Adult Fiction, Fiction

Mr Doubler Begins Again by Seni Glaister

Potatoes, gin and friendship…

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Do you ever come across a book that you just know you’re going to love? Well last summer I was invited along to the HQ Stories Summer Showcase and I met some wonderful authors that night and discovered some fantastic new books. One of the things I remember most about the evening was how friendly everyone was; the authors, the members of the HQ team, and the other guests. The evening was a great success and each author and novel was beautifully presented. I was introduced to Mr Doubler for the first time and I knew, straight away, that he and I were going to get along.

So it was here on a beautiful summers evening that I had the pleasure of meeting Seni and discovering the rather wonderful Mr Doubler. I was delighted to bring home an early proof copy well ahead of it’s publication date in January. I am a keen gardener and I have even grown my own potatoes down on my allotment, so possibly that may have been what drew me to this particular table but I think it was also a combination of Seni’s warm smile and the beautiful display of proof copies bearing the quote ‘Not every journey takes you far from home…

So what’s the story about…

Synopsis

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Baked, mashed, boiled or fried, Mr Doubler knows his potatoes. But the same can’t be said for people. Since he lost his wife, he’s been on his own at Mirth Farm – and that suits Doubler just fine. Crowds are for other people; the only company he needs are his potato plants and his housekeeper, Mrs Millwood, who visits every day.

So when Mrs Millwood is taken ill, it ruins everything – and Mr Doubler begins to worry that he might have lost his way. But could the kindness of strangers be enough to bring him down from the hill?

*

This is a wonderful novel and such a pleasure to read. Oh how I loved Mr Doubler and what a joy it would be to sit with him in his warm, inviting kitchen, enjoying one of his expertly produced G&T’s and a slice of homemade cake.

For quite some time Doubler has plodded along quietly on Mirth Farm, with only his potatoes and his housekeeper, Mrs Millwood, for company. He has been perfectly content with his well-ordered, predictable life. His only concern is his potatoes, his ‘secret’ project and the occasional visit from his ‘well-meaning’ children. Until that is, Mrs Millwood is taken ill and his life is turned upside down.

Although I had been looking forward to reading this novel for quite sometime I actually picked it up after suffering from a dose of flu. I’d felt so ill I couldn’t even read and then as I began to feel better Mr Doubler called to me. He was the perfect tonic and a brilliant escape for those moments when life is just feeling a little too gray and drizzly. He made me feel like spring was on the way.

Now novels about old men finding their way have been done and enjoyed before (A Man Called Ove and of course The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry are examples that come to mind and that I very much enjoyed) but Mr Doubler is very different, wonderful and completely memorable in his own right.

So what is it that I loved about this novel? Well the writing itself is beautifully done. It carries you along, sweeping you away with the story. Seni has the ability, somewhat Harry Potter like, to pull you into the book so you can almost smell the food on Doubler’s table and hear the sounds of the birds as he takes an early morning stroll around his land.

As he stood at these edge-lands, he allowed his brain to settle into nothingness. It was still dark. He stopped and listened. A bird sang from a hazel branch not far from him. The pure sound cut through the dark and distracted Doubler from his quandary.

‘Hello robin!’ Doubler said, under his breath for fear of disturbing the gutsy singer. ‘It’s a bit early for that racket, isn’t it?’

The lone, tentative voice was almost immediately joined by another flute-like refrain from just behind him. The birds sensed the dawn before any trace of the new day had become obvious to Doubler. These birds, the robin and perhaps a black-bird, were soon joined by several others and now, after just a few moments of listening, the chorus was beginning in earnest and it was impossible to separate one song from another. Together, this competing cacophony should have jarred, but instead it united to form a harmonious ensemble that appeared to be led by one unseen conductor.

Full to the brim with endearing (and a few rather unlikeable) characters, Mr Doubler Begins Again is a joy to read; a celebration of an ordinary man who has done the best he can through some rather difficult circumstances. Doubler shows us the importance of the ‘ordinary folk’, the impact they have, and that each and every one will leave an important legacy in the friends and memories they leave behind. At times I found it incredibly poignant and sad, but at others I was whooping in delight for Mr Doubler and the friends who came to his aid. I cheered him on right until the very last page, and I’m still cheering him on now. There is much more than potatoes beneath the surface of this quiet, old recluse who lives on the hill. I was saddened that those who should have known him the best, were the ones who seemed to not understand him at all. This kind, old soul. What an incredible friend he would be.

Yet even an old recluse like Doubler needs a little help from time to time and this small community found its way into my heart and I feel as though I have learnt so much from them. There are times when we feel like we know what is best for others but in reality only they can know what will bring them contentment and happiness. This novel has taught me that things are rarely black and white. There is always more to the situation than you can see. It taught me that the easy option is not always the best. That each of us, no matter how old we are, are valued and that there is no age limit on hopes and dreams.

One of the characteristics I loved most about Doubler was his absolute unwavering opinions and his lack of fear in expressing them. From his idea of a perfect lunch (potatoes), to the precise ingredients and method of making a gin and tonic. His appreciation of perfectly blended tea and the effort and time he gives to laying on tea and cake for his guests. As, with the assistance and encouragement of Mrs Millwood, he slowly returns to the community, he begins to understand how much he can actually contribute to the lives of those around him and just what that gives him in return. Doubler is a man with a big heart and oh, how I would love to try a sip of his gin.

Gin

The making of gin, as I have recently discovered, is quite an art and the mix of botanicals makes each recipe unique. It has of course recently had a resurgence of popularity. In my childhood I recall it as being the choice of drink by the evil Miss Hannigan (played by the rather wonderful Carol Burnett ) in the 1982 movie Annie, as she literally bathed in the stuff. The drink of drunks and down and outs. Then as an adult myself I enjoyed it cold, mixed with tonic and a slice of lemon. About six months ago I treated myself to a gin subscription (absolute decadence I know but I’m worth it) with The Craft Gin company.

My first delivery from Craft Gin included the most delicious Burleigh’s gin, mixers and oh so scrummy chocolate.
My second box had a rather festive ( but good enough to drink any time) bottle of Tarquin’s Cornish Christmas gin.
I love roses… especially in a glass of Naud’s gin!

Every two months I receive a unique craft gin, mixers and edible treats and also a magazine talking about… yes you guessed it, gin. So it was a total delight when I came to read Mr Doubler chatting about gin. It actual makes my mouth water just thinking about the scene in his kitchen when he first shares his homemade produce. It put me in mind of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat and the way she was able to bring the taste and smell of chocolate so expertly alive within the pages of her book. Seni does the very same here with Mr Doubler and gin.

‘I am, however, not going to overwhelm you. I expect you’re all familiar with the G and T, the ice and a slice. And that is what I shall prepare for you because I want you to notice the gin, not the accompaniments. Some gins lend themselves to this classic treatment. But it is very possible to tease out the flavour of a gin by the addition of other flavours. I am not a gin pedant – in fact, I would go as far as to consider myself more liberal than most.’

While Doubler spoke, he cut the lemon into thin slices, allowing the scent of citrus to fill the room.

‘All gin makers use a mix of botanicals to flavour their spirit. We all know and love juniper berries, and this is, of course, the flavour that we associate with the spirit. Indeed, it is essential to qualify as a London dry gin, as I’m sure you all know. But, depending on the distillery, you might find notes of any number of spices, herbs, plants or other flavourings – for example, coriander, angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom,orris,cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia bark, almond, liquorice or cubeb. When you’re mixing a drink yourself, it is advisable to accentuate the flavour of the botanicals that have been used to craft it, so a gin that has used rose and cucumber to enhance its flavour might well benefit from the addiction of a slice of cucumber or a couple of freshly picked rose petals. If there are no citrus notes at all, you should steer clear of lemon or lime.’

Now Doubler has certainly given me food for thought when it comes to mixing a gin based beverage and I very much look forward to a little experimentation (with a little bit of help fromThe Craft Gin Club.) Now it’s not everyday you come across a recipe for a cocktail within a novel but there is actually a ‘Mirth Farm’ recipe created by The Mixology Group and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you here. It sounds like the perfect summer cocktail to me.

Mirth Farm Garden Cocktail

SERVES 1

INGREDIENTS

50ml good quality gin

5cm piece of cucumber

20ml lemon juice

20ml cucumber syrup

8-10 mint leaves

Soda

Garnish with large mint sprig

and borage flowers

METHOD

Add all but soda to a tall glass

and lightly muddle.

Fill glass with crushed ice and

the add a dash of soda.

There are plenty of recipes for cucumber syrup on the internet so why not make a small batch and give it a try. It sounds perfectly refreshing.

*

Whatever your tipple be it gin, wine or a nice cup of tea, I definitely recommend reading this rather wonderful novel and welcoming Mr Doubler into your life…it will be all the better for it.

Mr Doubler Begins Again was published in January 2019 by HQStories.

You can follow Seni on Twitter: @SeniGlaister

You can follow HQStories on Twitter: @HQstories

The Craft Gin club have exclusive offers for new members so do check out there website here.

Thanks again to HQStories for inviting me to the showcase last summer and to Seni for my copy of Mr Doubler (and for signing it too).

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Adult Fiction, Bookish Post, Coming Soon, Crime, Debut, Fiction, Review, Suspense, Thriller

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

A Tales Before Bedtime Sunday Review

Sometimes you discover an author and there is an instant connection.  You soak up their words and disappear into their worlds.  Whenever you hear there is a new offering on the horizon your ears prick up, damn it your whole damn head up – somewhat like a meerkat – and wait eagerly for it to arrive.  It’s a truly wonderful feeling.  One such author that holds that magic over me is Louise Beech. Her writing never fails to leave me entranced.  Her novels are all so different and yet all so wonderful.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to receive a proof copy of her latest novel, Call Me Star Girl.  

There were three things that sold this novel to me.  

The author. The publisher. The synopsis.  

Although the fact that it was quoted as being ‘reminiscent of Play Misty For Me, surely one of Clint Eastwood finest and most chilling of films, did catch my attention too.  I watched the film again not too long ago and there is still so much I love about it, not least the 70’s music, style and cinematography, but it gives you the feeling that you’re watching a series of events spiralling helplessly out of control. All these factors put together had me feeling this novel was going to be GOOOOD.  And Oh my, I wasn’t wrong.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

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Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show.

The theme is secrets.  You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.  Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years.  She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father…

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station, who says he knows who killed the pregnant Victoria Valbon, found brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago. 

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything.

In her writing Louise delves deep into the mind. She looks at cause and effect, how events and trauma shape our personalities and actions. We can never really know what goes on in another’s mind and she shows the dark maze winding deep within each of us; holding endless fears, desires, doubts and secrets. It is truly powerful. Call Me Star Girl also looks at the darker side of love. The all-consuming love that can rarely end well. The story is dark, creepy and utterly engrossing as Stella’s past and present collide with shattering consequences.

Louise’s characters have this wonderful ability to get inside your head, leading you on with the story, sharing their story, so you are standing right beside them in that dark, god forsaken alley. Atmospheric to say the least, the setting of a radio station through the night provides the perfect backdrop for events to unfold.

Her plotting is superb, the twists and turns leaving you fearful for the outcome but unable to tear yourself away. This is one story that will stay with you; like a whisper it will creep into your thoughts long after you turn the final page.

Absolutely brilliant and thoroughly recommended.

Here is a wee snippet taken from the first few pages…

‘The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.

Stella, this will tell you everything.

How did they know what I wanted to know?

What was everything?

I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The car park was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It’s always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.

“I’m not afraid,’ I said it aloud.

Who was I trying to convince?

I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I’m not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It’s a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.

I did that night too.

But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.

It was two weeks before they found the girl there.

Two weeks before I started getting phone calls.

I didn’t know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.’

About the Author

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015.  the follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize.  Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed and critically acclaimed.  All four have been #1 kindle bestsellers.  Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetics Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice.  Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter and visit her website here.

Call Me Star Girl is published by Orenda Books on April 18th 2019 which still gives you plenty of time to discover Louise’s previous work if you haven’t yet done so.

Thank you so much to the lovely team at Orenda Books for sending me the proof copy to read and review for an honest opinion.

 

 

Adult Fiction, Christmas 2018, Crime, Series

Poppy Denby Investigates by Fiona Veitch Smith

Another fabulous discovery for me this year is the Poppy Denby Investigates series. I do love a whodunnit and have been a big Agatha Christie fan for many, many years, so these tick all sorts of boxes for me. I read book four in the series, The Cairo Brief, just recently and have since received the previous three titles which I very much look forward to curling up with. This series is perfect for lovers of a good, classic crime novel. Poppy Denby is a feisty, intelligent protagonist and I very much look forward to following her adventures.

Find out more about the series by visiting author Fiona Veitch Smith’s website here.

Books that adults should read, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018, Historical Fiction

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

Emma is one of the best authors in historical fiction for children. Her first novel, Frost Hollow Hall, was published in 2013 and she has been inspiring children (and adults) to read ever since. I absolutely adore her books and it makes me incredibly happy that she is such a prolific writer as I am never particularly patient when waiting for the next. Her most recent novel, Secrets of a Sun King, is detailed below but do check out her backlist as they are ALL marvellous.

London, 1922. 

A discovery from ancient Egypt . . .
A cursed package . . .
The untold story of a young pharaoh . . .

When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist, found dead that very morning, according to every newspaper in England!

The mysterious package holds the key to a story . . . about a king whose tomb archaeologists are desperately hunting for.

Lil and her friends must embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse . . .

Adult Fiction, Christmas 2018

Maria In The Moon by Louise Beech

This next title is for adults. Louise is a wonderful, wonderful writer. Her stories are incredible and she has the most beautiful way with words. Her first novel was only published in 2015 and already she has an impressive collection of titles under her belt. I urge you to try any one of them but today I’d like to recommend the one that introduced me to this fantastic author and in which I fell in love, Maria In The Moon.

Like a cold spider, the memory stirred in my head and spun an icy web about my brain. Someone else crawled in. I remembered

Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.

With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

Adult Fiction, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018, Dyslexia Friendly, Ghost Stories

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My next recommended read is an absolute classic that was first published on the 19th December 1843. It is one of THE most famous Christmas stories ever and one that has inspired countless stories told in books, film and plays ever since. It is also one of my absolute favourites.

I have a beautiful illustrated copy which was given to me by my husband quite a few years ago now and I take great delight in reading it once a year at Christmas time. This particular edition was published by Dover Publications and is are republication of the edition published by William Heinemann, Ltd., London,1915. It features 12 full-colour plates and 18 black-and-white drawings by Arthur Rackham.

There have of course been many, many editions of this wonderful story. Most recently, publisher Barrington Stoke, have produced a dyslexia-friendly edition, in a format accessible to all readers. Amongst the hustle and bustle of our modern, chaotic Christmas, this is the one story that continues to remind us that Christmas is a time for love, compassion and humility. I find it incredible that it still continues to spread Christmas spirit over 150 years since it was first published.

Of course we all know the story but have you read A Christmas Carol? If you own a copy please do share a picture.

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,

December, 1843. C. D.

Blog Tour, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018

Christmas is coming…#FatherChristmasBeliever

When I was small, one of my friends said something really silly. He said that Father Christmas didn’t exist.’

December is here and it’s time to get Christmassy. The tree has gone up, mulled wine has been consumed and I’m now sitting in a delicious Christmas haze reading The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller. I first read it back in the summer and I loved it then. The second time around is even more delicious, especially now that Christmas is creeping ever closer.

So this is the first in three days of posts about this festive story which will culminate with a special giveaway when I kick off the blog tour on Monday.

Tomorrow I shall be posting a short Q&A with Ben and illustrator Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini plus a little more info on this very special Christmas story.