It’s the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux.
But when Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together.
With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings. But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week? And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her?
Vivid characters and locations bring this family saga to life at an iconic time in the 20th-century. Set in 1939 and 1940, Britain at war is the setting for a dysfunctional family brought together by the death of their estranged father.
Romily marries Jack, an older man, soulmates they live the perfect life although Jack regrets his distant relationship with his children. Irreparably changed by grief after the death of his first wife, Jack distanced himself emotionally from his children. Their memories of him are of a strict disciplinarian, judgemental and never to be pleased.
Romily fulfils her husband’s dying wish to try an unite his family, providing the story with conflict, laughter, poignancy and romance as she weaves her magic amongst Jack’s emotionally damaged children. The character development and depth of connections forged with family members make this an absorbing read. The images of war and life in Britain are well-researched and give the story and enthralling authenticity.
The gently paced plot has many dramatic twists that add to the angst Romily faces. The characters are well-drawn and individual, there are many stories within this book, which are concluded well but with enough loose ends to make the reader want to know what happens next in their lives.
I received a copy of this book via Orion via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
It was Beth’s fault we never had any birthday parties. Well, not since our first and last one, when we were five. We were so excited, I remember that much. It was our first proper party. We were running around the house, shrieking and laughing, jumping up and down and waiting for the guests to arrive. Beth had on her new frilly dress with fairy wings and a tutu skirt, and I was wearing one of Beth’s old pinafores that she’d grown out of. We’d done our hair up in lopsided bunches with our favourite scrunchies and butterfly clips. Mum had made party bags, blown up balloons. She’d even baked a cake with nine candles: five for Beth and four for me because one of them broke in the packet on the way back from the shop. The house was warm with the sweet smell of baking. It was a My Little Pony cake: vanilla buttercream, strawberry jam, hundreds of thousands of sprinkles. I didn’t like vanilla. Or buttercream. Or strawberry jam, to be honest. Beth was the one who was mad keen on horses. I preferred trolls. But I thought the cake looked pretty cool: the pink flying pony with sparkly wings and a blue mane that glistened and flowed in the wind. Horses could fly in those days; there was magic in the air. At least, that’s what I thought until the guests started to arrive. Then it all went downhill.
‘Happy birthday!’ The kids all burst in squealing. And then the party games began. Beth won Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Beth won Musical Statues and Musical Chairs. Mum always stopped the music when Beth had the present when we were playing Pass the Parcel. Beth was the one Mum let cut the cake and make a wish (and it was such a beautiful knife!).
That was it. I couldn’t take any more. I turned on my heel and sprinted upstairs, my head exploding with thundering rage, my eyes overflowing with tears. I spent the afternoon crying in a locked bathroom surrounded by tissues soggy with snot. I could hear the party in full swing below me, the ghetto blaster thumping Beth’s favourite song: ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ by Kylie Minogue. Mum said I could stay in there ‘Until you learn how to behave!’ Beth had a great time. I never tasted that cake. My sister kept trying to make me come out. Banging on the door. Begging me. Pleading. She twisted the doorknob so hard it came off. She offered me her presents, her cards and cake (she only did it to make herself feel better). But it wasn’t the same. Second-hand toys just don’t have that sparkle. I didn’t want to share. Sharing is bullshit. Whoever said ‘sharing is caring’ did not have a twin.
That was the year that the horses stopped flying.
We never had another party after that.
‘Mad’ the first book in the ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’ trilogy is a curious mix of bonkbuster and mystery. Alvie, the anti-heroine is an identical twin and in her words, the antithesis of her perfect sister, Beth.
Alvie’s recollection of her childhood is that she was always second- best, regardless of whether this was the case, it damaged Alvie emotionally and destroyed the twins emotional connection.
Alvie’s life is a mess, and she glorifies in it, projecting the bad girl, don’t care persona that people expect of her, she lives to shock and usually manages it. When her life implodes, she decides to accept her estranged sister’s invite to stay with her, to escape. A pawn in a dangerous game, she finds nothing is what it seems. Her life changes irreparably, but as usual, she embraces the horror rather than running from it.
Alvie is a complex character, who isn’t easy to empathise. She is foul-mouthed, takes drugs, drinks to excess and steals anything she desires, including men. Despite losing her moral compass, she is vulnerable, often naive, desperate for someone to love her and a natural comedian.
The story’s dark comedy will appeal to many, and all the characters’ vivacity and the settings’ vivid description draw you into the story, following the breathless action. I can’t wait to see what scrapes Alvie gets into next.
If you like your mysteries, set in paradise, with larger than life characters who exhibit all of the seven deadly sins, you’ll enjoy this.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK -Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
For nearly two decades, an unsolved murder case has haunted Sergeant Zheng Haoming of the Chengdu Police Department. Eighteen years ago, two victims were murdered after being served with ‘death notices’. In refined calligraphy, their perceived crimes were itemised, and they were sentenced to death. The date of execution was declared, as was the name of their executioner: Eumenides.
Now, a user on an internet forum has asked the public to submit names for judgement – judgement for those the law cannot touch. Those found guilty will be punished, and there is only one sentence: death. The user’s handle? Eumenides.
Does Zheng have a lead? Has a long-dormant serial killer resurfaced? Perhaps modern police techniques – criminal profiling, online surveillance and SWAT quick response teams – can catch a killer who previously evaded justice? Or perhaps the killer is more than a match for whatever the Chengdu Police Department can muster?
A fast-paced police procedural set in China with well-written suspense elements and an authentic setting. Translated into English this book, reads well. ‘Death Notice’ is a mixture of cold case investigation and the present day pursuit of a serial killer.
The plot is complex as are the characters. The writing style isn’t descriptive, but there is sufficient information for the reader to understand what’s going on and try to solve the clues. The procedures are bureaucratic and appear dated but presumably are reflective of police procedures within China.
I enjoyed the writing style and the author’s ability to create suspense. There is an overriding mystery to solve, which will span the series but this first book ties up the immediate loose ends while leaving the detectives and the reader further mysteries to solve.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…
Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.
Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?
Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.
Back at Central Police Station, the detectives’ room was empty save for Strachan and Danilov. The rest of the squad, or what remained of them after the Shanghai Volunteers had decimated the ranks, were at lunch, on patrol or simply avoiding work with all the professionalism of the accomplished loafer.
Strachan was hunched over the missing persons file, while Danilov was busy sending smoke rings up to the kippered ceiling, where they hung floating in the air before gradually dissipating like a wastrel’s fortune.
‘Why was the ear removed, Strachan?’
The detective sergeant knew better than to speak now. Danilov was only turning the problem over in his mind; he didn’t require a response.
‘And why slash the face but leave the birthmark? If anything identifies him, it is the mark.’ Another stream of smoke rose to the ceiling. ‘We need to go back to where the body was found.’
It was Danilov’s belief that a crime scene yielded as much information about the killer as the body itself.
‘There’s no time like the present.’ He stubbed the cigarette out in the empty ashtray and adjusted the lamp over his desk so it was at exactly forty-five degrees. Anything less or more would be a distraction. ‘Have you found him yet in missing persons?’
‘Nothing so far. He might not live in the International Settlement.’
‘From the French Concession?’
‘Or any of the Chinese areas along the border: Chapei, Siccawei, Nantao, Hung Tsung.’
‘Hmm, but why risk transporting him? With all the recent tensions, the Volunteers are manning roadblocks at all the major crossing points.’ Danilov shook his head. ‘No, he came from the International Settlement. Too risky to move him around. Keep looking; you might want to check the Criminal Intelligence files too.’
‘I always thought Criminal Intelligence was the wrong name for the division. Criminals lack intelligence. That is precisely why we are able to catch them.’
‘An oxymoron, sir.’
‘A what, Strachan?’
‘A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear next to each other, like “the young couple were alone together”.’
‘You’re spending too much time with my daughter, Strachan.’
The detective sergeant smiled at the thought. ‘I’m enjoying helping her with her English literature degree. We’re reading Jane Austen at the moment. I didn’t know a—’
He was interrupted by a knock on the glass that separated the detectives’ room from the rest of the station. A small, round woman entered.
‘Inspector Danilov, the chief will see you now.’ She lowered her voice. ‘He has five minutes, fitting you in between a committee on the uniforms of Sikh policemen and a meeting about the new filing system for criminal records. I’d hurry if I were you.’
‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. I’ll come right away.’
The inspector stood up from his chair, feeling the ache in his knees. Winters were the devil to him, bringing back old pains he thought he’d left behind.
‘The chief inspector is in a jolly good mood today. They’ve approved his proposal on overtime pay for ancillary staff.’
‘Does that mean you will receive more money, Miss Cavendish?’ asked Strachan.
‘Less, actually. He’s removing all allowances. No more overtime pay, no more travel expenses, no more meal allowances. I don’t know when these budget cuts are going to stop.’
‘It’s what President Hoover calls the Great Depression, Miss Cavendish.’
‘Another oxymoron, Strachan?’
Miss Cavendish’s right eyebrow rose. ‘An oxy what?’
‘Don’t ask. My detective sergeant will have you reading Jane Austen next.’ Danilov put on his jacket. ‘While I’m gone, Strachan, ask around the station, see if anybody has heard anything about any kidnappings recently.’
‘Kidnappings, sir? Why?’
Danilov tapped the side of his beak-like nose. ‘A hunch. Back in 1912, when I was in London… ’
‘And I was in school.’
‘Thank you, Strachan, for reminding me of your youth and inexperience. As I was saying, back in 1912, there was a gang of kidnappers operating in Poplar who encouraged the families of their victims to pay up by sending them a severed ear. It invariably concentrated their minds as they haggled over the price.’
He turned to go.
‘Did you catch them, sir?’
‘Of course. Like all criminals, they became greedy. Demanding money once too often and removing far too many ears.’
Miss Cavendish tapped her watch. ‘The chief inspector is waiting.’
‘I’ll ask around, sir.’
‘And don’t forget to chase the report. I want it on my desk by the time I’ve finished with the chief inspector.’
Danilov followed Miss Cavendish down the corridor to Chief Inspector Rock’s room.
‘I could ask around for you too, Inspector. People tell me things; I don’t know why,’ said the elderly woman over her shoulder.
‘People do it because you are an excellent listener, Miss Cavendish, with a capacity for gossip that puts Catherine the Great to shame.’
They both stopped in front of the chief inspector’s door.
Miss Cavendish played with the rope of pearls that surrounded a roll of fat on her neck. ‘You do say the nicest things, Inspector. But I’ll ask anyway.’
A loud ‘Come!’ from inside.
‘Into the dragon’s den. Good luck,’ she whispered, opening the door. ‘Inspector Danilov as you requested, Chief Inspector.’
‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. Do come in, Danilov, and take a seat. I won’t be a moment.’
Shanghai in the 1930’s was a tinderbox, and this story captures this ethos perfectly. Japan’s annexation of Manchuria created additional tension between the Chinese and Japanese populations within Shanghai, and it’s against this setting the fourth Inspector Danilov tale takes place.
Dark and tragic crimes are the central theme of this story, and the child murders are difficult to read. Trying to solve them forces Inspector Danilov to confront his demons and personal tragedies. As this is the fourth book in the series, undoubtedly the reader has already learnt a great deal about Danilov and his colleagues and family in the previous books.
Authentic Danilov’s idiosyncrasies make him easy to like, he is the typical smart, driven detective, whose career is his life often to the detriment of his family and health. The plot has twists, and the pacing varies with the action. A little slow in the first few chapters, it gains motivation as the plot becomes convoluted.
As a standalone, read it is good, but it would be even better if you’d read the previous books in the series. This disturbing story has an evocative setting, enigmatic detective and exciting political theme, making it an absorbing read.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
M J Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a university researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the north of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he was George Clooney.
Amanda Wilkie unexpectedly finds herself alone with three children under five in a rambling Victorian house in London, after her husband walks leaves them claiming he’s just ‘lost the love’, like one, might carelessly lose a glove.
A few months later, Amanda’s heavily pregnant friend, Ali, crashes into her kitchen announcing her partner is also about to abscond. Once Ali’s baby Grace is born, Amanda encourages them to move in. When Jacqui, a long-lost friend and fellow single mum, starts dropping by daily, the household is complete.
Getting divorced is no walk in the park, but the three friends refuse to be defined by it. And, as they slowly emerge out of the wreckage like a trio of sequin-clad Gloria Gaynors singing ‘I Will Survive’, they realise that anything is possible. Even loving again…
For eighteen years I had written children’s books as a jobbing author. For various reasons I was asked to change my name to Jess Bright by my last publisher, so they could relaunch me as a new, box-fresh, younger, cooler Jacqueline Wilson-type for tweenage girls. As with a lot of gambles, it didn’t really pay off because I wasn’t able to be myself, I was pretending to be a big sister to my readers when in fact I was old enough to be their mum. I submitted my last book to them in 2016, it was a story about bullying told from the bully’s point of view, how she became a bully and her journey to redemption when she loses everything. She wasn’t a ‘nice’ character, but she wasn’t meant to be, I wanted her to feel genuine.
At the same time as submitting my book, I slipped disc in my back leading to crippling back pain, morphine patches, and eventually an epidural injection to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord so I could come off the painkillers. On the drive back from the hospital after the procedure, I received an email from my agent telling me the publishers had rejected my book because of the Marmite plotline and the amount of work it needed, and in doing so, didn’t want to carry on the partnership with my brand of Jess Bright. To say I was gutted was an understatement. I think I cried solidly for twenty-four hours. I know it’s only work, no one died, but for me, it was so much more.
Writing had saved me during my darkest hour years previously when I had been left holding three kids under five after my husband had walked out. I had taken a career break, writing the odd book between babies, but essentially remained a stay at home mum. Then overnight I was a single parent and the buck stopped here – this filled me so much fear, doubt, grief, instability, I was a crazy hot mess of emotions and never knew how I was going to be feeling from one minute to the next. One thing I could do, however, was restart my career. I had never had an agent, so I set out to find one knowing this was one journey I couldn’t undertake alone. I remember sitting in Charlie’s office, telling him about my situation, bursting into tears, and him promptly offering to represent me! It was Charlie who encouraged me to write Gaby’s Angel, the first book Oxford University Press bought as part of my working relationship with them.
So when I received the news my collaboration with them had been terminated, I felt the same kind of rejection I’d experienced when my marriage ended. I was facing a real career crossroads. Charlie tentatively suggested writing adult fiction because he knew it had always been a pipe dream of mine. I sent him a secret blog I had written during a time when I lived communally with my friend, Vicky, her baby and my three kids in my house that we jokingly called The Single Mums’ Mansion. He leapt on it immediately and said that it had to be my next book.
The story is set during this tumultuous yet uplifting time in the single mum commune. Another friend, Nicola, was also going through a divorce with her two kids and she practically moved in, spending whole weekends with us, 6 children all squashed in together. We went on holidays, celebrated Christmases as a patchwork family, held wild parties, helped each other through heart-breaking situations when the ex-husbands got remarried and started new families. I can honestly say I do not know how I would have coped with it all had I not had those other two women to stand next to and gather strength from. The Single Mums’ Mansion is my love letter to my two friends, not sparing any visceral details and certainly not sugar-coating the life of a single mum. Here’s to us, ladies, and all those other single parents, bossing the hell out of life and making the best out of a difficult situation!
The first thing that strikes me about this story is its authenticity and honesty. Numerous comic moments provide much-needed light relief amidst the despair and sadness these single mum’s experience at the destruction of their perfect family dreams.
The inspiration for this story is the author’s blog, and the story reads like a journal of her feelings and experiences, as the main character Amanda, comes to terms with life after her husband walks out and leaves her with three kids under five.
Realistic, flawed characters underpin a fast-paced, intricate plot, which shares Amanda. Ali and Jacqui’s experiences of being a single mum. What stands out is the camaraderie between the three women. Despite the sad events this story has many laugh-out-loud moments which make it a worthwhile read.
The language is uncensored, but it isn’t gratuitous, merely an illustration of the characters’ personality and stress experienced. There are also episodes of drunkenness and drug taking, which I didn’t like, especially when the children were present. Again it gives the story authenticity, but the casual attitude took the edge off the enjoyment of the story.
If you enjoy your stories with no filters, crammed full of laughter and poignancy, this is the book for you.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Janet Hoggarth has worked on a chicken farm, as a bookseller, children’s book editor and DJ with her best friend (under the name of Whitney and Britney). She has published several children’s books, the most recent ones written under the pseudonym of Jess Bright. Her first adult novel, The Single Mums’ Mansion is based on her experiences of living communally as a single parent.
The dark days of the war are over, but the family secrets they held are only just dawning.
In the hot summer of 1949, a group of family and friends gather at Harry Denholm’s country house in Kent. Meg and Dan Ranscombe, emerging from a scandal of their own making; Dan’s godmother, Sonia; and her two young girls, Laura and Avril, only one of whom is Sonia’s biological daughter. Amongst the heat, memories, and infatuations, a secret is revealed to Meg’s son, Max, and soon a terrible tragedy unfolds that will have consequences for them all. Afterwards, Avril, Laura and Max must come of age in a society still reeling from the war, haunted by the choices of that fateful summer. Cold, entitled Avril will go to any lengths to take what is hers. Beautiful, naive Laura finds refuge and love in the London jazz clubs, but Max, with wealth and unrequited love, has the capacity to undo it all.
The air was full of the fresh, damp scents of early spring as Meg and Dan Ranscombe turned off the road and walked up the narrow path that led to the back of Woodbourne House. They made a handsome couple – Meg, in her early thirties, was vividly pretty, with dark eyes and chestnut hair curling to her shoulders; Dan, a few years older, was by contrast fair-haired and blue-eyed, his clean-cut features marked by a faint arrogance, a remnant of youthful vanity. They walked in thoughtful silence. It was four years since they had last been to Woodbourne House, the home of Sonia Haddon, Meg’s aunt and Dan’s godmother.
‘I’m glad we took the train instead of driving,’ said Dan, breaking the quiet. ‘I have fond memories of this walk.’
They paused by a big, whitewashed stone barn standing at the foot of a sloping apple orchard.
‘Uncle Henry’s studio,’ murmured Meg. ‘I remember that summer, having to traipse down every morning with barley water and biscuits for him while he was painting.’
Sonia’s husband, Henry Haddon, had been an acclaimed artist in his day, and in pre-war times to have one’s portrait painted by him had had considerable cachet. In Britain’s post-war modernist world, his name had fallen out of fashion.
Dan stood gazing at the barn, lost in his own memories: that final day of the house party twelve years ago, when he had come down to the studio to say farewell to his host. Finding Henry Haddon, his trousers round his ankles, locked in an embrace with Madeleine, the nanny, against the wall of the studio had been absurd and shocking enough, but what had then transpired had been even worse. He could remember still the sound of the ladder crashing to the floor, and the sight of five-year-old Avril peeping over the edge of the hayloft. Presumably the shock of seeing his daughter had brought on Haddon’s heart attack. That, and unwonted sexual exertions. The moments afterwards were confused in his memory, although he recalled setting the ladder aright so that Avril could get down, then sending her running up to the house to get someone to fetch a doctor, while he uselessly attempted to revive Haddon. Madeleine, unsurprisingly, had made herself scarce. And the painting – he remembered that. A portrait of Madeleine in her yellow sundress, seated on a wicker chair, head half-turned as though listening to notes of unheard music, or the footfall of some awaited lover. Haddon had been working on it in the days running up to his death, and no doubt the intimacy forged between painter and sitter had led to that brief and ludicrously tragic affair. The falling ladder had knocked it from the easel, and he had picked it up and placed it with its face to the wall next to the other canvases. He didn’t to this day know why he had done that. Perhaps as a way of closing off and keeping secret what he had witnessed. To this day nobody but he knew about Haddon’s affair with Madeleine. Had the painting ever been discovered? No one had ever mentioned it. Perhaps it was there still, just as he had left it.
Meg glanced at his face. ‘Penny for them.’
‘Oh, nothing,’ said Dan. ‘Just thinking about that house party, when you and I first met.’
What a fateful chain of events had been set in motion in the summer of 1936. He had been a twenty-four-year-old penniless journalist, invited to spend several days at Woodbourne House with a handful of other guests. Meeting and falling in love with Meg had led to the clandestine affair they had conducted throughout the war years behind the back of her husband, Paul. Its discovery had led to estrangement with much of the family. Paul, a bomber pilot, had been killed on the way back from a raid over Germany, and the possibility that his discovery of the affair might have contributed in some way, on some level, to his death, still haunted them both. They never spoke of it. Meg and Dan were married now, but the guilt of what they had done remained. Meg’s mother Helen had been trying for some time to persuade her sister, Sonia, to forgive Meg and Dan, and today’s invitation to Woodbourne House was a signal that she had at last relented.
They walked up through the orchard, and when they reached the flagged courtyard at the back of the house, Meg said, ‘I’m going to the kitchen to say hello to Effie. I don’t think I can face Aunt Sonia quite yet. I’ll let you go first. Cowardly of me, I know, but I can’t help it.’ She gave him a quick smile and a kiss and turned in the direction of the kitchen.
Such an atmospheric book, immersing you in the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s. ‘Summer of Love’ is the sequel to ‘ The Summer House Party’, which I haven’t read but it is a complete story, and there is an adequate backstory to make this read well as a standalone.
A tragedy, a mystery and oodles of deceit and passion make this an absorbing story. The vivid setting provides the perfect backdrop for Avril, Laura and Max to find out who they are as adults.
Avril is the least empathetic character, she has a dark nature, which threatens to blight both hers and Laura’s lives. Laura lacks self-esteem, a symptom of her parentage and upbringing as the ‘poor relation’, in the Haddon household. Her lack of self-worth coupled with naivety makes her vulnerable to manipulation. Max discovers a secret that changes his life, reaching adulthood, he is confused about his identity and who indeed to love.
Full of fateful decisions, decadence and prejudice, the story vividly portrays Avril, Laura and Max’s Summers of love, against the evolving times of the 1950s and 1960s. Their character development is believable, and although flawed they are compelling and make the reader eagerly turn the pages to find out what they do next.
A perfect escapist read for the summer.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Caro Fraser is the author of the bestselling Caper Court novels, based on her own experiences as a lawyer. She is the daughter of Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser and lives in London.
So here we are, on the publication of my 21st book and I’m still as excited and terrified as the very first time.
My first novel, What If? was released in January 2001. The year before, I’d found out that I had a publishing deal and twenty minutes later, I’d discovered I was pregnant with our first child.
What if your whole life changed in the space of a few ticks on a clock?
That year, I went from living in London, with an all-consuming career in sales management and roots that were touched up every six weeks, to a life as a full-time mum and writer back in my native Scotland. I don’t think I found my make up bag for the best part of a decade.
That transition came with countless what if’s.
What if leaving the security of a full-time job is a mistake? What if I only have one story to tell? What if I miss the excitement of a carefree life with no little humans depending on me? And, when my second baby came along the following year, what if these kids don’t sleep through the night until they’re 21 and I never get peace to write?
Thankfully, it wasn’t, I didn’t, I definitely didn’t, and they eventually did.
But that theme of what if was a starting point for my latest novel, With Or Without You. What if one decision changed the rest of your life?
Everyone has reached a crossroads at some point, where they had to move left, more right, go forward, go back. For me, the biggest one happened a few years before that life-changing time in 2000, when my husband and I had only been married for a few years, and we agreed to go our separate ways. There was no drama, no fallout, just an amicable realisation that we both wanted different things.
In the end, we got back together a few months later, and now, twenty-five years after we met, I couldn’t imagine finding more happiness in any other life.
But I’d love to know where fate would have taken us if we’d made a different choice.
That’s the dilemma facing Liv, a palliative care nurse, and Nate, a PE teacher, in the opening chapter of With Or Without You. Married straight out of college, they both feel like something is missing in their relationship, so after a year of trying to reignite the spark, they agree to go their separate ways on the last day of 1999. However, as the clock ticks down to midnight, Nate changes his mind and asks Liv to give it another try. In the moment that the new millennium dawns, the narrative splits, with one storyline following their lives over the next eighteen years if they stay together, and the other covering their future if they stick to their plan to part.
What if staying together is the right thing to do? What if it’s not? What if they miss out on another great love? What if they never find their happy ever after? What if their decision irrevocably changes the lives of the people they love the most? What if they discover they were right for each other after all? What if they don’t?
I hope readers will love following the two different paths as much as I enjoyed writing them. I fell hopelessly in love with Liv, Nate, and their group of friends, flawed as they are, and it brought me to yet another of those deliberations.
What if I bring a few of them back in book number 22?
Love, Shari x
With Or Without You will be published by Aria – available in ebook on June 1st.
If like me you believe in fate and love the film ‘Serendipity’, you’ll enjoy this well-written ‘what if’ story. Most people in a long-term relationship wonder, whether they are with their soulmate, or if under different circumstances they would be with someone else. This story explores Liv’s decision taken at the cusp of the 21st-century, stay with Nate or split up and live their lives apart.
A story of two halves, the outcome of being ‘without him’ is explored first and then ‘with him’. There’s friendship, conflict, romance and sadness but the ultimate conclusion is satisfying in both stories. The setting and relationships are believable, and though flawed, the characters endear themselves to the reader, and you want them to find happiness and fulfilment.
The pacing of the story makes it easy to read, and even though the storyline focuses on ordinary, everyday life, it is full of suspense, poignancy, laughter and love and makes this a lovely lighthearted read.
Shari Low has published twenty novels over the last two decades. She also writes for newspapers, magazines and television. Once upon a time, she got engaged to a guy she’d known for a week, and twenty-something years later, they live in Glasgow with their two teenage sons and a labradoodle.
As the Russians and the Western Allies race towards Berlin, the Nazi hierarchy plots to escape the inevitable retribution facing them at the end of World War II.
Kurt Wolff is a handsome, blond SS Captain and a member of Hitler’s personal elitist bodyguard. Yet he still has to know the greatest honour of all. He has been chosen to implement Grey Fox – The Saint Peter’s Plot – the most daring and secret mission of the War.
As Germany stands on the edge of an abyss, the fate of this once great nation is in his hands.
WW2 thriller set mainly in Italy and Germany, about the plot to save Hitler as Germany falls to the Allies. There are many threads to this plot and several characters, some of which crossover the storylines. All are absorbing, and the intrigue and horror of Europe in the grip of the Nazis is chilling.
Wolff is a believable character, as are the partisans and priests who help people to escape the wrath of war. The final twist makes the ending a foregone conclusion, but as with the rest of the story, it is action-packed and tense.
I received a copy of this book from Collins Crime Club via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Alice Emerson is in need of a new beginning. Broken-hearted after her beloved grandfather passes away and her relationship falls apart, she makes a pact with her best friend Sasha. Swapping city living for the beautiful sun-bleached beaches of the Outer Banks, they launch an ice cream shop together in the crumbling house by the sea where Alice spent blissful childhood holidays.
As Alice and Sasha settle into the close-knit community, making friends with the locals and tempting them with their delicious recipes, Alice finds herself falling for the warm charm and golden smile of mysterious doctor Jack Barnes. Spending time together during sunshine-filled days and long romantic evenings, Alice starts to wonder if he could be the one for her?
But just when Alice’s summer couldn’t be more perfect, she discovers an old letter tucked away in the beach house. It contains a family secret that turns Alice’s world upside down and makes her question everything she’s ever known. And then Jack complicates their summer romance with an unexpected offer…
Faced with a difficult decision, will Alice and Jack follow their hearts and find true happiness this summer?
‘One Summer’ features essential elements, necessary for a holiday read. Romance, loss, starting again, family secrets, friendship and fulfilling a legacy are all expertly woven into the plot. The characters are likeable and realistic.
The relationship between Alice and Sasha is believable, and the secrets revealed, add an extra depth to the story. The coastal setting is vivid, but the pacing is slow. The writing style is easy to read, and Alice and Jack enjoy a gentle romance with a happy ending. It’s a pleasant read but overly detailed and lengthy.
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
For the beleaguered German and Russian armies, there is no war beyond the carnage in the city’s grim skeleton, and the terrible winter at their heels. Desperate men need heroes to boost their morale: orders come from the very top for a duel between champion snipers Antonov the Russian, and Meister the German – a contest each must win. For the two marksmen, there is now no war but the race to pin the other in their sights. And no other companion, either, than the stranger whose mind each must read. Dead heroes or living legends? Only time will tell.
Not your usual WW2 story, it begins amid the devastation of the battle for Stalingrad, with the onset of Winter both the Russians and the Germans need a champion, and two young snipers, Antonov and Meister fit the bill.
The story follows their lives and gives a real insight into the ravages of war and the pressure on the young men and how they cope. It’s a poignant story, with an unexpected ending.
I received a copy of this book from Collins Crime Club – Harper Collins via NetGalley in return for an honest review.