Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law


I am well chuffed to have been included in the Bookshelves series over at Savidge Reads. If you are not following Simon’s blog already I recommend you check it out.

Originally posted on Savidge Reads:

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

I always struggle to know how to answer when someone asks me about myself. I am a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to three teenagers, a back garden hen keeper and a writer. These are the roles I consider important, but I earn…

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Book Review: A Robot in the Garden


A Robot in the Garden, by Deborah Install, is about an unlikely friendship between a rudderless man called Ben, whose wife is frustrated by his lack of direction, and a cranky robot named Tang, who will not do as he is told. Ben determines to find someone who can mend the little machine and in the process comes to realise that he too requires adjustment. This is their story. It involves an around the world adventure, the importance of communication, and the value of trust and love.

Since giving up his veterinary training, Ben has been unemployed. He lives with his wife Amy, a successful barrister, in the house left to Ben by his parents. Despite plans to redecorate, it remains much as it was throughout his childhood, a state that Amy would like to rectify if she could only get Ben to function.

One morning she disturbs Ben’s perusal of his newspaper to tell him that there is a robot in their garden. Sitting under a tree, watching horses in the field beyond, is a little mechanoid which looks as though it were put together in a scrapyard. It will not tell Ben where it has come from.

Amy wanted an android to help in the house and is not impressed when her husband, who had resisted her request, wishes to keep this apparent pile of junk. Irritated by his obstinacy, as she is with much of his behaviour, she stops talking to him and eventually moves out.

Ben barely registers her absence, distracted as he is by the concern he now feels for his little mechanical friend. Some of Amy’s words do linger however, including jibes about his failure to act on the occasional plans he proposes. Stung by the truth of this criticism he buys a backpack and embarks on a journey to find Tang’s creator.

In the best traditions of road trips this unlikely pairing discover as much about themselves as about each other along the way. Their adventures mingle humour with poignancy, encounters with the weird and the wonderful, as they criss-cross the globe in their quest.

The transient characters each add depth to a tale which moves along apace. The writing is imaginative, perceptive and eminently readable. I could empathise with both Ben and Amy as they tried to find their way in life, but it is Tang who stole my heart.

This is an original story which made me feel good without being cloying. It shows humanity at its best and its worst, but does so with the lightest of touches. Tang is a joy of a literary creation. I have no reservations about recommending this book to all.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday, via a Twitter competition.  

Book Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways


A Year of Marvellous Ways, by Sarah Winman, is a book to be savoured. The use of language is exquisite, the imagery surreal. The reader is transported to the quiet creek in which much of the story is set and can experience the magic of the place. This is a tale of people broken by grief who find healing in time, tide, and friendship.

The protagonist is eighty-nine year old Marvellous Ways who lives alone in a gypsy caravan on the shores of a remote tidal inlet in Cornwall. She has lived there for much of her life. Although age is affecting her body and her memory she feels that she has one more thing to do before her life ends, she just isn’t sure what it might be.

Francis Drake is a young soldier, scarred by the Second World War. He returns to England to fulfil a promise he made to a dying man. Before setting out on this quest he visits London and the scenes of his childhood. Here he encounters a love he had thought lost, then loses her again in circumstances that stretch him beyond what he can bear.

Marvellous finds Drake and nurses him back to health. In the process they share their stories and we learn of lives lived, loves lost and the damage inflicted by loneliness. There is happiness and regret, success and stoicism, grief and acceptance.

I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Marvellous. We get to know her as an eccentric old lady but she has lived a long life and is more than the worn body the world now sees. She is both ordinary and extraordinary as so many people are. Strangers mock her dress and habits; Drake looked further and saw the love she had always longed to share.

The denouement mixed sadness with hope, the endings and beginnings that make up a life. This is a beautiful, satisfying read with plenty to ponder after the last page is turned.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.






Gig Review: Warner Brothers studio tour


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If only we had acquired magical powers before we left home. Negotiating almost three hours of heavy traffic, in a car with no air conditioning, on one of the hottest days of summer, made me question the wisdom of this trip; a thought that was quickly dispelled as soon as we arrived. The giant posters of stills from the films along with the chess pieces from the first in the Harry Potter franchise offered an exciting taster of the awesomeness to come.

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The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London opened in 2012 and is available by pre-booked ticket only. Each visitor is given a time slot to ensure that the attraction can cope with numbers. It is very popular; daughter and I were lucky to get a cancellation or we would have had to wait another couple of months to visit. The organisers seem to have got the numbers right though. It was busy inside but not so busy that the exhibits could not be enjoyed.

There is plenty of on site parking with attendants guiding cars to available spaces. Those coming by public transport can catch the specially liveried buses from various pick up points around central London.


Before entering, the email confirmation of booking must be exchanged for tickets. There are automated machines and manned booths for this. Queues build up when buses disgorge their passengers but quickly clear.

Once inside, the entrance hall offers plenty to look at with huge posters of the cast and a couple of larger props to admire. There is also a cafe and entrance to the gift shop which is laid out to match several of the shops in Diagon Alley. I challenge any visitor to leave without spending more than they intended here. The souvenirs on offer are an irresistible temptation for any Harry Potter fan.


Around half an hour before our alloted tour time we joined the main queue inside. This seemed long but it moved quickly as each group is taken through the doors all at once. Again there is plenty to look at, including Harry’s room under the stairs. Each tour party is ushered into a room where screens provide information on how the films came to be made. Next door to this is a small cinema providing background information before the tour proper begins. Entering the Great Hall at Hogwarts felt amazing.

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A guide accompanied our group into the Great Hall where we could wander more or less freely. This was the only part of the tour that felt rushed as we were asked to move through to the next section to allow the next group to enter before I had quite finished admiring all that there was to see. We were, however, told that we could return should we wish once the additional visitors had passed through.

Beyond the Great Hall is the first in a series of large spaces set up to display the vast number of props used in the films. We were able to examine the Gryffindor common room and bedroom, Dumbledore’s office, a potions classroom, Hagrid’s hut and the dining room at Malfoy Manor amongst many other set pieces. In and around these rooms were other random props including the triwizard cup, death eater masks, wands, broomsticks, Mad Eye Moody’s trunk and many of the costumes from the films. Visitors could choose to be filmed riding a broomstick or take lessons in how to wield a wand.



Beyond this large area was a new exhibit for this year, the Hogwarts Express. We were able to board the train and admire carriages laid out as shown in each of the films. There is another small gift shop here selling some items not available in the main outlet.

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By this time we were ready for some refreshments. What better way to quench one’s thirst on a hot day than with a butterbeer. Daughter decided that she liked it; I was less enamoured but was glad that I took the opportunity to give it a try.


Beyond this cafe (which sells a good selection of refreshments alongside the butterbeer) is an outdoor section containing, amongst other things, the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and Godric’s Hollow. Visitors then enter a fascinating space containing many of the animatronics used in the films. Some of these move…

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Next up was Diagon Alley where I was very happy to discover a book shop. Admiring the colourful Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes I felt sad once yet again at Fred’s demise. Why did you have to do that JK?

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As well as the many large props and exhibits there were a number of impressive examples of artwork and 3D models produced by the concept crew. These helped to offer some insight into how a film goes from idea to actuality. The talent of these artists blew me away.

We spent quite some time admiring the final exhibit but I will not post pictures as I think it deserves the wow! factor that we felt when we entered the display. We had spent close to three hours marveling at the skill of the designers and creators of so many props yet the detail on this still had us in awe.

For fans of Harry Potter, for those interested in the planning and making of a big screen film, this tour is a must. It is no exaggeration to say that this visit was one of my best days out ever.


BritCrime Festival: Win a gift bundle of 10 books!


To celebrate the launch of BritCrime’s first free online crime fiction festival, 11-13 July, I have teamed up with BritCrime authors to give away one fabulous prize.

You could win a gift bundle of ten print books, including new releases by Colette McBeth and Sarah Hilary, and MJ McGrath’s Gold Dagger longlisted White Heat. This giveaway is open internationally. One lucky winner will win all ten books.

Please complete the entries in the Rafflecopter before midnight 10th July for a chance to win.

To learn more about the BritCrime festival, please visit www.BritCrime.com and sign up to the newsletter. There will be giveaways and live Q&As with bestselling British crime fiction authors hosted on BritCrime’s Facebook page 11 & 12 July.

The Magpies + What You Wish For by Mark Edwards

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

The Life I Left Behind + Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

White Heat by M J McGrath

Beyond the Rage by Michael J Malone

Follow the Leader + Watching Over You by Mel Sherratt

The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Pirate Hunters


Pirate Hunters, by Robert Kurson, is the true story of two modern day adventurers and their quest to find the remains of a sunken pirate ship off the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic. It weaves the stories of contemporary treasure seekers into those of seventeenth century buccaneers and, in so doing, provides insight into why anyone in either era would choose such a life. It is a fascinating read.

In 1686 a pirate named Joseph Bannister battled with the British Royal Navy in Samaná Bay, a battle which resulted in the sinking of his ship, the Golden Fleece. In 2008 two American treasure hunters, John Chatterton and John Mattera, were contacted by a third such man, Tracy Bowden, who wished them to join forces in a quest to find the remains of Bannister’s sunken vessel. Pirate ships are rare and difficult to positively identify as it made no sense for their crew to flaunt their identification. The men saw this mission as not just a personal challenge with the potential for a lucrative outcome, but as a chance for fame.

All three had a long and successful history in deep sea discovery and recovery of artifacts. It is an expensive business but staggeringly rewarding when treasure is found. It is also being outlawed as countries seek to control this type of search and conservation. The shift in regulation was regarded as troublesome by the private treasure hunters who seemed to view their efforts as superior to those of academia or government, an attitude which spoke to me of their self aggrandizing views.

[of academics] “they didn’t care anything about Bannister, a man who’d never have wanted to be found by men like them.”

The modern day treasure seekers had much in common with the pirates of old. Within their trade they adhered to a strict code of conduct but their treatment of others was boorish. Each had chosen to prioritise their adventures over family, regarding life as something to be grasped for the moment whatever the consequences.

This is not, however, a tale of relationships but of derring-do, a boys own tale of adventure. The background to the men showed that they were experienced in violence and death, either in war or on the street. They had been financially successful but sought more, a buzz from some live action and homage from their peers.

At the time in which this story is set Chatterton and Mattera were reaching the end of their active careers due to age. They did not relish the prospect of retirement speaking with contempt to those who suggested it.

“Retire? And do what, take a bus tour of Europe? Get an early-bird price on a meal?”

They had a high opinion of their abilities and appeared to relish the scraps they got into along the way. They also acknowledged that treasure can change a man.

“gold and silver performed alchemies of their own. By mixing with human instinct, they could turn even the pious base.”

The author had access to all of the key players and their immediate circle of family, friends and colleagues for the two years it took him to research and write this book. The hunt for the vessel is meticulously detailed along with the difficulties encountered along the way. What brought the story to life though was the way in which it is told: the people, the place, the experiences which went some way to explain why choices were made.

The tension throughout is palpable, the history enthralling. This is proof that, given a skilled narrator, some of the best tales can be true.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliot and Thompson.

Random Musings: Why I read


Why do we choose to read books? Perhaps we wish to learn, to gain empathy, to escape. As a reader it is possible to climb inside the pages of a book and imagine ourselves living a different life in a place beyond our dreams. There we may find love, become somebody elses hero, enjoy the adulation that will never be experienced in reality.

I have read that when the ‘Grey’ books were first published they proved particularly popular amongst middle aged women. There was speculation that these readers wished to live out fantasies when their own sexual lives had gone stale. Despite being a member of this demographic the phenomenon is beyond my comprehension. Having watched the film (I have not read the books) I cannot understand why anyone would desire such experiences.

I understand that desires are as individual as each person and would not wish to limit or condemn whatever others choose to read. When I am offered books to review I will always state that I do not enjoy romances. I try to avoid stories which involve a woman requiring a man for fulfilment, or a man using a woman as arm candy and to service his physical cravings.

A romantic plot thread can be written with depth, humour and originality without descending into lengthy detail. As ‘Pride and Prejudice’ demonstrates, suggestion can be a powerful device. My antipathy is not towards the background to a mutual attraction but towards the reason for the intimacy and the way it is described. I have written of my dislike of gratuitous detail before, here.

Yet this was not always how I felt. When I was in my late teens I devoured easy to read romances by the dozen. Through my twenties I read books involving peril and rescue which often ended with the handsome hero taking his beautiful conquest to bed. The stories have not changed but I have. My life experiences have darkened my views and I now look at that couple and extrapolate their future. In my eyes, happy ever after is Icarus before his fall.

If books are an escape from reality then perhaps our choice of book reflects the place to which we each wish to travel in our dreams. Some look for the heady excitement of a new romance. As a mother of teenagers I fantasise about being held in some regard rather than contempt.

I enjoy books involving strong characters who can hold their own against attacks on their being, to read of relationships founded on mutual respect rather than outward beauty. My heroes can stand alone against the world; they do not require another for fulfilment. When their life presents a trial they do not blame others or look to them for a fix. They appreciate their moments of happiness but can move on.

Books offer a window to the world and I choose to avoid voyeurism. I seek out varied settings that I may expand my learning of other cultures, the characters thoughts enabling me to empathise with why people think as they do.

I read more fiction than non fiction because I also wish to be entertained, to immerse myself in a story as if I were there. I rarely travel and have few people interested in conversing with me so perhaps this is my way of experiencing life.

What do you choose to read and why?