A Life in Books with David McCaffrey

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Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is David McCaffrey and I’m a 41 year old Infection Prevention and Control Lead Nurse, husband to a murdered wife, father to a murdered son and I shall have my revenge in this life or…oh, hang on, that’s Gladiator.

The IPC part is correct, I have a Jake, a Liam, a Kelly and an Obi (he’s the dog). I have been an author since November 2014 when my first novel was published, but it was a dream I had held all my life.

I’m also a huge geek, play the piano, love reading, knew martial arts once upon a time (too old now to remember most of it!) and once attended Danni Minogue’s 21st birthday party.

 

 

1. What was you favourite book from childhood?

I would have to say The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. There was just something 51XJtkp3ALL._SY346_magical about being able to enter a regular, household object and be transported to another land. I still try it in Ikea now.

 

2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

Mostly science fiction, the occasional horror book that was perhaps a little to adult for me (IT traumatised me as I’m sure it did most). I’ve always loved reading and find it sad nowadays she so many people say they don’t have any books in their house.

 

3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

Kes by Barry Hines. I think most teenagers studied that book. He had such a beautiful way with words establishing the relationship between a child and the kestrel and using it as an analogy for the challenges faced in life.

 

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4. What is your favourite classic book?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Moving, poignant, endlessly quotable and perhaps the greatest beginning and ending lines to a book ever.

 

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?

Meg by my mentor and friend, Steve Alten, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes and Dear Reflection by Jessica Bell. Meg because it’s about a giant prehistoric shark eating people, I Am Pilgrim because it is an exceptional espionage thriller ala 24 and Dear Reflection because it’s an emotional, personal and moving journey through the life of an extremely talented author, musician and master of many other things whom I have the fortune to have met and know.

 

6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

Probably Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. I’ve seen the Alec Guinness version and the Gary Oldman remake (both exceptional), but never got around to reading the book. Now you’ve put the idea in my head, I might just download it now!

 

7. What do you consider to be your favourite book?51WTHSd9znL

Of all time? It has to be the aforementioned A Tale of Two Cities. That and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

 

8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I started it and just couldn’t get into it at all. In fact, I found it a little boring. But someone told me to perservere with it, so I started it again a few months later and they were right. I ended up reading the entire trilogy. Excellent thrillers with a character in Lisbeth Salander you wish as an author you had created.

 

61okiEr8kTL9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you?

Probably The Firm by John Grisham and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. One is an excellent thriller and the other is a truly moving and still unequaled tale of the repercussions of mankinds interference with the laws of nature.

 

 

10. Kindle or Book?

Book, every day of the week and twice on Sunday’s! I love the fact you can take ten books on holiday with you on one, small device, but you will never be able to replace the smell and feel of a good paperback!

 

David McCaffrey’s books are available to buy now.

 

The Return of the Courtesan by Victoria Blake

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Synopsis

Venice 1576, a city destroyed by the plague, where Sebastiano da Canal has been a boatman all his life, employed by the writer Arentino, artist Titian and now Tullia Buffo, a famous Courtesan returned to the city.  He is the keeper of secrets, and scandal.  He also holds a grudge against Titian’s son, who he blames for the destruction of his family, and who has returned after the death of his father.

Tullia Buffo, once a famous courtesan, has also returned to Venice to find her house ransacked and herself without money.  Tullia sets out to set herself up again, make her house a place of knowledge, music and ultimately passion, and regain her place as the most renowned courtesan.

New York 2011 Aurora is a maid for a rich couple under investigation by the police.  The highlight of her job is being able to look up at painting of Saint Sebastian, that hangs in their hallway, that reminds her of her mother in Cuba whom she was separated from at five years old.

London 2011, Terry Jardine, a famous actor, is struggling after the death of his mother.  He visits the National Gallery to see Titian’s The Man with the Blue Sleeve, which is where he told his mother that he was gay, and a painting that speaks to him of his death.

As they deal with the problems in their lives, their stories cross time and continents but all come back to Venice and Titian.

 

Review

I actually don’t know where to start my review as this novel just blew me away.  It is beautifully written, and researched with a cast of characters that drew me into their lives.  There are many voices in this book; Aurora and Alberto in New York; Terry and his new love Ludovico in London; Sebastian and Tullia in Venice.  At first it may seen that their stories are unconnected, but like a great painting their stories are like layers of paint that are gradually built up that eventually combine to make a masterpiece. Their different stories are told with great understanding and empathy, you feel invested in their lives, and care about where their future.  It is two of Titian’s paintings that connect these characters, The Man with the Blue Sleeve that hangs in the National Gallery London, which I am very fortunate to have seen, and The Resurrection of Saint Sebastian.  Victoria Blake’s writing brings these paintings to life, the detail of the quilted sleeve, its rich colour and the sumptuous cloth and Saint Sebastian’s pain, the detail of his face, the expression are all brought to life.  The paintings also represent that art transcends time, there is four hundred and fifty years between the timelines but still Titians art is able to touch peoples lives no matter where or when you are. Titian painted a couple of works featuring Saint Sebastian, but for the book it is there version taken from a polyptych, I have included images of both of these paintings at the end of my review.

Another theme is families; in particular those effected by the death of a family member that marks their lives; Terry and his mother, Aurora and her husband, Sebastiano and his father, Tullia who has lost children and her mother. These characters are very much defined by what has happened, but turn to Titian’s paintings as a solace, a place where they can turn in grief.

Most historical fiction based around Courtesan’s in Venice tells of a city of fun, Carnivale, of Masks and parties, but the only masks in The Return of the Courtesan are the masks of the plague doctor.  Venice is now a dark place,  decimated by the plague, it is a shadow of its former self; thousands died and many of the upper patrician class left to try and escape.  What is left is a city of ransacked houses where anything of any value has been stolen, it is dangerous to walk the streets after dark due to thieves.  In contrast the Venice of 2011 is a tourist haven, full of people taking in the wonderful architecture and art the city has to offer, a city of love and dreams. 

I found The Return of the Courtesan to be an erudite novel, as sumptuous as the paintings it describes.  It covers love, death, family, the power of art, human survival instincts, and also is part mystery.  It is written with knowledge, empathy and great detail to the plot and characters.  I can not praise this book highly enough, it is certainly one of the best novels I have read this year, which is quite an accolade as I have been privileged to read some wonderful books this year.

I should add the note that this book was previously published under the title Titian’s Boatman, a title I much prefer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life in Books with Sam from Clues and Reviews

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This evening I welcome fellow blogger Sam from Clues and Reviews to discuss books that  she has loved in A Life in Books.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m Sam, the blogger behind Clues and Reviews. By day, I am a teacher and by night, I read mystery, suspense and thriller titles. Anything crime fiction? I’ll read it! Besides reading, I enjoy trying to take selfies with my dog (who is un-cooperative) and baking.

 

1. What was you favourite book from childhood?61301Zyi6QL

My first memory of really loving a book was Flowers in the Attic by V.C Andrews. My mom bought me a copy from a used bookstore when I was eight. My grandmother almost had a heart attack when she caught me reading it!

 

2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

You’d probably be surprised to know that I loved any sort of teenage romance; if it had a title with a pun in it and a geeky girl who was in love with the popular boy, I was probably reading it.

 

51u7Vynu4nL3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

Night by Elie Wiesel. I am a history geek and have always been fascinated by human survival stories so this one really got under my skin; it was has always been one of my favourites to read and to teach. I am always in awe of his story and his ability to forgive.

 

 

4. What is your favourite classic book?

Ooh! Good question! I majored in English Literature in University so I have read many a classic. I have always been a huge fan of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises. I am a huge fan of American expatriate literature. I also love anything by the Southern Gothic writers; Flannery O’Conner, William Faulker.

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 551l6YcIN7dL years?

This is a hard question! I have read all kinds of amazing books- especially lately. I think one that I go back to and constantly recommend would be The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. I had been in a book slump for a few years after I first stated teaching, I read this one and it reignited my love of reading.

 

6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I feel like it is a crime fiction staple but I never have enough time!

 

51eqYMqRNpL7. What do you consider to be your favourite book ?

You know, I couldn’t even answer this question if I tried! Depending on my mood and the time and the year, this would be continuously changing. I do know for sure I am always a fan of Ania Ahlborn books and I love Tess Gerritsen. I also am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series; I re-read them every year at Christmas time. I’d say those are all my favourites.

 

8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?
Yes and I always feel so guilty!

 

9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have 5100RtgdrzLwith you?
Lord of the Flies and Robinson Crusoe. Maybe I’d be able to pick up some tips for survival!

 

10. Kindle or Book?
Book for sure; I love the smell and I’m too scared to bring my kindle into the bathtub!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life in Books with Jennifer S Alderson.

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Earlier today I reviewed the brilliant The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S Alderson, and this evening Jennifer joins me to discuss A life in Books.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Travel and writing have always been an important part of my life. My father was an industrial engineer and designed aluminum recycling plants, meaning me moved every two years. We started out in my birthplace of San Francisco and slowly made our way up north to Seattle, Washington where an accident ended his career and our relocations.
My earliest memories are of writing stories with my father, mostly Steve King inspired novellas. I wrote my first full-length murder mystery when I was thirteen. At school I always wrote for the school newspapers and yearbooks. I studied print and television journalism and worked as journalist for a few years before transitioning into the ICT sector where I made a career as a multimedia developer. Burnout led me to art history, and my father’s unexpected death at the age of sixty-one motivated me to pursue my dreams of writing a novel worthy of publication.
In November 2015 I published Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, a travel thriller set in Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, an amateur sleuth mystery set in Amsterdam was released seven months later. I am overwhelmed to see the positive reaction to both by readers of all ages and nationalities. These are the first two books in what I hope will be a long running series following the adventures of culture and travel lover Zelda Richardson.
In May I released my third book, a travelogue entitled Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand. This novella-length book contains excerpts from my travel journal and email back home. Readers seem to be enjoying their journey!
This winter I hope to release my fourth book, currently entitled Smuggler’s Deceit, another art mystery in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. This time readers will be transported to Papua New Guinea and follow along on anthropological expeditions as they try and solve mysteries of the past and present.

 

What was your favourite book from childhood?51AOGAZor9L

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I still have my great-grandmother’s hardback copy, complete with hand-painted illustrations.

 

What type of books did you read as a teenager?

Mystery and adventure were (and still are) my go-to genres: the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mysteries, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and all of the Agatha Christie mysteries. Though my favorite were the Choose Your Own Adventure books; this wonderful series taught me early on there is no ‘right’ answer in life.

 

51btOLAf4lLWhen you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. The author breaks every rule of writing, yet it is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It is truly a revelation in style and technique and the story told is a surprise, in every way possible.

 

 

What is your favourite classic book?

On The Road by Jack Kerouac. This is a book I have read many times and will continue to re-read because it always reminds me to think outside the box and challenge social norms as well as peoples’ expectations. Besides, it’s beautifully written and contains several of my favorite book quotes, such as this line by Sal Paradise: “For life is holy and every moment is precious.”

 

What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 41A4oppupSLyears?

I have read so many wonderful books during the last five years, yet Het Diner (2010) by Herman Koch has probably stayed with me the longest. (It was translated from Dutch into English in 2013 as The Dinner). This is one of the most surprising and captivating books I’ve ever read. You will not guess what happens next, I almost guarantee it! It’s extraordinary well written but more importantly, well-conceived. I can’t say much about the story without ruining the plot, except buy it, you won’t be disappointed.
Two recent favorites are Bridge of Sighs and Dreams by Pamela Allegretto and Titian’s Boatman (renamed: The Return of the Courtesan) by Victoria Blake, published in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Both are beautifully written, absorbing historical fiction novels set in Italy, one of my favorite countries in the world.

 

What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

I am almost afraid to admit I have never read anything by Jane Austen or Sylvia Plath. Considering how highly regarded they are by most readers, I suppose I should read some of their works, one day.

 

What do you consider to be your favourite book?

On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

 

Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

I am fascinated by Umberto Eco yet cannot seem to finish any of his books. I already had three of his novels collect dust on my bookshelf, then recently received his book On Ugliness as a gift. I still haven’t opened it but am determined to give it a go.

512kgZyolHLWhat are you reading now?
I just started reading Winter’s Mourning by Janice J. Richardson. It’s the second in a cozy mystery series set in a Canadian funeral home, and so far quite wonderful.

Kindle or Book?
Book.

 

 

 

Please take a look at my review for The Lover’s Portrait which I posted earlier today.

Down and Out in Kathmandu and The Lover’s Portrait are available now.

 

 

 

The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S Alderson

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Synopsis

Zelda Richardson, having finished her Art History Course, is now waiting to be accepted for an MA Course in Museum Studies.  Over the summer she takes an intern job at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum which is running an exhibition of art work stolen by the Nazis during the war, in the hope that they may be recognised and returned to the descendants of the original owners.  Originally employed to work on the website, she becomes embroiled in the ownership of a painting Irises, when two women come forward to claim it.  Zelda oversteps the mark in her research into the painting and puts herself in danger as someone is willing to murder to get the painting  and a collection of modern masterpieces missing since 1942.

1942 A Dutch Art Dealer is being blackmailed by a member the Nazi SS.  He decides to hide his collection, and that of some of his friends, to stop it from falling into the hands of his blackmailer.  He pays for his actions with his life, but without telling anyone where the art is hidden.  Somewhere in Amsterdam there is a large collection of modern masterpieces probably lost forever, until Irises by Lex Wederstien turns up at the Amsterdam Museum.

 

Review

As well as reading and books in general, my other passion in life is art, so I was very excited to read A Lover’s Portrait.  I think that everyone who studies Art History and is then lucky enough to work in the field, dreams of finding a lost masterpiece, or a cache of art lost during the war which is the premise of this book.  It might sound like a fantasy but this did happen in 2013  when Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt was found to have hoarded millions of pounds worth of art stolen by the Nazi’s.  I should point out that Jennifer S Alderson wrote this book before that event.

The plot is written in the third person and from three different perspectives.  In 1942 we see Amsterdam under the Nazi regime and their procurement of ‘degenerate’ art via the story of art dealer Arjan van Heemsvliet.  In present day Zelda is the main protagonist and we are privy to her search for the details of the painting and the people who claim ownership.  Finally there is Konrad Heider who has been looking for his uncle’s art collection lost during the war.  All these separate threads slowly knit together, until they become one and solve the mystery.  As well as the main characters there is an interesting supporting cast, all with their own back story that enhance the plot; the curator who has a history with possessions lost during the war;  Rita Brouwer one of the claimants for Irises who left Amsterdam during the war; Karen, the rich American widow who also makes a claim, but all is not as it should be.  I really enjoyed the fact that all characters had a back story gave them credence in the story.  Not surprisingly Zelda was my favourite character, I loved her exuberance for life and for art.  I have to say I was slightly jealous of her being able to study n Amsterdam and being able to be part of the search for the art.

Jennifer’s attention to detail in her writing is brilliant.  She is able to bring Amsterdam, both in the present and in the past to life with vivid clarity, I felt I was back in the Museumplein, looking at the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. The same detail is given to her descriptions of the art, the reader gets a real sense of the images, and how they were painted.

There are plenty of clever twists and turns in the plot as Zelda races towards the truth of the ownership of Irises and the secret cache of art.  The suspense an tension are kept throughout, and will keep you engaged until you turn the last page.  I found The Lover’s Portrait to be and erudite and compelling read, full of suspense and culture; a perfect combination of history, mystery and art.