Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Family Drama, Gangland Crime, Guest post, Thriller

Born Bad -Heather Burnside – 4* #Review #BlogTour @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books @heatherbwriter #crime #thriller #paperback

Brother and sister Peter and Adele Robinson never stood a chance. Dragged up by an alcoholic, violent father, and a weak, beaten mother, their childhood in Manchester only prepared them for a life of crime and struggle. But Adele is determined to break the mould. She studies hard at school and, inspired by her beloved grandmother Joyce, she finally makes a successful life for herself on her own.

Peter is not so lucky. Getting more and more immersed in the murky world of crime and gangs, his close bonds with Adele gradually loosen until they look set to break altogether.

But old habits die hard, and one devastating night, Adele is forced to confront her violent past. Dragged back into her worst nightmares, there’s only one person she can turn to when her life is on the line – her brother Peter. After all, blood is thicker than water…

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


My Thoughts…

Born Bad’ is the first book in the ‘Manchester Trilogy’ series, a gritty gangland crime story set in Manchester. I have read this book after reading the other two later books, and so I knew what to expect. It was good to meet Adele and Peter in the early stages of their life, the abuse and lack of care they receive make the people they become in later life.

It’s interesting that different personalities react in diverse ways to their nurturing, or lack of it and the events in this book pave the way for the further books in the series with some surprising twists.

This is a harrowing story. Domestic abuse, neglect and violence are prominent, this is hard to read, but an essential component of this genre. The story is good and well-paced. The characters are complex, flawed and realistic.

If you are looking for a British based, organised crime series, focused on the family, this is a book and series worth reading.

Guest Post – Heather Burnside

One of the themes that feature in Born Bad is mental health. The topic of nature vs nurture interests me and I, therefore, decided to reflect this in the book. Currently, there is a lot of focus in the media on looking after our mental health so I thought it would be an opportune time to explore this issue in Born Bad.

My protagonist, Adele, is affected by mental health in many ways. To start with we hear Adele’s grandmother, Joyce, talking about Adele’s father, Tommy’s, side of the family and their mental health issues. She tells Adele’s mother that Tommy comes from bad blood (hence the title Born Bad) and that he had a mad great-uncle who was always fighting and who ended up in an asylum.

Joyce also worries that Adele’s brother, Peter, might take after Tommy’s side of the family. Joyce is quite insensitive when she refers to the issue of mental health but, when you bear in mind that this was the seventies, her view was typical at that time. Fortunately, the perception of mental health issues has changed a lot since then.

Adele and Peter have a very traumatic childhood and, as the novel progresses, they both behave in a way that wouldn’t be considered normal or rational. Peter’s odd behaviour is first displayed when he is lining up caterpillars and thrashing them with a whip, taking great delight in seeing their damaged bodies.

As he gets older Peter becomes involved in criminal activities in which he doesn’t appear to have a conscience where his victims are concerned. Is this because of his troubled upbringing, because of genetic mental health issues or perhaps a combination of the two?

Adele, on the other hand, does have a conscience and she tries to do the right thing but she is affected by forces that seem to be beyond her control. Again, she could have been driven by an inherent condition or she could be so severely affected by her troubled childhood that she reaches breaking point. Research has shown that both genetics and upbringing can affect a person’s mental health.

Adele’s mother, Shirley, also has her own problems and relies on a diet of pills to get her through each day. However, rather than being seen as a hereditary illness, her mental health issues stem from the stress of being married to a drunken, violent and unfeeling man. Adele sees her as weak but, like her grandmother, her point of view could be the result of poor awareness in the 1970s regarding mental health issues.

Mental health covers a wide spectrum of illnesses with varying levels of severity. The UK mental health charity, Mind, estimates that one in four people in the UK each year experiences a mental health problem. Anxiety and depression are amongst the most common mental health conditions, and while some of these conditions are manageable, they also vary in severity. There are some very serious and debilitating mental health conditions too which can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.

I think we have come a long way in highlighting mental health issues and breaking down the taboos which have previously surrounded the subject. However, we still have some way to go both in educating people about mental health and in providing greater levels of care to those affected.

Extract From Born Bad – Heather Burnside

Oblivious to Deborah’s agonised screams, Adele continued to kick as rage overtook her. It was only the sight of the dinner lady running towards her that brought her to her senses.

Now, as she thought about the incident, she felt remorseful. If only Debby hadn’t decided to do something so daft. If only she could have persuaded her to stop without losing her temper. But Debby hadn’t stopped. She shouted at her a few times, and she still didn’t stop. That’s what she would say in her defence. She had to pull her legs away; it was her only chance.

But did she have to kick her?

Adele was feeling desperate. Oh God, it’s no good, she thought, I’m gonna be in trouble no matter what.

She thought about what her father’s reaction would be if he found out. She dreaded that even more than she dreaded being summoned to see the head teacher.

The sound of the bell interrupted her thoughts. It was the end of the lunch period and Adele entered the school building in a state of trepidation, to the sound of taunting.

‘You’re gonna be in trouble, Adele Robinson, for what you did to Debby.’

‘Yeah,’ added another girl, ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes is gonna get done, haha.’

When Mr Parry announced that she and Debby were to see the head teacher straightaway, Adele felt her stomach sink.

Mr Parry led the two girls down the long corridor towards the head teacher’s office and told them to wait outside while he knocked on the door. After he had been inside for a few minutes, he came back out and asked Debby to go inside. He then lowered his eyes towards Adele and told her to wait there until she was called for. She noticed the look of disappointment on his face and felt ashamed. Then, with nothing further to say, he left her standing outside the head teacher’s office, trembling with fear.

After what seemed like an endless wait, Debby came out of the office and looked away from Adele as she walked past her.

‘Next!’ shouted Miss Marchant.

Adele was already in tears by the time she entered the office and presented herself at the other side of the head teacher’s large desk.

‘Now then, what have you been up to?’ asked Miss Marchant.

‘I… I… I didn’t mean it,’ muttered Adele.

‘Didn’t mean what? And for heaven’s sake, speak up, young lady.’

‘I didn’t mean to hurt Debby,’ Adele sobbed.

‘Well, from what I’ve been told, you’ve got a bit of a temper, haven’t you young lady?’

Adele, by now very tearful, nodded in response.

‘I can’t hear you!’ thundered Miss Marchant.

‘Yes,’ Adele replied.

‘Yes, what?’

‘Yes, Miss Marchant.’

Adele was so worked up that she thought she would vomit at any minute. To her surprise, just when she reached the point where she felt she might faint, the head teacher seemed to relent.

‘Well, Miss Robinson, although I don’t condone your behaviour in the playground, I have received glowing reports from your class teacher. So, I’m going to let the matter rest on this occasion. However, I would suggest that in future you keep that temper of yours well under wraps.’

‘Yes Miss,’ answered Adele.

‘You may go.’

Adele quickly made for the door, feeling a mixture of relief and shame, but before she could get to the other side, she was stopped by Miss Marchant’s stern tones.

‘And if I ever hear of any repeat of this behaviour, you will be punished severely!’

‘Yes Miss,’ Adele replied as she dashed from the office.

Anxious to be away from the head teacher’s office as soon as possible, Adele rushed down the corridor and into her classroom.

Mr Parry raised his eyes from the papers on his desk and abruptly ordered Adele to sit down in the vacant seat next to Tony Lord, who had a reputation for being the best fighter in the school.

As Adele felt everyone’s eyes on her, a tear escaped from her eye. She was greeted by a barrage of questions from the other children sitting at the table. Adele’s feelings of guilt and shame made her shy away from their questions, even though she could tell they were impressed that she’d beaten Debby up.

‘Why are you crying if you won the fight?’ asked Tony, puzzled.

‘Don’t know,’ muttered Adele, dipping her head.

Read my reviews of Blood Ties and Vendetta, the other books in the series.

Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels. After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children. Twitter Facebook

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Guest post, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Mystery, Saga

The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes -5* #Review @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction @alrenehughes #BlogTour #Paperback #Wartime #Romance #WW2 #Manchester #Mystery #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalRomance

In wartime, it takes courage to follow your heart.

Manchester, 1939.

Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie, the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.

Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss’s charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.

But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.

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Guest Post – WHY I WRITE WWII NOVELS – Alrene Hughes

I think it was inevitable. If I was going to write a novel, then I would write about the second world war. For a start, my mother, aunts and grandmother had lived through the hardships and dangers of that time. The war had ended only seven years before I was born and, growing up, I somehow absorbed their memories second-hand.

My home city of Belfast in Northern Ireland – an industrial city of shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture and heavy engineering – was crucial to the war effort. Needless to say, it was heavily bombed. Later, when the USA entered the war, it was to Northern Ireland that the GIs came to train before being deployed overseas.

As a child, I knew the gaps between the buildings were bomb sites. Once on a bus going into the city centre with my mother, she pointed out a street where she had seen the dead bodies laid out on the pavement on her way to work after an overnight bombing. But she had happy memories too of her time as a factory girl building Stirling bombers. As a housewife after the war, I remember she wore her factory clothes, trousers and a turban, to clean the house. But the biggest influence in my post-war childhood was the music. 

My mother and aunts had been popular singers, in the style of the Andrews Sisters, and throughout the war, they entertained in the concert and dance halls, as well as the military camps. After my mother died, I found an old scrapbook among her possessions. It contained many concert programmes listing the acts and the Golden Sisters, as they were known, often had the titles of songs they sang next to their billing: Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree; Chattanooga Choo Choo … And then there were all the photos.

I just had to tell their wartime story. The personalities of my mother, aunts and grandmother were etched in my brain, the snippets of wartime memories had been passed on to me and I had the scrapbook. Add to that my research of life in the city and the ideas that flooded my mind and it was enough to turn it into a novel. In the end, their story became a popular WWII family saga, the Martha’s Girls trilogy.

Now I’ve written WWII novels set in Manchester, the city where I’ve lived most of my adult life. It’s a lot like Belfast in some ways: the heavy bombings; the industry; the no-nonsense, resilient people. The women in my new novels The Girl in the Pink Raincoat and The Girl from the Corner Shop, face tragedy and danger, experience love and loss but, throughout, their courage shines through.  

ARC – Paperback- Back Cover

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

My Thoughts…

Gracie is an endearing character, young, naive, but optimistic and full of life, with a smile never far from her face. It is this bubbliness that attracts Jacob, even though he realises that any relationship between them would be fraught with conflict.

The setting and era of this story are vividly portrayed, you can imagine the raincoat factory, the bombsites and the people, as they try to live their lives during wartime. Anyone who has listened to their grandparents and parents stories about ‘the war’, will recognise familiar concepts, and it is this relatability that makes the story so powerful.

The plot is well constructed, with a mystery and romance. The prejudice rife at the time is evident and is an important theme. Wartime romance with a twist. Family drama, strong friendships and a menacing undercurrent of betrayal and obsession, something for everyone in this wartime tale.

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Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time. Facebook

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Extract – The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes

Gracie awoke to the sound of crying, and it was a moment before she realised it was coming through the paper-thin walls of the house next door. Then she remembered it was Friday morning and still Doris had not come to terms with her children being evacuated. She lay for a while, watching a shaft of sunlight coming through the gap in the curtains, and when the crying was replaced by the squeals and laughter of excited children, she got up.

By the time the children were ready to walk to school, a crowd had gathered in the street to see them off. Gracie and Sarah stood next to Doris as she held back her tears, hugged her two little girls and told them to be good and to write every week. An older boy, John Harris, took charge and it was clear that the evacuees had been drilled for this moment. At his command, they left their mothers and lined up like little soldiers, with their gas masks and belongings, each with a brown luggage label fastened to their coat. Gracie scanned their faces: some were filled with excitement, others apprehensive; and little Gladys Clark, with no mother to see her off, was sobbing her heart out.

John raised his hand and all eyes turned to him. ‘One … two … three!’ he shouted, and what happened next made the hair stand up on the back of Gracie’s neck – the children began to sing.

‘Farewell to Manchester we’re leaving today,

We need a safe place where we can stay,

Away from the bombs that fall on our heads,

Where we’ll sleep soundly and safe in our beds.’

Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Excerpt, Family Drama, Gangland Crime, Historical Crime Fiction, saga

Trickster -Sam Michaels – 4* #Review #Author #Interview @Aria_Fiction @SamMichaelsGG #BlogTour #Extract #Historical #Crime #Fiction #Saga

To be ruthless is to be powerful, at least it is on the Battersea streets…

Georgina Garrett was born to be ruthless and she’s about to earn her reputation.

As World War One is announced a baby girl is born. Little do people know that she’s going to grow up to rule the streets of Battersea. From a family steeped in poverty the only way to survive is with street smarts.

With a father who steals for a living, a grandmother who’s a woman of the night and a mother long dead, Georgina was never in for an easy life. But after a tragic event left her father shaken he makes a decision that will change the course of all their lives – to raise Georgina as George, ensuring her safety but marking the start of her life of crime…

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

My Thoughts…

Set in the early 20th-century ‘Trickster’ follows the fortunes of Georgina Garrett from her birth in 1914 when England declared war on Germany. Georgina knows tragedy from her first breath, she is no stranger to loss and falls foul of the depravity she is born into, despite the love and protection of her family.

This historical crime saga is characterised by well-researched historical detail, which brings the story to life. It’s easy to imagine the poverty, depravity and violence of the London slums. The writing is full of vivid imagery and dialogue which gives it an authentic feel.

The characters are believable and even though many of them are criminals, they are easy to empathise. Many are victims of circumstance, they commit crimes and act violently to survive. The strong family bond essential for gangland crime fiction is evident in this story, and it is this that makes it such an absorbing read.

The abuse, language and violence are graphic, but not gratuitous. They make this story an authentic reading experience, but there will be times when you will cringe or want to look away.

The plot is well- written and has many twists, that shape Georgina Garrett and her future self. The underlying theme of the story is based on a misnomer, which gives this story a refreshing uniqueness. This is an accomplished debut story and I look forward to reading book two.

Q&A with Sam Michaels – TricksterI

Sagas are popular in romantic fiction, but your story is a crime-based saga, what inspired you to write this? Are all the stories historically based?

I’ve always enjoyed sagas, been interested in early 20th- century history and fascinated with the criminal underworld. So, it made sense for me to combine the three, hence, Trickster was born. It’s been a good outlet for my ghastly imagination!

The stories in the Georgina Garrett series of books are historically based, though as they progress, the last one will end in the ’60s and ’70s.

When you write, what comes first, the characters, the plot or the setting? Why do you think this is?

My main character always comes first, along with a small scenario which sets the scene for the rest of the book. I think the character comes first as I believe this is the most important part of the story. Good, strong characters make good stories!

 Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mix of both? How do you make your characters realistic?

My characters are mostly from my imagination although I do bring in aspects of real-life people I know. To make them realistic, I find myself acting out each character’s point of view – their voices, facial expressions and sometimes even their body movements. Obviously, I do all this in my head as I don’t want my husband to think I’m a lunatic!

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I’m a fan of true stories, especially tales of triumph over hardship or really gory crime. I’ve recently discovered Bill Bryson books which are not my normal ilk but I’m finding them very amusing and interesting.

 When did you start writing? What’s the best thing about being a writer and the worst?

I’ve been writing for the past few years since I moved from the UK to Spain. The best thing about being a writer is knowing that your work is bringing pleasure to someone, and that could be anywhere in the world. The worst thing is being sat indoors in front of my computer when the sun is shining outside.

What are you currently writing?

I’m nearing the end of writing the first draft of the next book in the Georgina Garrett series. It’s been wonderful to dip back into the first book and bring out some of the lesser characters and give them a more prominent role in this story.

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Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel.

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Extract from Trickster – Book 1 – Georgina Garrett series – Sam Michaels

‘I dunno what to do, Mum. She needs a feed…’

Dulcie chewed her lower lip as her mind turned but then struck by an idea she said, ‘Don’t worry, Jack, I know someone who might be able to help. There’s a jug of ale in the kitchen. Go and pour yourself a glass. I’ll be back as soon as I can.’

Dulcie left her house and hurried along the narrow street with the wailing baby in her arms. She could ill afford to feed Percy and herself, let alone this poor little mite, and a wet nurse didn’t come cheap. However, if her idea panned out, she wouldn’t have to part with a penny.

Fifteen minutes later Dulcie was in the roughest part of town. This was an area where no person of good virtue would dare to frequent. Women hung out of windows with their bosoms on display, vying for business, while others were drunk, vomiting openly in the filthy streets. In a dark corner behind a cart, Dulcie glimpsed a woman bent over with her skirt up, a punter behind her, trousers round his ankles as he pounded hard for his pleasure.

This wasn’t the sort of place where Dulcie felt comfortable carrying a small baby. She held her granddaughter protectively close to her and tried to muffle the child’s screams in the hope of avoiding any unwanted attention.

The sun was still high in the sky. Dulcie was grateful, as she would have been worried if it had been dark. A short, skinny man with bare feet and a bent back walked towards her. His leering eyes unnerved Dulcie and she could see he was trying to peer at the child she held. He stood ominously in front of her, blocking her path. If she hadn’t had been carrying Georgina, she wouldn’t have given a second thought to kneeing him in the crotch.

With an evil sneer, he licked his lips, nodded towards the baby and then asked, ‘How much?’

‘This child is not for sale,’ Dulcie said firmly, then sidestepped the man and marched on. It was no secret that in these streets, any desire could be bought for the right price, but it turned Dulcie’s stomach. It wasn’t unusual for a prostitute to fall with an unwanted pregnancy, then sell the child on, no questions asked. Dulcie didn’t believe it was something any woman wanted to do, but the desperation of poverty forced them into it. Gawd knows where those helpless babies ended up, or what they went through, Dulcie thought and shuddered. She reckoned the women would be better off killing their babies – something she suspected her friend Ruby had recently resorted to.

She had seen many young women turn to drugs or booze to numb the pain and block out the memories of what they’d done. Some went out of their minds and ended up in institutions, a fate worse than death, and it was something she didn’t want to see happen to Ruby. The girl was only sixteen, with bright ginger hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Her fair skin was the colour of porcelain, so when she’d turned up on the streets one day her purple and yellow bruises had really stood out.

Dulcie had taken her under her wing and learned that Ruby was homeless after running away from her abusive father. Her mother had died when Ruby was seven, and her father had forced her into his bed to fulfil the role of his wife. When he’d filled her belly with a child, he’d beaten her until she miscarried, then thrown her out to fend for herself.

Dulcie did her best to protect the girl and would steer her away from the customers she knew had a liking for wanting to rough up the women, but it hadn’t been long before she’d noticed that Ruby was trying to hide a growing bump in her stomach. She’d had a quiet word with her and found that Ruby was distraught, fearing her secret would be discovered and she’d be sent to the workhouse. Dulcie felt sorry for the girl but, struggling herself to make enough money to live on, she could only offer a shoulder to cry on.

Less than a week ago and well into her pregnancy, Ruby disappeared, but then she’d turned up again two days ago, her stomach flat. She refused to discuss the fate of the baby, but Dulcie noticed her demeanour had changed. Where once she’d been a chatty young woman with a wicked sense of humour, she was now mostly silent, her eyes veiled in a darkness that Dulcie couldn’t penetrate.

Ruby lived in the basement of a shared house at the end of the street. It was decrepit, with the roof caved in and the stairs to the upper level broken. Dulcie thought the whole house looked unsound and had never been inside, but she had to speak to Ruby and hoped to find her in. She took a deep breath and braced herself for what she may find, then slowly walked down the stairs that led to the basement door. It was open, so with trepidation, she stepped inside.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Guest post, Holiday Romance, Romantic Comedy

Wedding Bells at Villa Limoncello – Daisy James @canelo_co @daisyjamesbooks #BlogTour #4*#Review #GuestPost #RomCom #MondayBlogs#TuscanTrilogy

When Isabella Jenkins is unceremoniously fired from her fancy London job, she escapes to Tuscany. A few weeks hiding amongst rolling hills and grape vines at Villa Limoncello sounds exactly like the distraction she needs.

But Italy holds emotional memories for Izzy and with a hapless handyman, a matchmaking village matriarch and a gorgeous – if infuriating – local chef named Luca Castelotti, her quiet Italian getaway turns into an unending cacophony of chaos.

Suddenly Izzie finds herself on a mission to pull off the wedding of the century and maybe get her life in order in the process. If only Luca’s gorgeous smile wasn’t such a powerful distraction…

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Guest Post -Daisy James-Wedding Bells at Villa Limoncello

First of all, a huge thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. It’s great to be here to tell you about my brand-new book Wedding Bells at Villa Limoncello.

Anyone who has read one of my books will know that I love writing stories with a strong sense of place and Villa Limoncello series is no exception. I spent an amazing few days in Tuscany last year and loved it so much I just knew I had to write a story that was set there.

I had a fabulous time researching the area around Florence; the art, the history, the culture, the traditions, the scenic towns and villages, the vineyards, but mainly the cuisine! Italy is famous for its fabulous pizzas and pasta dishes, and its amazing wine – think prosecco and Chianti – but it’s also well-known for its delicious desserts from tiramisu to cannoli, from panforte to the many flavours of gelato – blue cheese and walnut flavour anyone?

In Wedding bells at Villa Limoncello, Izzie is asked to organise a film shoot at a care-worn villa in the Tuscan hills where she meets Luca who is a chef at the local trattoria. This gave me the chance to investigate the recipes particular to the area, as well as the passion with which Italians approach every aspect of their food – after all, Italy is where the ‘slow-food’ movement started as a reaction to the creeping invasion of ‘fast food’. I even read about one family who hadn’t spoken to their neighbours for twenty years because they put parsley in their minestrone – there’s passion for you!

As Luca bakes up a storm in the story, I couldn’t include a culinary scene without having taste-tested the recipes myself, so I set about having a go at some of the many desserts that Italy, and especially Tuscany, is famous for. My attempt at ice cream – apricot and amaretto flavour with crushed biscotti went down very well even though it didn’t set properly. I then moved on the baking a batch of ricciarelli which are oval-shaped biscuits made with almonds and dusted in icing sugar – absolutely delicious.

Image Credit –
Daisy James

However, my favourite recipe has to be limoncello tiramisu. It was the perfect dessert for a summer barbeque and I’ve made it many times because it is so easy to make – no baking required!

Here’s Izzie’s recipe:

Izzie’s Limoncello Tiramisu

Ingredients

100g caster sugar

100ml limoncello

Zest & juice of 3 lemons

50ml water

500g mascarpone

500ml double cream

10g icing sugar

100g lemon curd

200g sponge fingers

Method

Place the caster sugar, water and the zest and juice of two lemons into a small pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add half the limoncello and simmer until syrupy. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone until smooth, then add the double cream, the remaining limoncello, the zest and juice of the remaining lemon and the lemon curd and stir together.

Carefully soak the sponge fingers with the syrup and placed in the base of a ceramic dish, or individual glass dessert dishes, then spoon over a generous helping of the cream mixture and repeat, finishing off with a sprinkle of finely grated lemon zest and a dusting of finely grated milk chocolate. Refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours. Serve with home-made limoncello cocktails.

Buon Appetitio!

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

My Thoughts…

A lovely sad heroine, who is unable to come to terms with losing her twin, a cast of authentic Italians and a Summery, vivid setting, combine to make this romcom a must-read summer book.

Izzy is an interior designer, but after the untimely loss of her twin, she is full of guilt, grief and greyness. This reflects in all aspects of her life. When fate intervenes with an opportunity to stage a fake wedding in Tuscany, she decides to live a little and grasp the opportunity to put some colour and zest back in her drab life.

I loved that each chapter began with a little phrase and a colour, it set the scene and chartered Izzy’s moods perfectly. The plot is simple and the pacing gently, both fitting in with a lighthearted, but sometimes poignant romantic comedy, set in a place full of colour and visual imagery.

The balance of comedy and romance is perfect, and the setting is full of sunshine, it makes you feel warmer and happier with every chapter. With the added bonus of lovely food and more complications than you could ever imagine, this book would make a great film.
I look forward to the next in the series of the #TuscanTrilogy.

Daisy James is a Yorkshire girl transplanted to the northeast of England. She loves writing stories with strong heroines and swift-flowing plotlines. When not scribbling away in her summerhouse, she spends her time sifting flour and sprinkling sugar and edible glitter. She loves gossiping with friends over a glass of something pink and fizzy or indulging in a spot of afternoon tea – china plates and teacups are a must.

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

Rachel’s Pudding Pantry – Caroline Roberts – #BlogTour 5* #Review – #AuthorQ&A @_caroroberts@HarperFiction @HarperCollinsUK @fictionpubteam #Puddings #Northumberland #Farming #Sheep #PuddingPantry

Primrose Farm is Rachel’s very own slice of heaven. Come rain or shine there’s always a pot of tea brewing by the Aga, the delicious aroma of freshly baked puddings, and a chorus of happy memories drifting through the kitchen.

But the farm is in a spot of trouble. As the daffodils spring, Rachel must plant the seeds of change if she wants to keep the farm afloat, and it’s all resting on a crazy plan. She’ll need one family cookbook, her Mum Jill’s baking magic – and a reason to avoid her distractingly gorgeous neighbour, Tom . . .

Swapping their wellies for aprons, can Rachel and Jill bake their way into a brighter future? The proof will be in the pudding!

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

My Thoughts…

‘Rachel’s Pudding Pantry’, is a lovely mix of family drama, friendship, romance and humour, with a sprinkling of poignant life experiences that may have you reaching for the tissues.

Not surprisingly, it is full of delicious puddings, as Rachel and her mother strive to find a way of keeping the family farm. There is an empowering, female family dynamic, spanning four generations, which withstands the heartache and tragedy the Swinton women have to face.

The story’s romance grows from an interesting take on the ‘boy next door’ trope. Tom, the attractive farmer at the neighbouring farm is always there to help out, Rachel grew up with him, so he can only ever be a friend, can’t he? The romance is sweet but embroiled in conflict. Is it worth losing their longstanding friendship for a chance of something deeper but riskier?

The Swinton women are easy to like, and all have a strength of character born out of adversity and familial love. They are believable and are written so that you can visualise them and become invested in their future happiness.

The authentic setting in a North Northumberland farming community is another attractive aspect of this book, I love this area and the descriptions and ethos of the community recounted in this story, make it an even more enjoyable read.

Written in addictive, short chapters that get you hooked, each has a title that includes a pudding or cake, which gives the story an added appeal but also makes you reach for the cake tin.

There is a clever connection between the puddings and the emotion of the story. Warm, soft Brownies equating to a warm, empathic friend. Sweet Sticky Toffee Pudding, synonymous with a comforting, conversation with your family.

The perfect holiday read, ‘Rachel’s Pudding Pantry’, delivers a well-paced story about family, friends, loyalty and love, against a background of community, hard work, heartbreak, and heartwarming romance, as the Swinton women learn how to adapt to change, to secure their family legacy.

ARC
Q&A with Caroline Roberts – Rachel’s Pudding Pantry

Is there a specific place or moment that inspired you to create The Pudding Pantry?

I think the initial spark was when I saw an image in a magazine of a lovely stone barn that had been converted into beautiful cottages in Northumberland, and I also knew of tearooms and farm shops that have been created in old farm buildings in the area. I was interested in the idea of diversification in farming, and the need for Rachel and her family to take this step to give Primrose Farm a future. It was lovely to imagine how The Pudding Pantry would look once finished, and what a cosy, welcoming place it would become, full of scrumptious bakes and cakes.

What did you most enjoy about writing this novel (apart from sampling some delicious puddings of course!)?

The romance! How can I not mention the gorgeous next-door farmer, Tom? There is even a rather wonderful, Poldark-style chest-bearing moment that takes Rachel rather by surprise. We see the relationship grow between Rachel and Tom, despite age differences and being farming neighbours, and it’s lovely how that romance unfolds between them, I enjoyed writing that.

Image Credit – Caroline Roberts

And what were some of your absolute favourite puddings that you sampled along the way?

It’s been such hard research, hah, but somebody had to do it!! Sticky toffee pudding is up there as one of my all-time favourites, and I do love a pavlova with summer fruits, the raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake I adapted myself and was very pleased with the result, Susan Green’s Ginger Pudding is a delight, and you obviously can’t beat some gorgeous apple crumble – I like mine with a little warming spice and cream.

Image Credit – Caroline Roberts

We love seeing photos of your gorgeous dog Jarvis on twitter! Does he help or hinder your writing routine?

Hah, at the moment he is still only nine months old, so I have to admit when I need to settle quietly to write at home, he just wants to play and is a bit of hindrance, bless him. But when we are out and about on our walks together, I do get inspired by the landscapes and changing seasons around me. Both Jarvis and my last dog, Meg, who are cocker spaniels, inspire my doggie characters – being Alfie, the spaniel, in the Chocolate Shop books and now Moss, the wonderful border collie, in Rachel’s Pudding Pantry.

Image Credit – Caroline Roberts

And has your writing routine changed over the course of your career?

I’ve had to become more focussed with my writing; having written seven books in four years. So, I have my own writing room – in the small bedroom. I also have a proper chair and desk now, rather than writing in the conservatory or at the kitchen table as my back was beginning to feel it. But I can write anywhere if need be, as I still write my first draft of each scene longhand then type it up later. If inspiration strikes, I can often be found up at 3am jotting down notes or even whole lines of dialogue that just appear in my head in the middle of the night – strange but true!

What would you most like for readers to take away from Rachel’s Pudding Pantry?

I’d like my readers to be able to escape for a while into Rachel’s world, with a heart-warming read that feels like a hug in a book.

Rachel’s Pudding Pantry, like your previous novels, is so joyful and warm. However, it does still tackle some serious issues. How do you balance writing about things like grief without taking away from the uplifting nature of your stories?

I want my books to reflect real life with all its trials and tribulations, which I know can be so very hard at times, so I’m not afraid to explore the impact of grief and loss. However, I am a very optimistic person and I strongly believe in the power of love, family, and friendship, to help us heal and in being kind to ourselves too. That’s where the journey of the story and our lives take us, and I want readers to feel there is always hope.

Back Cover – ARC
Image Credit Caroline Roberts

Caroline Roberts lives in the wonderful Northumberland countryside with her husband and credits the sandy beaches, castles and rolling hills around her as inspiration for her writing. She enjoys writing about relationships; stories of love, loss and family, which explore how beautiful and sometimes complex love can be. A slice of cake, glass of bubbly and a cup of tea would make her day – preferably served with friends! She believes in striving for your dreams, which led her to a publishing deal after many years of writing.

ARC

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Friday Read, Friendship, Romantic Comedy

Suddenly Single – Carol Wyer -4* #Review #BlogTour @canelo_co @carolewyer #RomCom #Extract #SocialAnxietyDisorder #MentalHealth #FridayReads #FridayFeeling

When bestselling romance author Chloe Piper’s marriage implodes a week before Christmas, she flees her cheating ex and the village gossips for the solitude of the newly built Sunny Meadow Farm and the company of her hapless dog, Ronnie.

But Chloe is soon pushed out of her comfort zone. Because with a lively development building crew – headed up by charming Alex – and a larger-than-life neighbour determined to make Chloe’s love life her pet project, Chloe finds herself in a whole new world of chaos…

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Extract From Suddenly Single – Carol Wyer

Faith drained her glass and released a lengthy contented sigh. The log burner was still glowing orange, and shadows danced across the floor where Ronnie now lay asleep.

‘You made the right decision to leave Appletree and start again,’ said Faith, holding onto the stem of her glass and eyeing it as if it might magically refill itself. ‘This house is much nicer than your old one and William’s a complete tosser.’

Chloe didn’t respond. She was mellow thanks to the champagne and reality was replacing the excitement of moving. It felt strange being in a house without the memorabilia she’d been used to having around her – the funny animal sculptures she and William had bought together from a local artist, the teapot collection she’d started, the paintings and photographs on their walls she’d looked at every day for the last ten years. It was gone. The smell of the old place, the familiar creaks she’d become accustomed to: the birds that nested every year under their guttering, the crackle of the fire in their large open fireplace and the way she’d sink into the cushions on their old settee were now memories and she had yet to make new ones to replace them. It would take time. William was also memory now – a bittersweet memory.

‘It won’t last,’ Faith continued, referring to William’s relationship with Lilly, the Swedish bombshell who was now part of her soon-to-be ex-husband’s life. Chloe knew her friend was trying to be supportive but she didn’t want to discuss William’s latest girlfriend. Whether it lasted or not was irrelevant – the fact was he’d cheated on her and not just the once. Before Lilly, there’d been others and poor dumb Chloe had been too stupid to realise. She threw Faith a smile and pushed herself into a standing position.

‘Wine?’ she said.

Faith waved her glass in response.

Chloe caught sight of her reflection in the large windows as she walked through to the kitchen. She ought to draw the curtains but there was no one to overlook the house, and by the door, she halted. There was no light pollution at all. The sky was never as inky black as this in Appletree. There’d always been pavements illuminated by street lights or light from people’s homes leaking into the manicured front gardens, or car headlights strobing up and down the road. This was darkness like she’d never experienced before and yet it wasn’t dark. As her eyes grew accustomed to it, she saw the sky was dotted with thousands… no, millions of pinpricks of lights from stars, and the sudden realisation took her breath away. This was magnificent. Faith shouted out. ‘Oy, where’s that wine? You haven’t gone in search of the sexy carpenter, have you?’ She followed her comment with a hearty chuckle.

‘Coming.’

She turned from the door, catching again a glimpse of her face – pale, heart-shaped and framed with long dark brown hair – a face that had aged ten years in the last ten months. She’d never been what anyone would call pretty but she’d looked well and now-now she just looked drained. William had sucked all the joy from her, little by little at first and then towards the end, in huge amounts. If it hadn’t been for the success of her novel and Faith’s friendship, she’d have gone under. She turned away and grabbed the chilled wine from the fridge door, reached for a corkscrew in the top drawer and smiled: she’d gone to the drawer automatically, instinctively as if she’d lived here far longer than a few hours. She took it as a sign that she’d be fine and yanking the cork from the bottle she raised it victoriously towards the lounge.

‘You want a fresh glass?’

‘Damn right I do… fetch those ones that look like fish bowls.’

Chloe grinned. Faith was already semi-drunk and would soon be demanding they opened the karaoke app on her mobile and had a sing-along. And why not? The house would probably enjoy it.

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

My Thoughts…

A charming romantic comedy, with a sensitive and serious look at social anxiety disorder and its disabling effects. Christmas looms dark and dangerous for Chloe, whose husband has recently left her. A successful debut author, who suffers from anxiety, Chloe is horrified when she is identified as the author CJ Knight, and can no longer find the anonymity she needs in her village. Moving to a new development in rural Staffordshire appeals but is it too remote? Will she master her writer’s block? Can she survive Christmas with only Ronnie the dog for company?

The characters in the new development and those she meets in the singles club are complex, with their own emotional baggage but believable, there are no stereotypes here, only reflections of the people you may encounter in your daily life. The story charts Chloe’s battle against her anxiety, her courage as she learns to trust others and her emotional journey to rebuild her self-esteem through writing her second book.

There are lots of conflicts, as the genre demands, both internal and external, and many hilarious moments, especially involving Ronnie the dog. The story is gently paced and as Chloe is a likeable character you want her to find true happiness, and learn to live her life fully. There are elements in this story that many readers will relate to, which make this more than just a lighthearted love story.

A clever balance of romance, laughs and poignancy make this an enjoyable read.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is carol-wyer-fence.jpg

As a child, Carol Wyer was always moving and relied on humour to fit in at new schools. A funny short story won her popularity, planting the seed of becoming a writer. Her career spans dry cleaning, running a language teaching company, and boxercise coaching. Now writing full-time, Carol has several books published and journalism in many magazines.

Carol won The People’s Book Prize Award for non-fiction (2015), and can sometimes be found performing her stand-up comedy routine Laugh While You Still Have Teeth.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Guest post

The Bells of Little Woodford – Catherine Jones – 4* #Review #BlogTour @lacekate @HoZ_Books #GuestPost #Extract

The town of Little Woodford seems peaceful and picture-postcard beautiful, with its marketplace, ancient church and immaculate allotments. But behind the tranquil facade, troubles are brewing.

Olivia Lewthwaite, a former town councillor, a pillar of the WI and all-around busybody, has been forced by her husband’s gambling debts to sell their house – her pride and joy. She hates the new estate they’ve moved to and knows she needs to humble herself to apply for a job.

To make matters worse, a thoroughly disagreeable woman has bought Olivia’s beloved Grange and sets about objecting to everything she can, from the ringing of the church bells to the market stall selling organic local meat.

It isn’t long before the town is in turmoil.

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

My Thoughts…

If you love small town values and interactions, ‘The Bells of Little Woodford’, will appeal. The second book in the series, it reads well as a standalone, but it’s such a lovely series, read my review of ‘Little Woodford – The Secrets of a Small Town’ and enjoy this too.

Olivia, is coming to terms with her fall from grace, too involved in everyone else’s business and the town’s many organisations, her own family took second place, and now she has to pick up the pieces.

Losing her home is part of the price she has to pay, but the new owners seem determined to disrupt and dismantle everything important to the town unless someone stops them.

This story has a comforting, realistic ethos, the characters, values and peccadillos of the town, and it’s residents are recognisable and make this an enjoyable book to read. The plot is simple, but it reflects ordinary life in a small town. Coupled with the complex, easy to like or dislike characters this story is a wonderful escape.

Grab yourself a cup of tea, a slice of homemade cake and wallow in the camaraderie, gossip and ordinariness of Little Woodford.

Guest Post – Catherine Jones – The inspiration behind Little Woodford

‘Write what you know’ is the advice people give to authors. That suits me fine as I’m not a fan of doing research – I’d rather just get on with telling the story. Which is why many of my previous books have an army theme as I was in the army myself, I married a soldier and I am the mother of one.  Twenty-five years ago my husband left the forces and we moved to a little middle-England market town, not far from Oxford and where we have lived ever since. I love this town with a passion: it has everything a town could want; three supermarkets, several churches, a weekly market, cricket, tennis and rugby clubs, a bustling high street, a nature reserve, a theatre and seven – yes, seven – pubs! In fact, I love this place so much I’m on the town council. When it was suggested to me I ought to write about the lives of ordinary people and the kind of stuff that goes on behind their front doors – the stuff you might not want your neighbours to know about – I instantly knew exactly where I would set my story. If you know my town, it is pretty recognisable as all the elements are there – with the exception that Little Woodford only has one pub.  Of course, as an author, I have to be immensely careful to make sure that everyone in the book is completely fictitious but that hasn’t stopped many of the locals asking me if this or that character isn’t actually based on X or Y.  The one character that I haven’t been asked about is Olivia Laithwaite, one of the main protagonists; she’s a councillor, rides a bike, is a bit of a busy-body, likes to know what’s going on and has several children. I’m not saying Olivia and I are clones, but there are a lot of people in the town who are!

Extract From The Bells of Little Woodford – Catherine Jones

She waved goodbye to the boys – both engrossed in chatting to their mates in their lines and both oblivious of her farewell – before she made her way out of the playground and began to head down the hill towards the centre of the town and her house. As she turned onto the main road she glanced across it to her friend Olivia’s vast barn conversion. The estate agent’s shingle, hammered into the front lawn, announced that it was ‘sold subject to contract’. Olivia must be moving out soon. Bex paused and thought for a second about the mess her house was in and how she ought to be dealing with that… sod it, the mess could wait. Checking for traffic, she crossed the road then scrunched up the gravel drive. She hadn’t seen Olivia for weeks and she might well want a hand if she was in the middle of packing up. To offer some help was the least Bex could do for her friend – after all, when Bex had been swamped by her own unpacking, and Olivia had been a complete stranger, she’d come to introduce herself to the new arrival in town and ended up spending the evening with Bex, helping to unpack and organise the kitchen. When Bex had first met Olivia she hadn’t been sure she was going to like her. It had been obvious from the start that she was somewhat bossy and opinionated and, with her blonde bob and skirt-blouse-and-court-shoe apparel, she looked every inch the town busybody she so obviously was. But she was a doer and grafter and, even more than that, she was kind. And when Olivia had discovered that her public-school son had a drug habit and her husband had gambled away their life savings, her dignity in the face of such a crisis had been admirable. She was even making the best of having to sell up her ‘forever’ home to stop the family from going bankrupt. Bex was very fond of her.

She rang the doorbell and waited patiently for it to be answered. She was slightly taken aback when it was opened by Olivia’s son, Zac.

‘Hi, Zac – no school?’

‘St Anselm’s doesn’t go back till next week,’ he told her.

Hello, Bex,’ called Olivia from the other side of the monstrous sitting room. She was busy wrapping up an ornament in newspaper. ‘Long time no see. How are you?’ She pushed a stray lock of hair off her face. ‘Zac, be a love and put the kettle on.’

Zac loped off into the kitchen area on the far side of the room, skirting piles of cardboard boxes and a massive roll of bubble wrap.

‘St Anselm’s always gets a bonkers amount of holidays,’ said Olivia. ‘It seems to me that the more you pay for a child’s education, the less time he spends in the classroom.’

‘Quality not quantity,’ contradicted Zac over the gush of the tap as he filled the kettle.

Olivia raised an eyebrow. ‘I don’t think your last year’s exam results back up that argument.’

‘No… well…’ The back of Zac’s neck glowed pink. He flicked the kettle on. ‘I’ll take Oscar out for a walk if you two are going to talk.’ He grabbed his dog’s lead and whistled. Oscar, a black and white border collie, bounded out of his basket and headed for the front door.

When they’d left, Olivia crossed the room herself and got a couple of mugs out of the cupboard.

‘How’s it all going?’ asked Bex, following her.

‘What? The move, paying off Nigel’s debts or Zac’s recovery from drugs?’ Olivia sounded weary.

‘Oh, sweetie…’ Bex gave Olivia a hug. ‘I’m sorry.’

Olivia gave her a thin smile. ‘Don’t be. Honestly, we’re getting there. Zac’s fine – still clean – and I think I should be grateful he’s sowed his wild oats in a safe little place like this and that the guy who supplied him with all the drugs is doing time in nick and out of the picture. Without him around I think the chances of Zac backsliding are pretty slim although I don’t think he will anyway – he’s learned his lesson. I dread to think what would have happened if he’d got addicted at uni where he’d have been just another anonymous junkie student.’

‘True,’ murmured Bex. That’s one way to look at things, she supposed.

‘And Nigel’s debts will be cleared once we’ve got the money for this place and move into our new home.’

‘And that’ll be…?’

‘In a fortnight if all goes according to plan.’

‘Do you know who’s bought this?’

Olivia shook her head. ‘Not a clue – to be honest, I don’t want to know. The estate agent handled all the viewings and Nigel’s dealt with the paperwork. I… I…’ She stopped. ‘I found it all a bit upsetting.’

Bex reached out and squeezed her friend’s arm.

Catherine Jones lives in Thame, where she is an independent Councillor. She is the author of eighteen novels, including the Soldiers’ Wives series, which she wrote under the pseudonym Fiona Field.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Mystery

God’s Acre – Dee Yates -5*#Review – #BlogTour #Historical #Fiction #Romance #Saga @Aria_Fiction #WW2 #LandGirls #Scotland

As the drums of war begin to beat louder on the continent, and life becomes more dangerous in cities, seventeen-year-old Jeannie McIver leaves the comfort of her Aunt’s house in Glasgow, to head to the wilds of the Scottish Uplands to start life as a Land Girl.

Jeannie soon falls in love with life on the busy Scottish hill farm, despite all of its hardships and challenges. She feels welcomed by the Cunningham family who values and cherishes her far more than her own rather remote and cold parents, and the work is rewarding.

She even finds her interest piqued by the brooding, attractive Tam, the son of the neighbouring farmer, and a sweet romance between them slowly blossoms. But even in the barren hills, they can’t avoid the hell of war, and as local men start disappearing off to fight at the Front, Jeannie’s idyllic life starts to crumble.

Those left behind try desperately to keep the home fires burning, but then Jeannie makes one devastating decision which changes the course of her and Tam’s lives forever.

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Extract From God’s Acre – Dee Yates

3. For Sale January 2002

Liz can’t believe her luck when she sees the ‘For Sale’ sign attached drunkenly to the front gate. It is unclear from the dilapidated state of the cottage whether its most recent resident is living in a similar state of neglect or has given up the unequal battle and departed to pastures new, either in this world or the next. What is clear is that the cottage, whatever its current decrepit appearance, has the best view in the village. And although Liz has often heard quoted the maxim ‘Never buy a house for the view’, she feels certain that, in this case, there will be a queue of would-be purchasers.

The estate agent seems taken aback by the speed of her response. He agrees to show her round and they arrange a time and a day.

When, two days later, she steps into the cottage she sees that the description of it being ‘in need of some modernisation’ is no exaggeration. But she is not put off by the paucity of rooms – two in fact, with what is little more than a corridor squeezed between, quaintly described in the brochure as a galley kitchen. The meagre space of the cooking area is further depleted by a rusty metal ladder that leads up into the attic. Liz peers up the ladder and is met by darkness and a cold draught of musty air.

A row of blackened pans hang from hooks beneath a shelf running the length of the kitchen. On it are ranged baking trays, rusting metal biscuit tins, jars and containers of various sizes, a glass demijohn, furry with grey dust, and a set of weighing scales, their copper surface tarnished and dull. It seems to Liz as though she has stepped back several decades into the kind of house beloved of museum curators. A stone sink stands in the corner beneath a small window and, next to it, an electric cooker. On the floor, linoleum, cracked and lifting round the edges, reveals glimpses of the stone floor beneath. All that is needed, she thinks, is the model of a cook, in a black dress, frilly apron and starched hat, standing uncomfortably angled at the stove, wooden spoon poised over a never-boiling double pan of hollandaise sauce. Although, she realises, even as she imagines it, that a maid of that generation would not have had the advantage of electricity. This amenity has been listed with others as contributing to part of the cottage’s ‘modernisation’. Looking up at the metal lampshade suspended from a frayed twist of wire, Liz considers the word overstated.

‘I hope the owner doesn’t mind us looking round when she’s out,’ she says, seeing the further signs of habitation in the stained tea towel on a hook beneath the window and a greasy oven glove hanging by its side. She turns to Kenneth Mackie, the young man from the estate agent’s, who has ventured no further than the front door. He sniffs.

‘“She” was a “he”, actually. I believe the old chap died, so I’m sure he won’t mind you looking round.’

‘Oh, I’d no idea.’ She scans the room, seeing it with new eyes. ‘Did he live here long?’

‘I believe so.’

‘It doesn’t look as though he had many visitors. That’s sad.’

Her companion glances at his watch. ‘Perhaps you would like to see the rest of the cottage.’ His voice is bland, disinterested. It is clear that he has no opinion on the previous resident, dead or otherwise, or the property in his charge.

‘Yes… yes please.’ Liz follows him into the bedroom. It’s sparsely furnished, but the heavy, old-fashioned pieces fill the space. The bed is situated within a recess, where it can be closed off with a curtain. The curtain has been pulled back and hooked behind a chair and the bedcovers are crumpled, as though someone has been lying on top of them. This intimacy comes as a shock to Liz. She glances towards the door, eager to leave the room and look elsewhere.

The living room is a little more welcoming. In it, she can picture the old man going about his tasks. He must have been very old, she thinks, given the antiquity of the furniture. His favourite chair is drawn up to the fireplace. Ashes lie cold in the grate and litter the hearth. On a rag rug, down-at-heel slippers wait for their departed owner. A naked light bulb hangs from the centre of the ceiling. Against the wall opposite the fireplace stands a bookcase, stuffed with volumes in identical orange-brown covers and with indecipherable titles. A small sash window adorned with cobwebs rations the light entering the room. She walks over to it, examining the deep recess with its eighteen-inch-thick walls. Hopefully, these will keep out the chill of winter.

On the windowsill is propped a solitary photograph. It is sepia and blotted with age. Liz steps up to it slowly and stares at the smiling girl with a frizz of hair encircling her face. She is standing in a field and holds a bucket in one hand, a rake in the other. Around her and in the distance are sheep. But the girl has eyes only for the view in front of her. She is looking not at the photographer but to one side. The young face is radiant. But it is not this that causes her heart to leap. It is the familiarity of the image in front of her.

It is a photo of Liz’s own mother.

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

My Thoughts…

Told from several points of view, from a historical and current day perspective, ‘God’s Acre’ creates a vivid picture of life in rural Scotland during World War 2 and in the twenty-first century. It ‘s a story of coming of age, working in the Land Army and finding out that love and family are not always bound by blood.

Jeannie is a free spirit, she is clever, but is not allowed to follow the same educational path as her brothers. Her clergyman father feels she should help in his parish, but she wants independence and freedom. Joining the Land Army means living in a rural setting, but the people are friendly and she finds she fits. Meeting Tam is love at first sight, but he is troubled and she is young and naive and it seems their love story is doomed to fail.

Liz knows little of her mother’s background when she visits the Scottish village her mother often talked about. Finding a cottage for sale, she visits and finds a tenuous connection. She buys the cottage and tries to rebuild her life and discover what she can about her mother’s past.

The historical viewpoints of this story are poignant and page turning, there is so much heartache, but a real sense of family. Jeannie is a lovely woman but so naive and this flaw in her character changes her whole life.

Believable, complex characters drive this story forward and make it an excellent read. The setting is full of visual imagery and you can imagine what working on the farm at this time was like for Jeannie. The mystery of Jeannie is revealed in a letter to her daughter, it is full of sadness and transparency and underlines the heartbreaking waste, caused by misunderstanding and the inability to trust. Despite this, the ending is hopeful for Liz in the present day and ends this lovely story in a satisfying way.

Born and brought up in the south of England, the eldest girl of nine children, Dee moved north to Yorkshire to study medicine. She remained there, working in well-woman medicine and general practice and bringing up her three daughters. She retired slightly early at the end of 2003, in order to start writing, and wrote two books in the next three years. In 2007 she moved further north, to the beautiful Southern Uplands of Scotland. Here she fills her time with her three grandsons, helping in the local museum, the church and the school library, walking, gardening and reading. She writes historical fiction, poetry and more recently non-fiction. Occasionally she gets to compare notes with her youngest sister Sarah Flint who writes crime with blood-curdling descriptions which make Dee want to hide behind the settee.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Book Spotlight, Crime, Friendship, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

The Lonely Hearts Crime Club – Tanya Bullock – 5* #Review – #BlogTour TanyaBullock15 @Blackbird_Bks

An elderly resident of an inner-city tower block is brutally attacked and left for dead. Her neighbours, a pregnant alcoholic, a vulnerable youth, a failed actress and a cameraman with a dark secret, are thrown together in their search for answers. Misfits and loners, they are forced to confront uncomfortable realities about themselves and each other, as their investigation leads them towards the shocking finale.

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

My Thoughts…

A chilling act of violence on a defenceless person is the starting point for ‘The Lonely Hearts Crime Club. The setting is a sixties style tower block, mainly used for social housing, The residents all have a story, revealed as the book progresses.

All the characters except one know the victim, they all feel threatened in some respect by what happened. Out of adversity comes a camaraderie that is realistic and poignant. Complex, recognisable, but not stereotypical characters are the driving force of this story. We learn their stories in a format reminiscent of ‘talking heads’ and the angst, heartbreak and ultimately self-realisation is enthralling.

The mystery of what happened at Shenstone tower is well-written, all the characters in the story could be guilty. There is a clever twist almost halfway through, which makes you believe that someone else may have the answers to the mystery.

Ella, Ethan, Birdie and Willian are the unlikely sleuths, but they want to find the attacker and driven by Ella, they try to piece together who the attacker is and the motives behind the crime.

The main characters’ vulnerability draws them to each other, they find strength in shared mutual experience, and although heartbreakingly vulnerable alone, together they are strong and effective.

The clues are subtle but meaningful and gradually the mystery resolves in a believable, satisfying way.

A powerful, poignant story. The ending is so sad, but something hopeful emerges for the majority of ‘The Lonely Hearts Crime Club’ members.

Tanya Bullock is a college lecturer, writer and award-winning filmmaker. She lives in the UK with her husband and two young children. She has a passion for foreign culture and languages (inherited from her French mother) and, in her youth, travelled extensively throughout Australia, America, Asia and Europe. As a filmmaker, she has gained local recognition, including funding and regional television broadcast, through ITV’s First Cut scheme, two nominations for a Royal Television Society Midlands Award, and, in 2010, a Royal Television Society Award in the category of best promotional film. On maternity leave in 2011 and in need of a creative outlet, Tanya began to write That Special Someone, the story of a mother’s quest to help her learning-disabled daughter find love. It was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2016. Her second novel, Homecoming, a love story with an unexpected twist, was published in 2016. The Lonely Hearts Crime Club is Tanya’s third novel. A psychological thriller with a shocking finale, it will be published in the spring of 2019. All of Tanya’s novels are published by Blackbird Digital Books. 

Posted in Book Review, Book Spotlight, Crime, Extract, Thriller

A Beautiful Corpse – 5* #Review Christi Daugherty @HarperFiction- @CJ_Daugherty-@HarperCollinsUK @fictionpubteam #Paperback #PublicationDay #Crime #journalist #Savannah #Extract

It’s a thin line between love and murder…

A murder that shocks a city… 
Shots ring out on one of Savannah’s most famous streets. A beautiful law student lies dead.
  
A case full of secrets and lies…
Three men close to the victim are questioned. All of them claim to love her. All of them say they are innocent of her murder.
 
An investigation that could prove deadly…
As crime reporter Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy, the killer focuses on her. He’s already killed, one woman. Will he kill another?

Amazon UK

Extract from A Beautiful Corpse – Christi Daugherty

‘Eight ball in the corner pocket.’

Leaning over the edge of the pool table, Harper McClain stared across the long expanse of empty green felt. The cue in her hands was smooth and cool. She’d had four of Bonnie’s super-strength margaritas tonight, but her grip was steady.

There was a delicate, transient point somewhere between too much alcohol and too little where her pool skills absolutely peaked. This was it.

Exhaling slowly, she took the shot. The cue ball flew straight and true, slamming into the eight, sending it rolling to the pocket. There was never any question – it hit the polished wood edge of the table only lightly, and dropped like a stone.

‘Yes.’ Harper raised her fist. ‘Three in a row.’ But the cue ball was still rolling.

Lowering her hand, Harper leaned against the table. ‘No, no, no,’ she pleaded.

As she watched in dismay, the scuffed white cue ball headed after the eight like a faithful hound.

‘Come on, cue ball,’ Bonnie cajoled from the other side of the table. ‘Mama needs a new pair of shoes.’

Reaching the pocket lip, the ball trembled for an instant as if making up its mind and then, with a decisive clunk, disappeared into the table’s insides, taking the game with it.

‘At last.’ Bonnie raised her cue above her head. ‘Victory is mine.’

Harper glared. ‘Have you been waiting all night to say that?’ ‘Oh my God, yes.’ Bonnie was unrepentant.

It was very late. Aside from the two of them, the Library Bar was empty. Naomi, who had worked the late shift with Bonnie, had finished wiping down the bar an hour ago and gone home.

All the lights were on in the rambling bar, illuminating the battered books on the shelves that still covered the old walls from the days when it had actually been a library. It could easily hold sixty people but, with just the two of them, the place was comfortable – even cozy, in its way, with Tom Waits growling from the jukebox about love gone wrong.

Despite the hour, Harper was in no hurry to leave. It wasn’t far to walk. But all she had at home was a cat, a bottle of whiskey and a lot of bad memories. And she’d spent enough time with them lately.

‘Rematch?’ She glanced at Bonnie, hopefully. ‘Winner takes all?’ Propping her cue against a sign that read: ‘Books + Beer = LIFE’,

Bonnie walked around the table. The blue streaks in her long blond hair caught the light when she held out her hand.

‘Loser pays,’ she said, adding, ‘Also, I’m all out of change.’  ‘I thought bartenders always had change,’ Harper complained, pulling the last coins from her pocket.

‘Bartenders are smart enough to put their money away before they start playing pool with you,’ Bonnie replied.

There was a break in the music as the jukebox switched songs. In the sudden silence, the shrill ring of Harper’s phone made them both jump.

Grabbing the device off the table next to her, Harper glanced at the screen.

‘Hang on,’ she said, hitting the answer button. ‘It’s Miles.’ Miles Jackson was the crime photographer at the Savannah Daily News. He wouldn’t call at this hour without a good reason.

‘What’s up?’ Harper said, by way of hello.

‘Get yourself downtown. We’ve got ourselves a murder on River Street,’ he announced.

‘You’re kidding me.’ Harper dropped her cue on the pool table. ‘Are you at the scene?’

‘I’m pulling up now. Looks like every cop in the city is here.’ Miles had her on speaker phone – in the background, she could hear the rumble of his engine and the insistent crackle of his police scanners. The sound sent a charge through Harper. ‘On my way.’ She hung up without saying goodbye. Bonnie looked at her enquiringly.

‘Got to go,’ Harper told her, grabbing her bag. ‘Someone just got murdered on River Street.’

Bonnie’s jaw dropped. ‘River Street? Holy crap.’

‘I know.’ Harper pulled out her notebook and police scanner and headed across the room, mentally calculating how long it would take her to get there. ‘If it’s a tourist, the mayor will absolutely lose her shit.’

River Street was the epicenter of the city’s tourism district – and the safest place in town. Until now.

Bonnie ran after her.

‘Give me a second to lock up,’ she said. ‘I’ll come with you.’ Harper turned to look at her. ‘You’re coming to a crime scene?’

The music had started up again.

‘You’ve had four margaritas,’ Bonnie reminded her. ‘I made them strong. You’ll be over the limit. I’ve only had two beers tonight.’

Behind the bar, she opened a concealed wall panel and flipped some switches – in an instant, the music fell silent. A second later, the lights went off one by one, until only the red glow of the exit sign remained.

Grabbing her keys, Bonnie ran to join Harper, the heels of her cowboy boots clicking against the concrete floor in the sudden quiet, short skirt swirling around her thighs.

Harper still wasn’t convinced this was a great idea. ‘You know there’ll be dead people there, right?’

Shrugging, Bonnie unlocked the front door and pulled it open. Steamy southern night air poured in.

‘I’m a grown-up. I can take it.’

She glanced over her shoulder with a look Harper had known better than to argue with since they were both six years old.

‘Let’s go.’

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

My Thoughts…

Authentic, fast-paced, with an absorbing plot and a likeable protagonist, A Beautiful Corpse’ is the second book in the Harper McClain series, the crime reporter investigates the murder of someone she knows and uncovers a web of fear, lies and privilege.

This story works as a standalone read and there is enough backstory on the main characters and previous events for this to be enjoyable. However, it’s so good, you’ll want to read the first book too.

The setting is atmospheric and bought to life by the details of the buildings, people and the social ethos. The characters are vividly portrayed and their motivations and interactions with each other believable. The life of a crime reporter is intrinsic to the story and is expertly written.

I like Harper she is driven and skilled at her job and hides her vulnerability well. Her relationship with the police officers, whose cooperation she needs to succeed, is explored and provides some important conflict in the story.

There is an overriding theme to this story, the search for Harper’s mother’s murderer, more clues are discovered in this book but it ends with new questions that may lead the crime reporter into personal danger if she pursues the truth.

The exciting ending is ultimately satisfying, tieing up the plot, but posing further questions for Harper, presumably to be resolved in the next book.