Singleton Dot Riley’s grandmother, Nanny Flo, is on her deathbed, surrounded by family and distraught at the thought of Dot being all alone in the world. Desperate to make Flo’s final moments happy ones, Dot invents a boyfriend – plumping in panic for her childhood friend, Felix, a firm favourite of Flo, but whom Dot hasn’t actually seen for 15 years.
But when Flo makes an unexpected recovery a few weeks before a family wedding, Dot is faced with a dilemma. Should she tell her frail grandmother that she lied and risk causing heartache and a relapse? Or should she find Felix and take him to the wedding?
Dot opts for finding Felix. But it’s not long before she discovers that finding him is the easy bit: liking him is the real challenge.
‘And here’s Becca in her Hawaiian outfit at the school fete. Do you remember that, Becca?’ My mother passed the photograph to my sister, who was sitting to her left.
Becca laughed. ‘How old am I here? Four?’
‘It was 1989, I think. So you’re five,’ said my mother, leaning towards her to peer again at the photograph. ‘It took me hours to make that crêpe-paper hula skirt and all those flowers for the lei and the headdress.’
‘It did,’ agreed Dad. ‘And then just three minutes for heavy rain to turn everything to mush and leave Becca in nothing but her vest and pants.’ He laughed loudly, and I joined in, reaching for the photo.
It had, against all my shameful expectations, been a lovely evening with my parents and Becca. We had met in the lounge of the Bear in Devizes marketplace for drinks at six thirty, before moving through to the cosy wood-panelled restaurant at seven. Mum told us that she had booked early so that we could all get our beauty sleep, although as I was actually staying at the Bear that night, I knew I could be in bed within fifteen minutes of waving them off.
Mark was spending the night with his best man, and my sister had, quite valiantly I thought in light of my mother’s pre-wedding nerves, insisted that Mum and Dad stay with her. I was invited to stay too, but, as I wasn’t quite as valiant as Becca, I had declined, instead booking myself in for an extra night at The Bear.
I smiled down at the glossy 6×4 picture of my little sister and then up at Dad, feeling grateful for his suggestion that Mum bring along the photographs she hadn’t found room for on the wedding reception storyboard. The snaps had been viewed between courses, prompting memories and anecdotes which had kept the evening firmly focused on Becca, which was just what I had hoped for.
‘You were beautiful from the off,’ I said to Becca, returning the picture to her. ‘And you’ll be at your most beautiful tomorrow.’
She sighed. ‘I just hope I can make it down the aisle without tripping.’
‘It’s me you’ve got to worry about,’ said Dad. He reached out and took her hand. ‘But together we’ll make it,’ he added a little emotionally.
There was a short pause, during which my mother murmured, ‘Oh Don,’ and dabbed at her eyes with her napkin.
Becca looked at me across the table, offering me an affectionate eye roll.
I cleared my throat. ‘Come on then,’ I said to Mum. ‘Show us the next picture. Dessert will be here soon.’
‘Ooh, yes,’ she said, returning her attention to the pile of photographs sitting next to her on the table. ‘Here you are on top of Cat Bells, in the rain, in the summer of ’91,’ she said, handing one to Becca. ‘And swimming in Derwent Water, in the rain, in ’92. And waiting for the launch at Hawes End, in the rain, in ’93.’ She paused, putting a hand to her mouth and giggling. ‘And oh my goodness, I’d forgotten I’d found this one. Just look at that, Becca!’ She laughed again, but my sister, although smiling, didn’t seem to find the picture quite so funny.
‘What is it?’ I asked, smirking and holding out my hand. ‘It’s not Becca’s Hawaiian costume post-downpour, is it?’
‘No, no, it’s you, darling,’ said Mum. ‘You and Felix in the school play.’ She turned it over. ‘It says Christmas 1994.’
‘Oh.’ I stopped smirking and took the picture from her as she held it out to me.
‘Yes, just look at him. There he is. Such a sturdy boy.’ My mother leaned forward and tapped the picture. ‘Didn’t he make a marvellous Christmas pudding? And there you are, the candle, a good four inches taller than him, right next to him. See? You’ll have to show him that tomorrow.’
‘I will,’ I said quietly, extending the long list of falsehoods told to date, whilst retrieving my handbag from the back of my chair and slipping the picture inside without looking at it.
When I looked up, my mother was still smiling broadly at me, increasing my sense of guilt.
‘I’ve forgotten what I’m having for dessert,’ I said. ‘Did I go for the torte or the cheesecake in the end?
‘That was the only picture of him I came across. But I wasn’t really looking and you’ve probably got lots of him now, haven’t you?’ My mother looked at me expectantly. ‘On your phone,’ she added, nodding her head towards my bag, which was still on my lap.
‘I have a few,’ I said, wondering what number lie that was. I decided that I must have hit the high nineties by now.
‘I think you’re having the torte, Dot,’ said Becca. ‘I’m having the cheesecake.’
‘I’d love to see a picture of what he looks like now,’ said Mum, pointing at my bag.
‘You’ll see him in the flesh tomorrow, Helen,’ said Dad.
‘I know, Don, but I may not recognise him if he’s very changed, and how embarrassing would that be? Apparently he looks quite different now, doesn’t he, Dot? Shorter hair and less sturdy.’
I experienced a sinking feeling. She actually had a valid point. ‘My phone is dead,’ I said desperately, and waited with grim resignation for her to insist that I check.
But she didn’t. Instead, she looked over my shoulder towards the entrance to the restaurant, her eyes narrowing and her lips thinning. It was the kind of look she used to give me as a teenager whenever I mentioned Sean Dowse’s DIY tattoo in front of her sister-in-law, my Auntie Dawn, with whom she was fiercely competitive. I glanced at Becca and together we turned and followed my mother’s gaze.
I saw Alistair just as he saw us.
He smiled in surprise and then waved hesitantly. My father was the only one of us with the wherewithal to respond. ‘Alistair,’ he said, standing up and holding out a hand as my ex-walked uncertainly towards us.
‘Hi, Don,’ he said, shaking Dad’s hand. ‘Helen, Rebecca, Dot,’ he added, smiling at each of us in turn.
‘Hello, Al,’ smiled Becca.
My mother folded her arms. ‘Good evening, Alistair,’ she said coldly.
I frowned at her before turning back towards him. ‘Hi,’ I said, trying to keep my voice light. ‘Are you here for a drink?’ I looked at Becca. ‘Is Mark coming here?’
Alistair answered for her. ‘No, I’m meeting Mark in the Three Crowns at…’ he checked his watch, ‘just about now, actually. But I need to check in first.’ He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder while smiling down at me. I nodded and tried desperately not to miss him.
‘You’re staying here?’ asked my mother unsmilingly. ‘That’s interesting, because so is Dorothy.’
‘Oh?’ Alistair’s eyebrows raised slightly as he nodded his acceptance of the fact.
‘Yes. And so is her boyfriend, Felix,’ continued Mum, repeating an assumption which, for obvious reasons, I hadn’t bothered to contradict. ‘He’s a lovely accountant with his own business and he is completely smitten with her.’
I closed my eyes briefly and heard my father murmur, ‘Helen,’ and my sister, ‘Mum,’ simultaneously.
When I opened my eyes, Alistair was still smiling. ‘That’s great, Dot,’ he said, and to my devastation, he sounded like he meant it. ‘I take it he hasn’t arrived yet? Or is he having a drink with Mark?’
‘He doesn’t get here till tomorrow,’ I said quietly.
‘OK, I’ll look forward to meeting him then,’ said Alistair. ‘And now I’ll leave you to your meal, but I’ll see you all at the church tomorrow. Especially you,’ he added, pointing at Becca. ‘Don’t keep the man waiting.’
Like all the best romantic comedy, this story starts with a dilemma that forces the well-meaning heroine to do anything to achieve the desired end, regardless of the consequences for herself. Dot wants to make her dying grandmother’s wish come true and so plucks a friend out of her past and turns him into her fantasy boyfriend. Not unsurprisingly her well-intentioned lie comes back to haunt her when her grandmother rallies and wants to see the mystery boyfriend for herself.
Full of misunderstanding, which provides the story’s humour and an undeniable wake-up call for Dot that Felix, in reality, is not how she remembered him. There’s something there though, and despite the opportunity to extricate herself from the lie, she doesn’t. An excellent supporting cast of believable characters adds depth to the story, which like all good romcoms ends happily.
Sophisticated romantic comedy that’s fun to read and guaranteed to make you laugh.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Jo Platt was born in Liverpool in 1968 and, via the extremely winding route of rural Wiltshire, London, Seattle and St Albans, she is now happily settled in Bristol with her husband and two daughters. She studied English at King’s College London before going on to work in the City for ten years. In 2000 she escaped into motherhood and part-time employment, first as an assistant teacher in a Seattle pre-school and then was a Bristol-based secretary to her husband.
Welcome to Mummy’s world…
The Boy Child Peter is connected to his iPad by an umbilical cord, The Girl Child Jane is desperate to make her fortune as an Instagram lifestyle influencer, while Daddy is constantly off on exotic business trips…
Mummy’s marriage is feeling the strain, her kids are running wild, and the house is steadily developing a forest of mould. Only Judgy, the Proud and Noble Terrier, remains loyal as always.
Mummy has also found herself a new challenge, working for a hot new tech start-up. But not only is she worrying if, at forty-two, she could actually get up off a bean bag with dignity, she’s also somehow (accidentally) rebranded herself as a single party girl who works hard, plays hard and doesn’t have to run out when the nanny calls in sick.
Can Mummy keep up the facade while keeping her family afloat? Can she really get away with wearing ‘comfy trousers’ to work? And, more importantly, can she find the time to pour herself a large G+T?
Probably effing not.
Full of satirical humour, this hilarious account of being a mum in the 21st-century is guaranteed to make you laugh and empathise with Mummy Ellen as she recounts her experiences with demanding but lovable kids, a less than appreciative husband and parents who present nearly as many problems as her children.
Its nearly twenty years since my kids were this age but I still remember the picky eaters and the constant sibling squabbling, so this story is timeless. The writing style is easy to read and chatty, but beneath the fun and despair, Ellen feels on a daily basis there are relevant examples of how women are perceived within the family and by society at large.
Whether you are in the midst of bringing up a young family or are experiencing it the second time around like me as a granny, this book will lighten your day and let you know it doesn’t only happen to you.
A pertinent, fun read, that you’ll find hard to put down. I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins – non-fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
There’s only so long you can run for your life.
Eva Driscoll is used to chasing down bad guys, but now the bad guys are chasing her. She knows they won’t stop until she’s dead.
After her brother is killed in a faked suicide, Driscoll teams up with ex-soldier Rees Colback, the one person who can help her find answers. Together they’re determined to uncover why members of his Special Forces squad are dying in mysterious circumstances.
But with every agency in the country in hot pursuit, their only choice is to flee.
The clock is ticking. They can’t run forever. It’s time to make a choice: kill or be killed…
Intense, fast-paced political thriller with the idea of ‘the republic’ as its basis. The power behind the presidency is a popular theme in North American literature and TV currently but this story provides a credible basis for the theory alongside the non-stop action.
Eva Driscoll a CIA operative suddenly finds she is the target rather than the assassin, her tragedy makes her dig into the conspiracy surrounding her change in status and what she discovers destroys her inner self.
Detailed and peppered with graphically described violence and language this thriller is a page-turner, the characters are believable and sophisticated and the action relentless. The ending is well conceived and leaves the story open for more adventures with Eva.
I received a copy of this book from Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A fun, feisty novel of love and chasing your dreams
Bel Hailstone has spent the past decade building her dream – Soho’s best burlesque club – from the ground up. But now The Martini Club is under threat, and it will take everything in Bel’s power to resist encroaching developers and save her pride and joy.
Amidst the chaos, Bel’s past comes knocking with the unexpected arrivals of her still-not-quite-ex-husband, her estranged mother and Brodie Porter – the boy who got away all those years ago.
To keep her beloved club afloat – not to mention her sanity – Bel will have to accept help for the first time in a long time, put the past to rest and claim the happy ever after she once thought was lost for good.
Q&A: A.L. Michael – Martinis and Memories
What inspired you to write ‘The Martini Club’ series and did it turn out as you envisaged?
The Martini Club series started with Savvy’s story, that was my only idea. It was only after writing that first book that I realised the club had such an important presence – it was what allowed people to be themselves, the escape from the monotony of life, to find friends and chase dreams. That was what the series was meant to be about, after all, and I hope readers feel that.
‘Prosecco and Promises’ focuses on family and forgiveness, what are the themes of ‘Martini and Memories’?
Similarly, it’s about family and forgiveness, but I’d say for Bel it’s about vulnerability and trust – trusting people enough to be weak, to need looking after, admitting that you need help. Bel has created a life that’s about being good on her own, and impressing everyone – she hates asking for help, and she needs to get over the idea that you’re only strong if you do it alone.
Where do you begin when creating your characters and how do you make them believable?
I start with my character’s issues, the things that make them angry, or upset, or long for something else. I fill in their dreams and their loves and their strange little quirks, the way they say certain words or how they hate pineapple juice. I struggle to hold onto the visuals of my characters, but I always know how they’d react in any situation.
‘The Martini Club’, series is characterised by the glamorous settings and people. If the series became a film which actors would you envisage in the leading roles?
I love that idea – I have to admit, I never know how to cast my characters. I think Natalie Dormer would make a good Bel. Brodie, in my head, was played by Jamie Dornan and I stole his Belfast accent. I see Sam as Sam Elliot (Grace and Frankie), but that wasn’t why I chose the name, or at least I don’t think so!
Romantic comedy, relies heavily on the likeability of the female protagonist, how do you ensure they appeal to the reader, without making them too stereotypical?
I have to admit, I don’t want my main characters to be too likeable. Or rather, I don’t want them to be perfect. I hope that readers can see they usually mean well, even if they don’t always manage it, or they say the wrong thing. We all have friends like that, I think, ones we would forgive their mistakes and missteps because we know deep down they’re good people. When I was younger, I always hated Scarlett in Gone With The Wind (which crops up in this book!), but as I grew older I ended up thinking, ‘man that’s a good character, look at her!’ I saw her in a different context when I grew up and felt empathy for her situation and how young she was. You always have to look at your characters in context. And also, if they made no mistakes, there’d be no story!
Have you written books in other genres? If not, would you like to and why?
I wrote a thriller type book as an experiment, and it was fun! I’ve also just finished more of a book club book, and I’m having a play around with magical realism. It’s always fun to play and push yourself to try new things!
Bel is precisely the type of woman you’d expect to be running a successful, burlesque club in London; confident, glamorous and fierce. The truth is somewhat different; she paints her confident air and glamorous appearance on with her make-up. Her hard persona hides, a broken heart, a head full of insecurities engendered by her mother, who she never seemed to please and her love of her employees who she considers family.
Bel’s story is about learning to trust and the realisation that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Her relationship with her mother is an integral part of her story, and the development of their relationship adds emotional depth to the story.
Vividly described the ‘Martini Club’s’ importance to Bel comes across. The romance in this story is not immediately apparent, but when it makes an appearance, it’s worth the wait.
A fitting end to the ‘Martini Club’ series full of memories and mistakes and the power of forgiveness, loyalty and love. ‘Martinis and Memories is an engaging read with believable, memorable characters and a fairytale ending.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
AL. Michael is the author of 13 novels. Almost all of them are snarky love stories where difficult women learn to embrace vulnerability. Andi works as a content writer, so no matter what she’s doing, she’s all about the words. She has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Creative Business and an MSc in Creative Writing. She is represented by Hayley Steed at Madeleine Milburn.
‘He’s completely unsuitable…
he’s a rake.’
Part of The Beauchamp Heirs: After being plucked from peril by resolute bachelor Lord Hugo Alastair, Lady Olivia Beauchamp is secretly outraged that he doesn’t even try to steal a kiss! He’s a notorious rake amongst the ton and as a result, utterly forbidden to an innocent debutante like her. But their attraction is magnetic. Will she risk her reputation for a passionate encounter?
A lovely, Regency romance with an innocent, impetuous heroine, a reformed rake and all the hustle and bustle of Regency England that makes this a must for lovers of this romantic era.
Olivia is easy to like, and as she loses her heart, you feel her exasperation and pain. Hugo is the archetypical dissolute rake, but his chance encounter with Olivia, has him questioning his lifestyle and finding out that underneath his ‘devil may care’ attitude he may have a heart.
There is romance, an engaging Regency setting, a desperate villain and simmering passion, a perfect escapist read.
I received a copy of this book from Mills& Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Poppy has always loved Cornwall – the crisp sea air, the welcoming community. So when her boyfriend Dan suggests they leave their office jobs and take over the Starfish Studio on the Isles of Scilly, Poppy doesn’t need asking twice.
But things don’t go to plan when Dan dumps her, weeks before they’re due to move. Determined not to give up, Poppy accepts the help of local photographer Jake, her landlord’s grandson. But Jake is distracted by a loss from his past.
Can they turn the crumbling gallery into a success in time for tourist season? And will a summer on the little Cornish Isles mend just the studio – or Poppy’s heart too?
Every time I read a book in ‘The Little Cornish Isles’ series, I think that’s my favourite and #The Starfish Studio’ is no different. I love the story, the chemistry between Jake and Poppy, the healing and forgiveness required to move forward and the friendly, loving, nosy community that supports Jake and Poppy find love and happiness again.
Full of vivid imagery, reading this story is like looking at a detailed canvas, you can feel the sea sway, enjoy the wildlife and scenery and absorb the warmth of the community.
After a moment of serendipity, Jake and Poppy go their separate ways, never expecting to meet again, not knowing their lives will change forever before they do. The chemistry between Poppy and Jake is undeniable if unwelcome, as Jake runs from his haunted past and Poppy’s faces a future alone after her boyfriend’s betrayal.
A romantic story of battling against life’s troubles and learning to let your heart love again, perfect summer reading.
I received a copy of this book from Avon UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Meet Melissa: cat lover, caring mother… daring detective?
Melissa Craig is absolutely delighted with her new life in an old crumbling cottage, spending her days pruning the primroses and getting to know Binkie, the ginger cat next door. She only wishes she had made the move to the countryside sooner.
But when a knock at the door brings news of a shocking discovery, she suddenly finds herself thrown into the middle of a baffling mystery: the bones of a young woman have been found in the woods just behind her new home.
Perhaps the little village of Upper Bembury is not as idyllic as it first seemed?
Strange phone calls in the night convince Melissa that the police are barking up completely the wrong tree, so she can’t resist doing a little digging of her own. From the bingo hall to the beauty salon and beyond, her search ruffles a few feathers and uncovers many of the village’s most scandalous secrets, but gets her no closer to finding the culprit…
The discovery of a tatty old photograph in a drawer is the final piece of the puzzle she needs, but as a newcomer in this close-knit community, does Melissa have what it takes to get to the bottom of this extraordinary murder mystery alone?
The quintessential cosy mystery a beautiful rural setting, a village full of quirky, nosy characters and female crime writer who courts danger and trouble in the same way the characters in her books do.
Melissa seems much older than her mid-forties, I have to admit I imagine Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher when I visualise her but apart from this misconception, she is the perfect protagonist for a cosy mystery. Initially published under a different title in the twentieth century, the book is only dated by its philosophy on relationships and women living on their own.
The storyline is fast-paced and engaging. Melissa’s independent character and mindset come across well in the story, and the plot twists are just the right side of believable. The suspense in the final chapters builds to adrenaline fuelled ending, full of action and powerful imagery.
An enjoyable, escapist read that I suspect may become my secret addiction.
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Undercover ops are always dangerous, but DC Constance Fairchild never expected things to go this wrong.
Returning to their base of operations, an anonymous office in a shabby neighbourhood, she finds the bloodied body of her boss, and friend, DI Pete Copperthwaite. He’s been executed – a single shot to the head.
In the aftermath, it seems someone in the Met is determined to make sure that blame for the wrecked operation falls squarely on Con’s shoulders. She is cut loose and cast out, angry and alone with her grief… right until the moment someone also tries to put a bullet through her head.
There’s no place to hide, and no time to cry.
Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.
This is just the beginning.
Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.
But this is not the end.
For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean, will reclaim her voice.