Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Psychological Thriller, Thriller

She’s Mine – Claire S.Lewis – #BlogTour- 4*#Review- #Author #Interview- #Extract @Aria_Fiction @CSLewisWrites

She was never mine to lose…

When Scarlett falls asleep on a Caribbean beach she awakes to her worst nightmare – Katie is gone. With all fingers pointed to her Scarlett must risk everything to clear her name.

As Scarlett begins to unravel the complicated past of Katie’s mother she begins to think there’s more to Katie’s disappearance than meets the eye. But who would want to steal a child? And how did no-one see anything on the small island?

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

My Thoughts…

This is not what I expected. The first few chapters make you think certain events have occurred, and following on from this, the list of suspects is few, but then you are transported back to 1997, and what you discover there changes your perception of what happened on the beach.

The flashbacks are in a series of photographs which trigger a specific set of memories of the unknown narrator. The introduction of new characters seemingly unrelated to the event on the Carribean island, and initially cause confusion for the reader, but gradually the connections can be made and the puzzle starts to form a coherent picture.

Scarlett is an unreliable protagonist, she has past secrets, which reinforce her unreliability. She is also immature and easily swayed by the stronger, more mature personalities she comes into contact with. Costa is an unconventional investigator, they make an unusual but effective investigating team.

The characters are complex and all are flawed, keeping secrets, behaving instinctively, rather than with caution. Can the reader trust any of them for a truthful account?

The plot is intriguing, there are plenty of clues but these are countered by misinformation, so when you think you know what happened you don’t.

Surprisingly, I did work out the ending but this didn’t detract from the story.

A compulsive, psychological thriller, with well-crafted suspense and some clever twists, and an overriding poignant ethos, worth reading.

Claire S. Lewis – Author Interview

What inspired you to write this story?

She’s Mine started as a little exercise that I wrote on ‘setting’ for a beginner’s online creative writing course.  I chose a beach setting because I thought that would be a good way of using all the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell – in the description.  You’re usually very engaged with your senses when lying on a beach!  To make it more interesting, I added the plot element of a nanny falling asleep on the sand and waking up to find that the little girl she was supposed to be looking after had disappeared. When I later took the Faber Academy course on writing a novel, I used this piece as the opening chapter for my novel draft which became She’s Mine.

What is the first thing you decide when writing a story, the setting, the plot or characters? Why do you think this is?

When starting a story, the first thing that gets me writing is the plot. Sometimes a conversation or a news item or something I hear on the radio makes me think, ‘that would be a great starting point for a novel’, or ‘if you put that into a novel nobody would believe it’, and from that scene or idea, I develop a plot.  Next, I imagine which characters would act out that plot and how they would interact with each other. And then I think about what would be an interesting or enticing setting or stage for those characters – usually, I like to pick locations that I know well and that I know I would love bringing to life in descriptions. So, in She’s Mine, much of the backstory is set in Oxford because I was a student there and it is a beautiful and atmospheric city that is still very vivid in my memory. I can easily wind back the clock and put myself in the place of my characters and imagine myself there, seeing and feeling it from inside their heads.

I think the plot interests me the most because I like the idea of setting up a puzzle and then gradually letting the readers into the mystery. The characters are there to act out the plot. I am also really interested in exploring devices such as the ‘unreliable narrator’ – like the nanny,  Scarlett, in She’s Mine. In addition, I enjoy playing around with changing narrative viewpoints so that the reader sees parts of the puzzle or mystery through one character’s eyes but has to read between the lines to work out the ‘truth’ that is eventually revealed when the narrative perspective changes to another character. I use this device a lot in my second novel. The plot is the starting point for all this.

Do you draw your characters from real life or are they purely a product of your imagination?

My characters are mostly imaginary – which is lucky because they tend to be quite dark and complicated! Of course, in some cases, I draw on certain personality traits of people I know in real life, or perhaps not so much personality traits but ways of speaking and interacting with other people. After reading the first draft of She’s Mine, my teenage daughter said to me, ‘So Scarlett’s basically me!’ I wasn’t conscious of writing this (and they certainly don’t have the same characters!), but she recognised herself in Scarlett’s narrative voice! So far all of my male characters have been flawed – weak, vain, untrustworthy, and the like. I wouldn’t say this is a reflection of the men in my life! In She’s Mine, my anti-hero Damien was in part inspired by a particularly unpleasant man I spoke to very briefly at an event some years ago! Sometimes it doesn’t take much to light the spark of a character…

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I love reading all sorts of fiction books as long as they are not too heavy or slow moving! Particular authors/books that I have loved since I was a teenager include Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby/Tender is the Night), Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent/The Power and The Glory), Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate) and Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley). I think these books are brilliant because they are so beautifully written with such intriguing stories, charismatic characters and entrancing settings. I also love modern psychological thrillers such as Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Cry and You. My all-time favourite novel is Gone With The Wind which I devoured when I was growing up.

What made you decide to become a writer and why does this genre appeal to you?

Before I had children, I was an aviation lawyer for Virgin Atlantic, but I’ve always loved reading and books, and always dreamt of writing a novel.  So after having been at home with the children for a few years, I finally took the plunge and signed up for some creative writing courses – both novel and screenwriting – to see if I could do it – then I got hooked. I love writing fiction because of the freedom it gives you to escape and get lost in other worlds. And I love psychological suspense because I find the psychological part fascinating – imagining what’s going on in other people’s minds – and the suspense part is so much fun to create because it’s what keeps us reading – the ‘what if?’ and ‘what next’ that makes us want to keep turning the page!

What are you currently writing?

I’m currently writing another story in the genre of psychological suspense about a beautiful young florist with a tragedy in her past. It’s wonderful to write because I’m researching the world of floristry and flowers (as well as getting to grips with the workings of dating apps such as Tinder which I’ve never looked at before!). The plot revolves around stalking (no pun intended!) but it’s not clear who is the predator and who is the victim…

Thank you so much, Jane, for giving me the opportunity to write for your lovely blog, Jane Hunt Writer!

Extract

That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. What I don’t reveal to her is an incident that took place in Christina’s bedroom the week before we flew out to the British Leeward Isles. I don’t disclose it because the incident doesn’t put me in a good light either! On Tuesdays, Katie does a full day at kindergarten so I have a little time to myself. I’ve got into the habit of using Christina’s en-suite, luxurious, walk-in power shower and expensive beauty products following the weekly hot yoga class that I go to after dropping off Katie. So last Tuesday, I had just finished my shower and wrapped myself in Christina’s bathrobe when I heard her bedroom door opening and then the sound of her antique roll top desk being unlocked.

I thought she must have come back early from work for some reason. There was nothing else for it but to come clean (literally!) and apologise for taking the liberty of using her bathroom without asking first. So I took off her bathrobe, draped a towel around me and opened the door. But it wasn’t Christina. It was Damien with his back to me, checking the contents of the desk. Caught in the act. Hearing the catch he started and turned in alarm. He reddened but quickly composed himself and went on the offensive.

‘What a vision of beauty!’ he sneered as I stood there, my wet hair dripping onto the carpet. ‘I didn’t realise you and Christina were so intimate.’

‘And I didn’t realise you made a habit of going through her private papers!’ I snapped back. I know very well that the desk, an old family heirloom shipped over from the UK, is a strictly no-go area that she keeps locked at all times. He just laughed and then cool as a cucumber, he slipped some documents into a green cardboard file under his arm, locked the desk, pocketed the key and marched out of the room.

‘Just mind your own business and keep out of our affairs. Or you’ll be going the same way as the previous nanny,’ was his parting shot.

I understood this was no idle threat. Christina’s so possessive and distrustful that I knew if she got wind of this brush with Damien, she would imagine the worst and I’d be out of a job. So I said nothing to Christina in New York and I say nothing to the police officer now as she converses with me in the hotel bedroom.

I decide to keep my suspicions about Damien to myself – for now.

*

For something that was supposed to have been a ‘friendly chat’ the questioning is intense. After asking about my relations with Christina and Damien she embarks on a list of questions clearly aimed at working out a timeline for my movements this afternoon. What time did I arrive at the beach with Katie? Did I speak to anyone? Did anyone approach me or Katie? Did I notice anyone watching her? What time did I fall asleep? What time did I wake up? When did I become aware Katie was missing? What did I do next? Did I see anyone on the beach when I was looking for her? How long did I spend searching the beach before raising the alarm? What time did I tell Christina her little girl was missing?

My head is pounding and I feel like a criminal by the time the family liaison officer finally puts her notepad away.

‘These questions are nothing to worry about,’ she assures me. ‘We just need to establish the timeline for the disappearance of the little girl.’ She ends the conversation by encouraging me to contact her ‘any time, any place’ if I need support or if I ‘remember’ anything else that may be relevant to the investigation. I half expect her to clap me in handcuffs and announce that she’s putting me under arrest when at last she says that I’m at liberty to go.

*

In a waking nightmare, we struggle on through the grief-stricken hours of the day making calls, badgering the search team for any new scrap of information and giving interviews to reporters in the belief that getting Katie’s story out there might somehow help in her rescue.

The worst moment comes just after midnight when the operation is called to a halt. I collapse onto a chair in a quivering heap. All the strength has gone from my legs. Christina appears distraught, begging members of the police and emergency services to go on searching.

‘There’s nothing more we can do tonight. We’ll resume at dawn. You should get some sleep,’ says the commander sternly. Holding our despair at bay and unable to contemplate the thought of sleep, we pace the beaches and the rocky headland for the next two hours, tripping over stones in the darkness, our steps lit only by the moon and stars in the cloudless black sky and the light from our mobile phones.

I am lightheaded with exhaustion by the time I accompany Christina to her room in the early hours of the morning. We sit out on the balcony mesmerised by the sound of waves rolling on to sand. We are too tired to speak. I make tea and give her three sleeping tablets from a packet I find in her wash bag. Once the tablets take effect, I steer her to bed, her expression vacant and confused, as she lets me pull the covers over her. It’s not until I shut Christina’s door and go down the corridor to the room I’m sharing with Katie that it strikes me again. Where the fuck is Damien? I haven’t seen him all day, not since he handed me the cocktail at the pool.

When I open the door, there is Katie’s blue bunny, propped up on her newly-made bed. The tears stream down my face. The bedtime story I was reading to her last night is still open at the page we got to when her eyes finally closed. It’s a beautifully illustrated copy of Peter Pan that Christina discovered in a quaint little bookshop called the Book Cellar, one of her favourite haunts for second-hand books. I glance down at the page. ‘The Mermaids’ Lagoon’ – Katie’s favourite chapter. She loves the colour illustrations of the mermaids diving in the waves. The doors to the balcony are open. I shiver in the sea breeze and step out through billowing curtains.

I stand there for a few moments still clutching Katie’s bucket.

Lost. Drowned.

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family. 
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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Thriller

Bitter Edge – Rachel Lynch – 5* #Review – #BlogTour #Guest Post @canelo_co @r_lynchcrime

DI Kelly Porter is back, but so is an old foe and this time he won’t back down…

When a teenage girl flings herself off a cliff in pursuit of a gruesome death, DI Kelly Porter is left asking why. Ruled a suicide, there’s no official reason for Kelly to chase answers, but as several of her team’s cases converge on the girl’s school, a new, darker story emerges. One which will bring Kelly face-to-face with an old foe determined to take back what is rightfully his – no matter the cost.

Mired in her pursuit of justice for the growing list of victims, Kelly finds security in Johnny, her family and the father she has only just discovered. But just as she draws close to unearthing the dark truth at the heart of her investigation, a single moment on a cold winter’s night shatters the notion that anything in Kelly’s world can ever truly be safe.

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Guest Post – Rachel Lynch
Will DI Kelly Porter always stay in the Lake District?

With Kelly’s experience, it’s always possible that someone like her would be seconded or invited to join or help out elsewhere. Constabularies regularly share resources, and of course, crime is often national and even international (like in Dark Game). I can see Kelly going back to London, and I can also picture her further afield. Her reputation has grown over four books and continues to do so.

The settings so far have created a credible, dark and mysterious world of crime that is different to that found in cities, but Kelly will find herself in demand elsewhere in the future, that is certain. She is eminently capable of helping other agencies too, such as government departments and the military. Police procedural theory is always developing, as crime- and criminals- become more daring and complex to evade ever tightening laws and methods to catch them. Kelly loves catching criminals, who invariably think themselves cleverer than the system. She also champions the families of the victims, who suffer much longer after a crime has been solved.

The crime genre is a fluid one, and the illegal activity contained within doesn’t have to always be the most shocking and depraved acts- it can be about issues such as domestic abuse, school bullying, drug taking, theft, embezzlement or arson. It’s the interplay between the protagonist and the antagonists that is important to me. The criminal always sees themselves as one step ahead of Kelly, but their confidence always quickly unravels as she identifies even the smallest of mistakes. Like any human undertaking: crime isn’t an exact science, and there are too many variables to go wrong: technology, forensics, traitors, money trails, accidents and witnesses.

As long as Kelly Porter investigates serious crime, she’ll take on cases large and small, because that’s what stokes the fire in her belly. She’s seen too many devastated relatives, friends, brothers, mothers and children to let any criminal get the better of her.

And she can do it anywhere!

Thank you for reading

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

My Thoughts…

Starting with a tragic event, the reader is still reeling, when a young child faces danger at a fairground. This story deals with every parent’s worst nightmares.

The Lake District setting and weather is an important part of the story as three seemingly unconnected events, form part of the puzzle Kelly Porter has to solve.

The police and forensic procedure is an interesting part of the fast-paced plot, which is full of twists, clues, action, and emotional angst. The crime is contemporary and demonstrates the worrying infiltration of organised crime into rural areas.

Kelly Porter continues to be a great character, clever, and finally coming to terms with her personal demons. The police team and her family provide believable supporting roles and the antagonists are convincingly immoral and driven by money at the expense of human life.

I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.

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.
Twitter: @r_lynchcrime


Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Guest post, Suspense, Thriller

#BlogTour #Trapped-Nick Louth- 5*#Review #GuestPost @canelo_co @NickLouthAuthor

Two desperate criminals. Something she never saw coming.

In Manchester, two hardened gang members on the run take Catherine Blake and her one-year-old son hostage at gunpoint. She is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Held in a Transit van, Catherine needs a plan fast. But it means diving into her captors’ risk-drenched world, and playing them at their own game.

Catherine has been through cancer, miscarriages and five draining years of IVF in order to have her son Ethan. He is the most precious thing in the world. She may be terrified out of her wits, but she’d do anything to protect him. Anything, no matter the cost…

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

My Thoughts…

From the first page, this suspenseful thriller is intriguing.

Primarily told from Catherine’s husband’s point of view. He assumes the role of the story’s narrator, a unique and unusual role in this type of thriller. His insight is uncanny and the reader has to accept this until the pieces of the puzzle start to reveal themselves. When it becomes clear why he has this unusual insight into her thoughts, it’s probably not what you think, and so becomes a more compelling viewpoint.

Catherine is in a nightmare scenario and as the story unfolds you can understand what motivates her behaviour. Like me, you may wonder what you would do in the same situation. Catherine’s husband’s admiration of her is apparent throughout. She is a clever, driven character, who has fought to bring her child into the world and will never relinquish him. You empathise with her strongly but then, as you think it’s all over, it isn’t.

Gangland crime is at the heart of this plot but there are no stereotypes, the antagonists are believable and have no redeeming features, you are very much on the side of Catherine and Ethan her innocent child.

The twist is masterful and unexpected and makes the final chapters of the story enthralling.

Contemporary crime, authentic police procedures, and an intense, original plot, make ‘Trapped’ one of my favourite thrillers this year.

Guest Post – Nick Louth – Inspiration for Trapped

The original spark of inspiration for Trapped came after I read the brilliant novel Room by Emma Donoghue. I asked myself, could I write something that is even more claustrophobic than that? A story where the walls close in even tighter, where the threats are not mere confinement, but death. That’s when I came upon the idea of a woman and her child being imprisoned in the back of a squalid Transit van, inside a multi-storey car park surrounded by armed police. I wanted a dark, gritty setting, where the odds of survival were low. The next stage was to build a collision of temperament and outlook between prisoners and captors, to create a cauldron of conflict. Catherine Blake is the ultimate risk-averse mother, having finally given birth after years of trying, enduring miscarriages and IVF. Her protective nature involves shielding this precious child from even the most remote risks, by planning and foresight. Fretwell and Cousins, the gangsters who capture her and her child, are two men for whom long-term planning is a few minutes or at most a few hours. They get a kick from risk, a thrill from danger. Normally, these contrasting types of people do not run into each other. The power of the book comes from throwing them together in a believable way, under massive external pressure when the police arrive.

It’s not difficult to build scary gangsters, but what is hard is to steer away from the many cliches and stereotypes which infest the genre of crime fiction. In this case, I started with the names, courtesy of my own late father who used to tell me stories when I was a child of his national service in the 1950s. Amongst the many memorable characters, were the fearsome London hooligans Fretwell and Cousins, who intimidated even the sergeant major in my father’s regiment. The characters are completely different from those he described, but the names have a marvellous rhythm and are grafted onto two new characters. We spend very little time in the gangsters’ heads, but their actions reflect their impulsiveness. Our view into Catherine’s head is far more detailed and comes through her husband, who has a special all-seeing viewpoint that becomes ever clearer as the narrative progresses. His love for her and the ominous portents that he reveals are designed to create a shadow of foreboding right from the beginning. I’m very pleased with the reception that this unusual narrative voice has received from reviewers.

Nick Louth is a best-selling thriller writer, award-winning financial journalist and an investment commentator. A 1979 graduate of the London School of Economics, he went on to become a Reuters foreign correspondent in 1987. It was an experience at a medical conference in Amsterdam in 1992 while working for Reuters, that gave him the inspiration for Bite, which was self-published in 2007 and went on to become the UK No. 1 Kindle best-seller for several weeks in 2014 before being snapped up by Sphere. It has sold a third of a million copies and been translated into six languages.

The terrorism thriller Heartbreaker was published in June 2014 and received critical acclaim from Amazon readers, with a 4.6 out of 5 stars on over 100 reviews. Mirror Mirror, subtitled  ‘When evil and beauty collide’ was published in June 2016. The Body in the Marsh, a crime thriller, is being published by Canelo in September 2017.  Freelance since 1998, he has been a regular contributor to the Financial Times, Investors Chronicle and Money Observer, and has published seven other books. Nick Louth is married and lives in Lincolnshire.

Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Friendship, Romance, Romantic Comedy

A Summer of New Beginnings – Lisa Hobman #BlogTour – 5* #Review – #Author #Interview #Extract @Aria_Fiction @LisaJHobmanAuth

Meet Zara Bailey, a travel writer paid to cover some of the globe’s most luxurious locations. Jetting from wooden huts on stilts in turquoise seas to boutique hotels with roaring fires to 7* penthouse suites with panoramic views of the world’s most glamorous cities…

Zara knows hers is the definition of a dream job! So she is seriously shocked to receive her next assignment; Scotland’s Northcoast 500 route. By bicycle. Sleeping in a tent so basic it can’t remotely be dressed up glamping! But this could be just the distraction the recently heartbroken, Zara needs. No men, no romance, just the breathtakingly rugged Highland scenery.

Until she meets croft owner Lachlan Grant, and his black and white Border Collie Bess, that is….

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

My Thoughts…

Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, travel journalist Zara takes on an assignment that puts her firmly out of her comfort zone. Her cycle ride in the Highlands makes her realise that living life for the moment, and being brave enough to follow her dreams may be worth the risk.

The beautifully described setting makes it easy to imagine Zara’s journey. Her love-hate relationship with her mountain bike provides many humorous moments. Zara’s complex personality makes her both likeable and often frustrating. I found myself shouting at her to see the truth of the situations she’s in. So, she is realistic and easy to empathise. Lachlan is more of a mystery. He hides his kind nature under a brusque outward manner.

The plot is full of conflict and dilemma for Zara, it’s exhausting to read at times but worth the emotional angst. The well-written ending concludes all plot twists and gives Zara the life she deserves and needs.

Interview Questions: Lisa Hobman – A Summer of New Beginnings Blog Tour

What inspired you to write this story? The descriptions are realistic, have you cycled all or part of this journey?

I have actually driven the majority of the route. We visit the Highlands annually and last summer we had the pleasure of stopping off at some of the points I visit in the story. I’m not sure I’m fit enough to cycle it but I would love to camp it for sure!

The Scottish Highlands is a popular setting for novelists, what makes your stories different? Why do you think this is?

The Scottish Highlands evoke so many emotions and the dramatic scenery really does lend itself to romance, in my opinion. Many authors have this same attraction to the perfect setting. I tend to write stories about places I’ve visited and which have affected me in some way emotionally. I find this way I can give real credence to the descriptions of the breath-taking locations.

Do you draw your characters from real life or are they purely a product of your imagination?

My characters are fictional; however, there are certain traits observed in real people that find their way into the ones I invent. It may be a story that someone tells me that resonates or perhaps a general personality that sparks an idea. But overall I keep real people out of my stories. My dogs, on the other hand, do feature! Ruby from A Seaside Escape is based on my own little characterful Patterdale Terrier.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I tend to enjoy crime novels. Partly because I’m fascinated by how they’re constructed so cleverly—clues and situations all weaved together until a bewildering climax eventually occurs. I especially love Ann Cleeves Shetland books. The scenery she creates with her words really transports me and I can almost be present in the story myself. It’s a bit of a dream of mine to write something in this genre but I have yet to attempt it.

What made you decide to become a writer and why does this genre appeal to you?

Writing is something I’ve always loved since childhood. I used to love writing stories and even wrote a book when I was a teenager! Until recent years it’s always been a bit of a pipe dream but I’m so happy to be fulfilling it now. Romance is a genre that I absolutely love to write. I love to get lost in the passion of a relationship whether it’s friends to lovers or second chances. Romance is something I find flows from my fingertips and makes me happy.

What are you currently writing?

My current work in progress is a novel set at Christmas but that’s all I’m prepared to say just now! You’ll need to watch this space as they say!

Extract

Zara stared, open-mouthed, at Noah as if he had completely lost the plot. As if his marbles were literally falling out of his ears as he spoke. She tried to wrap her head around the words he had uttered but her mind was in some kind of baffled stupor. Did he really just say camping to the girl who was accustomed to reviewing five-star luxury resorts for a living?

She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Noah, but… is this a joke?’ she asked hesitantly, dreading his answer. ‘You seem to be getting me confused with someone who likes the outdoors. I mean… I like being outdoors on the beach or checking out historical places for my reports, obviously, but camping? And Scotland?’ Noah was known for being a prankster; she waited for him to burst into hysterical laughter and do the whole, ‘Ha ha! Your face when I said camping! Of course, it’s a joke!’ But she waited in vain.

He leaned forward and fixed her with a pitiful gaze. ‘Zara, I know this isn’t your usual bag. I get that. But the fact is that the whole thing is booked. Dillon knew this and he’s still betrayed me; well, all of us really.’ There was a sad yet bitter edge to his usually jovial voice. He huffed and ran his hands through his greying, floppy hair. ‘And I need you to help me out on this. Dillon’s intern simply isn’t ready – in fact I wouldn’t have employed him at all, truth be told, but that’s a story for another day. It’s not something I would normally ask of you, but I can’t let this slip just because Dillon thinks he has bigger fish to fry. We may be a relatively small publication in comparison to others, but we still need to be at the top of our game. I’m counting on you, Zara. You’re my best travel writer as it is. But now Dillon is going you’re my only travel writer.’

She sighed deeply and an image of her petite body being crushed by a giant rucksack manifested in her mind. ‘But, Noah…’

He held up his hands. ‘I know. I know. But here’s the thing. Travelarium have got wind of the fact that Dillon is leaving. I got a call from Joel at their head office today. He couldn’t wait to stick his knife in. Sarcastic bastard. Anyway, they’re going to try and get there first. You know they’re already trying to make a name for themselves, and taking a portion of our readership would be a big bloody boost for them. This article would be a perfect inroad, believe me. They’re doing the real nitty-gritty stuff; the Australian outback and the bloody camel rides in Egypt. They’re making us look like we only care about the fluffy, frilly shit. But that was never my intention with The Bohemian. Dillon’s trip was supposed to be a real nuts and bolts piece; a chance to show our readership that we take travel seriously. And that the UK is just as important to us as a publication as the luxury destinations are. We can’t let it go. I won’t, Zara.’ She had never seen him like this. Obviously, Dillon’s shock announcement had floored him. But she wondered if there was something behind it all. Was the magazine struggling? Why was he not telling her if that was the case?

And anyway, what was wrong with fluff and frills? Life was too short to be so bothered about real life and all the crap that came with it. What was wrong with a bit of escapism?

She realised Noah was still on his rant about Travelarium and snapped her attention back to him. ‘… and the North Coast 500 route is so hot right now, Zara. It’s big news and we need to get in there first. Think of the team, eh?’

Good grief, next he’ll be telling me to think of the children. Talk about playing for my sympathy. She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce. Not yet. ‘But surely there must be someone else better equipped and suited to doing the report. Surely there’s someone in the team, maybe a different department, for example, who loves camping and… and all that stuff.’

Noah closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them, he shook his head. ‘Zara, I’ve been let down by my best friend of God knows how many years. You currently have nothing assigned that can’t be put off for a while. I’m sorry but I can’t send anyone else. I need this to be done just right. I need your help on this. Please, Zara? You’re my only hope here.’

Suddenly the image of Noah dressed all in white with donuts for hair sprang to mind and she had to bite her lip so she didn’t laugh inappropriately at Noah’s Princess Leia-esque plea for help. She twisted her hands in her lap. She loved her job. And if the mag was in trouble she wanted to do all she could to help, obviously. Noah was an awesome boss and she wanted to be the reporter he needed her to be. But this was something above and beyond. She wouldn’t just be stepping out of her comfort zone. She’d be climbing in a spaceship and travelling until her comfort zone was a tiny speck on a distant planet. But she knew how much Noah had done for her. He’d taken a chance on her as a newly qualified journalist and she owed him so much.

She lifted her chin. ‘I need more information.’

Noah sat up straight once more, his wide-eyed expression filled with hope. ‘Anything. What do you need to know? Fire away.’

She cleared her throat, forcing the real question – i.e. Are you insane? – back from her tongue. ‘H-how will I be getting there?’

He nodded and took a slow, deep breath, which didn’t bode well. ‘Okay, so you’d be going north by train to Inverness. Then you’d pick up your bicycle and—’

‘Whoa! Hang on a darn-tooting-minute, here. Bicycle? You never mentioned anything about a bloody bicycle!’

Zara stared, open-mouthed, at Noah as if he had completely lost the plot. As if his marbles were literally falling out of his ears as he spoke. She tried to wrap her head around the words he had uttered but her mind was in some kind of baffled stupor. Did he really just say camping to the girl who was accustomed to reviewing five-star luxury resorts for a living?

She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Noah, but… is this a joke?’ she asked hesitantly, dreading his answer. ‘You seem to be getting me confused with someone who likes the outdoors. I mean… I like being outdoors on the beach or checking out historical places for my reports, obviously, but camping? And Scotland?’ Noah was known for being a prankster; she waited for him to burst into hysterical laughter and do the whole, ‘Ha ha! Your face when I said camping! Of course, it’s a joke!’ But she waited in vain.

He leaned forward and fixed her with a pitiful gaze. ‘Zara, I know this isn’t your usual bag. I get that. But the fact is that the whole thing is booked. Dillon knew this and he’s still betrayed me; well, all of us really.’ There was a sad yet bitter edge to his usually jovial voice. He huffed and ran his hands through his greying, floppy hair. ‘And I need you to help me out on this. Dillon’s intern simply isn’t ready – in fact, I wouldn’t have employed him at all, truth be told, but that’s a story for another day. It’s not something I would normally ask of you, but I can’t let this slip just because Dillon thinks he has bigger fish to fry. We may be a relatively small publication in comparison to others, but we still need to be at the top of our game. I’m counting on you, Zara. You’re my best travel writer as it is. But now Dillon is going you’re my only travel writer.’

She sighed deeply and an image of her petite body being crushed by a giant rucksack manifested in her mind. ‘But, Noah…’

He held up his hands. ‘I know. I know. But here’s the thing. Travelarium have got wind of the fact that Dillon is leaving. I got a call from Joel at their head office today. He couldn’t wait to stick his knife in. Sarcastic bastard. Anyway, they’re going to try and get there first. You know they’re already trying to make a name for themselves, and taking a portion of our readership would be a big bloody boost for them. This article would be a perfect inroad, believe me. They’re doing the real nitty-gritty stuff; the Australian outback and the bloody camel rides in Egypt. They’re making us look like we only care about the fluffy, frilly shit. But that was never my intention with The Bohemian. Dillon’s trip was supposed to be a real nuts and bolts piece; a chance to show our readership that we take travel seriously. And that the UK is just as important to us as a publication as the luxury destinations are. We can’t let it go. I won’t, Zara.’ She had never seen him like this. Obviously, Dillon’s shock announcement had floored him. But she wondered if there was something behind it all. Was the magazine struggling? Why was he not telling her if that was the case?

And anyway, what was wrong with fluff and frills? Life was too short to be so bothered about real life and all the crap that came with it. What was wrong with a bit of escapism?

She realised Noah was still on his rant about Travelarium and snapped her attention back to him. ‘… and the North Coast 500 route is so hot right now, Zara. It’s big news and we need to get in there first. Think of the team, eh?’

Good grief, next he’ll be telling me to think of the children. Talk about playing for my sympathy. She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce. Not yet. ‘But surely there must be someone else better equipped and suited to doing the report. Surely there’s someone in the team, maybe a different department, for example, who loves camping and… and all that stuff.’

Noah closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them, he shook his head. ‘Zara, I’ve been let down by my best friend of God knows how many years. You currently have nothing assigned that can’t be put off for a while. I’m sorry but I can’t send anyone else. I need this to be done just right. I need your help on this. Please, Zara? You’re my only hope here.’

Suddenly the image of Noah dressed all in white with donuts for hair sprang to mind and she had to bite her lip so she didn’t laugh inappropriately at Noah’s Princess Leia-esque plea for help. She twisted her hands in her lap. She loved her job. And if the mag was in trouble she wanted to do all she could to help, obviously. Noah was an awesome boss and she wanted to be the reporter he needed her to be. But this was something above and beyond. She wouldn’t just be stepping out of her comfort zone. She’d be climbing in a spaceship and travelling until her comfort zone was a tiny speck on a distant planet. But she knew how much Noah had done for her. He’d taken a chance on her as a newly qualified journalist and she owed him so much.

She lifted her chin. ‘I need more information.’

Noah sat up straight once more, his wide-eyed expression filled with hope. ‘Anything. What do you need to know? Fire away.’

She cleared her throat, forcing the real question – i.e. Are you insane? – back from her tongue. ‘H-how will I be getting there?’

He nodded and took a slow, deep breath, which didn’t bode well. ‘Okay, so you’d be going north by train to Inverness. Then you’d pick up your bicycle and—’

‘Whoa! Hang on a darn-tooting-minute, here. Bicycle? You never mentioned anything about a bloody bicycle!’

Lisa’s debut novel was shortlisted in the 2014 RNA. Her stories centre around believable, yet down to earth characters and the places in Scotland she has visited and fallen in love with. She is a happily married mum of one with two energetic dogs.

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Posted in Blog Blitz, Blog Tour, Book Review, Cozy Mystery, Historical Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery

A Testament to Murder – Vivian Conroy – #5*Review #BlogBlitz #Extract @canelo_co @VivWrites

A dying billionaire. Nine would-be heirs. But only one will take the prize…

 At the lush Villa Calypso on the French Riviera, a dying billionaire launches a devious plan: at midnight each day, he appoints a new heir to his vast fortune. If he dies within 24 hours, that person takes it all. If not, their chance is gone forever.

Yet these are no ordinary beneficiaries, these men who crossed him, women who deceived him, and distant relations intent on reclaiming the family fortune. All are determined to lend death a hand and outwit their rivals in pursuit of the prize.

As tensions mount with every passing second retired Scotland Yard investigator Jasper must stay two steps ahead of every player if he hopes to prevent the billionaire’s devious game from becoming a testament to murder…

Links to Book:

Amazon (UK)

Kobo (UK)

Google Books (UK)

Apple Books (UK)

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

My Thoughts…

I looked forward to reading this story, as I love murder mystery and especially those written in a similar style to Agatha Christie’s stories. This book delivers in every way.

The plot is clever, fast-paced, full of twists and has numerous suspects, all with motive and opportunity to commit murder. The setting on the French Riveria is ultra glamorous and epitomises the era, the story is set in.

The detective, Jasper, is charismatic, yet mysterious. When you look back at the story you learn very little about him, other than he is excellent at his job. The ending is well-orchestrated and the cryptic thoughts from one of the characters in the final lines, makes you wonder about Jasper and his motivations.

The cast of characters are not particularly likeable, but this is a requirement of this type of mystery. The reader has to suspect everyone at some point in the story for it to be enjoyable, and complex to solve. The narrative and dialogue are easy to read and realistic. The story has wonderful imagery that allows the reader to play it out in their mind as if they are watching it in real life.

An entertaining, compulsive read, I look forward to Jasper’s next case.

Extract

Patty really didn’t understand why the mood had been so bleak after Uncle Malcolm’s grand revelation. Wasn’t it a marvellous idea that they all had a chance to become sole heir to his entire fortune?

Of course, it would have been better if he had just made her sole heir, to begin with, but if he wanted to do it this way, he was entitled to. Hugh was just a spoilsport to have no stomach for this game. He didn’t like risks and he certainly didn’t like the idea he could lose out to somebody else.

Patty listened to her husband’s heavy breathing as he lay, face down, beside her in the double bed. He had gulped down several glasses of whiskey and was now completely oblivious to the world. While she normally wouldn’t encourage his drinking, it was now very convenient to her that he wouldn’t notice a thing when she crawled out of bed.

Lightning put the room in a bright white glare for a second, then died down. Moments passed before thunder rolled in the distance. The storm hadn’t yet reached the villa. Despite the reassurances that there were higher points it could strike, Patty’s heartbeat fluttered and she rubbed gooseflesh off her arms. She pushed away the sheet and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Feeling her way through the room, she picked up her dressing gown and slipped it on over her silk nightdress.

At the door she listened carefully, first to determine Hugh was still asleep, then whether there was anyone in the corridor outside the room. With the storm brewing, it was possible people couldn’t sleep and went out of their rooms to get some milk or a book to read, from Malcolm’s library.

Yes, needing a book to read would be the perfect excuse to hang around, and catch a glimpse of the signing of the will. It was happening in his study, he had said, and the study was adjacent to the library. Wouldn’t it be easy to make a small mistake and enter the wrong room?

In the corridor little lamps burned along the wall, shedding just enough light to be able to move around. Malcolm seemed to dislike the dark. Or perhaps it had been arranged for by the nurse who had to rush to Malcolm’s bedside at any hour? Anna Cane had struck Patty as a young lady who liked to make demands, just to see how far she could get with them.

Still, it was a good thing the nurse hadn’t left. The more suspects, the better.

Downstairs in the hallway, the grandfather clock struck twelve.

That’s my cue.

Patty tiptoed down the corridor, making sure to stay on the carpet so nothing thudded or creaked. Thunder rolled again sounding like a stack of cans collapsing. Her heart beat so fast she could barely breathe.

In front of the door leading into the study she halted. Malcolm was a man of his word, a man who liked punctuality. He’d be signing his document now.

She opened the door a crack and peeked in.

Behind a huge desk, Malcolm sat leaning over a sheet of paper. His trembling right hand held a pen, and he was just scribbling something. The name?

Patty’s stomach tightened at the idea it could be Patricia Bryce-Rutherford he was writing. It was quite a long name. But then Hugh Desmond Bryce-Rutherford was about as long. And Theodora Cummings wasn’t exactly short either. Anna Cane was, but Malcolm wouldn’t make the nurse his heir. Not on the first day anyway.

Maybe as he ran out of heirs to use.

After all, he had said everybody would only get one turn.

How unfair. To think that if he lived long enough, some unimportant person like that nurse or the butler would get it all.

He’d better not live that long then.

Malcolm looked up, and for a moment Patty could have sworn he looked straight at her. She didn’t make the mistake to move. She stood firmly, holding her hand on the knob so the door didn’t move either. She had stood just as firmly as she had made her wedding vows to Hugh. Knowing this was something she had to go through to reach something better. Something she deserved.

Malcolm shoved the document away from him, and Koning looked it over. He then gestured to the two other men present to sign it. The skeletal butler and the rugged, probably French, chauffeur.

Patty’s breath caught. Would they know the name that was filled in? Could she bribe them, entice them somehow to tell her what name the document held on that particular day?

They were but servants with meagre pay. They might be open to the promise of a rich reward. After all, once she had inherited the fortune, she could fulfil their every dream.

Patty suppressed a satisfied smile as she watched the men do their duty. Then Koning picked up the document and folded it in halves. He slipped it into an envelope and sealed it. He handed the envelope to Malcolm, who had pushed himself up behind the desk.

Careful, swaying, the old man walked to the side wall and pulled at a painting. It swung away to reveal the gleaming metal of a safe. Malcolm looked at the men to see if they were watching him. They were all keeping their eyes on the floor. Still, Malcolm covered the combination lock with the envelope as he turned it to the right combination to unlock it.

Careful bastard, Patty thought.

The door of the safe opened, and Malcolm placed the envelope in it and closed it again. He spun the combination lock.

“It has begun,” he said to the men, a strange satisfaction in his voice.

Author Bio

Armed with cheese and chocolate, Vivian Conroy sits down to create the aspirational settings, characters with secrets up their sleeves, and clever plots which took several of her mysteries to #1 bestseller in multiple categories on Amazon US and Canada. Away from the keyboard, Vivian likes to hike (especially in the Swiss mountains), hunt for the perfect cheesecake and experience the joy in every-day life, be it a fiery sunset, a gorgeous full moon or that errant butterfly descending on the windowsill.

Twitter: @VivWrites

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Friendship, Literary Fiction, Romance

With or Without You – #Paperback #Blog Tour – Shari Low – @sharilow @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction

Have you ever made a life-changing decision and then wondered if you made the right one…?

When Liv and Nate walked up the aisle, Liv knew she was marrying the one, her soul mate and her best friend.

Six years later, it feels like routine and friendship is all they have left in common. What happened to the fun, the excitement, the lust, the love?

In the closing moments of 1999, Liv and Nate decide to go their separate ways, but at the last minute, Liv wavers. Should she stay or should she go?

Over the next twenty years we follow the parallel stories to discover if Liv’s life, heart and future have been better with Nate… Or without him?

Buy links

Amazon UK

Amazon

Kobo

iBooks

Google Play

I received a paperback copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

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.

Guest Post – Serendipity – Shari Low

Some may have said it was serendipity. Some may call it love at first sight. But when a complete stranger walked towards me one night 25 years ago, I smiled because I knew I was in the right place at the right time. A week later we got engaged, and we’ve stuck together through a lifetime of children, books, ups, downs, dodgy fashion choices (but perms were so in!) and a labradoodle.

However, what would have happened if we hadn’t met? Would someone else have been the love of my life? Would I never have found this kind of happiness? Would I have married a rock star and settled for a life of loud music, wanton behaviour and leather trousers?

Actually, I quite like the sound of that option.

Or perhaps that chance meeting was meant to happen, and we were somehow destined to cross paths, if not that night, then at some other point in the future.

Those thoughts were the starting point for my new novel With Or Without You.

The main characters, Nate and Liv, have been together since they were teenagers. Now in their mid-twenties, their all-consuming love has faded to friendship and they’ve decided that their marriage has run its course. They agree to separate at midnight on the final day of 1999, but at the last minute, Nate wavers. The storyline then splits into two strands, one following the couple over the next eighteen years if they stay together, the other if they part.

Will they find each other again? Or will they discover a greater love elsewhere? Does serendipity really exist, or is everyone’s fate already pre-determined, our lives like tangled paths that will end at the same destination no matter what choices we make? 

As the stories unfold, Nate and Liv, and the people who share their lives discover the answers to those questions.

As for me? Excuse the uncharacteristic sentimentality, but I’ll never regret being in that place at that time and meeting that bloke. 

Leather trousers go out of fashion. Soul mates never do.

With Or Without You was published in paperback by Aria on 7th Feb 2019

Shari Low is the No1 best-selling author of over 20 novels, including With Or Without You, Another Day In Winter, One Day In December, A Life Without You and The Story Of Our Life. And because she likes to over-share toe-curling moments and hapless disasters, she is also the shameless mother behind a collection of parenthood memories called Because Mummy Said So. Once upon a time she met a guy, got engaged after a week, and twenty-something years later she lives near Glasgow with her husband, a labradoodle, and two teenagers who think she’s fairly embarrassing except when they need a lift. 

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Romance, Romance -Dark and Steamy

Rachael Stewart 5*#Review- Mr One-Night Stand- #DAREblogtour- @MillsandBoon @rach_b52 #DoYouDare

One night only. 
Just think of the possibilities

The second she sees Mr Oh-So-Delicious, Jennifer Hayes knows she needs one night of crazy. No names, no strings, no rules. Except that Jennifer’s naughty one-nighter is actually Marcus Wright—her new business partner! Now they’re mixing business with all kinds of pleasure. But when it comes to falling in love her sexy Mr Wright is either Mr Wrong or the best mistake of her life…

Amazon UK

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

My Thoughts…

#Dare books always score top marks for hot and steamy romance and uber glamorous couples, but sometimes its hard to believe the situations they find themselves in. ‘Mr One-Night Stand’ creates the right set of circumstances for it to be believable, and that makes it so enjoyable to read.

Marcus is losing patience waiting for a business client, Jennifer is at her wits end with her business partner, who is late for a meeting. Neither are looking for the instant sexual attraction they experience as they lay eyes on each other. The quick progression of their encounter works, they are confident in all their abilities and used to getting what they want. They both know the rules but they are about to find out that no strings sex, doesn’t always come without complications.

The hot, sensual romance is well-written, but the one-night stand is not what it seems, and leads to both business and personal complications for the power couple. Marcus is running scared from love, it makes you weak and he can’t take the risk. Jennifer hasn’t time for love her commitments are too great.

The gradual realisation that they’re in too deep is fun to read, and you have to empathise. The conflicts they face are realistic but so worth the pain. The ending is worthy of such a deserving couple. Loved it!

Extract

CHAPTER ONE

Patience—he wasn’t known for it. Why should he be when he’d worked his entire life to ensure he got everything he wanted when he wanted it?

Flicking his wrist, he checked the time. Eight twenty-five.

Where the hell were they?

If being late was a last-ditch attempt at angling for more money, then Tony Andrews was an even bigger fool than Marcus had had him pegged for.

He waved away the approaching waitress who was eyeing his empty glass. He’d already indulged in a whisky and filled his one-drink-while-on-business quota. He wasn’t fool enough to indulge in more. Although the girl’s perfect parting pout made clear that it wasn’t just a drink being offered.

Not tonight. He smiled back.

He might be considered an arrogant ass by many, but no one could accuse him of lacking in manners.

Even his questionable childhood hadn’t beaten those out of him—much as his father might have tried.

It was hardly her fault he wasn’t up for it. She had appeal aplenty if surgically enhanced assets and peroxide hair were your thing.

But tonight was about work.

And work was work.

Sex was sex.

Never should the two be mixed. Not if you wanted to stay focused and come out on top.

He watched as she weaved her way back through the intimate arrangement of tables, breaking his gaze to scan again the people occupying the circular floor space of the exclusive rooftop venue. Andrews had chosen it for convenience, it being located only two

blocks down from his London HQ.

Very convenient for Andrews—not so sodding convenient for him. He rolled his shoulders and rechecked his watch.

What the hell was he doing?

He should’ve left ten minutes after the hour, not

sat there like some obedient monkey.

But then, he wasn’t there simply to catch up with

the man he was in the process of buying out. He was

there to be introduced to Andrews’ business partner—

soon-to-be his partner—Jennifer Hayes, before they

signed on the dotted line.

Not that the introduction would make any difference;

the deal was as good as done. But professional courtesy made him stay. That and the fact he was curious to meet her—the exec who’d turned a business into the largest successful start-up the industry

had seen in years.

He was convinced Andrews hadn’t been responsible for it. It was a wonder the man could still see straight, with his mounting gambling debts and outside work attentions. And then there was the drink problem. No one had confirmed it, but Marcus was sure he had one. He knew the signs well enough, thanks to dear old Dad.

So, yes, he doubted Andrews had done a full day’s work in years—and that meant one thing: Miss Hayes was the one carrying the company; she was the one he was effectively buying into.

He’d read her profile, noticeably devoid of any pictures, and figured her to be late thirties, early forties. A woman with shrewd business acumen, a bearing that bordered on cold, and a definite force in the boardroom—all of which he’d respect her for. So long as they were on the same page.

It intrigued him that he hadn’t come across any pictures. Not even a professionally enhanced shot used to support all those public accolades. Maybe she didn’t go in for that kind of vanity. Or maybe Andrews did all that for her. He was certainly everywhere. Even the

Forbes article he’d thrust into his hands at a charity auction last month, when he’d put forward his proposition, had highlighted the success of the business but featured Andrews alone, his greased back hair and cocky grin filling half the page.

The memory of that expression goaded Marcus

further now as he waited and waited, fingers drumming on the tabletop, his patience hitting breaking point.

Seriously—enough was enough. The papers would

be taken care of in less than twenty-four hours regardless. He might as well meet her then.

Tugging at the cuffs of his shirt, he made to stand

up just as the cables of the glass elevator started to

shift. New arrivals?

He settled back and waited for them to come

into view.

It wasn’t Andrews. That was immediately obvious.

The small, balding lift attendant was being dwarfed by a statuesque redhead who made even the impressive lift look small. He wasn’t the only one noticing either. Her hair was pulling every eye in the room. Its cascading waves ran down her back, glinting in the ambient light, impossible to ignore.

Its dramatic colour was a striking contrast to the black dress that clung to her curves before halting modestly at the knee. His gaze dropped lower still, to her exposed calves, to the subtle shimmer that teased with the possibility of stockings. And then came her shoes, her severe black stilettos…

Heat assaulted his groin.

Fuck me.

He wasn’t going anywhere. Not just yet. Andrews could have the extra time for free

sdr
Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Holiday Romance, Romance

5* #Review – Lucy Coleman- Summer on the Italian Lakes – Extract @LucyColemanAuth @Aria_Fiction

Brianna Middleton has won the hearts of millions of readers with her sweeping – and steamy – love stories. But the girl behind the typewriter is struggling… Not only does she have writer’s block, but she’s a world-famous romance author with zero romance in her own life.

So the opportunity to spend the summer teaching at a writer’s retreat in an idyllic villa on the shores of Lake Garda – owned by superstar author Arran Jamieson – could this be just the thing to fire up Brie’s writing – and romantic – mojo?

Brie’s sun-drenched Italian summer could be the beginning of this writer’s very own happy-ever-after…

Buy links:

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Kobo

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

My Thoughts…

This story didn’t draw me in immediately, the tone was so negative. Since this author is known for her positivity, I decided to read on. After the first chapter, I realised the reader is in the main character’s head, and she is in a bad place. So don’t be put off, read on.

There is a lot to like in the remainder of the story, a stunning setting, which I love. Having visited the Lake Garda region in 2004, I can confirm that the author’s description really does capture the essence of this lovely region. The writers’ retreat is also interesting, interspersed with writing and publishing tips, this gives the story its authenticity.

Brie’s life is nothing like her public persona and she begins to wonder if romance exists beyond the passionate words she creates in her sexy novels. When she meets Arran, there is chemistry but also conflict. They are both emotionally raw and have seemingly incompatible personality traits. 

I liked the realistic nature of their relationship, with two characters that get under your skin, until you really want them to have their happy ending.

An enjoyable romance, full of vivid imagery and believable characters, and for the most part is positive and heartwarming.

Extract

‘All I can think of is that Brianna Middleton. Wow, that lady knows how to write a sex scene. Just thinking about the gorgeous guys she features in her books is enough to get me in the mood to jump into someone’s arms!’ She laughs and for one moment a look of horror passes over my face.

Oh, dear! Am I unwittingly killing the art of romantic love by concentrating on the intense passion and the hot sex? Isn’t that a modern-day disease, anyway? We want everything instantly and it seems that people forget that some things are worth waiting for. Wasn’t it more exciting when couples didn’t jump into bed before they’d had a chance to get to know each other? And then when they did get to that point it held more meaning. How many people wake up the next morning regretting the night before, I wonder?

‘Guess we’re all looking for a hero.’ I smile up at her in the mirror, doing my best to push aside my concerns.

‘Tell me about it! I can’t remember the last time a guy held a door open for me. Or picked up the tab for a meal out without expecting to go Dutch.’

I nod, glancing in the mirror and relieved to see that my face isn’t giving anything away.

Zena excuses herself to go and mix up the colour for the first step in the transformation. She returns wheeling a cart with two black bowls both containing a creamy white mixture. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the colours aren’t too loud.

‘Can you turn up the music, please?’ She addresses the receptionist who is manning the desk. ‘I love this one.’

Relief washes over me. It’s not a record I know but at least it curtails the conversation. I’m not being moody but the less said the better.

Closing my eyes for a moment to rest them, I’m horrified when a sudden jolt rouses me. There’s a buzzer on the shelf in front of me and it’s jumping around. I can’t believe I fell asleep.

Zena returns, and I follow her over to the basin. I’d forgotten how good it feels to be pampered and the head massage alone is a tonic. I didn’t realise I was quite so stressed out and now I’m longing for that full body polish and massage Mel and I have booked for later this morning.

After wrapping a towel around my head, Zena and I walk back to her styling station. She begins by twisting the majority of my hair up on top of my head, securing it with a clip. Scissors in hand, she turns her attention to the first layer at the back and begins cutting.

With my head tilted forward slightly, I look at the growing pile of debris on the floor. The colour looks okay but then it’s still wet and it’s hard to tell how it will look once dry. It’s been a long time since I wore my hair this short, that’s for sure. I glance across at Mel but she’s engrossed, listening to her iPod. Usually, I love thinking time, but my head is in such a mess that what I need now is a distraction. So instead I grab a magazine from the shelf in front of me and read about the latest red carpet event in Hollywood. I can identify with the sadness behind some of those fake smiles.

The cutting seems to go on forever and I lose interest. I decide it’s time to stop looking in the mirror and wait for the reveal. Eventually, the scissors disappear back into the neat little pouch strapped around Zena’s slender hips. She uses a generous squirt of mousse to scrunch up the longer hair at the front, with her hands, then the blow drying starts in earnest. My head is feeling curiously lighter and it’s a fight to avoid glancing in that mirror.

‘I think we’re done.’ Zena takes a step backwards, sounding pleased with herself. The girl from the reception desk walks by on her way to the coffee machine.

‘On fleek, Zena. A hot new look there, Ms Middleton, it’s time for a new author photo! I rang my mum and she just popped in with one of your books, so I wondered if you’d sign it for me? I have them all! I couldn’t bear to miss one of your hot, sexy heroes.’

I feel the heat rising up around my ears as my cheeks begin to burn; Zena’s jaw has dropped. Fortunately, Mel steps in, making a big fuss over my new hairdo and then whisks me off to the reception desk. I do my usual writerly scrawl just inside the front cover of the book lying on the counter while raising a smile and trying to look composed.

It isn’t until we’re out through the doors and walking down the corridor to find the nail technician that I feel I can finally breathe. I stop to catch my reflection in a glass panel and swish my hair from side to side.

‘You look gorgeous, Brie. On fleek, even!’

She looks at me with a big smile on her face.

‘I don’t feel like me. I look my age; I look like I’m ready to party.’

‘Well, after some new nails and a relaxing massage you will be. Tomorrow we hit the gym and I’ve booked us a session with a personal trainer. Tonight, we are dining in the spa’s acclaimed Nature’s Best restaurant. Nude food is the theme, as nature intended. They’ve stripped everything away and it’s all about the quality of the produce and keeping it simple.’

‘You have to let me pay for this, Mel. It’s way too much. Just the fact that you’ve organised all this is more than I deserve. I’ve been a very bad friend, lately.’

I lean in to give her a hug.’

Lucy lives in the Forest of Dean in the UK with her lovely husband and Bengal cat, Ziggy. Her novels have been short-listed in the UK’s Festival of Romance and the eFestival of Words Book Awards. Lucy won the 2013 UK Festival of Romance: Innovation in Romantic Fiction award. Twitter Facebook

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Romantic Comedy

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm – Julie Houston -Guest Post -Extract- 5* #Review- @Aria_Fiction @JulieHouston2

Charlie Maddison loves being an architect in London, but when she finds out her boyfriend, Dominic, is actually married, she runs back to the beautiful countryside of Westenbury and her parents.

Charlie’s sister Daisy, a landscape gardener, is also back home in desperate need of company and some fun. Their great-grandmother, Madge – now in her early nineties – reveals she has a house, Holly Close Farm, mysteriously abandoned over sixty years ago, and persuades the girls to project manage its renovation.

As work gets underway, the sisters start uncovering their family’s history, and the dark secrets that are hidden at the Farm.

 A heart-breaking tale of wartime romance, jealousy and betrayal slowly emerge, but with a moral at its end: true love can withstand any obstacle, and, before long, Charlie dares to believe in love again too…

Buy links:

Amazon UK

Kobo

iBooks

Google Play

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

My Thoughts…

Romantic love is often considered something you can only have when you’re young. Can you imagine your grandmother or great-grandmother falling in love, or do you just see the wrinkles, hear the repetitive stories and remember her forgetfulness?

Charlie reeling from a romantic betrayal finds that her great-grandmother Madge has kept so many secrets in her long life, including finding her true love, and the web of betrayal, deceit and secrets that this event spun.

Madge offers Charlie and her sister Daisy a chance to shine when they seem to be failing at life. Accepting the challenge takes the sisters on a journey of self -discovery and the revelation of Madge’s colourful past.

Told in dual timelines, which makes the story doubly interesting, you see parallels and differences between the two generations of women. There is a lovely balance of humour and poignancy. The romance is sweet and the story inspiring.

Literary agents – do writers today need one? – Guest Post-Julie Houston

When I started out on the long – and often winding – road to becoming a published writer, I’d no idea what the role of a literary agent actually was, never mind about how to go about getting one. I just knew that, according to all the self-help handbooks that I bought and loaned from the public library, I had to have one. This was about seven years ago when it was drummed into all new writers that agents were akin to St Peter at the gates of heaven. They held the key to whether you were going to be allowed in to get anywhere near the God-like publisher.

I’m not going to go into how one should go about achieving that status of being an ‘agented writer’ – countless detailed words of advice and articles have been written on the subject – but I thought I would share with you my own particular journey.

So, I’d written a book. It started off with the title ‘Harriet Westmoreland does it with class’ (Harriet is a teacher) became ‘Living La Dolce Vite’ (her husband spends a lot of time in Italy) then became ‘Compulsive Granite Disorder’ (Harriet, like me, has a bit of a compulsion for cleaning her granite when stressed) and eventually ended up as ‘Goodness Grace and Me.’ The manuscript went off to a string of agents. And came back. In those days, agents would often write little notes as to what they thought, and why it wasn’t for them, along with the rejection slip. I may be wrong, but these days, when online submissions to agents are de rigueur, I’m not sure that happens any more. And then came the glorious, magical week when, like a number 9 bus, three agents, all interested in my book, came along at once.

One, based in London, was originally from Yorkshire and was up for the weekend to see her mum. Could we meet? We most certainly could! And we did, the following Saturday, for coffee and a chat at Salts Mill near Bingley. By the time I left, floating back to the carpark on air, I had signed on the dotted line with Anne Williams of KHLA Literary Agency based in Bristol and London.  I had an agent, a literary agent.

She did warn me that my particular genre – we both disliked and eschewed the handle Chick lit, preferring the more grown-up Romantic Comedy/Women’s Fiction – was not faring too well at that point in time, being overshadowed by the rush for psychological thrillers, and had even printed out an article from The Guardian to that effect.

The beauty of having Anne has an agent has been that she was formerly a commissioning editor for one of the big publishing houses. She had, in effect, been on the other side as it were and, as such, very much knew what editors were looking for and the pitfalls involved in getting there. Within a few weeks, my baby had come back to me tracked in red and, once I’d worked out how tracking actually worked (terrifying to begin with when you’re convinced you’re going to lose all that red work and have to admit it to this new agent) and taken my first tentative steps to adding my own tracking in a garish purple alongside hers, we were on our way.

My agent worked tirelessly to get Goodness, Grace and Me a place with a major publishing house. I was astonished at how few there actually were – this was at the time when even Penguin was amalgamating with Random House – and eventually we made the decision to go it alone. It was a good decision: the book went to #1 in Humour and #64 overall. With the follow-up novels, The One Saving Grace, Looking For Lucy and An Off-Piste Christmas we signed up with White Glove, a publishing division of Amazon for agented-only authors, which would not have been available to me without her. This was a great move: White Glove promoted my books, particularly in Australia, where the first two achieved #1 Humour, and Looking For Lucy went to the top of the charts going to #1 overall.

And then came the offer from Aria. I wrote A Village Affair and Anne brokered a three-book deal with Sarah, one of the lovely commissioning editors at Aria, to include Coming Home to Holly Close Farm and, my work in progress, Sing Me a Secret. While Aria do take un-agented submissions, having my agent at my side along the way has been wonderful. She’s a professional, knows all about contracts and the like and still works with me, tirelessly, with that damned red tracking, telling me off if I’ve written something that might come back to bite me, but also giving praise if something particularly meets with her approval.

Perhaps the best thing about my agent is that, after seven years, I consider her a friend. She’ll meet up with me for coffee or lunch when I’m down in London, has been over for supper at my house when she’s been back in Yorkshire and always gets back to me straight away if I email with some thorny question about publication or needing advice about where my work in progress is heading.

Many, many, successful, published authors go it alone without an agent What I would say is, if you do find an agent interested in working with you and offer to take you on to their books, go for it.

The road to publication is so much more comfortable with that agent by your side to hold your hand and share in your success.

Extract

‘Auntie Madge?’

Granny peered closely at the woman, scrutinising her features for clues as to who she might be.

‘I’m sorry…?’

‘It’s Harriet,’ the woman smiled a little nervously. ‘Lydia’s granddaughter.’

‘My Lydia? My sister, Lydia?’ Madge seemed puzzled.

‘Oh,’ Mum said. ‘You’re Keturah’s daughter?’ She turned to Madge. ‘It’s one of Keturah’s daughters, Granny. You know. Gosh, Harriet, I’ve not seen you for years.’ She paused. ‘It must have been at Aunt Lydia’s funeral, what, ten years ago?’

Daisy and I exchanged looks. Blimey, how many more grannies and aunties were there? They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork at an amazing rate. I was totally lost as to who they all were.

‘Lydia’s been dead twelve years now,’ Harriet said, reaching for the bundle of baby from the younger woman as it began to make snuffling noises.

‘My great-aunt Lydia was your Granny Madge’s older sister,’ Mum explained, pulling up a chair for Harriet and the baby. ‘She was quite a bit older than you wasn’t she, Granny?’

‘Oh, yes, much older. There were five of us: Lydia was the eldest and I was the youngest. There was a good twelve years between us. By the time I was eight or nine, Lydia was newly married and living over towards Colnefirth.’

‘I’m trying to work out how we’re all related,’ I said, smiling at the younger woman, who was looking as perplexed as I felt.

‘Oh, sorry, how rude of me.’ Harriet laughed. ‘This is my daughter, Liberty… Libby.’

‘So, you girls and Liberty must be eighth cousins loads of times removed then. Sorry, can’t work it all out,’ Mum smiled. ‘I was never very good at maths.’

‘We’re vaguely related. Probably best if we leave it at that.’ Liberty grinned at Daisy and Me. ‘Oh, and this is Lysander.’ She took the baby back from her mother and pointed him proudly in our direction.

‘Lysander? Golly, that’s a good strong noble name,’ I said. ‘What’s that song we used to sing at school? Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules; Of Hector and Lysander diddle um tum diddle iddle um…Sorry, can’t remember the rest.’

‘“The British Grenadiers”,’ Granny Madge tutted crossly before launching loudly and tunefully into song: ‘But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare, With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadier.’

The old chap who, up until then, had been nodding peacefully in his armchair in the far corner of the residents’ lounge, suddenly shot out of his chair, saluted Granny, shouted, ‘Damn good soldiers. Bless ’em all,’ and then, just as suddenly, sat back down and began to snore loudly.

‘Silly old fool,’ Granny Madge tutted again. ‘I tell you, they’re all mad in here. I need to get out before I become as crackers as they are. I’m sure it must be catching.’

Julie Houston is the author of THE ONE SAVING GRACE, GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME and LOOKING FOR LUCY, a Kindle top 100 general bestsellers and a Kindle #1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate. Twitter Facebook

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Thriller

Mummy’s Favourite 5* #Review -Sarah Flint- Guest Post – Extract @SarahFlint19 @Aria_Fiction

He’s watching… He’s waiting… Who’s next?

Buried in a woodland grave are a mother and her child. One is alive. One is dead. DC ‘Charlie’ Stafford is assigned by her boss, DI Geoffrey Hunter to assist with the missing person investigation, where mothers and children are being snatched in broad daylight.

As more pairs go missing, the pressure mounts. Leads are going cold. Suspects are identified but have they got the right person? Can Charlie stop the sadistic killer whose only wish is to punish those deemed to have committed a wrong? Or will she herself unwittingly become a victim. like stories that keep you on the edge of your seat then this is for you’ ‘Kept me guessing right up to the end’

Paperback:

Amazon UK
Blackwells

eBook

Kobo

Google Play

iBooks

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

My Thoughts…

This is a powerful crime based thriller with a likeable female detective, and an authentic setting and details. The story features some unpalatable scenes, which I did not enjoy reading. They are however essential to the progression of the characters and the plot but be warned this is not an easy book to read.

The detail and the plot are well- written and the pacing fast and suspenseful. There are many criminals at work and a multitude of crimes for DC Charlie Stafford and her colleagues to solve. The characters are realistic, although as you would expect in this type of story not always likeable. The plot is well thought out and believable and it’s difficult to solve the crimes.

A suspenseful, menacing crime thriller with authentic police procedures and believable characters and plot, worth reading.

Guest Post – Sarah Flint:- The Power of Paperbacks

  As a child, one of my favourite trips was to the local library in Carshalton. It’s only a small village library and I was allowed to walk there alone from quite a young age. I would regularly take out my maximum four books to be read avidly in my allotted time. The children’s library was always fun and noisy with regular clubs and other activities – but the adult library was almost completely silent – and it was with wonderment and reverence that I was occasionally allowed to enter.

It opened up a whole new world to me, a world that looked, sounded and smelt different; one where adults would glide silently between rows of colourful, well-thumbed books, that in turn opened up the world to them.

It is a sphere that children still love to inhabit, if we, as adults give them the chance.

Physical books are visual, inviting, and appeal to the senses. If they are placed in shop windows, or at the entrance to transport hubs, you cannot help being drawn to them, wondering whether they can transport you to a place far away from the mundane.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kindle too, but there can be nothing better than curling up on a sofa with a glass of wine – or in bed with a mug of hot chocolate, or, even better, on a sun-lounger with a cocktail in hand – and starting to read the opening sentences of a new book.  The initial pages are turned rapidly, slowing slightly as the story ebbs and flows until the chunk of pages on the right-hand side grows thinner and thinner and the speed at which it disappears hastens to a sprint finish. When that final line is read and the covers of the book snap shut, the satisfaction is palpable. The book moves on, into the hands of the next person, on to the shelves of a hotel, a charity shop, a second-hand book shop. I’ve even seen old telephone kiosks decked out as ‘bring and borrow’ libraries.

It is hugely gratifying and addictive to hear about a great read and then actually have the means in your hands to share in its contents.

Technology is fantastic and has opened the doors, particularly for the younger generation, to so many different experiences – but nostalgia is still alive and kicking. People still love the feel of a book in their hands, the sight of a classic car trundling down the road, the crackling melody of an old 78 rpm record revolving on a deck.

I am a child of the 60s. I have watched the world change and develop beyond belief in the last fifty years and I embrace technology because it is the way forward, but sometimes it does feel a little insular. So many people are glued to their mini screens these days that communication becomes impossible. The back of a Kindle or laptop gives no insight into the world within it, whereas the cover of a book entices people to enter and devour its contents.

 I will never forget the sight of my sister’s paperback on the shelf of my local supermarket; how excited I was to see a customer pick it up! I wanted to shout out loud that my very own sister had written it. It was exactly the motivation I needed to try writing myself, and I have never looked back.  I love eBooks because they are so accessible, transferrable and straightforward, but my dream has always been to get on to a train or a bus, enter a cafe or station and see somebody reading one of my books. That is why it means so much to me, to be published in paperback.

With any luck, that wish might soon be granted!

dav

Extract

Judging by the latest development, maybe it hadn’t been going as well as he’d claimed.

Charlie checked which member of the office had dealt with the family. It was Colin. His desk was the other side of the room to hers. She got up to speak to him. He was the straight, white, middle-aged male member of their team, similar in age to Bet but as opposite, in every other way as was possible. He was divorced and now single, with barely any access to his two children, who had been taken off to Ireland by a vindictive ex-wife years ago. Thin, tight-lipped and sad, he had a dry sense of humour and made it his business to look after the rights of all fathers and their children. He worked tirelessly with social services, going above and beyond what was normally required to ensure each child could know both parents. Charlie fully expected to see him on TV one day, dressed up as Superman swinging from Big Ben. What he didn’t know about family law was not worth knowing.

He was poring over his computer screen, his face serious.

‘Colin, have you got a minute?’

He looked up and nodded.

‘Do you remember dealing with a family called the Hubbards? Quite recently?’

He leant back frowning, before rubbing his chin with thin fingers.

‘Yes, I do. It was a couple of months ago.’ He scratched his chin again. ‘If I remember rightly, Julie Hubbard, the wife, had her wrist broken by her husband. She said she’d tripped and broken it in a fall but then refused to co-operate any further. One of their sons, Richard, said that his father had done it.’

‘I think I know who I’d believe.’

He shrugged. ‘Everyone thought the same, but what can you do? Richard phoned the police each time. He wanted to give evidence but Julie refused to let him and he did everything his mother asked. With just the one juvenile son as a possible witness, it was pretty much impossible to prove. Why do you ask?’

Charlie thought about what Colin had just said. For a young boy, Richard had certainly been brave, going up against his dad like that. The kid was protecting his mother in whatever way he could. Maybe Keith had started bullying him too because he resented the way he defended his mum. Maybe that was why Julie left and had only taken him. Ryan was certainly less vocal. Maybe Ryan was safe and she’d only had the time and resources to take one? There were too many maybes.

‘Because Julie and Richard Hubbard are the mother and son that have gone missing.’

Colin frowned and shook his head.

‘Really? Though I have to say I’m not surprised. I always thought there was something strange going on. The boy would plead with his mum to leave his father, but she just wouldn’t; it was as if she had another agenda. On the last occasion I saw them, Richard was literally begging her to leave Keith, but she whispered something to him that I couldn’t hear and he shut up straight away and seemed happier. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’d been waiting until the time was right.’

‘But why not take the other son, Ryan, too?’

‘He kept out of it really. Didn’t want to get involved. I think he sided with his father a bit more.’

‘So did he have a good relationship with Keith then?’

‘He probably had to because he didn’t have as close a relationship with his mother as Richard did.’

‘So what would be your gut feeling? Do you think Keith Hubbard could be responsible for Julie and Richard’s disappearance?’

Colin pursed his lips and looked straight up at Charlie.

‘I wouldn’t like to say. He is a nasty bastard and could easily have done something, but you know what some women are like. It wouldn’t surprise me if Julie Hubbard hadn’t been planning this all along.’

With a Metropolitan Police career spanning 35 years, Sarah has spent her adulthood surrounded by victims, criminals and police officers. She continues to work and lives in London with her partner and has three older daughters.

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