Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Month with Starfish by Bev Jackson

A Month with Starfish is available from Amazon now, with net proceeds going to the Starfish Charity. My sincere thanks to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for a review.

In November 2015, Bev Jackson traveled to the Greek island of Lesvos to join Starfish, based in the tourist village of Molyvos, one of the groups of volunteers helping to receive and care for refugees arriving in boats from Turkey. A Month with Starfish is a largely light-hearted account of a trip to a kaleidoscopic world that provided the author with a crash course in human possibilities and her own limitations.

My Thoughts:

Lesvos is a Greek island 4.5 miles from Turkey. In recent times refugees have been travelling from Turkey to Lesvos in a bid to have a safer and happier future. It is part of a journey which is treacherous and this book tells the story of the month that the Author spent volunteering for a charity which assists refugees in numerous ways.

I had imagined that this would be a very sad and emotional story, however it was written with a humour and wit that made it bearable. Initially, I was concerned that the author seemed emotionally detached in the telling of the story. It however became evident though that rather than being emotionally detached, it was necessary and perhaps essential to maintain a distance to be able to make it thorough the time spent there.

I found this account to be rather educational and informative, yes of course I know about refugees, but honestly how much did I really know? There were some interesting observations about the press and governments, which have given me something to reflect upon. 

This account told of the day to day tasks involved with volunteering, be that preparing food packages, working in the clothing tent or organising different bus queues and tickets. It also tells of the refugees themselves and there was also some entertaining passages that involved fellow volunteers. 

I expected to finish this book feeling utterly depressed, and yes although the situation is bleak and difficult I was left with a sense of potential possibilities and hope. 

We are all humans, and it is only a matter of situation and place that makes others be the ones approaching that harbour, and not you or I. 

I would like to thank the people that are courageous enough to volunteer for such organisations as Starfish, you give the rest of us hope for a better life for everyone. 


Since I have read this book it has come to light that in recent days there has been an EU deal that changes the situation in Lesvos dramatically. I contacted the author who was able to provide me some more information about the current status for Starfish. 

Starfish is currently still operating a standby harbour shift in case people are rescued and brought to the harbour. Fewer people have arrived recently than before the "deal", that appears to have been partly due to the weather. 459 refugees arrived on the island yesterday (29th March).

Starfish still has lots of work unpacking, sorting and distributing clothes, sleeping bags and suchlike. There is also still some duties at the IRC camp, which is the camp that was established to replace Oxy.

Starfish is providing food packages on a daily basis to many hundreds of in desperate need of them. 

Starfish itself says:

"Starfish has been hard at working in the sandwich factory making packs of food containing sandwiches and fresh fruit to give to new arrivals who have been detained under the new EU deal. We want to ensure that despite the new restrictions, no refugee goes hungry.
Each food parcel costs around 2 Euro and we are making around 500 a day at the moment, which is a daily bill of 1,000 Euro, so please make a donation to help us keep feeding hungry people in need! "

About the Author:

Bev Jackson joined the group who founded the Gay Liberation Front while studying at LSE. Soon afterwards she moved to Amsterdam, where she has lived ever since. She has raised two daughters (one now a mother and a journalist, the other a composer, singer and graphic artist) and pursued careers as a teacher and university lecturer before becoming a translator. She started writing in 2008. A Month with Starfish, her first published book, was self-published on Amazon on 9 February 2016. Bev Jackson comes from a Jewish background, and her childhood experiences of anti-Semitism instilled in her an ineradicable commitment to standing up for underdogs of all kinds: this underpins her present determination to stand up for the rights of people fleeing from war.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Blue Wicked by Alan Jones

This book was published by Ailsa Publishing in 2014. I would like to thank the author for recently sending me a review copy.

The tortured corpses of young alcoholics and drug addicts are turning up in Glasgow and only Eddie Henderson seems to know why. When he tries to tell the police, his information is ridiculed and he's told to stop wasting their time. 

One officer, junior detective Catherine Douglas, believes him, and together they set out to discover why the dregs of Glasgow's underbelly are being found, dead and mutilated. 

My Thoughts:

I was initally approached by the author, who enquired whether I would like to review Blue Wicked, I agreed as I do enjoy a good crime novel. I was however warned that it might be a bit too dark and gritty for me. That sounded like a challenge!

I was nervous upon starting this story, as I had visions of streams of gratuitous violence, I am pleased that this wasn't the case at all. I found the story to be gritty and dark as mentioned but I also found it incredibly well written, with a gripping storyline. Although I did have to read one or two scenes from behind a cushion, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This story centres around Eddie Henderson, who is a vet and Catherine Douglas who works for the police force. After several incidences of murdered pets, human bodies also start turning up. Eddie Henderson manages to create a link between the pets and the humans and goes to the police, who practically dismiss him out of hand. Catherine is prepared to listen and what ensues kept me enthralled from the first page to the last.

I always find it difficult to review crime books as it is hard not to let the storyline slip out and make anything to obvious, so I won't be telling you anything else about the plot.

Suffice to say that this book has plotting and pace that built to an absolute crescendo, a crescendo that I wasn't expecting and had me stunned actually. Just when you thought the worst of crimes had been committed, there was another one just around the corner. 

Some of the dialogue is written in Glaswegian slang. The author has helpfully provided a glossary of terms at the back of the book. I didn't feel that I needed to refer to it, after a couple of sentences as I could hear the voices in my head, however that might be what happens when you have a Scottish Grandma!

The author has also provided a glossary of medical and veterinary terms, this did prove to be helpful and I would hazard a guess that the authors job has provided him with much background information in this area.

This story has a superb plot and had much more depth than I was anticipating. Overall I would love to read more of this authors work. If you don't mind gritty. dark and gruesome crime fiction, then I would recommend it to you.

You can find out more at the website:

About the Author:

Alan Jones was born in Glasgow in 1960 but now lives and works on the Ayrshire coast. He works in the Animal Health Industry. He is married with grown up children and has lots of hobbies, including sailing and making furniture. Alan Jones is a pen name. Blue Wicked is his second novel, his first was The Cabinetmaker and he also has a third called Bloq being published on April 1st 2016.

TWITTER: @alanjonesbooks

Thursday, 3 March 2016

** BLOG TOUR ** The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

Published by Two Roads in Hardback 25th February 2016. My thanks to the Publisher for sending me a review copy and inviting me onto the blog tour.

Georgian London, in the summer of 1763.

At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher's apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him. 

The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place: though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. 

Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub.
But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.

A vivid and surprising tale, The Butcher's Hook brims with the colour and atmosphere of Georgian London, as seen through the eyes of a strange and memorable young woman.

'Do you know what this is?' He holds a short twist of thick metal, in the shape of the letter 'S', sharpened at both ends. I shake my head. 
'A butcher's hook,' he says, testing the tip of his finger against each point. 'A perfect design. Whichever way up you use it, it's always ready. One end to hook, the other to hang. It has only one simple purpose.' He stands on a stool and fixes it over the bar above him. It waits there, empty. 
He climbs down. 'Pleasing, isn't it?'


It is 1763 in Georgian London. Anna Jaccob is grieving the death of her baby brother and is becoming increasingly upset and frustrated with her life at home. Although fairly well off, a happy family it isn't. Her father is trying to arrange a suitable marriage for her, much to Anna's chagrin.

This story is a lot darker than I had imagined and just gets darker as it goes along, a feel Gothic feel to it. The author has recreated Georgian London very well and taken us readers back to a different and unfamiliar time. This she does very, very well. 

I guess that you could say that Anna is a sort of heroine, although part of me adores her and part of me despises her. I can understand why she turns out as she did, sadness and heartbreak have made her strong and selfish but they have also made her cold and mean. The other half of me admires her for her strength and pursuit of her future, but she tramples on everybody to get to it and stops at nothing to do what she wants. She is a whirlwind and a real force to be reckoned with.

There was quite a feminist feel to this story, all of the male characters were absolutely ghastly!

This is a chilling and engaging story, that brings a historical London to vivid live. A coming of age story of sorts, for all of its obsessive behaviours. After about the first half the book picks up at a hurtling pace, I couldn't believe some of the things I was reading. It seemed to take turns that I wasn't prepared for at all. 

An accomplished debut novel with a mighty main character in Anna Jaccob, I found this to be a very interesting and intriguing book and I would read more by this author.


I am absolutely thrilled and excited to welcome Janet Ellis to the blog today, she has taken the time to visit the blog and answer some of my questions. Many thanks indeed Janet for your insightful answers and for being on Reflections of a Reader. 

1.       What inspired you to write The Butcher's Hook? 

There have been several strands of inspiration , now all knotted up together. The idea of a girl-smart, individual and curious - being forced to live a sequestered life, with little company, few distractions and no stimulation suddenly being 'woken', had nagged at me for a while. I decided to set the book in Georgian London as  I live in London, and love to look for remnants of that time beneath or beside its Victorian offspring . I realised I could marry the two themes - a modern-thinking girl in an attractive era. Then I got carried away by how my heroine might deal with obstacles and desires.

2.        Do you have plans to write any further novels? 

I do. Although when I finished The Butcher's Hook I didn't have any plans for a sequel,  now I rather think  Anne hasn't quite gone away yet. I can still hear her voice. She's not in the next book, though. It's set in the Seventies. Historical times for some, I know!

3.        What is your writing routine? 

I try and write every day, but I'm not strict about when or how much. Admitting I could write a book even if I didn't set myself goals or a follow a timetable is one of the many (many) reasons that this book got finished where others had languished, and that thinking and example has set a pattern for writing the next one.

4.        What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I love walking. We're lucky to be near the River Thames and I can't imagine tiring of walking along  the towpath. But I like to walk everywhere, if I can, anyway. When my children were little, I was always getting them in and out of the car, now I'm shocked by how short some of the distances I drove are. And you really see places on foot, don't you? I love cooking... and eating. There's quite a bit of food in The Butcher's Hook and I guess thats' why. And have you seen my list of grandchildren?  They're all boys, aged between 11 and four months. They live close by so I see them whenever I can.

5.        What book would you recommend to other people or give as a gift? 

I can't imagine anyone not enjoying Any Human Heart by William Boyd. In fact, if you don't like it we might have to rethink our friendship.... Do read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, too- it's a long way from the film and very clever and funny. Then, if you can balance another book on the pile, can I pop Wonder by RJ Palacio on top, please...whatever age you are , this'll move you.

About the Author:                           

Janet Ellis Trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes. She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. 

The Butcher's Hook is her first novel. She can be found on Twitter @missjanetellis.

Thanks for reading and please do check out the other stops on the tour, there are some great Q & A's and more throughout this week.