Richard and Judy Spring 2016

The Richard and Judy book club is a great book club where the two broadcasters choose books that they love and champion. My favourites have often been on there and Dinah Jefferies book last year was a particular book that I was so pleased got the extra recognition it deserved.

This year, a few of my favs have again appeared on the list and once again I’m excited to see them in pride of place in WHSMITHS when you walk in the store. Here’s the top four- well for me at least. I’d love to know what you think!

Richard and Judy Spring Book club 2016

VERSIONSEngland, Cambridge

The Versions of Us

Laura Barnett

A gem of a novel I think for the sheer novel premise of a girl and a boy meeting by chance in various scenarios throughout time. There are three different outcomes to what happens and the  exciting part about it is that this could be all our lives. One moment, one split second can change the way things pan out and sometimes we’re not even aware of the choices. Cambridge for the setting has that feeling of people fleetingly coming into each others life with the university and the transient nature of life there. A real gem of a book. Great to see on the list.


The Quality of Silence

Rosamund Lupton

I love this book. Quietly unassuming but oh so powerful. I mean the narrator is a deaf 10 year old who sees sounds and feels sounds to describe the world around her. Her dad tells her stories and she remembers falling asleep with ‘ his fingers still making the words in front of my eyelids” The father has gone missing in the Alaskan wilderness and so the mother and ten year old Ruby go in search. the darkness, the unknown mixing with the insular world of a little girl lost. It was a haunting read and I felt the chill of the snow and saw the blackness of the landscape stretching out in front. What an evocative read!

WOODEngland – Northumberland

In a Dark Dark Wood

Ruth Ware

Not that I’m biased in any way but there’s something exciting about reading a book based in a place that you love. And Kielder Forest, Northumberland, stars as that place in this book about a group of girls who haven’t met for years since school, back together for a hen do.

One guest has a bit of a backstory with the bride to be it would seem and doesn’t know the other guests so getting together in a remote house in the middle of the woods where there is no phone

may not be such a good idea? Great for the story though as this was creepy and I did not guess the end! Talk about building the creepiness as if every turn of the page was the tap of a tree branch on a window at night.

WAYS-England – Cornwall

A year of Marvellous Ways

Sarah Winman

So sweet, heartwarming and I just love Marvellous! Marvellous by name and Marvellous by nature. She lives life as she wants to, quietly in a creek in Cornwall. She is  a lovely woman living her life beside the river, telescope in hand waiting for something but she’s unsure as to what. Her landscape is her world and I loved the way her surroundings are evoked and are part of her everyday.

I awoke dazed, looking up through a portal to a star-drenched sky. And beyond the stars bands of milky light stretched out to the hush of infinity.

There’s a place mentioned (a fictional setting) that becomes a place you will never forget once you find out its significance and her view of her home landscape.  Drake, a soldier, comes into her life and theirs is a very special relationship of salvation, redemption and hope.  I would describe this as magical realism and quirky Cornwall legends.

There’s four more in the list. Reading them as we speak…..Four more treats in store.


The Jane Eyre ‘trilogy’ – Jamaica and Yorkshire, England – Jean Rhys, Jane Stubbs and Charlotte Bronte


We assume you’ve read Jane Eyre before you read this ‘Jane Eyre Trilogy’ as well there are a few mentions of a certain someone who appears in the story but is only revealed slowly….

Before we even return to the desolate and remote moors of Yorkshire and the towering imposing home of Thornfield Hall, we are thrust into the heady and sweaty days of Jamaica at the time of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 .

Money, power and influence still spoke however when Mr Rochester arrives in Jamaica….


Wide Sargasso Sea – Jamaica and Yorkshire

This is the start of the story of a certain young girl by the name of Antoinette – for she will have arole to play in these three novels and her story will be tied up in everyone else’s as indeed it wil be in the story of Thornfield Hall itself. She tells her story of her arranged marriage to an Englishman by the name of  Edward Rochester. She reveals her difficult childhood and family life with the problems of her mother and brother both having mental health issues.

Once married they travel to Granbois in Dominica and Edward and Antoinette who he has named ‘Bertha’ – his suspicions of his new wife and of her family background and her suspicions of whether he is faithful and whether he married her for anything other than money.

With Bertha’s paranoia and mental state suffering, she is taken to Rochester’s home in England, together with a maid Grace Poole and her life becomes even more painful and punishing. She is soon driven to extreme measures…

The settings of Wide Sargasso Sea
The settings of Wide Sargasso Sea


Bertha’s background is revealed and her Creole heritage examined and contrasted with Rochester’s rich and privileged one.

While Rochester is keen to marry for money and land, possessions and t be able to control the ‘secret’ of the locale. The novel was written to reflect the time and setting of English colonialism and Jamaica’s road to freedom. Rochester’s words on the landscape of the country of his new bride –

I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness.

thornfield hall

Thornfield Hall, By Jane Stubbs – set in Yorkshire

Berta is taken to his English home – his turf, his homeland where she will be easier to manage and control. She and Grace are set up in the house with the help of Mrs Fairfax who now takes over the narrative of how she came to know and work for Mr Rochester.

Thornfield Hall becomes darker and more prison like in this novel and the ‘behind the scenes’ events and the whispers of the servants make this a thrilling and secretive visit to the hall with secrets in its walls….


The Main street in Haworth - pic courtesy of Wikipedia - perfect for wandering down with Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester
The Main street in Haworth – pic courtesy of Wikipedia – perfect for wandering down with Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester

We walked carefully on the roof leads for the wind was buffeting in from the east. Leah leant against the battlements and took in the view, the patchwork of fields the toy cow and the miniature sheep. This I reflected would be a splendid place for an invalid who lived secluded from society to come and take exercise and enjoy the fresh air, though a lady who had lived on a tropical island might find the Yorkshire air bracing.

jane 3

Jane Eyre – set in Yorkshire

This is the story of the governess who comes to Thornfield some time later and who at first does not know of Bertha or who she is, nor of her past. Jane is nervous at first of the strange noises she hears, of Rochester’s strange behaviour and of the servants’ behaviour towards her. That Mrs Fairfax has some strange ideas she thinks and doesn’t seem to appreciate her growing relationship with Mr Rochester, but the full facts are not always at her disposal. The secrets are once again in those walls of Thornfield Hall….


The Bronte Parsonage - pic courtesy of Wikipedia -  A must see for the Bronte aficionado -
The Bronte Parsonage – pic courtesy of Wikipedia – A must see for the Bronte aficionado –

Jane Eyre describes her arrival at Thornfield, her sense of needing to pace the corridors and to be free from social and physical sense of being trapped in a  man’s world.

I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind’s eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot

The ‘Jane Eyre Trilogy’ is an epic story of Thornfield, the background and history of its inhabitants long before Jane Eyre ever even hears of it. The Hall is the main character throughout, a hall of imprisonment, but also of salvation. A Hall which will also give Jane Eyre the adventure and achievement that she never thought she would have from her days of ‘torture’ at Gateshead school.

To experience this story – seen through the eyes of three different authors and various characters within the house and beyond it, this is an epic tale of an old hall and its inhabitants, its secrets, its history and the effect of legacy and duty on all those who live there. Listen to the whispers of the secrets from its walls……

For more information on the settings of these wonderful series of books – we found the Bronte parsonage surrounding area to be THE place to visit and the Visit Yorkshire website If you take any one of these books with you the area will come more alive than you could ever imagine……

Cuppa and a cake with Isabel Wollf – Author of Ghostwritten

A festives feast awaits Isabel!
A festives feast awaits Isabel!

Today we have Isabel Wolff coming over!  We’ve prepared a little festive feast so it’s all very exciting and atmospheric. What a lovely chance to sit with Isabel, talk about her latest book Ghostwritten and delve into a photo album that Isabel has brought with her. She is so passionate about this book , its story and what it means, and how she was inspired.

Hi Isabel!


Your story is one of heartbreaking memories. How was it to write about such strong yet vulnerable women?

   Both Jenni and Klara are strong because what they each went through as children – Jenni in Cornwall, and Klara on Java – has forged them in the fire.  At the same time, yes, they are very vulnerable because they continue to carry around with them a great deal of pain, and this is what the book is really about – how we deal, or don’t deal, with our most difficult memories.  Klara, being so much older than Jenni, has largely come to terms with her past, although the process of writing her memoir opens up for her the torment she still feels at what happened to her little brother, Peter, during the War.  Jenni has never come to terms with her own childhood trauma, and this has had a huge effect on her, making her someone who seeks the shadows, rather than engaging with life.  I was fascinated by the idea that both women had survived so much, and had found the strength to go on living, yet were still profoundly affected by events that had happened so long ago.  

Java landscape - Photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff
Java landscape – Photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff

Your sense of place is astounding. What kind of research did you do and how did you react to what you found?

I did a huge amount of research – interviewing two survivors of the Japanese camps – now elderly women – who were interned on Java as children.  Both are in their early 80s, but when they talked about their experiences, it was as though it were yesterday. Listening to their memories, and reading the memoirs of other survivors was very difficult, since they all spoke of being starved, brutalised and terrified.  I also went to Java to get a flavour of this beautiful island so that I could more easily imagine the near Paradise that the Europeans had been lucky enough to enjoy before the Japanese army turned it into a living hell. The most moving experience was going to the Dutch war cemetery in Bandung and seeing the thousands and thousands of white crosses of the civilian casualties of the war.  Seeing the graves of all these women and children, and knowing what they suffered, brought tears to my eyes and made me grateful for the life that I have.

Java train tracks - photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff
Java train tracks – photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff

You’ve said that the book A town Like Alice inspired some of your writing. Why did you want to tell the story of the internment camps on Java?

I wanted to tell the story of the civilian internment camps because it’s been neglected compared to the story of what happened to the Prisoners of War.  Indeed, when we think of the War in the East, we think automatically of the poor POW’s who slaved on the Thai Burma Railway and other monstrous projects, as dramatized in films like The Bridge on the River Kwai Yet few people know that the same number of civilians – 130,000 – most of them women and children, were also captured by the Japanese, and also suffered extreme privation, cruelty and fear.  These were the wives and children of planters, teachers, engineers and civil servants who had been living in the region. With no time to evacuate them, they were rounded up and herded into atrocious camps where for three and half years, they struggled to survive.  I wanted to write a novel that would focus on their courage and their ordeal.

Women bowing - from Isabel Wolff's photo album
Women bowing – from Isabel Wolff’s photo album

Talk to us about your fascination with Java during ww2

I could have set the novel almost anywhere in the region but chose Java because that was where the internment camps were the most numerous: they were also, by and large the worst.  Java had been the centre of what was then the Dutch East Indies, and so most of the prisoners were Dutch.  As a writer, I realised that what happened on Java would make for a stronger story, because the fight for survival there was even harder than in other parts of the region, and indeed thirteen thousand of them died from starvation, neglect and disease.  

 ghostwritten book

You’ve really placed both yourself and the reader in the characters heads and amongst some of the most exotic yet horrifying settings. It’s very raw and emotional prose – how did you conjure so much from your research? 

 If the readers feel that they’re in the heads of my main characters it’s probably because Ghostwritten is written in the first person.  I did this partly because I love the directness and emotion of the first person voice but also because the novel is about the writing of a memoir, and so Klara’s story has to be first person too.  I put her reminiscences into their own chapters and, in a way, the novel, ‘Ghostwritten’, becomes Klara’s finished book.  Much of what happens in the novel is horrifying, yet Ghostwritten is, I hope, redemptive, because it’s a story of survival.  It’s about women being pushed to the limit of human endurance – standing for hours in the sun to be counted, being worked half to death, being slapped or beaten for failing to bow to the guards, trying to keep their children alive on one cup of rice, per person, per day.


Cornwall  - where Jennie meets Klara and the story begins....Photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff
Cornwall – where Jenni meets Klara and the story begins….Photo courtesy of Isabel Wolff

The setting of Cornwall – why did you choose this one and did you intend such a peaceful place to further highlight the horror of Java?

   I chose to set the present day story in Cornwall because there’s something Paradisal about Cornwall too – it’s the perfect place for a happy family holiday.  But for Jenni, that holiday turned to tragedy.  The novel moves back and forth between Cornwall and Java, and I felt that the beauty of Cornwall would provide a bit of relief from the horrors of the camps.  For Jenni, it’s a struggle to go back there – she vowed she’d never return; but in doing so she at last has the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of her past.

Thank you so much Isabel for popping over and discussing your book. A truly remarkable read and it was such a pleasure to meet you!

You can meet  Isabel on Twitter – @IsabelWolff     and via her website –

The Palace of Curiosities – Victorian London – Rosie Garland

photo (97)

Enter the world of the Victorian circus where people with deformities and who are different are paraded for the amusement of others. Enter the world of the ‘Unique and Genuine Anatomical Marvels’

Story in a nutshell

Victorian London. Not a place where girls or women have the right to do what they want and the freedom to escape their dreary futures. Certainly not Eva, a girl who is born with fur covering her body and face. Cast out from society, she is surprised when she meets a man who marries her, but he is just after the Lion faced girl as Josiah Arroner is the man who owns a freak circus.

Abel is another one destined for this Victorian attraction – mocked by society since he can cut himself, injure himself and almost die but his body heals itself within seconds. He becomes the Flayed man – beat him and strike him, he’ll never die.

Roll up for the show of a lifetime – but the real story is the human one going on behind the scenes when Eve and Abel meet….

Place and setting

Ripleys Believe it or not - a modern day show looking at unsual things and people. History repeating itself? Also in Piccadiily  (where the Starbucks now is) was the The Egyptian Hall, commissioned by William Bullock  as a museum to house his collection of curiosities brought back from Captain cook. It was later said to house very strange things indeed. A Victorian school - The Ragged School Museum evokes the “ragged” or free school in London - 46-50 Copperfield road   . St Thomas Church in Southwark - a 300 year-old garret once used by St Thomas' apothecary for the storage and curing of the herbs that were used for medicinal purposes  - Wellcome Library183 Euston Road London NW1 2BE  - There is information and displays on these ‘Freak Shows’ here.
Ripleys Believe it or not – a modern day show looking at unsual things and people. History repeating itself?
Also in Piccadiily (where the Starbucks now is) was the The Egyptian Hall, commissioned by William Bullock as a museum to house his collection of curiosities brought back from Captain cook. It was later said to house very strange things indeed.
A Victorian school – The Ragged School Museum evokes the “ragged” or free school in London – 46-50 Copperfield road .
St Thomas Church in Southwark – a 300 year-old garret once used by St Thomas’ apothecary for the storage and curing of the herbs that were used for medicinal purposes –
Wellcome Library183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE – There is information and displays on these ‘Freak Shows’ here.


Magical realism awaits in this tale of the Victorian Freak show that looks beyond the outward appearance of those in it and into their soul.

Eve – who attends her first circus when still insides her mother’s womb – is born with lion features. Her isolation and fear in a society that rejects anything that is different  – unless it is mocking it – is palpable.

Abel on the other hand is not sure where he from – he starts his life afresh each day but has flashbacks to the Netherlands and his probable link with Italy is interesting as we discover the world through Abel’s eyes  – one of life’s outcasts as he sees himself . When he cuts his arm with a knife –

I am held in the grip of a terrific stillness , so entrancing is the sight of my body re-sealing itself.

It is the Palace of Curiosities that provides the most flamboyant setting  – sad scenes of mockery and embarrassment. It is visceral, gory, sweaty and gruesome. Talking of Eve:

Is she animal or human? Her visage cries out animal! But her manners are those of  the most tenderly raised female. Which gives great satisfaction to all who venture to see her

It is an abusive and disturbing evocation of a world we would certainly not like to have witnessed ourselves but a fascinating one all the same. Don’t eat just before or during this read mind. (you won’t be able to for a while after)

The trail below gives a flavour of seeing what Victorian society was like for children and where medicine was concerned…

We’re feeling festive so if this book takes your fancy – head over to Facebook where we’re giving a copy away!  comp ends this Friday at 4pm

Thornfield Hall – Yorkshire – Jane Stubbs

thornfield hall

The  real story behind the scenes of Thornfield Hall – Mrs Fairfax tells her own story of what really went on behind the scenes of Thornfield Hall and how Jane Eyre really felt about Rochester and the legacy of Mr Rochester.

While the story of Thornfield Hall and the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is only really known from Jane’s point of view. This story tells of the arrival of Bertha to the hall and her subsequent stay and scandal whilst there. How did she come to the hall? What is Mr Rochester’s real intentions? What links does Mrs Fairfax have with the family of the house?

The house is full of mystery and intrigue and by the time a certain young governess enters the frame, there is a lot of secrets whispering in the walls, down the stairs and along the corridors.

Just who was the real woman in the attic? The house keeper who has been there since the beginning tells her story. Let her voice be heard.

Place and setting

Charlotte visited Norton Conyers in 1839 and heard the legend of Mad Mary in the attic and the room can be visited today. Bronte parsonage in Haworth is the site that all Bronte fans should visit Another theory is that North Lees Hall in Hathersage is in fact the inspiration for Thornfield  -
Charlotte visited Norton Conyers in 1839 and heard the legend of Mad Mary in the attic and the room can be visited today.
Bronte parsonage in Haworth is the site that all Bronte fans should visit
Another theory is that North Lees Hall in Hathersage is in fact the inspiration for Thornfield –


If you have read Jane Eyre, which if you haven’t, why haven’t you?, you will already be familiar with the gothic large Thornfield Hall located in Yorkshire where the rich Mr Rochester lives alone – well with his ward Adele and his housekeeper Mrs Fairfax. She has seen everything and until now has hidden in the background. But when she says things like this, it is immediately intriguing that we want to know more –

As I said, the Rochesters are very good at keeping secrets

Rochester informs the house that someone will be coming to life there – he is vague to say who this strange lady is – only that she is ill and needs special care. The hall once shut up and empty now becomes  a bustling place as servants scrub and prepare for the latest arrival and the master of the house – Mr Rochester who seems rather biblical and grand:

The Master sat at his uncle’s great mahogany desk. Glints of red and green from the stained glass in the lead window flickered behind him

How difficult must it have been to keep such a secret – of a mad woman in the attic – secret from all visitors, some servants and any outsiders? Mrs Fairfax is worried and concerned for Bertha who she humanises (rather strangely in some ways for us)-

I had not promised to stand idly by while she was treated with harshness and kept like a prisoner.

The moment when Jane Eyre enters the picture, the Hall is a hub of secrecy,  candlelight vigils and late night whispers in corridors and a tragedy unfolding  in the attic at the top of the house.

All the events from those troubled times – the unexplained laughter, the fires, the injuries, the slamming of door and painful noises are all explained by Mrs Fairfax and Thornfield Hall becomes a more chilling and unforgiving place. Far different from that which Jane Eyre described…

thornfield hall

I must admit that I read this with some trepidation as Jane Eyre must be one of the best and most iconic reads in the English language. It does mirror closely the events of that novel except for one important one which I am still thinking about…..

It’s very interesting to see Mrs Fairfax as the main character and to see her view of all the strange goings on which happened in Jane Eyre’s account of the story. I was pleasantly surprised by her human portrayal of Bertha and they way in which she lived and moved through the house. Her secret identity was revealed slowly and it was fascinating to actually get to meet her in this way, face to face as it were instead of through another character such as Jane Eyre. Not everything in a large house like this is ever what it seems and Bertha’s real place at Thornfield and they way the servants and in particular Alice Fairfax was intriguing. The scenes between Alice Fairfax and Grace Poole were the highlight of the book as when they chat and discuss matters, this is when the book really shines and we find out the real meaning of events, and the role of servants of the time.

By the time Jane Eyre arrive on the scene I was aching for her not to enter the house or to get too excited about her impending marriage. It was fascinating to see the background to the world Jane Eyre entered  however and also to see how she is a minor character her as this is the story of Bertha. I will now reread Jane Eyre with a new understanding of the house and its inhabitants. Together with Wide Sargasso Sea,this novel adds to the overall story and explains much which the original only hints at. It is the skill of a clever author who manages to respect the original and explain or hint at events to make events more clearer and the characters of Alice and Bertha more human and people to be admired and respected.

I have a new respect for Alice Fairfax – she had a tough role at the house and a tougher role to play when Bertha comes on the scene. Her warmness and kind nature contrasts with the dark angle of the story and it’s the women of that house and the goings on behind the scenes that really makes you feel as if you’re one of them and that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, here only sub characters in the story, really unawares of the real goings on at Thornfield Hall.

Killing for Keeps – Newcastle, Glasgow, Rojales – Mari Hannah


Killing for Keeps is the fifth instalment in the Kate Daniels series – set in and around the North East – in this instance Newcastle and Blanchland. This is a hard-hitting and chilling case for Northumbria Police, the worst torture case they’ve ever seen.

Mari Hannah has raised the stakes this time – the prologue sets the scene for what will follow. And the first chapter (six weeks later) opens the door to a thrilling narrative when we see just what has taken place and what Kate and her team are up against.

The Tyne Bridge with the Sage in the Background
Kate Daniels is back – with a vengeance

Story in a nutshell

Two brothers from a well-known criminal family are found dead within a few miles of each other – tortured to death.

Ripples start to spread across the city – associates of the men are uneasy and witnesses scared. Kate has to break some rules, putting herself and her career in jeopardy. But there is someone out there who lives by his own rules and is prepared to remove anyone who gets in his way.

This is one investigation that Kate and the team will never forget.

Place and setting – the booktrail of Kate Daniels’ Newcastle.

Market Street - police station and Kate Daniels HQ. Mosley Street - where Newcastle’s club scene is centered. Byker Bridge - where a meeting takes place with a informant. RVI - one of two incidents takes place here. Silverlink Industrial Estate - the first of two cases takes place here. Exhibition Park - Kate passes here on her way to meet a witness in Paddy Freeman’s park (Heaton Road)
Market Street – police station and Kate Daniels HQ.
Mosley Street – where Newcastle’s club scene is centered.
Byker Bridge – where a meeting takes place with a informant.
RVI – one of two incidents takes place here.
Silverlink Industrial Estate – the first of two cases takes place here.
Exhibition Park – Kate passes here on her way to meet a witness in Paddy Freeman’s park (Heaton Road)

Kate Daniels, working at the city’s incident room in Market Street, has a lot on her plate. She is called to two crime scenes within a short space of time – Silverlink and the RVI. Two inconspicuous places, but ones that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Investigations take the team deep in to the heart of Newcastle – to ‘Club Land’ in and around Mosley street – to find witnesses and links to the crimes.

Kate has her work cut out. Under pressure to solve this case and to raise the flagging morale of her team, she’s battling tensions from all sides. Kate Daniels backed into a corner? She fights and then she fights some more. This is no ordinary case and she is keen to protect witnesses as she gets to the truth.

Blanchland. Silverlink, Newcastle. Glasgow. Rojales.
Silverlink, Newcastle.

As the investigation continues, she heads up to Blanchland – “the exquisitely tranquil village . . . at the heart of Catherine Cookson country . . . built from the stone of a twelfth-century abbey, the village hadn’t changed in centuries.”


Visiting a local beauty spot as part of such a brutal investigation – as was the case when Whitby flagged up as a place of interest – is in direct contrast to the reasons why she is there. Remote, rural and for Kate, dangerous too.

As the case progresses, the investigation takes her and DS Hank Gormley north of the border to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Links with one criminal family have a bearing on the entire Newcastle case. Yet the ‘fish out of water’ works well for Hank’s wit to shine through here – regarding the ‘funny money’ that the Scots use and the notion of ‘Geordistan’. And the lesser-known and rather less fashionable meaning behind D & G.

“Edinburgh was as grey as Glasgow had been – only prettier. If she hadn’t been such a fan of her home city, this was the one place Kate would choose to live.”

When the net widens and the investigation takes Kate across to the Continent, to the Rojales region of mainland Spain, near Alicante, the book races to a thrilling finale. But we’ll stop there since to say anymore would be to spoil the surprises shocks in store. And there are plenty. Believe us.

Killing for Keeps is dangerous, chilling and skillfully plotted. Mari’s best yet. Recently, the series has been optioned for television and she has been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library award proving, beyond doubt, that she is a crime writer we’re going to hear a lot more about. We’re proud to say that she’s a local author and has put the North East region firmly on the literary map.

The Snow Angel – London and Cumbria – Lulu Taylor


Secrets within families stretching out over the decades have a tendency to smother like snow. They twinkle and taunt, the facade bright and promising, but once the snow melts…

Story within a nutshell 

1960s London

Cressida is a debutante in London society, courting and set to marry. To mark the occasion, her father orders a painting of her. But as soon as Cressida mets the enigmatic painter Ralph Few, she is smitten. It seems her feelings are reciprocated but there is a Mrs Few – Catherine, and she won’t give up Ralph without a fight.

Present day – Emily Conway is almost killed when her husband’s car careers off the road. She had just found out that they were in serious debt following a bad business deal. But as she wakes from her injuries, her husband remains in a coma and she finds out a lot more about their tragic situation.

Then she gets a letter stating that she has been left a legacy by a woman she has never met.  A house in Cumbria. Just what kind of mystery will she have to unravel next?

Place and setting

Upton Park - where St Mary’s school is located and Fleming Tech college where Cressida works Kensington - where Cressida lives with her strict family behind the facade of a big black front door Blackheath - where RalphFew has an artists studio Cumbria - the house and the Keepers cottage are situated in a remote spot Carlisle - the nearest neighbouring town
Upton Park – where St Mary’s school is located and Fleming Tech college where Cressida works
Kensington – where Cressida lives with her strict family behind the facade of a big black front door
Blackheath – where Ralph Few has an artists studio

From the drawing rooms of London society  and the debutante world, we are drawn into the world of poverty and the education of children as Cressida, tired by her opulent world seeks a challenge in becoming a teacher. The metro stations seem to act as door to her future –

She emerged red faced and hot in the late afternoon sun, the station steps leading out into a different world from the one she had descended from in Upton Park, the Georgian elegance  contrasting with the wreckage and poverty of East London

For the school she wants to work in and prove herself is in the poor area that she has been protected from but which captivates her in a way that nothing has before.

She lives in a house with a ‘large black front door on a quiet street in Kensington’ but when she meets the artist from Blackheath she is quite literally transported to another world again – as she looks at an abstract painting –

It was entrancing and seemed to promise revelations if only she could look long enough

The setting blending the two time periods together is the house in Cumbria linked to both stories in some way – December House is located in Cumbria, not far from Carlisle and provides the mysteries and gothic overtones of a house with many secrets hidden inside. The even more mysterious paintings of the house keep the most secrets of all –

The whiteness of the picture gradually began to absorb her until she felt as though she was in the painting herself, standing on a crisp, chill layer of snow

The house is remote, comes complete with a small Keeper’s cottage and there are lots of things to be revealed within its walls..

The mystery unravels secrets from London to Cumbria
The mystery unravels secrets from London to Cumbria – The house December House with the Keepers Cottage and the secrets of The Snow Angle unravel here

Booktrailer recommended

Well, I sat myself down and immersed myself in the world of the Snow Angel and I left that world somewhat reluctantly. Surprises throughout and with two concurrent storylines merging and blending in unexpected ways with one huge twist at the end – a great read.

Lulu Taylor created a gothic and mysterious world with her novel The Winter Folly set in an old house/castle in Dorset but this one, set between two worlds and two time frames – with paintings revealing secrets and the presence of a Snow Angel who could hold the biggest secret yet.

The scenes in the past were definitely the most captivating of the two and the present day story seemed mismatched at first until the reasons for it became clear. But when they did – and all the secrets came spilling out – well it was more than worth it. The descriptions of the house and its dark, wooden rooms, the paintings and those apples! – made for some creepy and enthralling moments.

Jumping from Emily in present day to Cressida in the past was seamless and  as the two characters ended up in Cumbria the secrets from the past were centered around one old house and secrets which threaten to reverberate across time. Emily’s storyline opened up the novel and shocking as it was, I wanted to spend more time with Cressida. The way in which Emily helps us the reader to investigate the mystery of Keeper’s Cottage is nicely done.

As for the snowy landscape paintings – well there are also some lovely moments of romance and unspoken desire. Adding to the allure of the world of the snow angel ….The forbidden passion of Cressida and Ralph is shocking and startling and of course will have consequences but they could never have imagined just how many and what kind.

As things unravelled and the pace ratcheted up towards the end I was dying to know who, what why and how? And now I understand the meaning of the title. So I smiled and closed the cover, then closed my eyes to keep that world in my mind’s eye for some time to come.

Liberty Silk – Hollywood, Finistere, London – Kate Beaufoy

liberty silk

Not a set costume piece as the cover and title might suggest but rather a journey back in time to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood of the 40s and Paris of  1919 and the secrets hidden behind the polished facades

Story in a nutshell

France 1919: Jessie is celebrating the last heady days of her honeymoon. But when her husband suddenly disappears she finds herself bereft. Until a chance encounter thrusts her into the centre of the intoxicating world of Parisian high life.

Hollywood 1945: Lisa has come a long way from her quiet, unassuming life in London and is taking Hollywood by storm. But all that glitters is not gold, and as the smoke and mirrors of the lifestyle she so longed for shatter around her there are some secrets she can never escape.

Liberty Silk tells the stories of three different women in three different eras, Jessie, Baba and headstrong Cat. Their stories intertwine in unexpected ways and a fascinating account of different lives and different eras unfolds.

Place and setting

From London to Finistere to Hollywood, this is quite a journey!
From London to Finistere to Hollywood, this is quite a journey!

Liberty Silk tells the stories of three different women in three different eras –

Paris 1919 –  Jessie is a newlywed and so when her husband vanishes while on their honeymoon, she is devastated and bereft. In a strange city on her own,

Baba soon finds that the dreams she had of hollywood are not all the are cracked up to be and that the reality behind the glitz is something else entirely. She finds herself in situations that she doesn’t want to be in and has decisions to make but not before she explores some of the hollywood landscape further.

London, 1965 – Cat is a photographer who really believes and wants to make a difference in the world with her work. The reality of being in some of the most shocking and war torn places around the world really show her the brutality of human behaviour and suffering and it opens her eyes to so much.

It’s not just the settings that are evocative of a different time and place. For in which other novel do we ‘meet’  Coco Chanel, the Fitzgeralds and Pablo Picasso?

The landscapes and settings are all so wonderfully evoked so when you realise that the author Kate Beaufoy wrote this based on letters from her Grandmother, Jessie Beaufoy, who fell in love with a painter in France, the authentic touch is something that is invaluable and places the novel on another level.

As an extra treat at the end of the book, Kate has written a beautiful situation involving her Grandmother, as well as a quiz to find out which character from the book you would be – it’s a really lovely little touch to finish off.

liberty silk

After having read TheDress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans and The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, this caught my eye as it seemed to be as sumptuous and fashion orientated as the others. It  unravels in a vintage style theme with letters written long ago about a love affair with a painter during WW1 forming the basis of this lovely winding story. The real inspiration for this story were the letters written by the author’s grandmother jessie Beaufoy a character in the book and this makes for a unique and poignant angle for the story.

The dress – from Liberty’s of London of course – is a feature and is part of the heritage passed down here from one woman to another,coming to mean a lot more than  a simple dress.

It was lovely to read how the author got the idea for this novel from real life  – her own – and how she used this to blend and weave a story of fiction through the ages that all of us could enjoy and take heart in.

If you desire the cover and wish to indulge in the time periods it suggests then you could not do better than to lounge in your finest silk dress and feather bower whilst reading this, a glass of wine in one hand, reclining on a vintage chair.

Its sad, poignant yet full of hope as three different women in different times find their own way of getting through life and doing the best they can. From the glittering streets of Hollywood to the artistic alleyways of Paris, this is a whirlwind tour of some stunning and thrilling locations that you will not have experienced before – well not like this!

Quite remarkable.

An Irish Promise – Galway – Isabella Connor


How revenge might be a dish best served cold but how love is a dish that appears on the menu when you least expect it.

Story in a nutshell

School bullies plagued the life of Rachel Ford so years later, she returns home in order to exact her revenge as she promised al those years ago. She wants to do something about the bullies who not only ruined her childhood but her life and that of her family. She is now an art historian but has never forgotten what happened in Kilbrook.

Australian actor Finn MacKenzie is also in Kilbrook and he has come to help his aunt with a school production. He seems to have a charmed life, yet behind this façade there is a lot behind the scenes. He and Rachel meet and sparks fly.

But what does Rachel do? blow her cover so to speak and her reasons for being in Kilbrook or give it another chance. For Kilbrook does not hold happy memories and Finn stands in the middle of her plans.

Place and setting

The Claddagh, Shannon airport and Galway Bay - Kilbrook is based around this area - idyillic and calm!
The Claddagh, Shannon airport and Galway Bay – Kilbrook is based around this area – idyllic and calm!

How you would feel returning to the village where all your bad memories are and where you spent the most unhappiest times of your childhood is a key question as you can imagine how Rachel must feel when you find out what the bullies did to her. Revenge might not be the most recommended result in this case but as we read Rachel’s thoughts in her diary, things started to clear.

Kilbrook might have been such a nice place – more like the Kilbrook she returns to had there been some person to have sorted out the bullies and stood up to them. This brings home how bullies can and do affect people’s lives and this doesn’t always stop in the classroom. Whilst you can understand Rachel’s wish to return, we feared for her having carried around this hatred for years.And why were they not stopped sooner?

But Kilbrook also has a wealth of places you’ll want to visit for real as they have such rural and country names such as the Fat Pheasant restaurant and the Gulliver’s cafe, Bracken hill – all sound like landscapes and places that you’d need to visit for real  – if only you could.

Finn is an actor from Australia  who comes into this setting all innocent and meets Rachel without knowing her story. It’s the sense of waiting to see him find out and his reaction to it that takes you further into the story and the nice Irish locations.

There are some lovely touches of local customs and beliefs such as the  Claddagh (symbolising love, loyalty and friendship). This is a ring but also “the shore”and is close to Galway city where the Corrib River meets the Galway Bay. Formerly a fishing village the Spanish Arch area was there the fish markets used to be.

Galway Harbour
Galway Harbour

The second book in the Emerald Isle series and I really think reading the first one is a must now since this was a good story to discover. Kilbrook and the Irish culture is always nice to hear about but the way in which a story of revenge and love was tied together in such an unassuming place was a nice touch and gave this ‘chick’lit’ novel edge. I actually hate the term chic lit and since this had some real dilemmas and questions in it, I’m loathe to give it such a title. This is romance of course but with Irish charm and I loved discovering where the bullies were now and how Rachel coped with meeting them years later.