Book Oscars 2016

We’ve an Oscars special over on the new site – Book Oscars and there’s awards for best female in a novel, best male, best original soundtrack featured in a novel, best picture (on the cover) and best foreign fiction

So put your glad rags on and join us on the red carpet! Oh there’s an interview with the man who’s just won an Outstanding Achievement Award!


A literary journey around the world 2015

A literary journey around the world

This has been a good year in fiction. The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met!

The joy of reading has been quite a journey this year – with a varied array of passengers along the way. From the Girl on the Train (snooping from a train window has never been so chilling) to a mechanical octopus in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

We’ve sailed to Portugal with Rebecca Mascull, drank tea in Ceylon with Dinah Jefferies and worn taffeta bonnets with Sophia Tobin who told us of The Widow’s Confession – and what a story it was.

But let’s now have a top ten of literary gems that have dropped into our hands this year. In no particular order as well, it’s like choosing your favourite child  – here is the booktrail best:


SWEDENWolf Winter

Cecilia Ekback

The premise of entering the homes and minds of the Swedish laplanders in 1717 is enthralling and as their lifestyle and belief system is revealed then the whole landscape becomes one of intrigue, folklore and the battle between good and evil.

This was one of the most evocative books read this year with the snowy chill of the mountains and the faint howling of the wolves audible as I turned the pages.


NETHERRembrandt’s Mirror

Kim Devereux

I loved this for so many reasons. The chance to get inside the mind of a genius for one and the minds of the women who loved him. The women who shared his life, his mad moments, his obsessions and his moods. This was one fascinating book and one of the most beautiful to be honest with a gold primed cover and gold page edges, this book was a piece of art in itself. I was particularly thrilled to feel the crisp pages – just like those of the olden days. My reading experience was complete. The story told via the man’s most famous paintings. Genius!


Close to the Philippines

Lucy Clarke

This book worked on so many levels with us. I think it was the sense of adventure that Lana and Litty have when they board a yacht in the Philippines. The crew are unknown to them but they are invited to join them for the adventure of a lifetime.  Paradise may be the long days sailing, catching fish for dinner, drinking on deck and swimming or it could easily turn into something dark – where sailing becomes a race to safety,  where it’s not just the fish being hunted…and where drinking and swimming in the middle of nowhere can be the last thing you ever do.

Talk about wiping  through the pages to see where this all would lead. I loved this book and loved taking to Lucy about her inspiration for such a ride!


A Place Called Winter

Patrick Gale

Inspired by a real life family mystery of a family member who emigrated to Canada, Patrick Gale has drawn a sobering picture of love, family duty, self discovery and hope.

Harry Cane is a quiet unassuming man living in London and married to respectable Winnie Wells. But behind the facade, the dark truth is bubbling. Harry is soon forced to leave everything behind and to emigrate to the Canadian prairies at the very time that the railways were booming.

I felt as if this was one of the most personal books I’d read this year and I was humbled to have discovered some of the author ‘s family history. The history and family emotions in this book are so raw and poignant that I really think it’s one of my top books on the year and one I’d recommend to everyone.


The Tea Planter’s Wife

Diniah Jefferies

We loved The Separation here at the booktrail and to be honest love the TeaPlanter’s Daughter even more. This is such an evocative story in every sense of the word that the tea leaves fluttered from each and every page as I read. The story itself is epic and inspired by real events so even more shocking. The rich poetic writing was a joy to read and I savoured this book and lingered over it. The story of a young girl moving to a tea plantation in former Ceylon with a husband she has barely met has so many twists and turns – from the fate of the plantation workers to the shady history of the husband that I read with as few breaks as possible. When it was announced that it was one of the Richard and Judy book club picks for 2015, I cheered. How well deserved!

Susan booktrailer

Alaskan Delights – Stan Jones

We’ve just had the great fortune of getting mail all the way from Alaska saying how the booktrail has reached the farthest point of the earth! Well we were shocked  – very pleasantly I might add, and there may have been a happy dance or two around the room. That’s how we heard about Alaskan author Stan Jones who we just had to meet!

TUNDRAAnd so we did, and his books. And today, we’ve tempted him out of the cold to speak to us.

We warm him up with some hot chocolate and a little bit of flaming Christmas pudding and then we chat like crazy!….

Hi Stan!. What a pleasure to meet you and read your Alaskan set stories!

Can you tell us more about StanJones (1)and why he is your lead character?

 Almost from the moment I arrived in Kotzebue, I knew I wanted to write about that lovely part of the world and the fascinating people who live there. Crime novels seemed as good a way as any, because that form offers the author latitude to explore any aspect of culture, society, history, or circumstance that strikes his fancy.

The question was, who should be the cop in crime stories about the Arctic? It needed to be someone with ties to the place and people, but at the same time someone who was conflicted (the first law of fiction being, torment your characters!).

Thus did Nathan Active spring into being: An Inupiaq born in Chukchi, but to an unwed teenage mother who knew she was unfit to raise him. So she adopted him out to white schoolteachers, who soon moved to Anchorage and raised him there. 

Nathan resented his birth mother for giving him away, and grew up trying to pretend she and his birth place didn’t exist. He considered himself an Anchorage boy and set out on a law enforcement career by joining the Alaska State Troopers.

Luckily for fans of the series, life got complicated the moment Nathan completed training. The Troopers, with the customary blind perversity of every bureaucracy since the beginning of time, posted him to Chukchi for his first assignment and he’s been there ever since.

At first, he angled for a transfer back to Anchorage at every opportunity. But, over time, he has reconciled with his birth mother, and has come to appreciate Chukchi for the fascinating place it is. Now he’s there to stay, and has moved on from the Troopers to head the public safety department of the Chukchi Regional Borough. He’s The Law north of the Yukon River and south of the Brooks Range, as he puts it.

Despite all the change, Chukchi is still as unique as ever. As a character put it in the very first Nathan book-White Sky, Black Ice–“It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

You are a native of Alaska. What is particularly special and dear to you about Chukchi where Nathan Active  is  born?

Caribou hunter's cabin
A Caribou hunter’s cabin (c) Stan Jones

Chukchi is fictional, but is modeled pretty closely on a real village named Kotzebue. My family has lived there at various times and one of my children was born there.

Chukchi (Kotzebue) is about 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi   Sea. Because it is above the Arctic Circle, that means there are a few days in summer when the sun doesn’t set and few in winter when it doesn’t rise–talk about the edge of the world!

One of the side-effects of this phenomenon is what they call Village Time, meaning that people don’t pay a lot of attention to the clock. Since it’s either light all the time or dark all the time for much of the year, one time’s as good as another!

Chukchi/Kotzebue is home to about 3,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are all or partly Inupiaq Eskimo.

Kotzebue bluff (c) Stan Jones


The first time I landed there was a clear October day. When I stepped off the Boeing 737 jet, it was about five degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind rolling in off the sea ice at 15 or 20 mph. It was beautiful and, strange as it may seem to denizens of milder climes, it just felt right to me.

Since that day, the place has never been out of my heart or head. I haven’t lived there in a while, but my wife and I still go back to visit whenever we can.

The last such occasion was September of 2015, when President Obama paid a visit–POTUS on the Permafrost, as the occasion came to be known. While I was there, I managed to give one of his Secret Service agents a signed copy of one of the Nathan Active books, Village of the Ghost Bears. I signed it for the president, and expressed the hope that, having seen the real Kotzebue, he might enjoy reading about the fictional version. Wouldn’t it be cool if he read it and posted a review on Amazon!?

And with that thought (Stan we think he should for sure!) we leave Stan warming his hands by the fire and filling his flask full of hot chocolate ready for the ride home.

You can get the book here: Tundra-Kill

And meet Stan here:

Revisiting literary friends……Agatha Christie


Books often take you places you never would have gone before. Agatha Christie for me is one such author who has taken me to places I really wish did exist – St Mary Mead for example -although the murder rate is quite high there so maybe not sure about that one.

Still, the places such as Gossington Hall, the inside of the Orient Express,  Betrams hotel are memories which will stay with me for ever. They’ve lasted like faded photographs in  my mind ever since I read them and now with the TV adaptation of her Tommy and Tuppence novels, I thought it was nice to reread them.

Oh and it was like visiting an old friend, seeing the places again that I knew as a child, the very first day an English teacher handed me my first Agatha Christie – A Murder Is Announced – and said “I think you’ll like this”

How do you feel when you wander back into a book you’ve known and loved for years? It felt like wandering back into a house I used to visit frequently, friends I used to know, wondering what has changed and what has stayed the same. Of course it was me who now was older and arguably wiser, now having read many crime and mystery books based on forensics and more brutal cases would my visit to the past be a good one?

Well yes it was and more. For it was like opening up an old treasure trove and marvelling at a time when there was no technology that we rely on today, that clever old Miss Marple who would sit and knit and observe……the head bobbing over the hedge as she listened to some secret chatter, the excitement of wandering into Gossington Hall when it was still owned by the colonel and then when it is taken over by an American actress…

Aah Agatha, your crime stories have stood the test of time for me – they are classics, photos in my memory box, recollections in my mind.


As for Tommy and Tuppence, I had met these two in the story N or M and now they are being republished with the TV images of David Walliams and Jessica Raine as the crime busting couple. A new chance to reconnect with two old friends!

Now then, I think a cup of tea is in order, a comfy rug and a good Christie in preparation for tonight’s visit with Tommy and Tuppence on BBC.

How did you feel reconnecting with characters from your past? Is it good to meet old literary friends?

Australia – Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas


Set in Loch Lomond, Brisbane and Japan!

Danny Kelly is a working class boy who attends a private school in Australia on a swimming scholarship.

He’s not a popular nor likable character and is bullied. Danny however has dreams and wants to be the best swimmer there is and eventually go on to win a medal  – Gold if possible – at the Olympics. That will show the bullies he thinks to himself.

However when he tries for the Australian Swimming Championship he misses out on a place for the Olympic team and to say he is upset is an understatement.

Life goes downhill from that moment onwards.

Danny is a character I found hard to like. As many teenagers can be, he is somewhat self-obsessed and when he fails to get a place in the Olympic squad, he becomes worse.

Having said that Danny shows us what it is like to go through all those struggles whilst suffering bullying, violence and shame. Danny for me had potential but one failure led to him making some decisions which made his life all the more unbearable.

The Australian cover
The Australian cover

Danny seems confused and troubled and his life was revealed in this way too – events aren’t in order and the places and settings dot around in a way that a teenager boy’s thoughts probably do. Not easy to read at times – sometimes the settings and dates aren’t even mentioned at the start of chapters which did add to the confusion slightly. Danny is also known by several different names and nicknames – another sign of the boy’s inner confused  thoughts?

The thread throughout the book  – you know at the beginning that Danny has a secret – something is to be revealed that will explain things….or will it? It’s not revealed until much later on.

As you might expect, there is some graphic and offensive words in the book and it slaps you in the face at times.  Again, it makes you react to the book’s subject. Right from the start too – so if you are offended, be warned.

What it leaves behind however are the memories of the joy of swimming (which I know nothing about) and the joy of reading (which I totally agree with)

And the dream of one boy to swim in the Olympic Games…

Cuppa and a cake with Emma Hannigan – The Summer Guest

The table is set...
The table is set…

Emma Hannigan is a busy lady at the moment. She has been travelling and blog touring since last week. And she’s stopping off on the Booktrail today to chat about locations and places she loves to visit.

She’s just published her novel The Summer Guest and it’s a real weepie! Review on a separate post but for now I’ve been baking again as well, we are going to have a brew. Please take  a seat and join us.

Hi Emma come on in. Oops mind the cat. He’s not even mine – he just wanders in from next door. Still he looks like the cat from a Swedish children’s book called Pettson and Findus so it’s ok – 😉


I digress, but welcome again! Hope you like lemon drizzle. I thought we would have a cake fit for the summer.

The table is all set. I’ve also got a few travel brochures here for inspiration incase you need them, but I guess you don’t have much time to travel really do you?

I’m a real home bird and love nothing more than sitting around my kitchen table with as many family members and friends as I can shoe-horn in. My day-to-day life is pretty hectic. Between ferrying my children, cooking cleaning running a home and working full time and my on-going battle with cancer I cherish my downtime! Every now and again it’s a real treat to escape. 

So if you could pick only five places that you would recommend, what would they be?


The places I’ve chosen are in no particular order as they all offer such diverse things! 

St Lucia – this gorgeous Caribbean island is probably the most relaxing place I’ve ever been. I’ve been several times including my honeymoon. It’s literally like living in the Bounty advert on TV for a couple of weeks.

Connemara – in the west of Ireland is where I go to exhale. My family have a little holiday home in a tiny enclave called Cashel and it’s where I go to find solace. The rugged landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly unspoilt.

Nerja – a short drive from Malaga, this pretty Spanish village is quaint yet full of restaurants and meandering cobbles streets. I love the language and food in Spain and for me the less hectic way of seeing this country is preferable.

Dromoland Castle – every New Year I go to this County Limerick retreat with my extended family to ring out the old year and welcome the new! This place is only a short drive down the motorway from home. I always arrive exhausted and leave rejuvenated. Although my liver may not agree!

London – I’ve never lived in London but several friends do. So I’ve been a regular visitor for many years. Even though it’s literally across the pond from home, I am always blown away by the difference between London and Dublin. The vibrancy and energy of this city never fails to inspire me. For me London is diversity personified.

Well you’ve certainly given me  taste to travel. Where should we go first? I quite like the idea of living in a Bounty advert but I can’t resist Spain. Ooh but that castle! Argh! It’s too lovely! I suppose I’ll just have to visit all five 😉

Thanks for your suggestions Emma!

 You can visit Emma at her website  – and via twitter – @msEmmaHannnigan

Runaway to Ohio with Tracy Chevalier

lastSetting- Ohio, USA

Jilted by her fiance in England, Honor Bright, a Quaker woman, decides to accompany her sister Grace to America to help her adjust to hew life as a pioneer woman in rural Ohio. But then tragedy strikes, and Honor is faced with trying to find her own way in a strange and often hostile land.


Times are hard for people – and they are especially hard if you are a slave. When Honor meets such a person, she has a lot to learn. Setting this story of slavery and hard times in the Midwest enables Chevalier to beautifully evoke the landscape and the climate very well.

Ohio - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Location of Ohio – image courtesy of Wikipedia


The setting becomes a character as she describes and illustrates the history and legacy of slavery and the people who suffer it. For example – What happens to those who appose or blatantly disobey the Fugitive Slave Act? What extremes do they have to go to in order to try and make things right? What happens if they get caught? And who is looking to catch them out?

The flavour of the American midwest is not only evoked by setting of course – the way of life and the social mores of the time are examined such as the difference between English quilting and the American way of doing it, recipes between the two countries, culture and much much more.

On hearing that this young girl is off to Ohio, a sailor on the crossing makes a comment –

Ohio! The sailor snorted. ‘ Sick to the coast, love. Don’t go nowhere you can’t smell the sea, that’s what I Say. You’ll get trapped out there in all them woods.’


Knowlton_Covered_Bridge_Monroe County, Ohio - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Knowlton Covered Bridge, Monroe County, Ohio – image courtesy of Wikipedia


On seeing a covered bridge for the first time-

The bridges crossing streams and rivers from her childhood were stone and humped. Honor had not though that something as fundamental as a bridge would be so different in America.


Although a fictional book, there is also a lot of historical fact and circumstance interwoven into the story – the lives and suffering of the Quakers was a particular subject I had little awareness of so this was interesting to me, the underground railroad system and the subject of immigration and well, when it boils down to one thing – a poor young girl miles from home and desperately trying to survive and make sense of the world around her.


A Quaker bonnet of the type that Honor would have worn - image courtesy of Wikipedia
A Quaker bonnet of the type that Honor would have worn – image courtesy of Wikipedia

History really does repeat itself in many ways when you think of it like that Chevalier takes us back there and lets you experience the world through Honor’s eyes. A treat for historical fans and for those who like a good plot with a strong setting as essential to the story.


For more on this novel and Tracy Chevalier’s writing, then take a horse driven carriage over to her website –

A Russian jewel in the literature crown


As with Turkey, the incredible country we featured yesterday and its city pick guide, we booktrailers do not have much experience of Russia either. However, when there is a city pick guide on St Petersburg, you don’t need to go there for real. But if you do, your visit will be all the richer if you read this before you go –

Anna Pavlova describes her school days

Vladimir Nabokov re-lives a St Petersburg winter

Helen Dunmore plunges us into the worst of times

Dmitry Shostakovich reveals a musical secret

Truman Capote takes Porgy and Bess to the Soviets

Nikolai Gogol walks us down Nevsky Prospekt

I am personally fascinated by this city, mostly due to my literary wanderings with Russian literature I have come across on my travels in bookshops. Well this book has a wealth of snippets from non- fiction and fiction to be able to tempt you around St Petersburg and maybe even further afield!

St Petersburg - image courtesy  of Wikipedia
St Petersburg – image courtesy of Wikipedia

St. Petersburg is a dream of a city –

The founding of St Petersburg in 1703 was Peter the Great’s ‘I have a dream’ moment. He did, indeed, have a clear vision of the elegant, enlightened European-style city on the River Neva…


These short introductory texts lead nicely into the range of writers who each in turn give their impression of the city either in a short paragraph or a section of their book. Perfect for hoping in and out of as you would ona tour of the city itself.

Helen Dunmore is the first to take the literary stand –

Floating, lyrical, miraculous Petersburg, made out of nothing by a Tsar who wanted everything and didn’t care what it cost. Peter’s window on Europe, through which light shines. Here’s beauty built on bones. classical facades that cradled revolution, summers that lie in the cup of winter.

The epauletted shoulders f the Winter Palace - image courtesy of Wikipedia
The epauletted shoulders of the Winter Palace – image courtesy of Wikipedia

In Duncan Fallowell’s One Hot Summer in St Petersburg for example –

..the winter canal and beyond it the epauletted shoulders of the Winter Palace……

And then there’s Malcolm Bradbury whose novel To the Hermitage contains the kind of historical information that makes it come alive right off the page. Peter the Great for example becomes a very colourful character –

A boisterous young man who broke windows, turfed friends, acquaintances, even total strangers into hedges, he drank and whored with the best.


A trip through not only the city of St Petersburg but also of Russia and its past. Visit places in novels – not just of the one or two you may know such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina – discover more about Russian literature and authors, walk down the same streets and meet people from history.


All in one book.

Quite a read

My literary alphabet

So many books and so little time but I have thought this week about all the wonderful authors I have discovered since doing the book trail and those that remain favourites ever since I read their first novel. So this led me to come up with a literary alphabet of all those authors I hold dear. It was very hard to do infact as there are so many that I could have had several alphabets really. However, this is one of them and I would love to know what yours is! A few children’s authors in there too – those I read now as we, we all have a child inside of us! And quite right too!

My literary ABC
My literary ABC

A is for Atkinson

B is for Bronte

C is for Cleeves

D is for Dickens


E is for Eliot

F is for Flynn

G is for Gaiman

H is for Hannah


I is for Ibbotson

J is for James

K is for King

L is for Läckberg

M is for Morton

N is for Nesbø


O is for Orwell

P is for Pagnol

Q is for Quint

R is for Rowling

S is for Staalesen

T is for Tolkien

U is for Updike

V is for Vargas Llosa

W is for Walliams

X is for Xinran

Y is for Yezierska

Z is for Zafón

Do your own alphabet, let me know what you come up with. I think they should teach this in schools – makes a change from A for Apple doesn’t it?