drawn and whilst believable, they are not all likeable, with the exception of Maggie, who I thought was particularly interesting. The added inclusion of some psychologically damaged and terrifying individuals adds an interesting touch of menace to, what is, a compelling story-line.

There is no doubt that 99 Red Balloons is an exciting debut novel by an emerging new talent.

Thanks also to Sabah at Harper Collins for her invitation to be part of this blog tour and for my review copy of 99 Red Balloons.