Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour – Finding Dreams Lauren Westwood – Extract and 5* Review

When Lizzie Green opens up her house to be used as a set for a film based on a bestselling romance novel, she has no idea how her life will change. A heartwarming story of love and second chances.

Lizzie Greene is about to lose everything when her husband suddenly dies, and his debts come to light.

To make ends meet she opens up her quirky old house to be used as a set for a film based on a bestselling romance novel. Her life and household are turned upside down when a whole cast of colourful characters enters her family’s lives: from an enigmatic author, a handsome location scout, a brooding director, to a heart-throb leading man, never mind her now ex-mother-in-law camped out in her drive. As Lizzie delves deeper into the film’s book, all is not as it seems.

Will her desire to save her house and unravel the secrets of the past lead to new love, or to mortal danger?

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‘Chapter 1

January – ten months later

On the scale of human tragedies, ‘Sussex mum loses husband’ is a drop in the ocean. It’s not like I’ve been forced to leave the country due to war or disease or famine. It’s not like I’m having to live with the guilt of suicide or the drain of terminal illness. I haven’t even suffered the shame of having my husband run off with a toned and tanned other woman many years my junior to start a new life. Dave, it turned out, had a weak heart – it gave out suddenly and unexpectedly. People live, and people die; ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

Even now, I can still hear the voice of the priest intoning these futile words, as the coffin was lowered into the earth. They screamed in my head like fingernails scratching across a blackboard, and I felt like they might pull me down with him. Why hadn’t Dave given instructions to be cremated? Why would he want to be buried in a wooden box in the ground? That little detail became the hook, the outlet for my grief. It just seemed so pointless – so bloody cold – to lie there forever in the dank darkness, all alone except for the bugs and worms. It just seemed so bloody Dave.

A light coating of frost covers the ground as I pull into the car park of Westbury Junior School. The sky is heavy and overcast. Though it’s already the end of January, spring feels very far away. The heater in the car is going full tilt, but still, I can’t stop shivering. Not with the cold, but with the decision I made, last night, lying in bed sleepless and alone. That I can’t put off any longer this thing, I’ve been dreading. I have to do it today.

As I look round for a space, I practise deep breathing like the grief books say to do – trying to find a moment of stillness and inner peace. Life has definitely thrown me lemons, but didn’t some wise old sage say that when that happens, you should ‘make lemonade’?

Jamming on the brakes, I narrowly miss being mown down by a Range Rover reversing into a compact car space.

‘Arsehole,’ I mutter, directed both at that wise old sage and the other vehicle.

‘Jeez, Mum,’ Katie grumbles. ‘You’re such a bad driver.’

‘Thanks.’ I swallow back what I really feel like saying to my nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old daughter. I know she’s having a hard time right now with having lost her dad and the pressures of Year 4, but for some reason, I’ve become the focus of her issues. Even though I’m trying my best to keep my own worries from the kids and be strong for their sake, they aren’t stupid. Once or twice, Katie’s found me crying my eyes out. On those occasions, we hugged each other, and she cried too. I’ve let her go on believing that I’m upset only because I miss her dad – her loveable, squeezable, just-a-little-dull dad, rather than the real reason. The rest of the time, she acts like I’m Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe, solely responsible for how bad she’s feeling at the moment.

I find a space in the far corner of the car park. Katie gets out and unloads her rucksack. I try to hand her her coat, but she looks at me like I’m some kind of alien life force. With a sigh, I get out of the car and go round to the side to unbuckle Jack from his car seat.

‘Luv you, Mummy,’ he says, smearing a sticky hand on my jumper.

‘Me too, pumpkin.’ I lift him out. His trousers are soaking wet. While my love for him in no way diminishes, it blurs right out of focus. ‘Jack!’ I say. ‘You went to the potty before we left!’

His plump little face screws up and all of a sudden he starts to howl.

Katie rolls her eyes. ‘I’m going in, Mum,’ she says. ‘This is just so embarrassing.’ She pokes Jack in the arm. ‘You’re a BIG FAT CRY BABY!’

‘Am not!’ he cries.

‘Katie!’ I yell, but she’s already run off, her rucksack thumping against her back. I suck in a breath and say a silent prayer as she runs in between two SUVs that are poised like bellowing bulls waiting for a parking space. I lay Jack down in the driver’s seat and pull off his welly boots, his wee-soaked socks, trousers and Disney Cars so-called absorbent pants, noting that somehow, he’s also managed to get wee on his T-shirt and coat. I strip him down, my jaw clenched as he kicks at me and yells, ‘Katie’s mean.’

‘You’re a big boy,’ I say, the lie tripping easily off my tongue. ‘Three years old! So just ignore her. Now let’s get dressed and go to nursery.’

Eventually, I manage to wriggle him into a set of spare clothing, wipe off his boots with a baby wipe, and bundle him into his coat and woolly hat.

When I try to lead him across the car park by the hand, he starts screaming for a ‘cuggle’. I give in and pick him up. Ten months on from Dave’s death, and I’ve been surviving by taking the path of least resistance. Besides, as long as I’m carrying him, he’ll serve as a kind of human shield from some rogue mum who might try and ask me how I’m doing. Not today of all days…’

My Thoughts

Lizzie’s life changes overnight from normal to tragic when her husband dies suddenly, leaving her and the children grief-stricken when fate deals her another blow. Her husband had a secret life tainting her memories of their life together and facing debts that threaten their family home.

Lizzie is a great character, and facing more than her share of life’s woes, you have to empathise. Her one asset the family home is historical and striking and is scouted for a film, which brings an eclectic cast of characters, humour and poignant scenes worthy of any Hollywood film.

The vivid setting and believable plot make this imaginable and readable, although the romance’s course is predictably choppy, it is lighthearted and hopeful. An easy to read writing style keeps you turning the pages with just enough conflict and surprises right to the end, it an enjoyable read.

I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Lauren Westwood is also a prize-winning debut YA novelist and a solicitor for a renewable energy company. Originally from California, she now lives in a rickety 400-year-old house in Surrey, with her partner Ian and their three young daughters.


Posted in Book Review

While You Sleep -Stephanie Merritt – 5*Review


It begins, they say, with a woman screaming…

On a remote Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard over its secrets. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there; just last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

For Zoe Adams, newly arrived from America, the house offers a refuge from her failing marriage. But her peaceful retreat is disrupted by strange and disturbing events: night-time intrusions; unknown voices; a constant sense of being watched.

The locals want her to believe that these incidents are echoes of the McBrides’ dark past. Zoe is convinced the danger is closer at hand and all-too-real – but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

 Amazon UK


My Thoughts…

Gothic and creepy this story has all the components of a gripping, intense psychological thriller;  the unreliable protagonist, the lines between imagination and reality blurred and a cast of characters, any of whom could be the antagonist.  Where it differs is its quirky, supernatural content, which  I loved. Combined with a vivid, gothic setting it introduces an added dimension into the plot, increasing the tension and drawing the reader into a living nightmare of past and present.

Zoe’s arrival on the island is shrouded in mystery, is she running away from a dominating husband or trying to escape herself and her secrets? The village appears friendly and gossipy, as you imagine living in a small community would be, but the house she is renting has a tragic past, but is this fact or fable? Everyone has an opinion but whose can she trust?

There is a disturbing, sexual thread to this story that increases the menace and brings Zoe’s state of mind into question. The sensual scenes are well written, but the implicit threat to Zoe’s safety gives them an ominous quality.

The story is fast-paced and packed with detail, its an exciting plot and each page bring the reader closer to the truth that when finally revealed is even more terrible than any gothic horror story.

Realistic and often sinister characters, an intense plot in a  dramatic, unforgiving island setting make ‘While You Sleep’, a psychological thriller with a gothic twist, a thought-provoking, page-turning read.

I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK, Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.