Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Murder on a Winter Afternoon – Betty Rowlands – 4*Review @bookouture

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A snow-covered cottage is nestled in the hills, all ready for Christmas… but inside a body lies dead upon the floor.

Melissa Craig is enjoying her first winter in the Cotswolds, taking brisk walks through the snowy fields and basking in the winter sunshine. The only thing Melissa is plotting is her Christmas shopping.

But after the unexpected death of local writer Leonora Jewell, Melissa is asked to complete Leonora’s final book. However, on her first visit to the cottage, she finds a gruesome object overlooked by the police: a metal bar covered with dried blood.

Terrified, Melissa rushes to the nearest telephone box to call the police. But by the time they reach Leonora’s cottage, the murder weapon has mysteriously vanished.

With no murder weapon, the detective in charge of the case scoffs at Melissa’s suspicions. Furious and frustrated, Melissa focuses on finishing Leonora’s novel. But as she reads Leonora’s notes for the book, she starts to wonder… did Leonora accidentally plot out her own murder?

As Melissa does some investigating of her own, she uncovers some pretty suspicious local characters. But with the police unwilling to help, can Melissa solve this vicious crime alone? By hook, by crook, or by the book, Melissa must find the killers before they strike again…

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

Winter always seems to enhance the attractiveness of murder mysteries, especially typically English ones like the Melissa Craig series. This is a particularly atmospheric story both in terms of snow and frost and the air of menace that follows the intrepid crime writer around as she becomes embroiled in another murder mystery.

This story sees the reappearance of Bruce, from earlier books in the series and he definitely brings out Mel’s impulsive personality traits. There is a lot going on in the background of this story, some of which seems superfluous to the plot. I worked out whodunnit, early on, this is possibly the author’s intention, as it shows up Mel’s fallibility, and increases the danger she faces.

Perfect for reading on a cold, stormy Winter’s day like today.

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

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Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

5* Review: Karen Swan – The Christmas Lights – @KarenSwan1 @panmacmillan

December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans.

Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth.

Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year-old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

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Waterstones

My Thoughts…

An atmospheric story, that is deeper than it first appears, following Bo and Zac, two Instagram social influencers to the beautiful but forbidding Norwegian fjords in wintertime. There they meet Anders their mysterious guide and his fiercely independent grandmother, Signy.

The story is told from Bo’s point of view as she faces up to her demons, and questions whether she really is living the dream with Zac, or just running away. Signy’s story told in flashbacks to 1936 is simple, but devastating, and helps understand her fighting spirit and her willingness to face physical hardship to achieve the solitude she needs.

The contrast between the virtual world Bo lives in and the grounded world Signy inhabits is the lynchpin of this story, which explores relationships, the power of social media and the many secrets the story’s characters’ are keeping.

There is an underlying menace in both timelines, reinforced by the danger ever present in the mountainous region. There is poignant romance brought to life by believable characters and situations.

Out of tragedy comes hope and an understanding of love and the true meaning of sacrifice.

An unusual festive story with many layers to engage the reader and a hopeful ending.

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

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

One New York Christmas- MandyBaggot – 4*Review – #FestiveRead @mandybaggot @EburyPublishing

Lara Weeks is heading to New York with best friend Susie for the Christmas trip of a lifetime.

A festive break in the snowy Big Apple visiting the tourist hotspots, not to mention the shopping, seems like the perfect way for Lara to get over her ex-boyfriend. Or maybe make him so jealous he begs for a second chance.

Enlisting the help of gorgeous actor, Seth Hunt, doesn’t quite go to plan, but there’s something about him that has Lara wishing for a different kind of happy ever after…

Amazon UK

Waterstones

My Thoughts

Lara’s practical, no-nonsense attitude to life hides a certain emotional vulnerability. A contemporary romantic heroine, she drives trucks for a living but also finds time to look after her father, and as she describes him’nearly brother Aldo. Travelling to New York for Christmas isn’t on her festive agenda until her boyfriend betrays her and her supportive friend Susie makes her an offer too tempting to turn down.

Lara is a likeable character and her fun-filled adventures in New York are romantic and thought-provoking. Seth is on an emotional journey of his own, and meeting Lara is unexpected but perfectly timed. Both characters are trying to find out what life has in store for them and together they experience a romantic, poignant Christmas experience in New York.

The descriptions of New York are detailed and vivid, letting the reader experience the city’s vibrancy at this special time of year.

A Christmas story with realistic characters, but a fairytale plot filled with lots of Christmas magic.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House UK – Ebury Publishing via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

5* #Review -Sarah Morgan- The Christmas Sisters #FestiveRead @HQStories @SarahMorgan_

It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree, but who’s around it that matters most.

All Suzanne McBride wants for Christmas is her three daughters happy and at home. But when sisters Posy, Hannah and Beth return to their family home in the Scottish Highlands, old tensions and buried secrets start bubbling to the surface.

Suzanne is determined to create the perfect family Christmas, but the McBrides must all face the past and address some home truths before they can celebrate together . . .

Amazon UK

Waterstones

My Thoughts…

Such an atmospheric, festive story about a family born out of a tragedy, which defines their relationships and still haunts them years later. The sisters have all followed different paths as adults. Each feels the other has a perfect life but the reality is more complex.

This is a story about mothers, daughters and sisters, and the characters are beautifully written with believable flaws making them easy to empathise. Told from multi-points of view the backstory is cleverly woven into the plot, so that you understand the family dynamics and why Christmas is a source of stress for the McBrides.

This a lovely story, perfect as a festive read. Angst, fear, misunderstanding and romance all wrapped up in a poignant family drama that captures what it’s like to have sisters and how a caring family loves you, no matter what.

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

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

5* Review- Zara Stoneley – No One Cancels Christmas @ZaraStoneley#Festive @HarperImpulse

 

A holiday she’ll remember forever…

It’s the most magical time of the year, and for travel agent Sarah it’s also the busiest! But this year one man threatens to ruin Christmas for Sarah’s customers – Mr Grinch, Will Armstrong.

The Shooting Star Mountain resort is a magical place, and Sarah has fond memories of Christmas here as a little girl – visits to Father Christmas, husky rides in the snow and hot chocolate by a roaring fire. But as the resorts new owner, Will refuses to play snowball or to deck the halls with anything remotely resembling tinsel!

With customers complaining their Christmas is ruined, Sarah decides it’s up to her to convince Scroogey Will just how magical Christmas can be….

But getting Will into the Christmas spirit is hopeless – he is Bah Humbug personified! But as Sarah gets to know him better, she realises that underneath all the gloom is a man struggling with a pain of his own.

With the big day approaching, Sarah realises that the magic and sparkle can wait. This year, she’s going to spend Christmas day with someone special her very own Mr Scrooge…

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

Funny, festive and fabulous, everything you want in a Christmas holiday read.

Sarah is such an authentic, believable character, her sense of responsibility makes her confront Will, co-owner of a holiday resort that is threatening the reputation of her aunt’s travel agency. The emails soon turn from caustic to cosy, and when she decides to visit the resort, the fun really starts.

Will has secrets and hides them well under a Mr Scrooge persona. The romance is slow to build but so worth waiting for and really threatens to melt the snow. There are plenty of poignant moments, as Sarah lets go of past hurts and finds out things are not always right or wrong but somewhere in between.

All the supporting characters are vivacious and add to the story’s imagery. The setting is well-described and breathtaking and the plot is full of twists, turmoil and tenderness.

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

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Snow Angel Cove- 4* Review – RaeAnne Thayne

A fresh start is all Eliza wants for Christmas…

Nothing short of a miracle can restore Eliza Hayward’s Christmas cheer. The job she pinned her dreams on has gone up in smoke and now she’s stuck in an unfamiliar little town for Christmas.

Enter Aidan Caine. He can help Eliza find the perfect Christmas project – the renovation of his lakeside guest lodge. Soon he sees how quickly he could fall for her. But is he’s willing to risk his heart on a festive romance that could lead to forever?

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

A lovely small town, festive romance with some characters from a well-established series. I haven’t read the other series, but I still enjoyed this book. The story is emotional with a simple plot, perfect for Christmas romance. The characters are realistic and easy to empathise and the setting is a small town at a festive time of year. I received a copy of this book from Mills&Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Alison Sherlock – A Way Back Home 4* Review-Guest Post and Extract

 

What happens when two lost souls find themselves? 

After recent heartbreak, Skye Jackson finds herself homeless and on the road with only a classic Airstream trailer to her name. A surprise inheritance of a rundown little lodge in the grounds of beautiful Willow Tree Hall forces her to change her plans. However, there is a problem…

The lodge is co-owned by care-free, playboy Will Harris, who finds himself unemployed after a recent tabloid scandal.

Syke desperately wants a home to call her own and needs to move on as quickly as possible. Will doesn’t want to stay at his family home either to face the ghosts of his past. So they decide to put aside their differences and renovate the cottage together.

But when a storm hits, Skye and Will are forced to stay on to ensure that an important wedding goes ahead. Can Skye finally find a home of her own? Can Will stop running from his past and help out his family when they need him the most?

The magic of winter at Willow Tree Hall is about to change everything…

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Guest Post

A Way Back Home is the third book in my Willow Tree Hall series.

The idea for Willow Tree Hall actually came from watching Downton Abbey! I watched the programme and wondered what it would be like to live in a grand stately home in the present day. As I researched the subject, I realised that many of our country estates had fallen into disrepair due to the high running costs. And thus became the ‘eureka’ moment that began the plot for Book 1 in the series, A House To Mend A Broken Heart.

The renovation and transformation of Willow Tree Hall will take place over all four books, although you don’t need to read them in any particular order as each story is standalone. I was a tiny bit worried about writing a series – my first ever! But all of the books have been huge fun to write as I loved having the chance to catch up with my characters each time.

Will Harris is the hero in A Way Back Home and I’ve been desperate to write his particular story from the very beginning!  He is the younger brother to Sam, the heir to Willow Tree Hall. Will has always felt like the ‘spare’ and surplus to requirements over the past few years. Instead of helping with the renovations, he has stayed abroad, building up his playboy image, complete with an Aston Martin! But when he loses his job, Will is finally forced to come home.

The trouble is, the rundown lodge he calls home has unexpectedly received a new co-owner, a stranger called Skye Jackson. Skye is as surprised by the inheritance as Will is and both of them want the matter dealt with as quickly as possible. But, as always, it’s never that easy…

The book was great fun to write as I had already given Will a wickedly dry sense of humour. Therefore it was only right that the heroine of the story would be free-spirited Skye who is his total opposite!

Do they find common ground and even love over a long, cold winter? You’ll have to read A Way Back Home to find out!

My Thoughts…

Opposites always provide exciting romantic opportunities with lots of fireworks as they learn to trust each other. This story has an added dimension, showing love’s healing qualities and how people can grow and mellow when they find the place they’re meant to be.

Skye’s family circumstances force her into early responsibility. When this unexpectedly ends she finds herself homeless, but with many opportunities for happiness if she’s brave enough to take them. Will comes from a privileged background, but he’s always felt superfluous. Definitely the ‘spare’ in the ‘heir and spare’analogy. His lack of responsibility contrasts sharply with Skye’ way of doing things, but gradually they see value in each other and accept they both have something to learn.

With wonderful supporting characters, that you will be familiar with if you’ve read the other books in the series. This heartwarming, romantic story has a festive twist and would be a great addition to anyone’s Christmas stocking.

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

Extract

Then the sash window was closed once more.

‘My sister fusses over me,’ said Arthur, with a warm smile as he turned to Skye. ‘Would you care for a cup of tea?’

‘I’d love one,’ she replied. ‘Thank you.’

Reeling from all the information her brain was trying to process, Skye needed a few minutes to try and take it all in. She had no idea what any of the talk about a lodge meant and couldn’t quite believe it was somehow linked to her as well.

She was secretly pleased to be invited indoors as the damp of the chilly autumnal afternoon was beginning to seep through her woollen cape and make her feel cold. She was also very interested to see the inside of such an elegant stately home.

However, she could feel Will’s eyes glaring at her back as they walked towards the big house. It sounded as if the lodge had been his for a long time and she had obviously caused him yet more upset after already having dented his beloved sports car. She felt mortified that her visit had brought about so much trouble for him.

Following Arthur inside the double fronted red door, Skye couldn’t help but stare around the huge entrance hall in admiration. Despite the deep red walls, the room still felt light and airy. A wide, dark oak staircase curved up to the first floor. All along the stairwell were portraits of presumably countless generations of the Harris family. From the double height ceiling, a chandelier hung high above them, glittering despite the gloom of the day. A fire was lit in the large stone fireplace, its flames bringing warmth to the chilly air.

She caught Arthur watching and waiting for her reaction.

‘It’s lovely,’ she told him, nodding enthusiastically. ‘A really nice example of the Georgian era.’

‘Isn’t it?’ said Arthur, beaming as if pleased that she had noticed. ‘Do come into the drawing room and meet my sister.’

He led the way towards the entrance to the wing on the left-hand side of the hall. They went into the first room on the left, the drawing room.

Skye didn’t think she had ever been in such an elegant room, with its walls painted in soft green, oak floorboards, and comfortable looking sofas and chairs. The large sash windows overlooked the grounds at the front. There were framed photographs, antique ornaments and candlesticks everywhere. Along with lots of rugs and cushions, it felt homely, warm and welcoming.

‘Right, who’s for tea?’ said the dark-haired elderly woman who had called out from the window. She was now sitting next to a coffee table which held a packed tea tray of cups, saucers and plates. The bejewelled rings on her hands glistened as she held up a teapot. Then she spotted Skye and paused. ‘My goodness, that hair colour is magnificent! Do you think it would suit me? They say older women shouldn’t wear purple, but I’ve never followed the rules, have I, darlings? Mind you, I haven’t had a colour rinse since the eighties, but on you, it’s utterly glorious.’

The whole speech had been said in the same clipped aristocratic voice as Arthur. But whereas he had a gentrified, olde worlde style about him, this lady was highly sophisticated and wearing what looked like a classic bright pink Chanel jacket, wide trousers and many strings of pearls around her neck.

‘This is my sister, Rose,’ said Arthur, with an indulgent smile. ‘Rose, let me introduce you to Miss Skye Jackson.’

Rose put the teapot down with a clatter and rushed to stand up and sweep Skye into a bear hug. ‘Darling girl!’ she said, finally releasing her to hold her at arm’s length and study her with dark blue eyes. ‘What an absolute joy to meet you at last. We were so sorry about dear Norman. What a wonderful man he was. You must still be utterly bereft. Do sit down.’

Skye was somewhat overwhelmed by the warm and exuberant welcome that Rose had given her. But the tears pricked at her eyes as she realised how nice it was to be amongst people who had known Norman so well.

‘Such a shame Annie and Sam aren’t here to meet you, but they’re both out until later,’ carried on Rose, rattling on with her monologue. ‘Sam’s my great-nephew, big brother to Will here and Annie is his gorgeous fiancée. But I’m just an aunty, never a great-aunt. So old sounding when I’m still only middle-aged!’

Skye smiled, especially as it was obvious up close that Rose had to be at least seventy.

‘I love your poncho, by the way. Primark?’ Rose continued.

Skye shook her head. ‘I knitted it myself.’

‘How marvellous! And so unique, of course. Although you can’t beat a bit of Primarni, can you? Now, do I take it that you’ve come to claim your half of the lodge?’ asked Rose, placing a gentle hand on Skye’s sleeve.

‘You knew about that?’ said Will, going to stand in front of the fireplace and look at his aunt in amazement.

‘Of course, darling!’ said Rose, beaming up at him. ‘I think I’d just left my first husband so I was back home for a time. My goodness, we were steaming drunk that evening! That gorgeous magnum of champagne from the wine cellar, wasn’t it, Arthur? Such fun.’

‘I still can’t believe Grandad would put something like the lodge up as a bet,’ said Will, shaking his head.

Rose waved away his disbelief with her hand. ‘We were all young and frivolous once upon a time,’ she said. ‘And it didn’t seem to matter until you began to use it more frequently, these past few years. But fair’s fair, half belongs to Norman.’

Will turned to look straight at Skye, his blue eyes burning into hers. ‘But you’re not technically Norman’s family, is that right?’

Skye could feel herself blushing under his scrutiny. ‘Well, you see, it started off when he became my landlord around ten years ago,’ she told them in a small voice. ‘I rented one of his spare bedrooms.’

Arthur nodded thoughtfully. ‘I remember when he told me that he had rented out a couple of his rooms to top up his pension.’

‘That’s right,’ said Skye. ‘For myself and my younger sister. Anyway, we stayed there for all that time and became close to Norman. I used to help him with the shopping and cleaning when his arthritis became too bad.’

And they had kept each other company in the evenings when the loneliness took hold. But she wasn’t going to tell these strangers that, however nice they were.

‘And these past few years after he had that massive stroke?’ asked Rose gently. ‘How did you cope then?’

‘I tried to take care of him,’ said Skye, looking away to stare down at the rug. ‘But it was just too much. We tried to use carers at home, but if they didn’t show up then he was left alone until I came home from work.’ She gulped away the guilt that she had utterly failed him after all of his generosity towards them. ‘Norman told me that it was for the best that he should go into a nursing home so we chose the best one that we could find.’

Alison Sherlock enjoyed reading and writing stories from an early age and gave up office life to follow her dream. Alison lives in Surrey with her husband and a daft golden retriever.

Twitter: @AlisonSherlock

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Snowflakes Over Moon Cottage – Lucy Daniels – 4* Review

 

It’s Christmas-time in the little Yorkshire village of Welford, and the first snowflakes are just starting to fall.

As far as Susan Collins is concerned, this Christmas is all about quality time with her family, especially her son Jack. After a string of terrible dates, she’s given up on love, and Susan’s certainly got plenty to keep her busy.

That is until she meets handsome children’s author Douglas Macleod. Dishevelled in appearance with bright red hair he is the opposite of Susan’s usual type, but an undeniable spark soon lights up between them. But then Michael Chalk, Jack’s father, turns up on the scene wanting to be a family again – and Susan finds herself torn.

With snow settling on the ground and the big day fast approaching, who will Susan and Jack be choosing to spend Christmas at Moon Cottage with this year?

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

Animals, children and romance all make this story a perfect festive book. If you haven’t read any other books in the series, like me, don’t be put off, it’s a great standalone read.

Single mum Susan has had enough of dating sites and nearly doesn’t accept her latest date who definitely isn’t her type. I love that Douglas is more like a Christmas elf than Prince Charming, but he has a good heart and cares for Susan and Jack and really that’s all that matters.  I disliked Michael from the beginning, weak and self- serving, you really want Susan to see through his false charm and looks.

Full of nativity plays, comical children’s’ behaviour and lovable rescue animals, this story is heartwarming with a sparkling romance that demonstrates the joy and poignancy of the festive period.

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

Posted in Festive Read

#BlogTour T.A. Williams – Dreaming of Christmas- Guest Post -5* Review

Dumped on Christmas Eve by her long-term boyfriend, it’s been a rough year for Zoe Lumsley. But then she gets an invitation she can’t refuse: an all-expenses-paid skiing holiday with old university friends.

The bad news: her ex, Grant, will be there with his new girlfriend. But so will her former flatmate Billy, the organiser, and in the meantime, he’s done rather well for himself.  As Christmas in the Alps approaches, it’ll be great to see the old gang. Some more than others…

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Guest Post –

T.A. (Trevor) Williams talks about his new book, Dreaming of Christmas and how potentially tricky it was to write.

I’ve never been big on Christmas. Like a lot of men, I find it creeps up on me and suddenly it’s Christmas week and I haven’t bought anybody any presents. This realisation has me scuttling off to the city centre on Christmas Eve with little or no idea of what to buy. Mind you, ever since one memorable Christmas forty years ago, I definitely know what NOT to buy for my wife. If any men are reading this, heed my words – underwear is not a good idea. Indeed, clothes of any kind are definitely a risky business and best avoided. Luckily my wife has a definite weakness for marrons glacés, so if all else fails, I go for a ridiculously expensive box of those. Anyway, as Christmas approaches, the pile of Christmas cards on my desk grows ever taller and, with it, so does my sense of guilt. If you are one of the rare recipients of a Christmas card from me, don’t be surprised if it was postmarked 24th December.

So how, you may ask, does such a pathetic specimen manage to write a Christmas book? It’s a question I asked myself a good few times last winter when I sat down to write Dreaming of Christmas. The answer has to be imagination. Just because I’m useless at Christmas, this doesn’t mean I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who know what it’s all about and how to do it properly. Over the course of my writing career, I have written about medieval knights, Hollywood film stars, Italian winemakers and internet billionaires. I have no experience of any of these job descriptions so I have had to use research and imagination. So it was with Dreaming of Christmas. I had to think myself into the mind of a Christmas aficionado and write accordingly.

Even so, when I sent the first draft to my editor at publishers, Canelo, I was unsurprised to receive his subsequent advice to “ramp up the glitter” and I did my best to comply. In fairness, I did make life easy for myself by setting the book in a very posh luxury hotel in the beautiful Austrian Alps. This place in my mind’s eye was smothered in deep snow, surrounded by snow-covered pine trees hung with fairy lights, and inside there were Christmas decorations galore. I even Googled “Christmas decorations” so as to remind me what sort of things constituted a really special Christmas and included as much as possible, from angels on top of trees to presents beneath them. I even gave the hotel manager – a figure I image to be a short, chubby man in an impeccable grey suit – a pair of plastic reindeer antlers on his head.

The characters in Dreaming of Christmas are a group of old university friends meeting up again after ten years. They all spend Christmas together so this inevitably meant I had to think about Christmas presents. The eagle-eyed reader will soon spot that nobody gives anybody else any underwear (when I learn a lesson, I really learn a lesson), but it was a struggle to imagine what, say, a thirty-something billionaire would give to his former housemates. Luckily I hit upon the idea of a “Christmas Market” in the village and that opened to doors to snow globes, candles, mugs, scarves and gloves, as well as a rather fine little silver necklace.

Hopefully, the description of Christmas in the book will satisfy the reader. To be totally honest, I ended up rather liking the environment I created. So much so that Casa Williams this Christmas may well find itself with an all singing and all dancing Christmas tree and ancillary baubles, just like in the book. Who knows? I might even buy a few presents in advance. Maybe writing the book has been good for me.

My Thoughts…

A lovely festive setting, an interesting group of people and an unlikely romance make this an enchanting Christmas story.  Glamour, reunion, troubled relationships and romance simmering under the surface bring this modern-day fairytale to life, and it will have you turning the pages lost in its ambience.

Billy is definitely romantic hero material and Zoe can’t believe how he’s changed in ten years, but he’s married and so she has to look elsewhere for her prince charming. Zoe is faced with numerous dilemmas, as she deals with her former flatmates’ problems, but can she sort out her own life and make it a truly memorable festive time?

This is an easy to read, well written festive romantic comedy, set in the picturesque Austrian Alps, complete with a perfect fairytale ending.

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

T.A. Williams lives in Devon with his Italian wife. He was born in England of a Scottish mother and Welsh father. After a degree in modern languages at Nottingham University, he lived and worked in Switzerland, France and Italy, before returning to run one of the best-known language schools in the UK. He’s taught Arab princes, Brazilian beauty queens and Italian billionaires. He speaks a number of languages and has travelled extensively. He has eaten snake, still-alive fish, and alligator. A Spanish dog, a Russian bug and a Korean parasite have done their best to eat him in return. His hobby is long-distance cycling, but his passion is writing.  Twitter

Posted in Festive Read

What Happened To Us – Faith Hogan – Extract – 5* Review

Carrie Nolan is devastated when she is dumped by Kevin Mulvey after more than a decade without even a backwards glance! On reflection, she has sacrificed her own long-term happiness establishing their critically acclaimed Dublin restaurant and pandering to his excessive ego.

Meanwhile, Kevin can’t believe his luck. Valentina, their new waitress is a stunner, the kind of girl that turns heads when she walks in a room and surprise, surprise she has chosen him! He is living the dream!

Carrie seeks solace from a circle of mismatched friends who need her as much as she needs them. Jane, who struggles to run the pub on the opposite side of the street, Luke, who has stopped drifting while his father settles in a nearby nursing home and Teddy, a dog who asks for nothing more than the chance to stay by Carrie’s side.

With Christmas just around the corner, all is not quite as it seems and a catastrophic sequence of events leads to the unthinkable…

How far do you need to fall before you learn the true value of family and friends? And is it ever too late to start again…

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Extract

It was over a long time before Valentina walked into the restaurant. It was over between him and Carrie, probably for years. The truth was, he needed her and, as Valentina said, that’s no basis for a relationship.

God, she was hot. Valentina was the love of his life, simple as that.

‘It’s just sex, mate.’ His friend Jim said when he told him. Marriage and kids had made Jim philosophical about sex – these days he was more interested in football and property prices, or at least that’s how it sounded to Kevin.

‘It’s not just sex, it’s…’ Kevin couldn’t begin to explain to Jim. Jim above all people, with his safe marriage to Sandra and their two perfect children. ‘It’s the real thing. Valentina is the love of my life, the kind of woman every man wants on his arm.’

‘Yeah, but not the kind we marry,’ Jim muttered into his pint and Kevin knew it was only because most people settled for what they thought they deserved. Well, the worst was over now. He – or rather they – had told Carrie. It wasn’t even as bad as he’d expected, actually, she’d taken it rather well. He’d been steeling himself for weeks if he was honest. It wasn’t cowardice, so much as picking his moment. In the end, Valentina picked it for them and he knew it was for the best. No more sneaking around – the stress of all that, while no doubt it had added a risky excitement to the sex – he knew, he’d probably have a heart attack if he kept it up for much longer. Kevin just didn’t have that additional layer to him that subterfuge required, although, he was flattered that Valentina assumed he might and that all this was standard for a man about town like himself.

‘Pure and simple, I said it to you years ago. You and Carrie, too young to settle into all that happy families.’ But of course, there was no family, just a partnership that never made it to a marriage. Sometimes, Kevin wondered why they hadn’t married – perhaps Carrie had been waiting for him to ask? Of course, she must have known, after all these years, Kevin would never get around to asking. If they were to marry, it would be down to Carrie to organise it – and, of course, she never had.

‘It wasn’t just that,’ Kevin said. He wanted to tell Jim that he’d pursued Valentina, had seduced her and set about staking his claim on the future that was assembling before him. Although the truth was, they’d fallen into their relationship one night when Valentina had teased him into opening a bottle of red after everyone had left and they’d made ravenous love against the stairs in the restaurant. Red wine always made Kevin tipsy; he just didn’t have the constitution for it. Even now, it was like a dream to Kevin. He was seducing this beautiful woman and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d managed it, but he could no more halt than the world would stop spinning.

‘No, there was no family, but the restaurant that was your baby. It was hers too.’ Jim shook his head, considered his pint of beer. ‘I suppose you’ve thought about what will happen with that?’

‘With the restaurant?’ Kevin had thought about it, but not in any concrete way. First, he’d had to tell Carrie, now that bit was over, they could make plans, decide what to do for the best.

‘I can’t see her walking away from it, and to be fair, you’d be mad to let her.’

‘How do you mean?’ Kevin was a little affronted.

‘Mate, I’ve known you both a long time, remember, we go back to first-year catering college together. Without Carrie, you’d be like all those other guys. True, you have talent, but let’s face it, Carrie is the brains behind the operation.’

‘Hold on, Jim. It’s my food people come for.’

‘Yes, and they also go to the Shelbourne for food and to McDonald’s. They go to your restaurant for the experience and that’s everything from the food to the people-watching, to the comfy chairs and even just to have Carrie look after them.’

‘Valentina is very good with the customers.’ Kevin might have been insulted if anyone else had said those things, but with Jim, well, he was probably telling the truth.

‘She may well be, but she’s not Carrie.’

‘God, no, she’s definitely not Carrie.’ Kevin smiled, remembering the way Valentina affected him. She did things slowly, spoke slowly, ate slowly. God, but she took off her clothes slowly. Each and every item hitting the ground, and his pulse began to beat rapidly just thinking about it.

‘Stop it, you’re torturing yourself.’ Jim could read his thoughts almost as well as Carrie could. ‘Actually, when I think about it, a Colombian hottie, you’re bloody torturing me as well.’ They sat for a while, looking at the giant TV over the bar, neither of them really following the game, both lost in thoughts of their own. ‘You’ll have to sort something with Carrie, mate.’

‘I suppose.’

‘There’s no suppose about it. It’s a right mess. There’s the house, the business and then all the other stuff that’s going to get tangled up in the crossfire.’

‘What other stuff?’ Kevin didn’t want to hear this, probably it was to be expected, but why couldn’t Jim just be happy for him, well, ideally, if he could be a little jealous too – it wasn’t much to ask, was it?

‘Have you forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding?’

‘Oh, Christ.’ Kevin had completely forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding. It was all planned, and as best friends of the bride and groom, Kevin and Carrie were asked to be maid of honour and best man. ‘That’ll be a bloody nightmare.’

‘Ah well, fun and games,’ Jim said, draining his pint. He nodded to the barman. ‘Must be off, back to the old ball and chain,’ he looked at his watch, ‘getting late for you too, Romeo.’ He slapped Kevin hard on the back. He took up his newspaper and headed into the night winds; leaving Kevin for another half-hour before he was due at the restaurant for the evening rush.

It was a mess. It was a right bloody mess, but he had no choice. He and Carrie were finished. He was in love with Valentina now and there was no going back. Not even for The Sea Pear.

My Thoughts…

A lovely heartwarming read with a festive edge, the characters are rich in detail and make you interested in their lives, whether you like them or not. Carrie is a strong female lead who you both empathise and admire because she doesn’t give up. Teddy the dog is such a courageous character and I would have loved this story for him alone.

There is a charming festive thread in this autumn- winter story that intensifies the importance of family, friends and caring for others.  An authentic, emotional story perfect to read at any time of year. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Faith was born in Ireland and currently lives there with her husband, four children and two fussy cats. She gained an Honors Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate from University College, Galway. She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair- an international competition for emerging writers. When she’s not writing, she’s an enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger.

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