Summer is on the horizon, and the people of Porthmellow are eagerly awaiting the annual food festival. At least, most of them are…
For Sam Lovell, organising the summer festival in her hometown is one of the highlights of her year. It’s not always smooth sailing, but she loves to see Porthmellow’s harbour packed with happy visitors, and being on the committee has provided a much-needed distraction from the drama in her family life (and the distinct lack of it in her love life).
When their star guest pulls out with only a few weeks to go, everyone’s delighted when a London chef who grew up locally steps in at the last minute. But Gabe Matthias is the last person Sam was expecting to see, and his return to Porthmellow will change her quiet coastal life forever.
Curl up with this gorgeous novel and savour the world of Porthmellow Harbour.
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The author’s love of Cornwall and all things Cornish is evident in this story. The characters of Porthmellow harbour are authentic, and all have a story to tell and secrets to keep.
Sam loves the food festival, it gives her a focus away from the family drama and helps promote the harbour town she loves. Sam and Gabe have history and working in close proximity threaten more than the festival.
Lots of characters and a taste of their stories make this a complex but interesting book. You know that you will meet them again as the series progresses.
At its heart, this is a story of community, the inherent closeness that means everyone takes an interest in each other’s life, sometimes this is intrusive, sometimes comical but nearly always well meant and important for the harbour to survive.
A charming story full of heart, secrets and love, looking forward to the next one.
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…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria in return for an honest review.
‘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
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
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.
did she have to kick her?
was feeling desperate. Oh God, it’s no good, she thought, I’m gonna be in trouble no matter
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.
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
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.’
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.
shouted Miss Marchant.
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.
then, what have you been up to?’ asked Miss Marchant.
I didn’t mean it,’ muttered Adele.
mean what? And for heaven’s sake, speak up, young lady.’
didn’t mean to hurt Debby,’ Adele sobbed.
from what I’ve been told, you’ve got a bit of a temper, haven’t you young
by now very tearful, nodded in response.
can’t hear you!’ thundered Miss Marchant.
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.
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.’
Miss,’ answered 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
if I ever hear of any repeat of this behaviour, you will be punished severely!’
Miss,’ Adele replied as she dashed from the office.
to be away from the head teacher’s office as soon as possible, Adele rushed
down the corridor and into her classroom.
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.
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.
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
It’s the day Izzy English’s father will be released from jail.
She has every reason to feel conflicted – he’s the man who gave her a childhood filled with happy memories.
But he has also just served seventeen years for the murder of her mother.
Now, Izzy’s father sends her a letter. He wants to talk, to defend himself against each piece of evidence from his trial.
But should she give him the benefit of the doubt?
Or is her father guilty as charged, and luring her into a trap?
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK- Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
You experience a gamut of emotions, as you progress through this story. The plot grips you and makes you keep turning the pages, but amidst the solidly based thriller, are the poignant reminders of something lost, and an ethos of gut-wrenching sadness.
Essentially, this is a story of human frailty, and how one incident can alter lives irreparably. The thriller has a psychological element because of the main protagonist Izzy, who desperately wants to believe what she sees and hears from the important people in her life, but can she?
The plot is cleverly written and plausible, for those who like solving mysteries, the clues are gradually filtered into the story, and it is possible to work out who has done what, but not easily. The story is complex and emotional, you empathise with Izzy and more importantly Gabe, even though you are not sure if he is telling the truth.
The characters are believable and have real depth, the story concentrates primarily on Izzy and Gabe, with historical flashbacks, from their points of view, but for this reader, there is no lessening of interest or skipping over details, it is all-absorbing and heightens the reading pleasure.
A riveting, realistic read for lovers of cerebral thrillers and human behaviour.
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…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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.
Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel.
Extract from Trickster – Book 1 – Georgina Garrett series – Sam Michaels
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
an evil sneer, he licked his lips, nodded towards the baby and then asked, ‘How
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They thought they were friends for life – until one summer, everything changed . . .
Linston End on the Norfolk Broads has been the holiday home to three families for many years. The memories of their time there are ingrained in their hearts: picnics on the river, gin and tonics in the pavilion at dusk, hours spent seeking out the local swallowtail butterflies. Everyone together.
But widower Alastair has been faced with a few of life’s surprises recently. Now, he is about to shock his circle of friends with the decisions he has made – and the changes it will mean for them all. For some, it feels like the end. For others, it might just be the beginning . . .
I received a copy of this book from Orion Publishing via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
When you look at a group of friends what do you see? The answer is you only see what they want you to. Rather like a swan in the water, the surface may seem smooth and easy going, but underneath the water, there is a furious paddling of feet, and turmoil, hidden from the casual observer.
‘ Swallowtail Summer’ is like this, three friends who have known each other since they were young, spend holidays together at a beautiful house in Norfolk, later they include their wives and eventually for some of them their offspring, but then someone dies and the following year even though they know it will be different they are unprepared for how different.
The beginning of the story introduces the characters; shows how they interact with each other and reveals some of their motivations. Even though this is a lot to assimilate and is slow-paced, it’s worth persevering, as it makes the rest of the book easier to follow. Allowing you to appreciate the complex characters and their diversity and secrets.
It is interesting to see how the characters interact, and how the group dynamics remain largely unchanged until Orla dies. This life event forces the group to change. The story’s essence is, will the friendships and family relations survive the need to change?
All of the characters are realistically flawed and many are not likeable, but this doesn’t detract from the story, just makes it more realistic. One of their favourite holiday activities is to search for Swallowtail butterflies. Their elusive quality equates to the finiteness of happiness, love and youth. It makes the story an interesting, but poignant read, with a lovely Summertime, feel.
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!
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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
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.
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.
Zac – no school?’
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.’
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.
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
not quantity,’ contradicted Zac over the gush of the tap as he filled the
raised an eyebrow. ‘I don’t think your last year’s exam results back up that
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.
they’d left, Olivia crossed the room herself and got a couple of mugs out of
it all going?’ asked Bex, following her.
The move, paying off Nigel’s debts or Zac’s recovery from drugs?’ Olivia
sweetie…’ Bex gave Olivia a hug. ‘I’m sorry.’
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
murmured Bex. That’s one way to look at things, she supposed.
Nigel’s debts will be cleared once we’ve got the money for this place and move
into our new home.’
fortnight if all goes according to plan.’
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.’
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.
India, 1926: English Margaret arrives with her new husband Suraj at his family home, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, the air filled with the soft scent of spices and hibiscus flowers. Margaret is unwelcome, homesick and lonely, but her maid Archana, a young woman from an impoverished family, reminds her of her long-lost sister, a tiny glimpse of home in a faraway place.
As Margaret and Archana spend more time together, an unexpected friendship blooms. But in British India the divide between rich and poor, English and Indian, is wide, and the clash between Margaret’s modern views and the weight of tradition on Archana will lead to devastating results…
England, 2000:Emma is at a crossroads. She has discovered the lie at the heart of her relationship, and she worries over the right choice to make for herself and her beloved daughter. When her grandmother gives her a mysterious painting, and asks her to take a message of forgiveness to an old friend in India, Emma is relieved to have some time and space to make a decision about her future. But as she fulfils her grandmother’s wish, a secret kept for over seventy years is finally revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever…
Will the weight of her grandmother’s regrets push Emma towards a mistake that will stay with her forever, or give her the courage she needs to make the right choice?
I received a copy of this book from bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘The Girl in the Painting’ and all of this author’s books are always thought provoking, rich in literary and visual imagery, full of historical detail, and unashamedly emotional. They are a true escapist read, written for the pleasure of writing, and this love and dedication comes across in every word.
The plot is divided between the early twentieth century, particularly the 1920s in England and India, and the end of the twentieth century when Margaret, at the end of her life, asks her grandaughter, Emma, also at a crossroads in her life to seek out an old friend and right a wrong.
The historical plot moves between England from Margaret’s perspective and India from Archana’s perspective, the stories seem so divergent, there are common threads, but it’s only in the late 1920s, when the two women’s lives become inextricably joined.
The story highlights the culturial differences from a unique point of view and allows the reader to better understand , what from a westen perspective may seem unthinkable. The similarites in the outlook and empowerment of women is also explored in this story. At the time when English women were campaigning for equality. They were in many ways as powerless to determine their own destiny, as the women in India at that time. The importance of sisters in their lives, is another thing Margaret and Archana have in common.
The characters are relatable and easy to empathise, you feel their pain and guilt and want them to find some solace. All three women and those who touch their lives are changed by heartbreak.
The historical detail gives the story depth and vivacity, whether it be in India or England, where Margaret tastes life with ‘The Bloomsbury Group, artists and writers who care little for social conventions and eptiomise the 1920s in England.
‘The Girl in the Painting’ is an emotional, evocative , escapist journey for everyone who likes to lose themselves in a story..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was a “he”, actually. I believe the old chap died, so I’m sure he won’t mind
you looking round.’
I’d no idea.’ She scans the room, seeing it with new eyes. ‘Did he live here
doesn’t look as though he had many visitors. That’s sad.’
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 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.
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.
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.
1862 Young widow Eugénie is left bereft when her husband dies suddenly and faces an uncertain future in Guernsey. A further tragedy brings her to the attention of Monsieur Victor Hugo, living in exile on the island in his opulent house only yards away from Eugénie’s home. Their meeting changes her life and she becomes his copyist, forming a strong friendship with both Hugo and his mistress, Juliette Drouet.
2012 Doctor Tess Le Prevost, Guernsey-born though now living in Exeter, is shocked to inherit her Great-Aunt’s house on the island. As a child, she was entranced by Doris’s tales of their ancestor, Eugénie, whose house this once was, and who, according to family myth, was particularly close to Hugo. Was he the real father of her child? Tess is keen to find out and returning to the island presents her with the ideal opportunity.
Will she discover the truth about Eugénie and Hugo? A surprise find may hold the answer as Tess embraces new challenges which test her strength – and her heart.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
A delightful mix of contemporary and Victorian life on Guernsey, with colourfully described historical details, and an engaging contemporary story full of romance, friendship and family drama.
Tess unexpectedly inherits an old house on Guernsey where she spent her childhood, Visiting her inheritance, she is drawn to the rundown house and being at a crossroads in her life decides to renovate and make Guernsey her home again.
Characters from previous stories make cameo appearances, but the story is standalone. The story slips between 2012 and Victorian times, told from Tess and Eugenie’s points of view. Both stories are complex and interesting, and there is a historical mystery for Tess to solve.
The story features a real historical figure, although the story is fictional, his presence as a character adds authenticity and depth.
Domestic abuse is a primary theme in this book, and it serves to highlight, its prevalence, and the differences and similarities between contemporary and Victorian women, in abusive relationships.
The storytelling is enthralling, the setting vividly described and the connections between the past and present meaningful. A lovely mix of believable characters and a realistic but hopeful ending make reading ‘The Inheritance’, a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Guest Post – Anne Allen – The Inheritance
I would like to start by thanking Jane for
allowing me space on her lovely blog, to talk about my latest offering in The
Guernsey Novels series.
This book marks a slight change of direction for
me in that instead of referencing the German Occupation in Guernsey as in my
previous books, I go further back in time to the late 19th C and we
meet the famous writer, Victor Hugo. It may not be widely known, but he spent
fifteen years in Guernsey while in exile from France, having fallen out with
Emperor Napoleon III. He arrived, complete with his wife, children, mistress
and various other exiles, in October 1855. Hugo had already been kicked out of
Jersey, his port of call, for rude comments about Queen Victoria. The Guernsey
view was that if Jersey didn’t want him, he must be worth having!
The inspiration behind my book was Hugo’s house,
Hauteville House, in St Peter Port. It’s one of a kind – opulent, over the top,
full of quirky features like oak panels carved by Hugo himself, and with a
rooftop eerie made from steel and glass where he wrote his novels and poems. I
have visited it a couple of times, both when I lived there and two years ago
when the idea for this book first surfaced. It is exactly how it was in Hugo’s
day and his descendants gifted it to France some years ago and a French flag
flies outside to proclaim it as French territory. My last visit was just in
time as the house has been closed for nearly two years for extensive
renovation, re-opening on 7th April just before my book is
Hugo finished writing his most famous work here, Les Misérables, as well as several more novels and collections of poetry. In my book, my character, Eugénie, a young French woman living yards away from Hugo, has a life-changing encounter with him and becomes his copyist. No computers or typewriters around then! His mistress, Juliette Drouet, also helped with the copying and the two women became close. Eugénie, recently widowed, has inherited her husband’s family home but has no income and working for Hugo is her salvation. My story is dual-time and the in the modern part, my character, Tess, is a Guernsey-born doctor now living in Devon and she unexpectedly inherits what was Eugénie’s house from her great-aunt in 2012. There has long been a family myth that Hugo and Eugénie were particularly close and that he may have been the father of her child when she remarried. I had to be very careful about this aspect of the story as Hugo’s descendants still have an apartment in Hauteville House and do visit Guernsey regularly. How to avoid upsetting people! Although he was a known womanizer, as far as is known Hugo had no illegitimate children.
Anne Allen lives in Devon, by her beloved sea. She has three children, and her daughter and two grandchildren live nearby. Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves which included Spain for a couple of years. The longest stay was in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns.
By profession, Anne was a psychotherapist, but long had the itch to write. Now a full-time writer, she has written The Guernsey Novels, seven having been published. The books form a series, but each one is a standalone story with links to other books and characters. Although not originally planned, Anne is, in effect, writing a saga of Guernsey; featuring numerous characters and stories covering the German Occupation, Victorian Guernsey and the present day. A mix of family drama, mystery and love, the books have a wide appeal to readers of all ages.