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 Mashstories.com – 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.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Blog Tour ~ Copy Cat by Alex Lake

Harper Collins
5 September 2017


The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of After Anna and Killing Kate.

When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.

But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.

And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…

My thoughts about it ...

When Sarah Havenant discovers that she has two Facebook profiles, she is stunned to find that one of them hasn't been initiated by her, and even though the content relates to her life and family, she is not the one posting the information. Using social media to mess with someone's mind is a very modern modus operandi and presents a real challenge, and as Sarah is about to discover, to her cost, friends aren't always what they seem on the surface.

To say much more would be to give away far too much about this cleverly controlled psychological thriller which starts to crank up the tension from very early on in the novel. There is so much going on, both in terms of Sarah's connection with her friends and also in her relationship with her husband, Ben, and her children, Faye, Miles and Kim. However, it is in the stylishly accomplished takeover of Sarah's life where the story really starts to bite deep.

To say that this novel is creepy is to underestimate the term, 'creepy' as, very quickly, the subtle picking away at Sarah's confidence gathers momentum and it becomes apparent that sinister forces are at work, with the sole intention of destroying everything that Sarah holds dear. The individual chapters which are voiced by the unknown perpetrator are full of hatred and malice and allow a tantalising glimpse into a really tortured mind.

I raced through Copy Cat at top speed as the short, sharp chapters lend themselves to speedy reading and as the story get deeper and deeper into the plot, so the need to know more about what is going to happen next in this taut thriller gets more and more compelling.

They do say that you should keep your enemies close and your friends even closer, which in terms of this tense psychological suspense story is rather a good idea.

Alex Lake is a British novelist who was born in the North West of England. After Anna, the author's first novel written under this pseudonym, was a  No. 1 bestselling ebook sensation and a top-ten Sunday Times  best seller. The author now lives in the North East of the US.

Follow on Twitter @AlexLakeAuthor

Take a look at the other blog tour stops

My thanks to Felicity at Harper Collins for the invitation to be part of this blog tour
and also for my review copy of Copy Cat


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Review ~ Dark and Twisted Tales for Grown Ups by Roald Dahl



What makes us innocent and how do we come to lose it? Featuring the autobiographical stories telling of Roald Dahl's boyhood and youth as well as four further tales of innocence betrayed, Dahl touches on the joys and horrors of growing up.

Among other stories, you'll read about the wager that destroys a girl's faith in her father, the landlady who has plans for her unsuspecting young guest and the commuter who is horrified to discover that a fellow passenger once bullied him at school.

Featuring extraordinary cover art by Charming Baker, whose paintings echo the dark and twisted world of Dahl's short stories.


How underhand could you be to get what you want? In these ten tales of dark and twisted trickery Roald Dahl reveals that we are at our smartest and most cunning when we set out to deceive others - and, sometimes, even ourselves.

Here, among others, you'll read of the married couple and the parting gift which rocks their marriage, the light fingered hitch-hiker and the grateful motorist, and discover why the serious poacher keeps a few sleeping pills in his arsenal.

Featuring extraordinary cover art by Charming Baker, whose paintings echo the dark and twisted world of Dahl's short stories.

My thoughts...

I read both of these books back to back and whilst there are similarities in the tone of Roald Dahl's impeccable writing, both books are deliciously different.

Innocence features autobiographical stories in Boy which tells of Dahl's own childhood and of the relationship he had with his family. There are also tantalising glimpses of the burgeoning writer in various references to those seeds of ideas which would germinate in later years and become stories we recognise.

There are four other short stories in this book which Dahl had published in various publications. All reiterate the theme of Innocence :

Taste in The New Yorker in 1951
Galloping Foxley in Town & Country in 1953
The Landlady in The New Yorker in 1959
Lucky Break  in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar in 1977

Trickery contains ten cleverly contrived stories which tell of cunning and deceit and carry all the characteristic trademarks of this wonderfully inventive author. Stories which twist and turn with delicious dark humour, these ten stories are a perfect size to read in half an hour or so, but the impact remains much longer.

Roald Dahl, the brilliant and worldwide acclaimed author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and many more classics for children, also wrote scores of short stories for adults. These delightfully disturbing tales present a side of Dahl that few have seen before; this stunning collection is most certainly a darker side of Dahl.

Charming Baker has had a string of international sell-out shows. His fans include Damien Hirst, British collector Frank Cohen, gallerist Harry Blain and New York dealer Alberto Mugrabi. His juxtaposition of nostalgia with sex and death is grown-up and playful, his works simultaneously beautiful and intentionally bothersome. His work has been described as ‘a kind of romantic melancholy that is very British. And sometimes the melancholy turns out to have sharp claws.’ The pictures make you sit up and examine your conscience.’ Theses sensibilities could equally be describing Roald Dahl’s approach to his domestically dark adult short stories, making Charming and Roald Dahl the perfect collaborators for these new collections.

Roald Dahl reveals more about the darker side of human nature in eight centenary editions 

Lust, Madness, Cruelty, Deception, War, Trickery, Innocence and Fear

More about the author can be found by clicking here

Twitter #RoaldDahl100

My thanks to Sam at Penguin for my review copies of Innocence and Trickery