Blog – First Steps

The Girl I Used to Know – Faith Hogan- 4* Review

 

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Amanda King and Tess Cuffe are strangers who share the same Georgian house, but their lives couldn’t be more different.

Amanda seems to have it all, absolute perfection. She projects all the accoutrements of a lady who lunches. Sadly, the reality is a soulless home, an unfaithful husband and a very lonely heart.

By comparison, in the basement flat, unwanted tenant Tess has spent a lifetime hiding and shutting her heart to love.

It takes a bossy doctor, a handsome gardener, a pushy teenager and an abandoned cat to show these two women that sometimes letting go is the first step to moving forward and new friendships can come from the most unlikely situations.

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My Thoughts…

Two women are uneasy neighbours. On the surface, they have very little in common except for the hostility between them. New Year’s Eve starts a chain of events that draws their paths together in ways they would never imagine.
This is classic Irish storytelling, which spans three time periods. Each foray into the past builds a picture of why Amanda and Tess are the people they are.
Neither character is immediately likeable but they are believable and as the story unfolds, so do their true personalities. The revelations make their past choices and present situations easier to understand and Amanda and Tessa easier to empathise.

Amanda’s life is cosmetically perfect but underneath the surface, there are too many cracks, and she realises she is existing not living.

Tess’ accidents make her take stock of her life and vow to make something of the time she has left. It is this realisation, coupled with a teenage girl who wants to help and a cat who wants a warm welcome that makes her start to trust again and value herself.

The story is well paced, and the ending ties up everything and gives hope for a happier future.

A poignant, sometimes comical, enjoyable story.

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

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Christmas Read: The Present- D.S.Devlin – 4* Review

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12 deadly gifts, one killer on a Christmas countdown…On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… this is one deadly Christmas that you can’t forget.

The police are baffled by the ‘Santa’ killer, who sends his intended victims gruesome presents based on the twelve days of Christmas. When a young journalist receives a mutilated bird in the post, it’s a race against time to find the killer…

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My Thoughts…

A clever, psychological thriller, which casts a dark light on ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

Anna is an investigative journalist and Santa is a serial killer. The story is well-written, with a likeable heroine and a sinister antagonist. The plot is twisty and keeps you enthralled, making it a page-turner.

Perfect for those who prefer a darker, festive read.

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

 

Christmas Read: The Present – Charlotte Phillips – 4* Review

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12 magical gifts, one love that lasts a lifetime…

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … one romantic Christmas you won’t forget.

When helping to clear out her beloved grandmother’s home, Lucy Jackson discovers twelve beautiful Christmas decorations hidden in the loft. As she discovers their heartbreaking story, a touching romance develops with the handsome gardener next door.

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My Thoughts…

A  charming, unashamedly romantic tale, with a funny, vulnerable heroine and a sexy hero who falls in love despite it being the last thing he wants to happen.

A serendipitous discovery in her Grandmother’s loft leads Lucy on a tale of discovery back to 1940s England, where she uncovers her Grandmother’s secret and realises that having a life plan doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness. 

Lots of comical and poignant moments and an easy to read story, perfect for an afternoon in front of the fire with the Christmas tree lights on.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Me – Jojo Moyes – Chapter 1 Sampler – 4 * Review

Lou Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She is hurled into the world of the super-rich Gopniks: Leonard and his much younger second wife, Agnes, and a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and New York life within this privileged world.

Before she knows what’s happening, Lou is mixing in New York high society, where she meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past.

In Still Me, as Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets – not all her own – that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

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My Thoughts…

Lou Clark certainly makes an impact. I haven’t read the previous books in the series but there are enough clues in the first few pages of this chapter to let me know Lou has had her heart broken. Even though her new boyfriend is still in England she is in New York for the first time and determined to enjoy and experience everything to the full, just as Will would have wanted her to.

There is plenty of humour and definite poignancy in this story. There is clearly going to be a mix of quirky characters in Lou’s new life and I can’t wait to meet them with her.

I received this first chapter sampler from  Penguin UK – Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Her Frozen Heart – Lulu Taylor – 4* Review

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“Caitlyn, there’s something I have to tell you. About Sara.”

Caitlyn thinks her marriage to Patrick is a success. For one thing, he is one of the few people not to fall head over heels for her beautiful friend, Sara. Life is lived on his terms, but they are happy. Aren’t they? When a devastating accident turns her existence upside down, Caitlyn is forced to reassess everything she thought about her marriage, what she truly knows about Patrick, and his real feelings for her best friend.In the refuge of an old manor house, she begins to discover the truth.

In 1947, the worst winter in decades hits England, cutting off entirely the inhabitants of Kings Harcourt Manor. For Tommy Carter, widowed at the start of war, it is particularly hard: the burden of the family falls on her. She has the solace of her children, and the interesting presence of her brother’s friend, Fred. But there is also Barbara, a mysterious figure from her past who appears to want a piece of Tommy’s future as well. 

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My Thoughts…

An interesting story set in two time periods.There are parallels between the two main female characters Tommy and Caitlyn, and the past meets the present in the middle of the book. The characters are strong and believable; both women have emotionally difficult lives despite superficial wealth.

The plots are easy to follow, but there are enough twists to hold your interest. The setting is particularly vivid in the historical chapters. The description of the snow and cold was rich in detail and realistic imagery.

The female antagonists in the story hide their deceit and obsessive behaviour behind a cloak of friendliness and vulnerability. The psychological thrills are subtle but make the plot darker than you would first imagine.

The writing showed insight into human emotions and coupled with the vivid imagery it turns an ordinary plot into something worth reading.

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

The Birthday Girl – Sue Fortin -Blog Tour -Extract 5* Review

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Dear Carys, Zoe and Andrea
Come and join me for my fortieth birthday adventure weekend, full of mysteries and surprises the like of which you can’t imagine.

When Joanne’s friends reluctantly accept an invitation to her birthday party, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to this weekend than they are expecting.
One of them is hiding a secret.
And Joanne is planning to reveal it…

A weekend away in a cottage in the woods sounds like fun – until no one can hear your cries for help.

Four friends.
A party to die for.
Who will survive?
 

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Extract

‘Chapter 1

Friendships are made up of all the little things that matter, the common ground of lives, shared interests, loves, dislikes, the highs and the lows. They matter and they are matter. Like stars in the night sky, friends can light up the darkness. Sometimes we might forget they are there and yet know they will always be there. Others can come in a burst, dazzling us with the excitement of newness, seducing us with promises of adventure. Some will deliver on this promise, others will fizzle away while some will shoot across the night sky in one last hurrah before they disappear from our lives.

I think of my best friends, I can count them on one hand with digits to spare. Joanne, Andrea and Zoe are the stars in my night sky. Together, we make a good constellation. We stick by each other. We look out for each other. We forgive each other.

I remind myself of the last fact as I hold the invitation in my hand, knowing that I should accept, with grace and maturity, the olive branch it represents.

Dear Carys, Zoe and Andrea

My Fortieth Birthday Celebrations

Come and join me for an adventure weekend, full of

mysteries and surprises, the like of which you can’t imagine.

With the grand reveal on Sunday evening.

Friday 8 September – Monday 11 September

Meet at Chichester Cathedral 09.00 Friday morning

Love Joanne

P.S. As it’s also Carys’s birthday on the Monday,

I thought we could celebrate that as well.

Two months ago, Joanne had told us to save the date, or rather the weekend, and said she’d let us know nearer the time what was happening. I could have quite happily ignored my thirty-ninth birthday, but Joanne had been insistent the weekend was to be a double celebration. She also insisted that, despite it being her birthday, the whole weekend was to be a surprise for me too. I had hoped we’d find out the details sooner and, I have to admit, leaving it until the night before is cutting it fine but she has steadfastly refused to give us any more details until now.

I flip the card over and see there is a handwritten message, the tall spiky writing unmistakably Joanne’s.

PPS. I know things have been difficult lately but amends need to be made. Do come, it’s important you’re there.

I sit down at the kitchen table and read the invitation again. I’m not sure what it is about the PPS on the reverse, but it  sounds . . . odd. I think that’s the best way I can describe it. I mull over the significance but before I can settle on anything meaningful, my mobile rings.

Andrea Jarvis’s name flashes across the screen.

‘Hiya,’ I say, kicking off my running shoes. Flakes of dried mud from my afternoon cross-country run scatter across the tiled floor like dirty snowflakes. I sigh inwardly at the mess. Sometimes I’m no better than my teenage son. Stepping over the debris, I go to the fridge, hook out a bottle of wine and pour myself a glass, something I would normally reserve for a Friday night, but seeing as we’re off on our jolly tomorrow, I feel a drop of alcohol is justified. ‘Don’t tell me, you’ve seen the invitation.’

‘Too bloody right,’ says Andrea. ‘Did you get the PPS on yours?’

‘Where it says about making amends?’

‘What is that all about?’

I shrug even though Andrea can’t see this action. ‘No idea. Maybe, she just really wants us to go. Maybe she thought we’d change our minds now that it looks like it’s going to be an outdoor adventure type of weekend.’

‘I’m not bothered about that,’ says Andrea. ‘It’s not like we haven’t done this sort of thing before. Last year we all did that charity walk up Snowdon. Before that, the mountain bike trail. You’ll be in your element anyway.’

It’s true, I am an adventure junkie and working at the local outward-bound centre tends to satisfy my addiction for kayaking, rock climbing and the like these days. I also help with the outdoor activities for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, so I’m not particularly fazed by the prospect of what Joanne has in store for us. ‘It’s going to be like a busman’s holiday for me,’ I say. ‘And you’ll be OK yourself.’

‘Yeah, that’s as maybe, but I’m stuck behind the desk most days since I took over the gym. I headed up a high-impact aerobics class the other day and thought my legs were going to seize up afterwards.’

‘You’ll be fine. Have you spoken to Zoe about the invite?’ I ask, taking my seat at the table again. I glance at the official-looking letter which was also waiting on the doormat when I got in this evening and push it to one side to read later.

‘She hasn’t a clue what it means either. But she’s gone into full-on cute Labrador puppy mode. All excited – can’t wait for the weekend and thinks Joanne is utterly wonderful.’

I give a small laugh into my glass as Andrea does a perfect imitation of Zoe, whose voice gets squeakier the more excited and enthusiastic she gets about anything. ‘It’s too late to change your mind,’ I say.

‘It would be awful if I was struck down with a stomach bug, though,’ says Andrea.

‘Don’t even think about it. We made a deal, remember?’

‘I might have been under the influence of alcohol when I did that one-for-all-and-all-for-one shit.’

‘You promised and you can’t break a promise. Not to one of your best friends. Besides, it’s my birthday too.’

‘I think that’s called blackmail.’

I laugh as I imagine the scowling look on Andrea’s face. ‘No, seriously, Andrea. You can’t back out now. Joanne will kill you.’

 ‘Hmm. When she said it was a surprise, I was hoping it would be more of a spa weekend. You know, fluffy white dressing gowns, manicures. Lots of pampering and relaxation.’

‘Look, like I said before, I think this is her way of making up for being so distant lately.’ In saying this, I silently acknowledge that I’m referring more to the way my own relationship with Joanne has been in recent times. We had once been so close, but things happened and the balance of our friendship shifted, leaving a hiatus in our alliance.

There’s a small silence while we both contemplate the sentiment of the weekend. Andrea speaks first. ‘I suppose I owe it to her. You know, give her a chance to make up for the way she’s been since I took on the gym.’

‘Is all that still going on between you two? I thought the dust had settled.’

‘Sort of. I’ve certainly drawn a line under it all, but not Joanne. I have this sense that she’s still angry at me. I can’t put my finger on it or explain it, but when I speak to her, it’s like an undercurrent of tension. Do you know what I mean?’

‘Mmm . . . I do.’ Andrea could be describing my own rela¬tionship with Joanne.

‘Anyway, as I say, I’ll give her a chance to make amends, but if she starts again, about having to work for me now instead of being a partner, I’m sorry, I won’t be keeping my mouth shut. Fortieth birthday or not.’

‘And when do you ever keep your mouth shut, my darling?’ I say.

‘I think I did once, in 1986 – I might be wrong though,’ says Andrea with a laugh. ‘Anyway, so now you’re not letting me skive off, we’d better sort out what’s happening tomorrow. Is Alfie still coming to mine for the weekend?’

‘He’s not in from college yet – five-a-side football, I think he said. But yes, he’s all good to come to you. He’s going to go home with Bradley. Are you sure Colin is up to this?’

‘Oh, he’ll be in his element. Takeaways and gaming. It’s totally a boy’s weekend.’

‘That’s kind of him. I appreciate it.’

‘Anytime. You know that. Although, I’m surprised Alfie’s not staying at Joanne’s, with Ruby and Oliver.’

I ignore the little drop my stomach gives at the mention of Joanne’s daughter. It’s the sort of weightless feeling you experience when the rollercoaster tips over the edge of the first big dip and it takes a few seconds for your internal organs to catch up with the fall. I’m used to that sensation. As sure as night follows day, I get that every time Ruby comes up in conversation. As always, I make a faultless recovery. ‘Fortunately, Tris is away this weekend too, so Ruby is going to stay with Joanne’s mother.’ I try to keep my tone neutral as my thoughts are thrown off course and on to a different trajectory. If my friends are the constellation by which I navigate life, then Ruby is the black hole whose gravitational pull is so great that nothing, not even light, can escape from being drawn in and swallowed up. I know. I’ve witnessed stars in my night sky pass the point of no return, the absolute horizon of the black hole, and disappear forever, while other stars are teetering around the edges, unwittingly being drawn closer and closer until it will be impossible to turn back.’

My Thoughts…

Four friends head to a country cottage to celebrate a fortieth birthday, what could be more ordinary? Well, the invitation is intriguing, the journey unusual and the invitees hide secrets, even from each other. A suspenseful few days follow, full of sinister happenings, simmering anger and settings so atmospheric you feel like the fifth guest.

Written in the first person, Carys reveals the story, except for the insights into the mind of the antagonist. There are many suspects, but the final revelation of the truth is more horrific than you first believe.

Adrenaline, angst and adversity characterise this fast-paced story, making it an addictive read. The cleverly written roles of the key players, lead to a heart-stopping twist at the end, which makes you shudder.

A classy psychological thriller with realistic characters and an insightful exploration of what happens to human emotions when pushed to their limits.

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

Christmas Read: Christmas at Bay Tree Cottage – Linn B. Halton – 5 * Review

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The countdown to Christmas is usually a magical time, but Elana James is fed up with living on a building site! The renovations on her beautiful cottage – like her heart – have been frozen in limbo ever since she was unexpectedly widowed.

Elana calls in a professional, Luke Stevenson, to help finish the cottage so her little girl can send letters to Santa up the newly-repaired chimney. Luke’s kind, capable and sexy – but he’s also ten years younger than Elana. So why has her heart decided it’s finally time for a thaw?

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My Thoughts…

Christmas at a cottage in the countryside sounds idyllic, but Elana has lost her soulmate and is left to be both mum and dad to the little girl who is her reason for breathing. Having a happy Christmas and living life to the full is so much harder for her this year, the second since Niall was taken from her. Luke has lost his family too but this time because his wife wanted more than he could give. He blames himself, and it seems fate agrees as circumstances conspire against him, ensuring he only sees his little son once a week.
Elana’s cottage still needs a great deal of renovation, when her parents give her a helping hand builder, Luke is the man for the job, but suddenly his presence threatens her self-imposed celibacy and makes her wish for things she thought she never would again.
The story is charming full of humour and poignant moments as Elana and Luke discover kindred spirits and try to make their children’s Christmas magical and memorable. Maya and Joe, the children in the story, are insightful portrayals.
The plot is surprising, and not everyone or their lives is as it first seems. It captures the essence of Christmas believably and contains just enough magic to have you believing in Santa.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

Inspector Hobbes and the Bones – Wilkie Martin 4* Review

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‘I was grateful for having been born human’

There’s going to be trouble. Andy Caplet’s wife goes away, someone is out to get him, and he loses nearly everything in a storm. Amazing both himself and his unhuman friend Inspector Hobbes, he heroically rescues flood victims and uncovers something shocking.

Is Andy being set up for blackmail by the apparently charming young woman who attempts to seduce him, or is something even more sinister afoot? Hobbes certainly believes so, and he’s getting worried.

This is the fourth in Wilkie Martin’s unhuman series of standalone cozy comedy crime fantasies.

Suitable for teenage and upwards. Set in the English Cotswolds and featuring the unhuman British detective Inspector Hobbes as told by the chaotic reporter Andy Caplet. It is not necessary to have read the previous books in the series

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Click on the book cover below for an excerpt from the book.

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My Thoughts…

A lovely mix of cozy mystery and fantasy set in a quirky Cotswold town. This was my first Inspector Hobbes novel and it’s been on my reading list for almost a year now. After reading it, I’m anxious to read the other mysteries.

Designed to be read as a standalone, you get all the backstory you need to enjoy both the characters and the mystery. Inspector Hobbes is an enigmatic, witty character but I’m still not sure what he is? It certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story, just made visualising him difficult.

Andy, our narrator attracts misfortune and this makes him both a vulnerable and comic character. He did exasperate me at times but he is a good person and makes a perfect ‘sidekick’ for the inspector.

The setting is vividly described and the plot easy to follow, allowing the reader to concentrate on the enthralling characters. There is a noticeable preoccupation with food, so make sure you have some snacks handy when reading this.

An addictive, humorous read.

I received a copy of this book from The Witcherley Book Company via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Christmas Read: Joe and Clara’s Christmas Countdown – Katey Lovell – 4 * Review

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As Christmas approaches Joe Smith knows he should be celebrating with friends and family, making the most of the season. But for Joe, Christmas only holds painful memories. Ones he can feel crushing his heart, a reminder of a time he can never forget.
Clara O’Connell loves Christmas. For her, it is the most magical time of the year. And she’s determined to make Joe love it too! She knows he’s hurting, but maybe she can help to ease his pain. Her plan: One special gift every day to remind Joe just how loved he is.
But the clock is ticking. Will the Christmas magic wear off at midnight or will Clara’s Christmas countdown be the perfect gift to heal Joe’s, broken heart? And in doing so, maybe she will get a gift in return…Joe’s love for Christmas and forever…?

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My Thoughts…

Perfect, if you like your festive reads with a touch of realism. Christmastime is supposed to be fun but what if life gets in the way and makes it a time to endure rather than enjoy?
Joe lost someone he loved at Christmas time and now he just goes through the motions until the festive season is over. Clara is unlucky in love but having Christmas to look forward to helps her keep going. When she and Joe are thrown together helping Manchester’s youth and trying to keep their youth centre viable Clara can’t resist trying to restore the magic of Christmas for Joe by giving him a personalised advent calendar of special events. Joe sets out to make Clara see not all men are deceitful and a lovely, gentle Christmas story unfolds, which demonstrates the real meaning of Christmas.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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