Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Kate Ryder – Cottage on a Cornish Cliff – Guest Post -Extract and 5* Review

Returning to the heart of her beloved Cornwall, Kate Ryder weaves another deliciously irresistible tale of desire, jealousy and the search for understanding, set against the stunning backdrop of the glorious Lizard Peninsula.

Globally renowned actor Oliver Foxley has made the most difficult decision of all and set the love of his life free, in order to try and bring his family back together. But there’s a magnetic pull back to both Cara and Cornwall that Oliver can neither deny nor resist…

Heartbroken for a second time in her short life, single mother Cara knows she has no choice but to pick up the pieces yet again and carry on. Perhaps a complete change of scenery would help her, and her young family? Yet her mind, spirit and heart yearn for the windswept shores of her Cornish Cove…

Cara and Oliver face the agonising choice between following expectations or following their hearts. How will their story end…?

 

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Guest Post – Kate Ryder: My experiences as a writer

I have been a keen reader since childhood and during my early teens, this evolved into writing poetry and short stories for my own pleasure.  In fact, a friend and I – horse mad teenagers at the time – wrote alternate chapters to complete our first novel (surprisingly, never published!).  The hero, then, was always a dark, brooding, magnificent stallion…

At school, English Literature was one of the subjects that naturally received my undivided attention.  I remember an appointment with a careers advice officer as keenly as if it were yesterday.  When asked what I’d like to do when I left school, I replied that I wanted to be an author or a journalist.  The careers advisor’s response was to ask me if I’d ever considered becoming a florist!  So, my dream of becoming an author was crushed before it ever had a chance to have life breathed into it.  I did not follow his advice into floristry but, instead, chose to study acting.  However, it soon became apparent that my passion lay more in crafting words than interpreting someone else’s.

Over the years I have enjoyed a variety of careers, mainly within travel, publishing and property.  Writing has featured strongly.  I have worked in PR and marketing (all those press releases!) and in editorial as a proof-reader, copy editor, assistant editor and writer.  It was during a period of employment with a specialist newspaper that I decided to escape news-speak and flex my creative writing muscles by joining a local writers’ group with the intention of writing short stories.  However, one particular exercise turned out to be a little longer than intended and I soon had 85,000 words and the semblance of a novel.  I self-published that short-story-turned-novel and was thrilled if a little shocked when it was shortlisted for Choc Lit’s 2016 Search for a Star and honoured with a Chill with a Book Book of the Month.

I am a member of the Society of Authors and a graduate of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.  Cottage on a Cornish Cliff is the second of my books published by UK-based digital publisher Aria Fiction, an imprint of award-winning Head of Zeus.  It is the sequel to Summer in a Cornish Cove, which saw me shortlisted for the RNA’s prestigious Joan Hessayon award.

Being traditionally published is a dream come true!  Thank you, Aria, for taking a punt on me.

My Thoughts…

I love the first book in this series and although the ending is poignant there is hope for Oliver and Cara’s future. The sequel sees Cara and Oliver living their lives, Cara with another child to love and Oliver trying to help his youngest son and see if there is anything of his marriage to save apart from staying together for the sake of the children.

Cara is emotionally strong and her family give her a reason to live, even though her heart is broken for the second time. Her artistic talent draws the attention of a New York art critic but are his motives as magnanimous as he portrays them? Or does he have a sinister motive for showcasing Cara’s art to the world? He offers security and success but is the sacrifice Cara will have to make worth it?

Exacerbated by his failing marriage and loss of Cara, Oliver’s depression deepens. Is doing the right thing for his family worth sacrificing his emotional happiness?

This is an intensely romantic, emotional story with two leading characters you can’t help but empathise with. The conflicts are frequent and convincing and the ending is worthy of any romantic film. The writing style is easy to read, full of authentic characters and a breathtaking setting.

Definitely one of my favourite romantic series of the year.

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

Extract

Here you go,’ says Janine, placing two mugs of coffee and plates filled with generous portions of chocolate cake on the table. ‘Enjoy!’

Cara picks up a fork. Slicing off a mouthful of cake, she pops it into her mouth. ‘Mmmm… that’s delicious.’

‘My mother’s recipe,’ says Janine. ‘She was a tremendous cook. That’s why all her children have grown to the size we have!’

‘Sorry to interrupt.’ A man’s strong Cornish accent makes them both jump. ‘I’ve come to fix the sign.’ Janine pushes back her chair and rushes over to him.

Toby, who had been falling asleep with his mouth slack around Cara’s right nipple, wakes suddenly and energetically sucks. Cara winces. She looks across at the man who, although talking to Janine, watches her.

‘Well, isn’t that a lovely sight?’ he says, scratching his head. ‘Fair made my day, that has!’

Cara smiles.

Janine glances over her shoulder at Cara. ‘Probably won’t make your day if you hang around for the nappy-changing part, Jim.’ She bustles the man out of the café.

Toby closes his eyes. Cara carefully removes him from her breast and pulls her sweatshirt down. Her son has incredibly thick black eyelashes and she wonders if Oliver had at that age too. NO! She has to stop doing this. Oliver Foxley does not exist. He is a world and a lifetime away…

‘Sorry about that,’ Janine says, returning to the table.

‘No worries, Janine. Breastfeeding’s only natural.’

‘Yes, but you don’t want any old Tom, Dick or Harry watching you while you do it,’ Janine says.

‘Or Jim…’

Janine laughs. ‘He’s a good guy. I’ve known him for years. He’s got eight grandchildren, so I guess he’s used to it. How’s the latte?’

‘Scrumptious. If I get into the habit of this indulgence I’ll have to start running again.’

‘I should take up running as well,’ comments Janine. ‘I don’t suppose customers want to be served by a large, sweaty lump of a woman.’

‘Oh, Janine! Your weight’s perfectly fine for your height.’

‘Yeah, guess so. Anyway, hubby never complains when he’s home from the rigs. Puts slighter men off though,’ Janine says with a laugh, ‘like that American friend of yours. When I first met him he actually cowered!’

Cara raises her eyebrows. She thinks back to the day when Greg visited her at The Lookout and Janine brought Beth and Sky home after school. It’s true! He backed off in Janine’s presence. However, Cara suspects it was not so much to do with her friend’s size and powerful charisma but more to do with keeping himself at a distance from the locals.

‘Poor Greg.’

‘Why poor?’ Janine asks, loading her fork with cake. ‘When I look at him the word “poor” doesn’t spring to mind!’

‘His wife’s just died. She had cancer. That’s why they visited the cove in the first place, for her recuperation… or so they’d hoped.’

‘Oh, that’s tough.’ Janine pops the cake into her mouth.

‘I wonder what he’ll do now,’ Cara says quietly, a small frown settling on her brow.

Janine considers her neighbour. She witnessed the devastating effect Christo’s tragic death had on her dear friend, and then the all-consuming love affair with Oliver that ended so suddenly, followed by the birth of their love child without the actor being there. She also knows Greg would find any excuse to hang around Cara whenever he was in the cove.

‘He is very attractive, in an older man sort of way,’ she says cautiously.

Cara nods her head.

‘And he has plenty of money.’

Cara gives her friend a questioning look. ‘What exactly are you suggesting, Janine?’

‘Nothing really,’ Janine says airily, ‘just… Well, you know, life’s short and he inhabits the same world as you. He could provide you and your family with a wonderful life.’

‘Janine! He’s only just lost his wife!’ Cara scolds.

‘I know. I’m just saying.’ Janine gives a small smile before adding, ‘You know he’s really keen on you.’

‘I do not!’ Cara exclaims.

‘Oh, I think you do, Cara Penhaligon. The fuss he’s made of you ever since he first discovered your talent, and the way he guided you through all the press nonsense surrounding that prize you won. He wouldn’t let you out of his sight!’

Cara frowns again.

‘And, let’s face it, Cara. Most men would run a mile from a woman who had a baby by another man, but Toby doesn’t seem to have made a bit of difference.’

Cara considers Janine’s words. She’s right. Having supported her through the excitement of winning the Threadneedle Prize, Greg kept in touch throughout her pregnancy and beyond. His attention never waned. She remembers the first day she saw him, walking a dog on the beach in the most atrocious weather. He clocked her watching him from her studio window and acknowledged her. Her first impressions were that he was not only attractive – in an older man, Richard Gere sort of way – but also sophisticated and a league away. However, through their professional relationship, the distance between them has lessened. He has pointed her in the right direction and introduced her to influential people in the art world, and she now considers him a true mentor.

‘What are you thinking?’ asks Janine.

‘Nothing of importance,’ Cara says a little too quickly.

‘Well, I think nothing of importance could grow into something very much of importance if that’s what you want,’ says Janine, rising from her chair as the entrance door opens.

Jim walks in. ‘I’m ready to hang those signs now,’ he says, looking over at Cara and Toby, asleep in her lap. He smiles.

‘Here they are,’ says Janine, picking up the signs off a neighbouring table. ‘I’ll hold the ladder for you.’

As Janine disappears with Jim, Cara contemplates what her friend has said. She’s never really considered Greg in that light. Oh, yes, he kisses her at every given opportunity, but it doesn’t mean a thing.  It’s just his way. But now, after Janine’s comments, she wonders if there is something to the way Greg handles her. And then she remembers the way he looked at her – in this very café – the first time they officially met. So much has happened since she had forgotten the look that suggested a different time and place.

Cara’s face flushes and her frown deepens.’

After pursuing a career in publishing and acting, Kate found her passion in writing. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors. Her self-published debut novel received a Chill with a Book, “Book of the Month” Award. She currently lives with her husband in the Tamar Valley in a renovated 200-year-old Cornish sawmill. She finds the Cornish landscape a great source of inspiration. When she is not writing she enjoys reading, art, theatre and travel. Facebook   Twitter Website

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review

Love in the Dales Series- Mary Jayne Baker – Guest Post and 5* Reviews

In a lost corner of the Yorkshire Dales, Lana Donati runs a medieval theme tourist trap restaurant with her brother. As a distraction to help them get over losing the father, they loved dearly, and as a tribute to his passion for the beautiful area they live in, Lana hatches a plan to boost business for everyone by having the Grand Départ route pass through their village. 

But this entails getting the small community to work together to convince the decision-makers that their beloved village is Tour material. Not an easy task when the people involved include Lana’s shy, unlucky-in-love brother Tom, the man-eating WI chair Yolanda, bickering spouses Gerry and Sue, arrogant celebrity Harper Brady, and Lana’s (attractive) arch-nemesis, former pro-cyclist turned bike shop owner, Stewart McLean, whose offbeat ideas might just cost them everything. 

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My Thoughts…

Authentic characters that have emotional depth and realistic flaws are the lynchpins of this romantic comedy set in the lovely Yorkshire Dales.

A story about community spirit, village life and honouring those we love. The main protagonist is independent, but with a vulnerability that endears her. The romance she finds is paced realistically and adds interest to this story of family, relationships and friends.

Another charming story by this author who has the knack of bringing her setting to life to enhance her wonderful characters. Looking forward to the next one.

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

After years living in London, costume shop owner Becky Finn is trying to build a new life for herself and fiancé Cole in her old home of Egglethwaite, a sleepy village in the Yorkshire Dales.

Keen to raise funds for the struggling village hall she loved as a child, Becky soon finds herself at the head of a colourful group intent on resurrecting Egglethwaite’s Christmas pantomime. But, as she quickly discovers, there’s more to panto than innuendo and slapped thighs.

As the opening night grows closer, Becky starts to wonder if her embattled panto will ever make it to the stage and, with handsome co-star Marcus on the scene, if shes picked the right man for her after all.

Amazon UK

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My Thoughts…

What I love about this author and this series is the humour that dominates the plot and acts as the perfect counterpoint to the deep emotion of some scenes. Again, this story concentrates on community spirit. How after a little persuasion and give and take, they work as one for the good of the village.

The storyline is engaging and unique, again a characteristic of this author. The quality of characters, the events and emotions bring James Herriot’s Vet stories to mind, which I love.

There’s romance too, which is a realistic mix of poignancy and laughter and adds just the right amount of sweetness and spice to this delightful story.

Love in the Dales is a great series, well worth reading.

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

Guest Post – Mary Jayne Baker 

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Ok, so here’s a tweet of mine from 23rd October 2016, as I was planning out my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who’ve not come across it) for that year:

That book became A Bicycle Made for Two, the first book in the Love in the Dales series. It was published in April 2018, with the second book in the series, The Perfect Fit, following in November. And yes, it does indeed feature trombones, chips shops and morris dancing, as well as Flash the border collie pup!

I’ve been asked to write a few words about the inspiration behind the series. As the tweet above shows, when it comes to where an author gets their ideas, it’s often a bit of a mishmash, chucking in ingredients as and when they occur to you. Mine go into a big brainstorming document, then are weeded down when I come to write an outline. So, I wanted my heroine to play in a brass band because I used to play in a brass band (saving myself research, basically…). I wanted to include a chip shop because I’d been standing in one when I’d had a vision of a scene I could set there. Morris dancing – I’d noticed that morris dancers were often older, very serious-looking men and I thought there was potential for humour in creating a character who was such a man. And the dog is called Flash for the sole purpose of one Queen-based joke that made me giggle.

In terms of having a plan, all I really knew when I decided to write the first book – which I didn’t know at the time would end up being part of a series – was that I wanted to write about Yorkshire. I wanted my deep affection for my home county to shine through in the story, the characters, the setting and the writing.

I’d written books with Yorkshire characters and settings before. My debut novel, The Honey Trap, was set in London but featured a villainous editor from Bradford, who became my favourite characters to write for. My next book, Meet Me at the Lighthouse, was set on the Yorkshire coast, and Runaway Bride had a heroine from Settle. But I wouldn’t have said Yorkshire was the primary inspiration for those books in the same way as A Bicycle Made for Two. This brings my bit of the West Riding into focus: the glorious blend of moorland and mill towns often referred to as Brontë Country.

I wanted the book to reflect a tight-knit village community such as the one I’d grown up in, and as with all my books, the individual ingredients came more often than not from my own experiences. As mentioned, like my heroine I once played in a brass band (2nd Euphonium). The village, Egglethwaite, is a patchwork of bits and pieces I’ve stolen from other villages near where I live. The viaduct and reservoir are based on Hewenden viaduct and reservoir, near my home in Harden (and although the viaduct is integral to the story and features on the cover, it only occurred to me to include it about a third of the way through writing the first draft – some insight into the writing process there!). The beauty spot of Pagans’ Rock is based on Druids’ Altar near Bingley. Egglethwaite’s cobbled main street was borrowed from Heptonstall, its pub name from Oxenhope. When I come across something that lights a spark for whatever reason – whether that’s a cobbled street, a pub name, a phrase or tic of an individual I encounter, an event or anecdote – I jot it down to add to my brainstorm. Even things that don’t become part of the core plot can add texture and character to a book, and help to flesh out the people who live in its pages.

With this series particularly, I wanted to include all the things I loved best about Yorkshire, from the sweeping beauty of the moors to the dry humour of the people. I wanted this to be Yorkshire as it is, my experience of it, rather than the view of it from the outside as a land of whippets, flat caps and puddings. So I made the decision to set the first book around an event we’re still talking about in the county: the Grand Départ of 2014 when the eyes of the whole world were on the county and it really showed itself at its best. I’m not a follower of professional cycling but like everyone in Yorkshire, I got carried away by that event and the sense of community spirit it brought out.

For the second book, I knew exactly what I wanted to write. Again, I wanted to bring out the community spirit at the heart of Egglethwaite. I’d always wanted to write a story about a village pantomime, and now I had the perfect village and the perfect set of characters to take the job on. With all the old friends I’d got to know writing A Bicycle Made for Two, plus a new hero and heroine and their families, I set about throwing obstacles at my wannabe amdrammers, both romantic and theatrical. These included randy cast members, bad acting, iffy Welsh accents, piddling puppies and deflating boobies. It was so much fun to write, I do hope I’ll get the chance to visit Egglethwaite again in future!

 

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Anna Premoli – What’s Love Got To Do With It – Extract and 3* Review

Kayla David is a high-flying journalist in New York City, spending all her time drinking martinis and writing about fashion trends. She is perfectly happy with her life, and she certainly has no time for falling in love.

That is, until, her boss decides to send her on a secret mission back to her hometown of Arkansas: she is tasked with exposing the truth about the fracking industry and to use her reputation as a lifestyle columnist as a disguise. She is horrified at the thought of returning to this boring country town, but up for the challenge.

Yet, she didn’t plan on having to deal with Grayson Moir, the sexy but aloof mayor of Heber Spring. As Kayla settles into life there she soon realises that it might be a bit more difficult than she thought to keep her real mission a secret. And what’s more, she finds it increasingly difficult to keep her heart under control too…

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 Extract

I realise that there’s something a little – or even a lot – ironic about managing to get yourself lost in the twenty-first century, but then I’m the type of woman whose bad karma is legendary. When it comes to unlikely or even downright impossible adventures, hey, I’m the queen.

I’m always the exception to the rule, the odd number that ruins a perfect statistical sequence. If I were an economist, I’m pretty sure that notorious black swan would choose my chimney to build its nest on. There aren’t many chimneys in New York, luckily, though I’m not sure about here in Arkansas…

After touching down in Little Rock, I’m now driving my rented economy car towards Heber Springs, and hoping and praying that I’m on highway number 65. Because there’s always the possibility that this is not, in fact, state highway 65, and in that very unfortunate case, I’m in serious trouble. Before some genius suggests it: yes, I did try and read the signs along the road. They didn’t help. In fact, I think they might have confused me even more.

Anyone else in my position would just turn their mobile on and use the navigator to work out where the hell they are, but I can’t, because the battery of my mobile phone is flat at the moment. The damn thing turned itself off as soon as I left state highway 40, near Conway, to take the 65.

I really don’t know why people think mobile phones are such a useful bit of tech if the batteries don’t last even half a day. As my mother would put it: this kind of thing just didn’t use to happen ten years ago. And for once I’d say that she’s absolutely right.

My sense of direction is appalling, so although I’m fairly certain that I’m on the correct road, I wouldn’t bet my new bag on me being right. I wouldn’t even bet an old bag, to be honest. I have a special relationship with my bags. Together with my shoes, they represent one of the truest loves of my life. But if I was a bit closer to my family and if I’d come to visit my late grandmother’s sister, Aunt Jill a bit more often in the past, I would be able to work out where exactly the hell I am right now.

But the fact is that I’m allergic to human relationships, whether in the context of romance or family. My mother and I are both proud that we have a relatively balanced rapport: there are no unresolved problems or traumas between us, we both simply live our own lives. We don’t call each other very often, which might sound strange to some people, but we are just too busy, and I certainly don’t have time to tell her every single thing that happens during my day. She, on the other hand, not only does she not find my behaviour offensive, she actively encourages me not to spend hours on the phone, as she has neither the time nor the desire, to listen to me talking for long.

Feeling pretty demoralised by my inability to work out where I’m going, I decide to stop somewhere along the road and see if there’s a map anywhere in the car. I’m just hoping that hire car companies still equip their cars with them.

If my newspaper paid a little more for assignments, I could have chosen a car with more accessories. I could have rented a car with a built-in navigator, for example, but instead, I had to choose the most basic model available. It’s no surprise that the monthly rent for this car is less than what a normal one would cost for a week.

I brake hard and turn off towards a stopping place, and a huge cloud of dust submerges the whole vehicle. “What the hell…” I shout in disbelief as I climb, coughing, out of the car. Aren’t pull-ins tarmacked in Arkansas? Evidently not.

I wait for the dust to clear a little so I can see the view and then I head towards the trunk. I open it and only barely manage to avoid bursting into tears of joy: it’s full of maps! I love people who ignore technology and stubbornly continue to use things like paper road maps.

I take out the one I need and start looking at it and turning it in every possible direction in the hope of finding my location. I peer around, but can’t see any landmarks anywhere… Of course, if the dust would stop obstructing my view for a moment I might have a better chance at finding one.

While I’m trying to study the horizon, I hear someone braking very close to me. Startled, I turn to see a dark pickup truck pulling up behind my car. Before it appeared the dust had almost settled, but now the air’s full of it again, damn it!

“Oh, what the hell!” I can’t help shouting. And my next instinct is to go grab the pepper spray I keep in my bag: you never know how many psychopaths there are roaming the streets these days – especially the dustier ones. And on top of that, I’m a New Yorker, and we’re suspicious of everything. The world is full of serial killers, and given my luck, I might have bumped into one just as soon as I entered this state with its dusty pull-ins.

The door of the pickup opens and out climbs a guy dressed in clothes that have seen better days: his jeans look so old that the pair I’ve got at the back of the closet, and that I considered totally out of fashion, looks almost brand new in comparison. He’s also wearing a very dusty black t-shirt, worn boots, sunglasses, and has a cowboy hat on his head.

Is this guy actually wearing a cowboy hat in 2015? Someone should tell him this isn’t Texas. I wouldn’t wear one of those things if they put a gun to my head. My expression is half worried by the possibility that he might be dangerous and half amused at the sight of him – he’s a very different specimen from the city people I’m used to seeing. His tight t-shirt reveals very toned muscles, which makes me think that if he is a serial killer, at least he’s a buff one. Not that it makes the situation any better… Ok, I’ll admit it: it does make it a tiny bit better.

He notices my rigid posture and takes off his hat and glasses as though to reassure me. The sight of his face makes me at least relax my grip on my bag and its contents a little. Maybe I won’t need to use my pepper spray after all.

His dark blond hair is cut very well. It’s short and practical in a way that suits his face perfectly. But there is nothing at all practical about those eyes, though: they are light blue and somehow remind me of my friend Amalia’s. I’m guessing a man with eyes as beautiful as those can’t be a psychopath, right?

“Do you need help?” he asks. The man has a deep voice, and I can’t detect any accent. That is a very suspicious trait around these parts. I stand there perplexed for a moment. Should I ask for directions or shouldn’t I? I can’t decide.

He waits for me to say something, but after my prolonged silence adds, “I saw your car parked here and was wondering if you’re having some kind of trouble.” If possible, I’m even more suspicious after those words. I’m not used to strangers stopping on a road to ask me if I need help. That type of thing just doesn’t happen in my city.

“Are you a serial killer?” I ask him seriously.

Instead of taking offence or punching me in the face, he bursts out laughing, showing his perfectly straight teeth. “Do you really think that if I were a serial killer I’d come out and tell you I was?” he asks, visibly amused.

“The world is full of crazy people, and some of them like to terrorise their victims,” I reply.

He shakes his head incredulously. “Do you know what the real problem in this country is?” he says, taking a step towards me.

I instinctively step backwards. “Is it that China owns such a large share of our public debt?” I say, hazarding a guess. It happens to me all the time when I’m stressed: I come out with weird, but strangely intelligent, things. Luckily it doesn’t happen often… He looks at me surprise. Okay, it wasn’t exactly the kind the answer you were expecting to hear, I get that.

“You’re not from around here,” he says with conviction.

My Thoughts…

If you’re a fan of romantic comedy this story will appeal, the heroine is a lifestyle journalist, who is sent on an investigative journalist role back to her hometown. She faces exposure when she meets the mayor and there is an instant connection. She’s a commitment-phobe, he’s looking for happy ever after, leading to inevitable conflict, some humour and plenty of mixed messages.

If you’re looking for a lighthearted read, and are prepared to accept slightly stereotypical characters this is worth reading.

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

Anna was born in Croatia but moved to Milan as a young child and has lived there since. She has worked in the Asset Management industry for JPMorgan and is now employed in Private Banking for an Italian bank, where she manages HNW positions. She started writing romantic comedies to fight financial markets stress after the Lehman crack, when she was expecting her son, now six. The writing was supposed to be only a hobby, but her husband self-published her first novel as a birthday present four years ago, and it was a great success in Italy.

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Kitty Wilson – Cornish Village School – Second Chances – Guest Post and 4* Review

Ex-ballerina and single mum Sylvie is in trouble. Juggling her ballet classes in the nearest town, preparing shy Sam for his first day at Penmenna Village school and trying to finally move out from the farm she shares with her cantankerous Uncle Tom means life is anything but easy.

Television Journalist Alex is facing challenges of his own. Seeking a calmer environment for his newly adopted daughter, Ellie, he’s swapped reporting in war zones for the school PTA in quiet Penmenna, where his best friend Chase has persuaded him to start laying some roots.

Fireworks ignite when Sylvie and Alex meet but as Ellie and Sam become instant best friends, will they be able to keep things strictly platonic for the sake of the children?

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 Guest Post –  Kitty Wilson  – What does a working day look like for me?

I used to be a primary school teacher so do like a structured day, a timetable to adhere to. On top of which my natural personality is quite owl like – I would like you all to imagine that this means I’m very, very wise but what it actually means is that I do not like mornings, not at all. I appreciate the crisp freshness of dawn, the ethereal beauty of early morning before people are up, just not on a daily basis. Consequently, my timetable for the day is structured so I can be a bit of a slug-a-bed (I just love that word) and stay in my little pit until mid-morning, slurping on vast amounts of coffee and tea, having a yummy breakfast (in bed, I know) until my brain will not allow my body to stay there one second longer and compels me downstairs.

Once downstairs though I am a powerhouse. Well, maybe more of a power-hovel, but I slide into my regular spot on the sofa, put on some background noise and start to tap away. I find if I write solidly all day my brain dries up after a couple of hours and my petulant voice takes over – I hate it all, hate it so much (I don’t at all, not really!) – so every few hundred words I’ll nip on to social media or make myself yet another cup of tea, just to break it up for a few minutes and then throw myself back in again.  I try to get at least 1,000 words written every day and will keep on going until I do. Some days it’s like wading through treacle and it just seems… to… take… forever. However, most days are fairly good and whilst 1,000 words are my must-do I try and aim for 2,000 if I can. I like to bank the words up so I’m well in advance of my deadline which then gives me the flexibility to have days off when the mood, or necessity, takes me.

After my word count is reached I relax, get on with household chores or try and catch up with friends, do normal stuff that keeps a home, a life and a head running smoothly. Then after a break of a couple of hours, I return to the laptop and read through what I’ve written and tidy it up a bit.

In the evenings I like to plan exactly what is happening next in my book so when I come to the laptop the next morning it’s there, fresh and ready to go. This in itself is sensible, but the bizarre element is that I have to do it in water. I either have a long bath where I set a timer for the first fifteen minutes and devote that only to planning (no daydreaming allowed) or I head to my local pool and sit in the water and plan there. People probably think I’m a bit of a freak, sitting and zoning out in the hot-tub, but thankfully I stopped minding that a long time ago. And besides it’s worth it – I sit there, periodically giggling as I come up with ideas that I hope will make my readers smile, like Marion’s appalling behaviour and Ellie’s much cuter naughtiness.

Of course, this is my perfect routine and is dependent upon an empty house. Whilst I like to write with background noise on (it reminds me of being adamant when revising for exams at school that yes, I did need the music on) I prefer the house to be empty. I really struggle if my adult children (as lush as they are) are home or my partner has time off. It’s as if when I’m in my role as mother or girlfriend, I can’t get fully into my writing zone. Consequently, I have a really bad habit of giving the people I love most in the world a proper big hug when I see them and following it up with a slightly desperate ‘will you be in for long?’

In a nutshell – long lie-ins, water and solitude are what shape my writing day and make me happy.

My Thoughts…

Another slice of modern village life in Cornwall as the ‘Second Chances’, continues to explore life around the village school. The story focuses on Sylvie and Alex, both single parents who form an instant attraction but put their children’s happiness first and decide to stay ‘just friends’.

The story pans out as you’d expect but this is part of the attraction for this type of literature. The characters are contemporary, realistic and vivid. You empathise with them as they find out what life is like in the village.

If you are looking for a romantic tale, with a delightful Cornish village setting, this will suit you, enjoy.

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

Kitty Wilson lived in Cornwall for twenty-five years having been dragged there, against her will, as a stroppy teen. She is now remarkably grateful to her parents for their foresight and wisdom – and that her own children aren’t as hideous. Recently she has moved to Bristol, but only for love and on the understanding that she and her partner will be returning to Cornwall to live very soon. She spends most of her time welded to the keyboard, dreaming of the beach or bombing back down the motorway for a quick visit! She has a penchant for very loud music, equally loud dresses and romantic heroines who speak their mind. 

Twitter: @KittyWilson23

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

What Happened To Us – Faith Hogan – Extract – 5* Review

Carrie Nolan is devastated when she is dumped by Kevin Mulvey after more than a decade without even a backwards glance! On reflection, she has sacrificed her own long-term happiness establishing their critically acclaimed Dublin restaurant and pandering to his excessive ego.

Meanwhile, Kevin can’t believe his luck. Valentina, their new waitress is a stunner, the kind of girl that turns heads when she walks in a room and surprise, surprise she has chosen him! He is living the dream!

Carrie seeks solace from a circle of mismatched friends who need her as much as she needs them. Jane, who struggles to run the pub on the opposite side of the street, Luke, who has stopped drifting while his father settles in a nearby nursing home and Teddy, a dog who asks for nothing more than the chance to stay by Carrie’s side.

With Christmas just around the corner, all is not quite as it seems and a catastrophic sequence of events leads to the unthinkable…

How far do you need to fall before you learn the true value of family and friends? And is it ever too late to start again…

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Extract

It was over a long time before Valentina walked into the restaurant. It was over between him and Carrie, probably for years. The truth was, he needed her and, as Valentina said, that’s no basis for a relationship.

God, she was hot. Valentina was the love of his life, simple as that.

‘It’s just sex, mate.’ His friend Jim said when he told him. Marriage and kids had made Jim philosophical about sex – these days he was more interested in football and property prices, or at least that’s how it sounded to Kevin.

‘It’s not just sex, it’s…’ Kevin couldn’t begin to explain to Jim. Jim above all people, with his safe marriage to Sandra and their two perfect children. ‘It’s the real thing. Valentina is the love of my life, the kind of woman every man wants on his arm.’

‘Yeah, but not the kind we marry,’ Jim muttered into his pint and Kevin knew it was only because most people settled for what they thought they deserved. Well, the worst was over now. He – or rather they – had told Carrie. It wasn’t even as bad as he’d expected, actually, she’d taken it rather well. He’d been steeling himself for weeks if he was honest. It wasn’t cowardice, so much as picking his moment. In the end, Valentina picked it for them and he knew it was for the best. No more sneaking around – the stress of all that, while no doubt it had added a risky excitement to the sex – he knew, he’d probably have a heart attack if he kept it up for much longer. Kevin just didn’t have that additional layer to him that subterfuge required, although, he was flattered that Valentina assumed he might and that all this was standard for a man about town like himself.

‘Pure and simple, I said it to you years ago. You and Carrie, too young to settle into all that happy families.’ But of course, there was no family, just a partnership that never made it to a marriage. Sometimes, Kevin wondered why they hadn’t married – perhaps Carrie had been waiting for him to ask? Of course, she must have known, after all these years, Kevin would never get around to asking. If they were to marry, it would be down to Carrie to organise it – and, of course, she never had.

‘It wasn’t just that,’ Kevin said. He wanted to tell Jim that he’d pursued Valentina, had seduced her and set about staking his claim on the future that was assembling before him. Although the truth was, they’d fallen into their relationship one night when Valentina had teased him into opening a bottle of red after everyone had left and they’d made ravenous love against the stairs in the restaurant. Red wine always made Kevin tipsy; he just didn’t have the constitution for it. Even now, it was like a dream to Kevin. He was seducing this beautiful woman and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d managed it, but he could no more halt than the world would stop spinning.

‘No, there was no family, but the restaurant that was your baby. It was hers too.’ Jim shook his head, considered his pint of beer. ‘I suppose you’ve thought about what will happen with that?’

‘With the restaurant?’ Kevin had thought about it, but not in any concrete way. First, he’d had to tell Carrie, now that bit was over, they could make plans, decide what to do for the best.

‘I can’t see her walking away from it, and to be fair, you’d be mad to let her.’

‘How do you mean?’ Kevin was a little affronted.

‘Mate, I’ve known you both a long time, remember, we go back to first-year catering college together. Without Carrie, you’d be like all those other guys. True, you have talent, but let’s face it, Carrie is the brains behind the operation.’

‘Hold on, Jim. It’s my food people come for.’

‘Yes, and they also go to the Shelbourne for food and to McDonald’s. They go to your restaurant for the experience and that’s everything from the food to the people-watching, to the comfy chairs and even just to have Carrie look after them.’

‘Valentina is very good with the customers.’ Kevin might have been insulted if anyone else had said those things, but with Jim, well, he was probably telling the truth.

‘She may well be, but she’s not Carrie.’

‘God, no, she’s definitely not Carrie.’ Kevin smiled, remembering the way Valentina affected him. She did things slowly, spoke slowly, ate slowly. God, but she took off her clothes slowly. Each and every item hitting the ground, and his pulse began to beat rapidly just thinking about it.

‘Stop it, you’re torturing yourself.’ Jim could read his thoughts almost as well as Carrie could. ‘Actually, when I think about it, a Colombian hottie, you’re bloody torturing me as well.’ They sat for a while, looking at the giant TV over the bar, neither of them really following the game, both lost in thoughts of their own. ‘You’ll have to sort something with Carrie, mate.’

‘I suppose.’

‘There’s no suppose about it. It’s a right mess. There’s the house, the business and then all the other stuff that’s going to get tangled up in the crossfire.’

‘What other stuff?’ Kevin didn’t want to hear this, probably it was to be expected, but why couldn’t Jim just be happy for him, well, ideally, if he could be a little jealous too – it wasn’t much to ask, was it?

‘Have you forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding?’

‘Oh, Christ.’ Kevin had completely forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding. It was all planned, and as best friends of the bride and groom, Kevin and Carrie were asked to be maid of honour and best man. ‘That’ll be a bloody nightmare.’

‘Ah well, fun and games,’ Jim said, draining his pint. He nodded to the barman. ‘Must be off, back to the old ball and chain,’ he looked at his watch, ‘getting late for you too, Romeo.’ He slapped Kevin hard on the back. He took up his newspaper and headed into the night winds; leaving Kevin for another half-hour before he was due at the restaurant for the evening rush.

It was a mess. It was a right bloody mess, but he had no choice. He and Carrie were finished. He was in love with Valentina now and there was no going back. Not even for The Sea Pear.

My Thoughts…

A lovely heartwarming read with a festive edge, the characters are rich in detail and make you interested in their lives, whether you like them or not. Carrie is a strong female lead who you both empathise and admire because she doesn’t give up. Teddy the dog is such a courageous character and I would have loved this story for him alone.

There is a charming festive thread in this autumn- winter story that intensifies the importance of family, friends and caring for others.  An authentic, emotional story perfect to read at any time of year. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Faith was born in Ireland and currently lives there with her husband, four children and two fussy cats. She gained an Honors Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate from University College, Galway. She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair- an international competition for emerging writers. When she’s not writing, she’s an enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger.

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Posted in Book Review

And So It Begins – 5* Review – Rachel Abbott

WHO WILL BELIEVE YOUR STORY IF THE ONLY WITNESS IS DEAD?

Cleo knows she should be happy for her brother Mark. He’s managed to find someone new after the sudden death of his first wife – but something about Evie just doesn’t feel right…

When Evie starts having accidents at home, her friends grow concerned. Could Mark be causing her injuries? Called out to their cliff-top house one night, Sergeant Stephanie King finds two bodies entangled on blood-drenched sheets.

Where does murder begin? When the knife is raised to strike, or before, at the first thought of violence? As the accused stands trial, the jury is forced to consider – is there ever a proper defence for murder?

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My Thoughts…

An engaging psychological thriller with a detailed courtroom section and a host of absorbing female antagonists and protagonists. The plot is twisty, and although I worked out Evie’s secret in the last third of the book, I think this is the author’ intention, so that the final dramatic chapters have maximum impact.

Evie, Cleo and Mark all have issues, the question for the reader to solve is who is the most twisted and manipulating the facts for their ends. This story has a menacing quality but also an inherent sadness due to the waste of life and the opportunity to be happy.

The female detective protagonist’s role in the story is pivotal, and although Stephanie has her emotional heartache, her detective skills are notable.

Packed with detail and characters who are not what they first seem, this is a standout read in the crowded genre of psychological thrillers.

I received a copy of this book from Headline- Wildfire via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Shari Low – Another Day in Winter 5* Review – Extract

On a chilly morning in December… Forever friends Shauna and Lulu touch down at Glasgow Airport on a quest to find answers from the past.

George knows his time is nearing the end but is it too late to come to terms with his two greatest regrets?

His Grandson Tom uncovers a betrayal that rocks his world as he finally tracks down the one that got away.

And single mum Chrissie is ready to force her love-life out of hibernation, but can anyone compare to the man who broke her heart?

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Extract

George

I’m dying. I just want to say that straight out. Or as the young ones would say, “put it out there”. Bloody nonsense, some of the phrases that folk use nowadays. What’s wrong with just plain speaking?

The boy thinks I don’t know he’s here, but I can hear and feel him fine. Tom. The boy. That’s still how I think of him even though he’s gone thirty now. Fine lad he’s turned out to be. I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a bloody miracle when you consider his feckless father.

I can hear that lassie, the nurse, too. Liv, that’s her name. Cheery thing. She’s got one of those voices that reassures everyone who listens to her. Not that there’s much reassurance to be had for me now. A painless exit is about as much as I can hope for, and these drugs that they’re pumping into me are taking care of that. Don’t half take the wind out of my sails though. Between the medicine and this damned disease, it’s getting harder and harder to open my eyes.

That said, I’m not in any rush to leave this world. I’ve never been one for impatience. I’ve lost track of the days, and I hate to keep asking the nurse, but I’m fairly sure it’s close to Christmas. The sound of festive songs has been drifting in from the corridor – Blue Christmas by Elvis was always my favourite – and on the few occasions I’ve managed to open my eyes, I’ve noticed people walking by the window with gift-wrapped presents. It’s always been my favourite time of the year, especially when our Tom was a boy. We would have Christmas morning at our house and my son Norry and his first wife, Catriona, would bring the boy round first thing. Catriona was a fine woman and so much more than that sour-faced one Norry replaced her with. She was a smashing mother to Tom, too. It shames me to say it, but every bit of compassion and kindness in that boy came directly from her, not from that son of mine.

Anyway, where was I? Christmas. My darling Betty would cook and organise games and make it the perfect day for everyone. It was at times like that Betty, and I wished there’d been more of us, a bigger family for the boy to share the day with, but Norry had been our only son, and then he’d repeated the pattern by only having Tom. Of course, there was more kin out there – I had two sisters, Annie and Flora, that I lost touch with long ago. Those memories pained me, and our Betty knew that, so we left them in the past and we never spoke of them, not to Norry, not to Tom, not to anyone. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them though. In fact, now I think of them more than ever.

Tom is shaving me now, and I’m glad about that. No excuses for a shabby appearance, that’s what my father drilled into us, and I’ve always lived by it. I hope it’s the only thing of that man’s that I’ve taken to heart. By God, there was a father that ruled with an iron rod and wasn’t one for sparing feelings. There were no tears shed when Billy Butler went to his maker, although it saddened me when my mother went only a few weeks after. Influenza afflicted the both of them. I wish she’d had a chance to live without him, even for a short while, to breathe without walking on eggshells, waiting for the next rage or rant. All of us kids – Annie, Flora and me – knew the feeling of fear and I vowed that I would never be that kind of father with Norry.

Instead, I tried to be the man who led by example and instilled decency and compassion in his offspring, but I’m sorry to say I failed. It’s always been a great sadness that Norry was more of his grandad’s ilk than of mine. A selfish boy, self-centred and prone to nastiness, who grew into an arrogant bugger of a man. It gives me no pleasure to say that of my own son, but one of the gifts of these last days is honesty. If I can’t be truthful with myself, then what’s the point? These are days of reckoning, of reminiscing, of looking back on eighty years that were well lived but not without mistakes.

The boy is mid-shave when the question the nurse asks him sinks in to my fuddled brain. ‘Are your parents on the way?’ she says.

I try to focus on the answer, so I get it right. I hear him say, ‘Yeah, my dad and stepmother. They’re halfway here. They touched down in Dubai a couple of hours ago, and their connecting flight took off on time. They should be here about three o’clock.’

Bloody hell. So Norry and that wife of his are coming. I must be close to dead if they’re making the effort because they didn’t bloody come when I was alive and kicking, or when my darling Betty was sick and passed away.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Tom’s mother, Catriona, that would be with Norry. That poor lass was treated terribly by my son, and he forced her out of their lives when Tom was sixteen. To be honest, for her sake I was glad she got out of that marriage. She had a lucky escape. I was only too glad to give her as much help as I could to start her new life down south. She kept in touch with me right up until she passed, a few years ago. Cancer. This bastard of a disease. I was only grateful that the lass found happiness with a man who treated her well. I never met him, but Tom would visit them, and he told me he was a decent chap. That made me sleep a bit easier at night. I felt it was the least she deserved after being married to my son.

Norry had barely batted an eyelid when she left. He’d never admitted it to me, but I had a fair idea that he was already up to no good with the next one. Rosemary. She wasn’t like Catriona. This time he’d met his match and someone who was as contemptible as he was. They’d tied the knot as soon as his divorce was final – went off to Bali or someplace like that. Didn’t even invite us. Not that I’d have gone. Not after their antics. Next thing we knew, Norry sold up his business and off they went to Australia, taking our Tom with them. Norry said it was about work-life balance and enjoying the fruits of his labour, or some nonsense like that. The truth was, he’d made a killing and reckoned he could live like a king down under, and he had so much in the bank that he got a visa to live there without a problem. That Rosemary one encouraged him every step of the way. Fancied herself living in a big house in the sunshine, with no ties or commitments, so off they went, and damn everyone else. Losing Tom near broke my Betty’s heart. It was one of the happiest days of her life when the boy came back to live with us a year later. He’d never settled out there, and we were glad of it.

Through the haze of the buggering pills, I can hear the beeping from the monitor beside me getting faster. That’s what I get for thinking about those two. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bloody thing exploded when they walk through the door. I can only hope their plane gets delayed and I get to spend another day without them here.

Days.

Hours maybe.

My Thoughts…

I haven’t read the first book in the Winter’s Day series, so I read this as a standalone and it is a lovely, poignant read, with a festive flavour, complex characters and a web of secrets to explore.

There are many characters whose lives are intertwined; each character has a story to tell which adds to the main storyline and illustrates their reason for being there on this particular Winter’s day. The beauty of this story is its unashamed emotion, the characters’ experience many feelings and because of their inherent honesty, it’s impossible not to empathise.

Something to warm you on a cold Winter’s day, a lovely, heartwarming yet realistic festive read.

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

Shari has written seventeen novels under her own name and pseudonyms Ronni Cooper, Millie Conway and Shari King, of which many have been published globally. She writes a weekly opinion column and Book Club page for the Daily Record. Shari lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in Glasgow. Twitter Facebook Website

 

 

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Dead End- Rachel Lynch – Guest Post – 5* Review

When the seventh Earl of Lowesdale is found hanging from the rafters at Wasdale Hall, everyone assumes the ageing, hard-partying aristocrat had finally had enough of chasing the glory of his youth. But when the coroner finds signs of foul play, DI Kelly Porter is swept into a luxurious world where secrets and lies dominate.

At the same time, two young hikers go missing and it’s up to Kelly to lead the search. But digging deeper reveals ties to two other unsolved disappearances and Kelly and her team find themselves in a race against time.

Now, as all roads of both investigations and Kelly’s own family secrets lead to Wasdale Hall it becomes more important than ever for Kelly to discover the devious truths hidden behind the walls of the Lake District’s most exclusive estate…

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Guest Post: Developing characters over a trilogy – Rachel Lynch

As a reader of crime novels, I’m always smitten (and terrified) by the ways in which the writer can come up with dark deeds that have been committed for millennia, but in new and refreshing ways. As a writer of crime novels, I worry more about my characters convincing the reader, than the cases they pursue. I truly love creating baddies, and allowing them free reign to shock and awe, with their hideous behaviour. But when it comes to the core players chasing them, I’m constantly looking for ways to move them forward, in ways that are both believable and engaging.

Kelly is a straightforward woman, she’s got problems, she’s not perfect, and she makes mistakes. And, like most of us, she doesn’t have the ideal family. We’re all the sum parts of our relationships, and for Kelly to be convincing, she’s got to handle confrontation and disappointment. Driving those forward over three books has been satisfying and challenging. Her emerging relationship with Johnny, her changing perception of Ted, her tension with Nikki, and the tragedy of her mother’s illness, all need to weave inside and around the crimes she’s investigating. New characters always pop up too. It might be part of her job and the colleagues she works with, or it could be reconnecting with old pals; whatever the reason, she touches people and they touch her.

The reception Kelly has received so far is phenomenal, and she really has become a fully dimensional person for me. I like being in her company. She’s feisty and strong, but also vulnerable and incomplete. She’s looking for what we all look for, in the sense that she’s searching for peace, but it doesn’t take over, and she’s a committed woman with an important job to do. She genuinely cares for those she champions in her cases, and won’t stop until she finds answers, even if she puts herself in danger. That’s my favourite trait of hers: she puts the truth first, and everything else is secondary. She’s a fighter but she’s not arrogant or dogmatic. She’s driven but still encourages her colleagues. She carries within her an energy that makes this all possible, and I’d like to spend time with her.

Her life over the course of Dark Game, Deep fear and Dead End has changed over a time span of almost three years, and she’s learned a lot about herself and her family. She’d avoided this in London, like a lot of us do when we’re forging our careers, but now she is trying to make sense of it and make amends at the same time. She and Johnny are great partners because he’s an outsider too, and he’s growing on me with every book. He’s still got a lot more to give, even if he and Kelly were to split up. I have massive affection for Ted and I admire his wisdom, and I think he brings much structure to Kelly’s world.

All of these things connections have to move forward, book by book, and they have to be real. Writing a sequel was a steep learning curve for me, as this is my first series, it was also incredibly rewarding. Getting to number three, and working out how these people still interacted was another journey, and I’m thrilled with the reception so far for this web of characters, who never cease to surprise, but also remain reassuringly familiar. It’s also interesting for me, as a mother, to write about a woman with no children, and I’m jealous of how much time she has on her hands, though she doesn’t necessarily appreciate it!

There’s a lot more in store for Kelly, and I’m sure she’ll continue to surprise me, as well as, I hope, you too.

My Thoughts…

The third instalment of the DI Kelly Porter series has two separate storylines that appear unconnected but are intricately woven together to produce an absorbing mystery, detailed police procedural and riveting thriller.

Kelly Porter is such an exciting character, driven, caring, yet vulnerable, and your empathy with her grows with every story. The cast of characters both antagonists and protagonists are complex, and the storytelling draws you in, deepening the mystery with every clue it reveals.

I hope there’s another one as I’m hooked and set in the lovely English Lake District the dichotomy between its raw beauty and the ugliness of the crimes it conceals is what makes this addictive.

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

Rachel Lynch grew up in Cumbria and the lakes and fells are never far away from her. London pulled her away to teach History and marry an Army Officer, whom she followed around the globe for thirteen years. A change of career after children led to personal training and sports therapy, but writing was always the overwhelming force driving the future. The human capacity for compassion as well as its descent into the brutal and murky world of crime are fundamental to her work.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Jill Steeples – Happily Ever After at the Dog and Duck – Extract – 4 *Review

Life in Little Leyton is never quiet, and when handsome developer Max and his bride-to-be Ellie, receive some sad news, he decides to whisk her away for a romantic break. The time away gives Ellie a new perspective, and she’s eager to get home to get on with planning their wedding.

But a devastating incident at the pub she runs, The Dog & Duck, puts everything in jeopardy.  And, at their home Braithwaite Manor, tensions are heightened when Ellie’s future mother-in-law turns up with all her worldly belongings, much to Max’s sister Katy’s despair.  

With Max preoccupied with problems at work, Ellie’s left literally holding the baby, while dealing with a seemingly endless list of dramas. And as Christmas approaches, Ellie begins to wonder if she’ll ever get her happily ever after…

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Extract

Later that day, back at the manor, I found Max, Arthur and Katy sitting around the kitchen table, the doors of the conservatory wide open onto the stone paved patio that offered views of the sweeping lawns, running into the distance as far as the eye could see. The days were still warm and bright, but the faintest of breezes provided a cool autumnal edge, and the geraniums and blowsy petunias in the profusion of wood and stone planters were beginning to look a little straggly now.

After dinner, I would go round and deadhead the plants, which was my one small contribution to the upkeep of the extensive grounds. I found it reassuringly therapeutic, giving me a chance to snatch some alone time and to reflect on the events of the day. Luckily, Max had a small team of gardeners who helped him out around Braithwaite Manor, and it was their hard work that kept the gardens looking so plentiful. Of course, Max was head gardener and liked to get outside as much as his busy schedule would allow. He was never happier than when sitting upon his ride-on mower, his canvas hat perched on his head at a jaunty angle, whizzing across the lawns. Arthur was a keen gardener too, and was always ready with advice, even when it wasn’t needed. He’d had an allotment for years, growing an assortment of fruit and vegetables, until a spate of ill health had meant he’d no longer been able to manage. When he’d fallen ill, Arthur had come to us to recuperate, and the arrangement had worked so well that he’d never returned home. Braithwaite Manor was his home now, and he was part of our family. He’d also taken on the role of Chief Adviser for Vegetable and Fruit Production.

Max’s little sister, Katy, on the other hand, had no interest in gardening or the great outdoors, come to that. Spending the majority of her childhood growing up in Spain, she’d always told me how much she’d hated the heat, just one of the many reasons why she’d been desperate to come back to the UK to live. There’d been a big bust up with her mum, Rose, and her stepdad, Alan, and Katy had left under a cloud, coming to live with us for a while. Max had agreed to let Katy stay, and she was now happily settled in Little Leyton, attending college in town, working shifts at The Dog and Duck, back in touch with her biological father and in a steady relationship with her boyfriend, Ryan.

I pulled out a chair and sat down at the table to join them. Along with the four dogs, currently mooching beneath the table, this was our little melded family.

‘So, how did it go?’ Max placed a very welcome cup of tea in front of me. ‘What did they think to the news?’

‘What news?’ asked Katy, sitting up to attention, her curiosity immediately piqued.

‘Well… we were waiting to tell Veronica and Malc before making it common knowledge, but Ellie and I have set a date for the wedding. It’ll be on 20th December this year.’

‘Really!’ Katy jumped up from her seat, squealing. The dogs, alerted by her excitement, jumped up too, their tails wagging excitedly, and Flora darted between all our legs making us giggle with her antics.

‘Ah, that’s marvellous news,’ said Arthur, standing up to shake Max’s hand and giving me a hug. ‘If you’re half as happy as me and my Marge were, then you’ll have some magic years ahead. It’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? A happy family life.’

I squeezed Arthur even tighter and rested my head on his chest. I remembered Marge well. She was a kind hearted woman who welcomed all the village children into her home and in the summer months was happy for us to run wild around her playground of a garden. There would be home made cakes and biscuits, and fresh lemonade, and I would always come away with a bag of apples, or pears, a batch of scones or anything else that Marge might have whipped up that day. They never missed a birthday or Christmas, always sending a card and a small present. When Marge died, Arthur put on a brave front and carried on as best he could, but it was plain to see for anyone who knew him that he was struggling without the woman he loved at his side. That was the start of the deterioration in his health, I realised now. He hadn’t looked after himself properly, not eating or drinking, and had slowly declined to a point where he couldn’t manage on his own. Max and I were both so pleased and relieved when we were able to persuade him to come and live with us.

‘It is very exciting, but if you could both keep it under your hats for another few days. I haven’t mentioned it to the girls yet. I’ve invited Polly, Josie and Sasha round on Friday night for drinks and nibbles. I’ll tell them the news then, and ask if they’ll be my bridesmaids. I can’t wait to see their faces.’

‘Your secret is safe with me,’ said Arthur, tapping his nose. Katy glanced across at me, nodding her agreement before standing up and wandering over to Noel’s rocker, lifting him out.

‘Once we get back from our holidays it will be full steam ahead with the arrangements. When you think about it, it’s not that far away.’

‘When is it you’re going?’ asked Katy.

‘In a couple of weeks. It’s come round so quickly, and I’m already feeling nervous about leaving Noel behind, but Max seems to think it’s for the best.’ I cast him a questioning glance, hoping he might have had a change of heart on that front.

‘Look, Ellie, it’s up to you. I really don’t mind. And if you’re not going to be happy leaving him behind, then, of course, we must take him with us, but you need a break, and I think you’ll get more of a rest if it’s just the two of us. We’ll be able to completely relax, go for some nice long walks, have some lovely meals, get some good nights’ sleep, with proper lie-ins, and come back completely refreshed. Your mum and dad will be here to look after Noel and the dogs, so really there’s nothing to worry about.’

‘Good idea,’ said Arthur. ‘We’ll manage, won’t we, Katy?’

‘Yes, well, you certainly don’t need to worry about me! I don’t need looking after. In fact, I might go and stay with Ryan,’ she said airily, before handing Noel over to Max, and turning to waltz out of the kitchen, tension bristling off her shoulders.

‘Katy! I don’t think Max was suggesting you needed looking after for one moment.’

‘And you won’t be staying with Ryan, young lady. You’ll be staying here. To give Veronica and Malc a hand if they need it.’

Max’s tone was gruff, and I could see Katy’s hackles rise.

‘We were hoping you might help with looking after the dogs and with Noel,’ I offered. ‘You’re always so good with him when he’s cross and tired and doesn’t want to settle. It will make me feel so much better knowing you’re here with him.’

‘Really?’ She turned to me, her expression matching the sharpness of her tone. ‘So, you want me to help out when it suits you, but otherwise, you don’t want to know me.’

‘Katy! Don’t speak to Ellie like that! What’s got into you?’ Max’s brow furrowed, his puzzled expression mirroring my own confusion. Her face had lit up to hear our wedding news, but now it was as if she was having second thoughts about the whole idea. ‘Do you not want us to go on holiday – is that it?’

‘No, it’s not that at all!’ she said in frustration.

Max and I shared a glance and shrugged, none the wiser as to what had made Katy so angry.

‘Oh, come on, Katy,’ I tried to coax her. ‘I know you, and can tell when you’re upset. How can we do anything to put it right if you won’t tell us what it is?’

‘It’s you!’ she said, glaring at me, as though it were blindingly obvious. ‘You pretend that we’re best friends and everything, but it doesn’t mean a thing.’

I glanced across at Arthur, who was looking as perplexed as me.

‘That’s not true. Why would you even think that?’

‘Huh!’ She crossed her arms fiercely, her body held rigid.

My Thoughts…

If you’re looking for a little me time as Winter approaches, this is the perfect book to curl up with. I’ve already read other books in this series, but with sufficient backstory and character information provided, you can read this last book as a standalone.

This instalment of life at the Dog and Duck is full of family drama, and unexpected incidents and you meet familiar characters and new faces. The story portrays the dynamic flow of everyday life well, and this gives this lovely story an authentic edge.

It is pleasantly seasonal and rounds up the series perfectly.

Read this and enjoy and then put the other books in the series on your Christmas list.

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

Jill lives with her husband, two children and an English Pointer named Amber in the Bedfordshire countryside. Her short stories have appeared in women’s magazines around the world as well as in charity anthologies. When she’s not writing, Jill loves spending time with family and friends, reading, films, musical theatre, walking, baking and eating cakes, and drinking wine.

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Posted in Cover Reveal

From Mum with Love – Louise Emma Clarke – Cover Reveal

Amazon

Full-time mum Jess has had enough, and her husband, Chris, has just the solution to vent her frustrations – a blog.

Jess loves her daughter more than anything, but sometimes she just wants a little bit of freedom – some time for herself. Queue a laptop, a glass of wine and the beginning of a life-changing journey.

Overnight Jess’s inbox is full of notifications and before long she is officially a ‘mummy blogger’ but this new life comes with its own set of rules and regulations. With Queen of the Bloggers, Tiggy, blanking her in public, people recognizing her on the street and her life decisions suddenly judged by strangers Jess’s idea of ‘me time’ is slowly becoming a full-time job.

Will Jess be able to find the right life/work balance? Or will she wish she’d never turned to a world online?

 

About the author

Louise’s blog, Mum of Boys and Mabel has over 100k followers. Having moved to Dubai with her family she’s now back in the UK and is enjoying writing. From Mum with Love is her debut novel. Facebook  Twitter