Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Friendship, Guest post, Humour, Mystery, Romance

Country Lovers Fiona Walker 5*#Review @fionawalkeruk @HoZ_Books #Romance #RuralLife #Friendship #Equestrian #humour #secrets #mystery #FamilyDrama #BlogTour #GuestPost #BookReview #ComptonMagna

#CountryLovers

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#CountryLovers

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

My Thoughts…

Horses, romance, scandal and secrets in the delightful rural setting of The Cotswolds. It begins with a nail-biting prologue and then launches into life in Compton Magna several years later. The connection is Luca, someone who has an extraordinary gift with horses. He has a reputation as a womaniser, but he has hidden depths and a plethora of secrets to be revealed as the story progresses.

The characters are many, and all of them richly described in such a vivid way that they are believable. The plot is complex, exploring relationships, village life, family drama and mysterious events and secrets. The Compton Magna stud is the focus of the story, so the horses and dogs are important characters too, which is part of the charm for me.

This is written in true bonkbuster style. It’s long, packed to the rafters with glamorous and enigmatic characters, many of whom behave less than circumspectly. Scandal, secrets and sex are rife in Compton Magna, which is a sharp contrast to the glorious rural setting. The humour is what makes this story so readable, and the snapshots on life and people so astute, that its worth reading for characterisation alone.

I loved this author’earlier stories, and this one reminds me of them, an enjoyable escapist read, full of emotion and sparkling dialogue, in a quintessentially rural England setting.

Fiona’s Writing Corner Image Credit Fiona Walker
Guest Post – Fiona Walker – The Three Big Questions Most Author’s Get Asked Are:

How did you first get published?

The answer I always give is: my novel was plucked out of the infamous Slush Pile when I was twenty-three and sold in a weekend. I was just so lucky!

That was more than half my lifetime ago now, and I still marvel at the Disney Princess naivety with which I stumbled into my writing career in the 1990s. Luck played an undeniable part: right time, right place. But I’d already done the hard bit – written a full-length book – before it surfaced in that slush pile. For me, getting published was enviably easy. My first few books were big best-sellers. I had no idea of the knock backs and soul-searching that would come further along the road. Staying published twenty-seven years later, now that’s taken a lot more blood, sweat and tears…

Yet writing Country Lovers reminded me exactly why I love this job so much, and why I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How do you discipline yourself to do it?

Ask me this, and I’ll tell you I sit alone in a room with my imagination for most of the day, most of the year, at the end of which a book pops out.

Really?

The truth is I procrastinate endlessly. I talk to the dogs, I wander around my office, I play the ukulele I keep on a stand on my desk, I shout at myself, I look up my reviews on Amazon, then everyone else’s reviews on Amazon. I type sentences then delete them. I look at the clock a lot. I make countless cups of coffee most of which get ignored go cold. If I do drink them, I need to get up to go to the loo a lot. I think, think, think about my plot and the characters.

Then suddenly, from nowhere, I’m through the door to my imaginary world and I can’t type fast enough. A thousand words, three, five. Oh hell, I’m on a roll and I need to do the school run. I try to keep in my head what’s going to happen next, the loon mum waiting in her car with the two pairs of reading glasses on her head, muttering repeatedly to herself.

Back at my desk, children abandoned elsewhere in the house, I write on, Seven thousand words, eight. I don’t look at the clock at all. Long-suffering partner makes supper. I appear briefly, thinking about the book all the time, disappear back into my study and tell him I’ll be up to bed in a minute. Ten thousand words, eleven.

At three in the morning, I go to bed, knowing I must sleep. I think about the book until I drift off. My eyes snap open five hours later, still thinking about it, and I rush back to my desk.

It really does happen like that sometimes.

Writing Country Lovers was like that.

Where do you get your ideas from?

To which, I laugh gaily laugh and say ‘they’re all around us – just look and listen! I find stories every day in the news, at the school gate, overheard in the train, meeting friends for coffee. It’s limiting the ideas I have trouble with.’ Stock answer, and absolutely true.

But…

When I set out to write Country Lovers I was all-too-aware that it’s my eighteenth full-length novel, on top of which I’ve written countless short stories, some nearer novella length. My novels are big – 600 plus page full-week-on-a-sun-lounger big – and full of multiple strands. I could make at least three smaller novels out of one of them (a friend once joked ‘you put absolutely every plot idea you’ve had in each one because you’re frightened you might never get to write another!’).

That’s a lot of ideas. I genuinely never run out of them, but I do worry I’m going to repeat myself.

Country Lovers might have a setting I’ve used before and a few favourite characters returning in it, but the central story is one I’ve never explored: what would happen if you met your perfect match on the worst night of your life?

I hope the only thing that repeats itself is that incredible luck I had twenty-seven years ago.

Fiona Walker, Oct 2019

#FionaWalker

Fiona Walker is the author of eighteen novels, from tales of flat-shares and clubbing in nineties London to today’s romping, rural romances set amid shires, spires and stiles. In a career spanning over two decades, she’s grown up alongside her readers, never losing her wickedly well-observed take on life, lust and the British in love. She lives in Warwickshire, sharing a slice of Shakespeare Country with her partner, their two daughters and a menagerie of animals.

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Posted in Animal Friends, Blog Tour, Book Review, Childrens Books, Friendship, Guest post

Tabby’s Big Year- Hollie Anne Marsh 4* #Review @Hollieannemarsh @rararesources #Sweetbriars2 #MiddleGrade #Horses #ComingofAge #BritishEquestrian #teen #kidslit #Family #Friendship #BlogTour #GuestPost

After Tabby’s father vanishes, a deep rift develops in Tabby’s family. Tabby’s mother is focused on being a star performer in her pharmaceutical sales career, while Ava, Tabby’s older sister, is living with grandparents in Cornwall. Tabby feels neglected by her mother and jealous of Ava and although outwardly diligent and responsible, she’s like a kettle about to blow its top… bottling things up until it’s nearly impossible to keep a lid on her frustration and sadness.

Tabby finds solace with her best friends Cate and Violet at Sweetbriars Farm where she is nursing her dream horse Bliss back to peak performance, to be able to participate in the try-outs for the British Young Riders Squad.

Tabby also finds herself facing other challenges – saving her beloved horse Nancy from the knacker’s yard and finding the courage to tell her friends the truth about her family. 
Will Tabby be able to save the horses she loves and be brave enough to tell people how she really feels?

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

My Thoughts…

This book certainly stirred some memories for me. At Tabby’s age, I was totally obsessed with horses, and the scenes in the stable yard evoked happy times. This story is the second in the ‘Sweetbriars series, but as I haven’t read the previous book, and enjoyed it, it reads well as a standalone.

Tabby lives with her mum, who is trying to forge a new life, as a single mum. She has a career and this is her main focus, Tabby is self-sufficient and not surprisingly, old for her years because her mother leaves her to fend for herself a lot of the time. Haunted by her dad’s leaving, Tabby reveals her vulnerability and you empathise.

Estranged from her sister, who lives with their grandparents in Cornwall, this story is about reconnecting with family and understanding that everyone’s life has ups and downs, no matter how ideal it appears from the outside. It’s also about learning to trust your friends and being honest about your life and the problems you face.

The issues are those facing young pre-teens and younger teenagers in contemporary society and are explored in a clear and non- judgmental way.

The focus is on Tabby and the horses, one Bliss, she is helping rehabilitate from an accident, and another horse who she is particularly fond of, she battles to save.

The setting is vividly described, and the characters are realistic, and avoid being stereotypical.

As an adult, I enjoyed reading this story, and feel that is perfect for the intended age group.

The perfect read for any horse obsessed young person.

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

Hollie Anne Marsh and the Sweetbriars equestrian series 

I wrote the manuscript for the first Sweetbriars book over ten years ago. I had a dream to create a premium equestrian series like the successful Saddle Club series, with an addictive mix of horses and ‘coming of age’ themes.

When I was younger, I loved these kinds of books and read them all. I would trade books with my friends, and we would discuss them for hours.

After having a baby and being made redundant from my corporate job, I finished the first book; Leaving The City and then recently, I finished the second book; Tabby’s Big Year… it’s been great to do something creative again and fulfil a lifelong dream!

There are three main characters; Cate, Tabby and Violet and they spend most of their spare time at the Sweetbriars Farm.

Cate Sullivan is the daughter of the family who owns the farm and is the main character in the first book. She is sweet and endearing, however a bit of a worrier!

In the second book, Tabby’s Big Year, we follow Tabby’s story. Tabby lives with her mother in the quaint village of the Dales. She is diligent and hardworking, however, is grappling with her family situation as her father vanished and her older sister Ava moved to Cornwall to live with their grandparents. Tabby becomes a regular at Sweetbriars, finding solace with the horses and her dear friends.

The last character; Violet, she is the sassier of the three girls and she also keeps a horse at ‘Sweetbriars’. She says what she thinks and keeps you guessing with her peculiar ways and habits!

I ran a ‘Search for a Cover Star’ competition for both books in the series and for Leaving The City (the first book), I found a talented young rider, Faye Heppelthwaite, alongside her show pony Gigman George to grace the cover. The photo was taken in an English meadow by the photographer Paul Ruffle and it’s pretty stunning.

For the second book, Tabby’s Big Year, I took it one step further and ran a competition where a young girl could not only grace the cover, she could also win a photo shoot with her pony or horse with photographer Katie Amos. Twelve-year-old Sia Reiss won the competition and participated in a photo shoot in scenic Yorkshire with her eighteen-year-old horse Frankie.

As part of entering the competition I asked entrants why they thought they should win the competition and here is what Sia said, which I thought was gorgeous: “My pony Frankie is 18 years old and has arthritis. His glory days are over. He is a one in a million pony and I love him so much. To me, the best way I can think of celebrating Frankie is having him on the cover of a wonderful book.” 

Here is one of my favourite photos from the photo shoot. I think it’s easy to see the special that Sia and Frankie have.

Image Credit – Kate Amos

In Tabby’s Big Year, there are important lessons for young readers. The main character, Tabby has been through a lot in her young life and has a habit of bottling things up and pretending she is ok. The book teaches that by bottling things up, problems only seem more significant.

Tabby also thinks she is the only one with problems, and there is a moment in the book where the neighbour of the Sweetbriars farm Sophia, opens up and reveals how her father also abandoned her… this is a lightbulb moment for Tabby, as she thought everyone around her had things perfect.

Tabby also found Sophia strange (she’s eccentric, lives in a rundown house with oddball parents), but realizes they have a lot in common and Tabby and Sophia become quite close. So, I think the book also teaches young readers not to judge people by the way they look. This was also quite prevalent in the first book too.

What’s next? 

Well, the obvious thing seems to write another Sweetbriars book from Violet’s point of view. It could also be fun to write a book about the quirky neighbour of Sweetbriars Sophia and her life… she is a bit of an enigma. Then the books could continue – as the series is in its infancy. At this stage, I am not sure how far I will take it, but I do think it has potential.

Tabby’s Big Year

The second book in the Sweetbriars Equestrian Book Series tells the story of twelve-year-old Tabby and is set in The Dales – a fictional rural Devon village in the Southwest of England.

After the disappearance of her father, several years before, Tabby, her older sister Ava and her mother, are still grappling with the consequences. Things need to be brought out into the open… but go on being unsaid, as a huge rift develops leaving the family at odds with each other.

While Tabby battles her feelings of being neglected by her mother, she unexpectedly has to face another battle – to find the courage to save her last horse, Nancy from being sent to a premature end at the knacker’s yard.

Tabby also has the responsibility of caring for a young horse, Bliss – her dream horse who was entrusted to her and is recovering from a serious accident. The clock is ticking as Tabby nurses him back to health and peak performance to be able to achieve her dream: to participate in the try-outs for the British Young Riders Squad.

By her side are her two best friends, Cate and Violet. Tabby also develops an unlikely friendship – with Sophia. Tabby realises she has much more in common with her than she ever could have imagined. 

It’s a big year for Tabby… will she be able to find the courage not only to save the horses she loves the most but also to speak up and tell the people closest to her how she really feels?

Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Barcelona, Spain with her partner, baby boy and horse Frieda. 

Hollie has been horse riding since she was a little girl, enjoying activities such as Pony Club, showjumping, eventing, and trail riding in the great Australian bush. Hollie lived in England for almost ten years where she had two horses and trained them for dressage. 

The ‘Sweetbriars’ series is inspired by all the special moments Hollie spent with horses – good, funny, and challenging moments! 

Additionally the ‘coming of age’ and ‘growing up’ experiences that Hollie had. 
Hollie hopes that readers will be able to identify with the characters, find the books’ fun to read, and they will help readers learn more about horses.

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