Posted in Book Review, Crime, Noir, Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Thriller

Stalker Gemma Rogers 5*#Review @BoldwoodBooks @GemmaRogers79 #boldwoodblogtours #PsychologicalThriller #Suspense #Violence #Women #Justice #RevengeFiction #CrimeFiction #Crime #BookReview #bookbloggers #Author #Interview #Extract #PublicationDay

#Stalker

‘My body reacted before I was even sure, the memory of him on my skin still fresh. I knew where he lived, where he hunted, and it wouldn’t be long before I knew his name.’

Eve Harding’s world implodes one Sunday morning when she is violently assaulted and raped walking to a South London train station.

As her attacker evades the Police and is left to roam the streets to stalk his next victim, Eve is forced to seek out her assailant before he strikes again.

With vengeance in mind, Eve is determined to find him in time and deliver justice on her own terms. In a game of cat and mouse, who is stalking who?

A gritty crime thriller, asking how far would you go to seek justice.

Paperback Digital Ebook

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

My Thoughts…

The rape scene in this story is brutal, the violation and loss of control implicit in every word. This description is harrowing. Given the inspiration for this story, the attack is realistic and sets the scene for what follows. This an adult story. One that will upset most people, but it doesn’t detract from it, or the message it is sending.

Eve’s attack and subsequent action is the main storyline, but running alongside her need for retribution is the need for closure to heal, and the need to stop this happening to anyone else. Eve is complex, but she is easy to empathise. You want her to have justice.

Including the friend and lodger characters, may seem incidental to the story, but they are important. Eve’s reaction to them shows how emotionally scarred and traumatised she is, and why she does what she does. They are an important focus for her mental state.

The plot is chilling and suspenseful, and whether or not you agree with the outcome, or what happens before, the ending is well thought out and believable. A fusion of the psychological thriller and crime genres, with authentic emotion and a menacing antagonist, and an ending that leaves you with a moral dilemma. Perfect.

Author Interview – Gemma Rogers – Stalker

What are the inspirations behind your book – Stalker? Is it a standalone or part of a series?

The inspiration for Stalker came from an indecent assault that happened to me back in 2001. I found writing about it extremely cathartic. In terms of the story, I wanted to explore the feelings that can be left behind as a result of such a traumatic event. How far someone would go for justice? It’s a standalone novel that follows Eve from the incident to her resolution.

How did you create your main protagonist Eve? Is she based on someone you know, an imaginative creation, or a little of both?

Eve isn’t based on anyone I know, she’s a creation, although very much a part of me. How she feels after her attack, mirrors how I felt almost twenty years ago. She’s a complex character, struggling to understand the emotions she’s forced to deal with; the anger, self-loathing and guilt.

How do you make your characters believable?

I people watch and try to absorb as much as I can when I’m out and about. It’s great to watch and see how people react in certain situations. I also draw from my own experiences too, use those to try and flesh my characters out, make them three dimensional. I hope I’ve managed that with Stalker.

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

For me, generally, it’s the plot. I’ll come up with an idea first and it will grow from there. I’m not sure why the idea will plant itself and get bigger until I can’t think of anything else. That’s when I know it’s a good one. However, with Stalker, the setting was equally as important. Where the assault takes place in the novel, is where I grew up. Close to where it actually happened.

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


I’ve always written, from a very young age. I’d create stories with my brother, and turn them into little illustrated books, the pages tied together with string. I wrote some fan fiction in my teens but it’s only the past five years I’ve pushed myself to write a book, and actually finish it! I like this genre very much, I’m a lover of horror films and books, dark thrillers seemed right for me. I think the genre chose me rather than the other way around.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I mostly read thrillers; psychological, gritty thrillers, the darker the better. I fell in love with The Birdman by Mo Hayder and was hooked from there. My favourite authors are Alex Marwood, John Marrs, Mark Edwards, and CJ Tudor. However, when I fancy something a bit lighter I always head to Jane Fallon. I’m a massive fan of her writing.

 What are you currently writing?

I’m currently in the process of writing Book 3 which I believe will be out at some point in 2020, so that is keeping me busy. Book 2 is due for release in January, so not long to wait.

#GemmaRogers

Gemma Rogers was inspired to write gritty thrillers by a traumatic event in her own life nearly twenty years ago. Stalker is her debut novel which Boldwood will publish in September 2019 and marks the beginning of a new writing career.  Gemma lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog Buster.

Twitter Website Publisher’s Website Profile Instagram Facebook

Extract From Stalker – Gemma Rogers

Chapter One
Saturday 27 January 2018

I’ve never been in trouble before. Not the sort of trouble that brought me here. Freshly painted, stark white walls surround me; their toxic scent lingers in the air. A fluorescent glow from strip lights so dazzling they must be there to desensitise the occupants. Everything is white or chrome-like I’m on the set of a futuristic movie. I swing my legs, which dangle over the edge of the bed, not quite reaching the floor. I do this for a minute to keep warm. Despite the blanket around my shoulders, I can’t help but shiver. It’s late and they didn’t bring my jacket. I guess it’s been taken away as evidence.
The woman in front of me is standing too close, hot breath on my arm. It makes me squirm and I fight the urge to yank my hand away from her grip. She’s holding it like I’m a china doll, fragile and easily broken. I dislike the invasion of my personal space. It’s something I’ve learnt to tolerate over the years. I was never a big fan of being touched, shrinking away if someone brushed past me or stood too close on public transport. I’m not a hugger either – no one was in the house where I grew up. After tonight, I can’t imagine I’ll let anyone touch me again.
Her name is Doctor Joyce Hargreaves, she told me as we entered the victim examination room. Her job, she said, was to collect evidence from me, which is why she was wearing a paper suit, so there wouldn’t be any cross-contamination. She hasn’t picked up on my anxiety, the tremor in my fingers; she’s too busy. Brows furrowed, eyes focused as she peels the plastic bag away from my bloodied hand to collect scrapings from my skin and beneath my fingernails. The tool she uses makes me nervous.
‘Is that a scalpel?’ my voice barely a whisper.
‘No, it’s a scraper. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. This is just so I can make sure we collect any skin cells that may be buried underneath the tips of your nails. I’m afraid I’ll have to give them a trim in a minute too.’ She wields the scraper with care and it’s true, it doesn’t hurt.
Physically I’m okay, except my throat is on fire and the ringing in my ears is deafening, timed perfectly with the throbbing of my face. I have a feeling I might feel worse once the adrenaline leaves my system.
When she finishes with my hands, she pulls the fallen blanket back over my shoulders and offers a kind smile as she pushes her glasses up her nose. I can see strands of greying hair trying to escape by her ear, exposed beneath the coverall hat. She wears no jewellery and her face is free of make-up. Was she on duty or has she been called out of her bed to attend to me? Would we recognise each other in different circumstances? Probably not, I must be one of many people that pass through this room every day.
Joyce delicately inserts each of the specimens into small tubes before labelling them to be sent for analysis. I don’t know why? I’ve told them what happened. Soon she’ll want to examine me thoroughly. Internally. Until there are no more swabs left to be taken.
She glances at me, knowing what is coming, what she must ask me to do. Her eyes are full of pity. I must look a mess. Dried blood on my face and chest is beginning to flake away, like charred skin falling into my lap. My cheek is puffy and the vision poor on my left side. I wish I could stop shivering. They said it’s shock and provided me with a mug of hot, sweet tea after the ambulance checked me over. They wanted to make sure the blood I am doused in isn’t mine. It isn’t.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Historical Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction, Saga

The Orphan Daughter Sheila Riley 5*#Review @BoldwoodBooks @1sheilariley #HistoricalFiction #Saga #Liverpool #ReckonersRow #crimefiction #familydrama #BlogTour #extract

WINTER, LIVERPOOL 1947. 

Evie Kilgaren is a fighter. Abandoned by her mother and with her father long gone, she is left to raise her siblings in dockside Liverpool, as they battle against the coldest winter on record. But she is determined to make a life for herself and create a happy home for what’s left of her family.

Desperate for work, Evie takes a job at the Tram Tavern under the kindly watch of pub landlady, and pillar of the community, Connie Sharp. But Connie has problems of her own when her quiet life of spinsterhood is upturned with the arrival of a mysterious undercover detective from out of town.

When melting ice reveals a body in the canal, things take a turn for the worst for the residents of Reckoner’s Row. Who could be responsible for such a brutal attack? And can Evie keep her family safe before they strike again?

A gritty, historical family drama, full of laughter and tears from the author of Annie Groves’ bestsellers including Child of the Mersey and Christmas on the Mersey.

Paperback – Amazon UK Digital – eBook

#boldwoodblogtour

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

My Thoughts…

I love reading a book that you become absorbed in from the first page. ‘The Orphan Daughter’, has this quality, and it’s an enthralling story, with historically authentic characters, whose lives you feel part of, especially the two main female protagonists Connie and Evie.

The historical period for this book, the post WW2 era, and the terrible winter of 1947 is a time I often heard my grandparents and parents talk about. The historic details are believable, and the setting and characters portrayed using vivid imagery, which brings the book to life.

Evie’s hardships are all too common during this time, the euphoria of the ending of war recedes, leaving the bombed cities, damaged infrastructure and relentless poverty for many. Life is hard in Reckoner’s Row, although the community is tight, it is wary of outsiders and unforgiving to those who break the unwritten laws. Evie wants to get out and make something of her life, but love and responsibility draw her back, into the world she longs to leave. This is an emotional family drama, where women are important, they keep families together, and have to subjugate their ambitions.

Angus is an outsider, there to investigate. He and Connie have an attraction, but she is loath to risk her heart and reputation on a fling. There is a mystery element, in this story, which adds to the family saga theme. The air of menace increases as the story progresses. Connie and Evie find that their daily hardship is not the only danger they face.

‘The Orphan Daughter’ has an authentic historical setting, complex characters, with intriguing elements of crime and mystery cleverly woven into the story. An enticing start to the ‘Reckoner’s Row’ series.

Extract from The Orphan Daughter – Sheila Riley

CHAPTER 1
SUMMER 1946
Nineteen-year-old Evie Kilgaren gathered her mane of honey-coloured hair into a loop of knicker elastic before taking a vase of heavy-scented lilies and freesias into the kitchen. The flowers were barely faded when she rescued them from the churchyard
bin that morning.

Placing them in the centre of the table, she hoped their heady scent would mask the smell of damp that riddled every dwelling in the row of terraced houses opposite the canal and add a bit of joy to the place.

‘Who’s dead?’ her mother, Rene, asked. Her scornful retort was proof she had already been at the gin and Evie’s heart sank. She had wanted today to be special.

Surely her dead father’s birthday warranted a few flowers. Even if they were knockoffs from the church – at least she had made an effort, which was more than her mother had.

‘I got them for Dad’s…’ Evie was silenced by the warning flash in her mother’s dark eyes. A warning she had seen many times before. Rene gave a hefty sniff, her eyes squinting to focus, her brow wrinkled, and her olive skin flushed. Evie knew that when
her mother had drunk enough ‘mother’s ruin’, she could be the life and soul of any party or, by contrast, one over could make her contrary and argumentative.
‘I thought they’d look nice on the table,’ Evie answered lightly, quickly changing her answer to try and keep the peace. She should have known better than to mention her father in front of Leo Darnel, who’d moved in as their lodger six months ago and
taken no time at all getting his feet under her mother’s eiderdown. ‘I found a vase in…’ Her voice trailed off. Her mother wasn’t listening. As usual, she’d disappeared into the parlour to darken her finely shaped eyebrows with soot from the unlit grate – make-up was still on ration – dolling herself up for her shift behind the bar of the Tram Tavern. The tavern was barely a stone’s throw away on the other side of the narrow alleyway running alongside their house, so why her mother felt the need to dress to the nines
was anybody’s guess.

Out of the corner of her eye, Evie noticed a sudden movement from their lodger, who was standing near the range, which she had black-leaded that morning. Leo Darnel didn’t like her and that was fine, because she didn’t like him either.

He was a jumped-up spiv who tried to pass himself off as a respectable businessman. Respectable? He didn’t know the meaning of the word, she thought, her eyes taking in the polished leather Chesterfield suite that cluttered the room and seemed out of place in a small backstreet terraced house.

‘None of your utility stuff,’ he’d said, pushing out his blubbery chest like a strutting pigeon. All the time he had a wonky eye on the bedroom door. He would do anything to keep her mother sweet and made it obvious every chance he got to show Evie she was in the way.

He’d been very quiet for the last few minutes, Evie realised. That wasn’t like Darnel. He was up to something, she could tell. He hadn’t interrupted with a sarcastic comment as he usually did when she and her mother were having a tit-for-tat. His elfsatisfied
smirk stretched mean across thin lips as he hunched inside a crisp white shirt and peered at her.

His beady eyes looked her up and down as he chewed a spent matchstick at the corner of his mouth before turning back to the grate. His piggy eyes were engrossed in the rising flames of something he had thrown onto the fire. Her attention darted to the
blaze casting dancing flares of light across the room.

‘No!’ Evie heard the gasp of horror and disbelief coming from her own lips. How could he be so callous? How could he? As he stepped back with arms outstretched like he was showing off a new sofa, Evie could see exactly what he had done.

‘You burned them!’ Evie cried, hurrying over to the range, pushing Darnel out of her way and grabbing the brass fire tongs from the companion set on the hearth, desperate to save at least some of the valuable night-school work.

Two years of concentrated learning to prove she was just as good as all the rest – reduced to ashes in moments. Thrusting the tongs into the flames again and again was hopeless Her valuable notes disintegrated.

‘Mam, look! Look what he’s done!’ Her blue eyes blazed as hotly as the flames licking up the chimney.

‘You are not the only one who can crawl out of the gutter? Mr High-and-mighty!’ Evie was breathless when her burst of anger erupted, watching the flames envelope her books, turning the curling pages to ash. She balled her work-worn hands, roughly red through cleaning up after other people and pummelled his chest. Why? She caught his mocking eyes turn to flint before being dealt a quick backhander that made her head spin.

Her nostrils, which only moments before had been filled with the sweet fragrance of summer freesias and Mansion polish, were now congested with blood as traitorous tears rolled down her cheek. Evie dashed them away with the pad of her hand, ashamed and angry because he was privy to her vulnerability. Her pale blue eyes dashed from the range to her mother, who was now standing in the doorway shaking painted nails.
 

#SheilaRiley

Sheila Riley wrote four #1 bestselling novels under the pseudonym Annie Groves and is now writing a new saga trilogy under her own name. She has set it around the River Mersey and its docklands near to where she spent her early years.  She still lives in Liverpool.

Twitter Website PublishersWebsite

Posted in Book Review, Friendship, Romance

The Secret to Happiness Jessica Redland 5* #Review @BoldwoodBooks @JessicaRedland #Friendship #Relationships #SelfDiscovery #NorthYorkshire #BlogTour #Extract #WhitsboroughBay

#TheSecrettoHappiness

EVERYONE DESERVES A CHANCE AT HAPPINESS…

Danniella is running from her past, so when she arrives at the beautiful seaside resort of Whitsborough Bay, the last thing on her mind is making friends. After all, they might find out her secrets…

Alison is fun, caring and doesn’t take herself too seriously. But beneath the front, she is a lost soul, stuck in a terrible relationship, with body confidence issues and no family to support her. All she really needs is a friend.

Karen’s romance has taken a back seat to her fitness business. But she doesn’t want to give up on love quite yet. If only those mysterious texts would stop coming through …

When the women meet at their local boot camp, a deep friendship blossoms. And soon they realise that the secret to happiness is where they least expected to find it…

An uplifting story of friendship and finding the strength to come to terms with the past.

Paperback – Amazon UK Digital

#boldwoodBlogtours

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

My Thoughts…

Three women, three different lives, but all with troubled pasts, that make their present less than perfect, and the future something they’d rather not think about.

Alison, Danniella, and Karen are drawn together when they meet at a boot camp, and improved fitness isn’t the only benefit they receive. The women become friends. This friendship makes them individually strong enough to face their daily demons, and discover that the elusive concept of happiness has to begin with yourself.

The three female points of view and characters are authentic and easy to empathise. Alison is initially the easiest to root for, but I like them all, and as I shared their emotional journey, I wanted them to find the happiness they sought. The cast of supporting characters are also realistic, and add depth to the story, highlighting important events and issues in the women’s lives.

This is an inclusive story, the characters want you to be part of their lives, and as you are drawn in, you experience many emotions. It’s not an easy read in parts, but in the end, there is hope, friendship, and a future for each of the women, they could never have believed possible.

The Secret to Happiness – Jessica Redland – Extract

Chapter 1

Alison

It had to be time to get up for work. Surely. Alison stretched her arm out from under the duvet and retrieved her mobile from the bedside drawers. The bedroom briefly illuminated as she checked the time. 5.38 a.m. Not time for work, then. She turned her head towards the window. It had been raining for three hours and forty-seven minutes now. Starting with a torrential downpour at 1.51 a.m., it had now settled into a slow but steady rhythm. And she’d been wide awake for every single drop.

Beside her, Dave was in a deep untroubled sleep, punctuated by the occasional grunt or snore. She slowly turned over to face him, but he had his back to her as usual. He muttered something when she gave him a gentle nudge, but didn’t wake up. She was about to give him a harder shove but stopped herself. What was the point? He’d only tell her to go back to sleep. Sleep? If only she could. And he’d tell her that getting upset about it wasn’t going to change anything. No, it wasn’t. But a hug and comforting words might help her find the strength to face the hardest day of the year.

Peeling back the duvet, Alison pulled on her fluffy dressing gown and padded downstairs to the kitchen. The familiar feeling of despair enveloped her as the fluorescent tubing flickered then burst into life revealing the concrete flooring, bare plaster, and dilapidated dark wood units. Oh, the joys of living with a builder: a house full of unfinished projects because Dave couldn’t bear to spend his evenings and weekends doing what he did all day. Of course, paying someone else to do it was completely out of the question. She’d stupidly suggested that once. Never again.

The dining room had been out of action for four years because it was packed outwith boxes containing the new kitchen. It wasn’t good to moan about that either. Besides, they had no social life, so who would they invite round for a meal even if it was in use? He’d promised this would be the year for sorting it, though, and had even booked a week off work next month to finally fit the kitchen. She wouldn’t hold her breath.

*

Alison placed a giant mug of milky, sugary tea on the coffee table in the lounge and took a few deep breaths. It was time. Crouching down, she opened the cupboard on her grandma’s old dresser. There it was, nestled under Trivial Pursuit, a guidebook for Corfu, and a pack of playing cards. She lightly ran her fingers down the navy spine of the large photo album, goosebumps pricking her arms, then carefully removed it.

Curling up on the large tub chair with the unopened album resting on her legs, Alison closed her eyes and breathed in and out slowly, trying to steady her racing heart. Fifteen years. Had it really been that long? As she slowly turned page after page, photos first, then newspaper clippings, the rain continued its patter against the front of the house and Alison’s tears kept in time with the slow and steady rhythm of the drops.

*

Alison was in the kitchen eating breakfast when she heard Dave thunder down the stairs. She glanced at her watch, tensing. He was running late as usual, which would somehow be her fault.

‘Where’ve you put my phone?’ he demanded as he strode down the hall, sounding more like an army sergeant than a loving boyfriend. A hefty six-foot-three rugby player, he dominated the kitchen doorway, blocking out the natural light from the glass either side of the front door.

‘I think you might have plugged it in to charge in the lounge,’ she said softly, knowing full well that he had.

When Dave returned to the kitchen, phone in hand, she looked up at him expectantly, but he didn’t even glance at her. She willed him to look at her, to hug her, to tell her he was there for her. He’d forgotten last year but surely he wouldn’t do that again.

‘What were you doing up so early?’ he asked, his voice still gruff.

Alison felt herself deflate. ‘I couldn’t sleep,’ she muttered. ‘Too much in my head.’

He yanked open the fridge. ‘Where’s my butties?’

Alison’s shoulders drooped even further. ‘In the blue container.’ She picked up her second warm croissant and slathered it with butter, blinking back the tears. He’d forgotten it again; he was more concerned with his sandwiches than her, as usual. Pushing a stray dark curl behind her ear, Alison took another deep breath. She’d have to prompt him. Last year, she hadn’t said anything until the following day and he’d had a go at her for not reminding him on the day. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.

‘So, it’s the 11th of May today.’

He closed the fridge door and stared at her. ‘And…?’

‘And… well… it’s… you know…’

‘Ali! I’m late. Spit it out or shut up.’

His eyes bored into her and she felt that momentary burst of confidence ebbing away. ‘Never mind. It’s nothing.’

Dave dropped his packed lunch into his toolbox. ‘Where’s the bananas?’

Damn! She knew she’d forgotten something. ‘Still on the shop shelves? Sorry. There’s pears.’

‘Bloody hell, Ali,’ he snapped. ‘When have I ever liked pears?’

She continued eating while he wittered about pears being the devil’s fruit. Why did he have to make such a fuss about little things like that? Especially today. Watching him choose a pear from the bowl – with such a disgusted look on his face it could just as easily have been a decaying mouse – Alison shook her head and bit into her croissant again, closing her eyes as the melted butter oozed onto her tongue. Heaven in pastry format.

‘Jesus Christ, Ali!’

She snapped open her eyes, startled to find him right next to her.

‘No wonder.’ He shook his head. ‘No bloody wonder.’

She flinched as he grabbed his toolbox and stormed out of the kitchen.

As the front door slammed, she ripped off a piece of croissant and crushed it between her thumb and forefinger, a mixture of guilt and frustration flowing through her. She hadn’t needed to ask him what he meant. She could fill in the rest of the sentence for him. No wonder you’re so fat. No wonder you keep ordering bigger uniforms. No wonder the stairs leave you breathless. No wonder we never have sex.

She surveyed the plateful of pastries, the full-fat butter, the luxury jam, her third giant mug of milky, sugary tea. All for one person. Yes. No wonder. She had a good excuse for the feast that morning, though, not that Dave had acknowledged it.

As she cleared the table, tears welled in her eyes once more. How could he have forgotten again? Maybe he’d remember that evening. Maybe he’d come home with flowers and a hug. Alison wiped the table with such a furious swipe that crumbs scattered across the concrete. Sod it! They could stay there.

Jessica Redland is the author of nine novels including Searching for Steven which are all set around the fictional location of Whitsborough Bay.  Inspired by her hometown of Scarborough she writes uplifting women’s fiction which has garnered many devoted fans.

Twitter Website Instagram Facebook

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Romance

Dare to Love a Duke – Eva Leigh 5* #Review @MillsandBoon @EvaLeighAuthor #MillsandBoonInsiders #RegencyRomance #HistoricalRomance #Extract #ScandalousLadiesofLondon #TheLondonUnderground #BlogTour

Dare to Love a Duke

A Masked Stranger. A Passionate Encounter. A Chance at Love?

For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club, passion could lead to love…

Thomas Powell, the new Duke of Northfield, knows he should be proper and principled, like his father. No more duelling, or carousing, or frequenting masked balls. But he’s not ready to give up his freedom just yet.

Lucia—known as Amina—manages the Orchid Club, a secret society where fantasies become reality. Yet no member of the club has ever intrigued her…until him, the masked stranger whose heated looks sear her skin. After months of suppressed longing, do they dare to give in to temptation…?

Amazon UK

#BlogTour

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon in return for an honest reveiw.


My Thoughts…

On first acquaintance, Lucia is, the most scandalous of the ladies in this Regency romance series. The proprietress of a secret sex club, although not the owner, she is above the wild abandonment that takes place behind its doors, and never fraternises with members, until Tom. The early chapters of this book are explicit, but not in a gratuitous way. The descriptions demonstrate the ethos of the club and the double standards of polite society. It is a surprisingly egalitarian place, where identity is secret, members are drawn to the place for its freedom.

Tom first visits the club as the Duke’s heir, when it fits into his hedonistic lifestyle, Twelve months later, he attends only for his interaction with Lucia or Amina as she is known in ‘The Orchid Club’, they talk but don’t touch, which sets them apart from everyone else. Then his circumstances change, and he realises, so must his life.

Tom and Lucia are from different social classes, but they share the same beliefs, even if it takes Lucia to make Tom realise his true self. The plot has many twists, that force the couple together. Their relationship is full of conflicts that make their chance of lasting happiness unlikely.

Lucia, like all the women in this series, wants to help women and children subjected to deprivation and poverty, which she has experienced first hand. Scandal and social reform are the main themes of this Regency romance, which showcases the strength and tenacity of Lucia and her friends, in a class controlled, male-dominated society.

While the message of the novel is clear, it doesn’t deter from the delicious interplay between Lucia and Tom, and their passionate romance. The ending is romantic and satisfying, and the epilogue rounds off the series perfectly.

#TheLondonUnderground
Extract From – Dare to Love a Duke – Eva Leigh

Chapter 1

London, England

1816

A droplet of sweat rolled between the shoulder blades of Thomas Edward O’Connell Cúchulain Powell, Earl of Langdon, as he steadied the cocked duelling pistol and took aim. He looked down the weapon’s barrel, his concentration fixed on his target twenty paces away. His exhalation misted in the chill midnight air as he fought for calm.

He inhaled, held his breath, then pulled the trigger.

There was a flash and a cloud of smoke as the weapon’s

concussion split the night’s stillness.

Twenty paces away, glass shattered.

The hushed crowd burst into applause and cheers of “Bravo!” as Tom lowered the pistol and grinned. He kept his footing as people swarmed around him, offering their congratulations and hearty thumps on the back. Numerous women, scented heavily with perfume, kissed his cheeks—so many that he imagined it looked as though he wore rouge.

“The hero of Regent’s Park,” George Mowbray declared.

“Not to Culver, I’m afraid.”

Tom looked over at his opponent, Lord Culver, who sulked as he handed his duelling pistol to a footman. Culver had missed when taking aim at the bottle of claret. Perhaps if Tom had been more virtuous, he would have deliberately missed so that there was no winner and no loser. Though Tom was an earl and the heir to the Duke of Northfield, no one would ever call

him virtuous.

“Ah, shag him,” Mowbray said magnanimously.

“I’ll leave that to the professionals.”

Tom smiled ruefully as Culver’s hired companion for the evening attempted to soothe her client. When Culver shoved her away and she stumbled, Tom immediately strode through the crowd and jammed his fist into his opponent’s sternum.

“You may have lost, but you’re still a gentleman,” Tom said in a low, warning voice. Gently, he took the woman’s arm to make sure she kept her footing.

“Apologize to the lady.”

“She’s just a whore, Langdon,” Culver said.

“Apologize.” Tom’s jaw firmed as he held up the pistol. “Or else the next time I fire this, it will be at your worthless heart.”

Culver scowled, but said in a grudging voice, “I’m sorry.” Under his breath, he muttered, “You Irish son of a bitch.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “Repeat that.”

“I . . .” Culver gulped. “It was a jest.”

“A poor one.” Since the age of twelve, when he’d been brought from his mother’s Irish home to be educated in his father’s country of England, Tom had heard some variation of Culver’s insult. Why anyone thought Tom ought to be embarrassed about his Irish blood, he’d no idea. But he wouldn’t tolerate slurs.

“Must I ask for another apology?”

“My sincere contrition,” Culver said. After casting Tom a wary glance, he hurried toward his waiting carriage.

“Hope I didn’t cost you your night’s earnings,” Tom said to the woman.

“Ah, no.” She gave him a dry smile as she eyed the throngs of young, wealthy bucks passing bottles back and forth as they caroused. “There’s plenty of pickings in this crowd.” She glanced at him and her smile turned more genuine. “Happens that I’m free right now, my lord. If you’re interested.”

“Perhaps another evening.” He wasn’t ready for bed yet.

One of the rakes came forward with a substantial bundle of cash and jammed it into Tom’s hand. “Your winnings, Langdon.”

No sooner than the cash was in his hand than Tom turned and handed it to the woman. “For putting up with Culver.”

“I couldn’t, my lord,” she said as she tucked the money into her bodice. She gave him a wink. “ ’Night, love.” She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, then

strode off into the darkness.

“That was near seventy pounds, Langdon,” Mowbray said in shock.

“She’ll have better use of it than me.”

There was no shortage of funds in Tom’s coffers, between income from his earldom as well as his generous allowance provided by his father, the duke. Other lordlings and bucks swam in seas of debt, hounded constantly by tailors, club proprietors, and wine shop owners. Tom made certain to pay everyone on time, for no other reason than the fact that he could.

“I’d do it again for free if it meant humiliating Culver. Bloke’s had it coming since he refused to cover his mistress’s bills.”

“You’re a daft bastard,” Mowbray said with a shake of his head.

“I’d agree,” Tom said affably, “except everyone knows about my parents’ celebrated fidelity. Bastard in deed but not blood.”

Someone handed him a bottle of whiskey and he took a drink before passing the spirits along to a trio of bucks who looked in dire need of refreshment.

“Good Christ, here you are!”

The throng opened up just enough to allow Christopher Ellingsworth to emerge, looking slightly bedraggled despite his military bearing. Since returning home from the War a year ago, Ellingsworth had renewed the friendship he and Tom had begun at Oxford, and from that point forward they had been nigh inseparable, with the exception of tonight.

“Missed the excitement.” Tom handed his pistol to the footman, who returned it to its polished mahogany case.

“Not for want of trying,” his friend said. “I’ve been to the opera, two gaming hells, and a phaeton race. Everywhere I went, I’d just missed you by ten minutes.” He shook his head but his eyes gleamed with reluctant admiration. “Good thing we’re not competing for the title of Most Scapegrace Gentleman in London, or else you’d best me.”

“That trophy isn’t much sought after, anyway. Why such urgency to find me?” Tom lifted an eyebrow.

“My father’s not looking for me, I hope.”

The duke periodically got it into his head that Tom would somehow reform and conduct himself with the dignity and sobriety of a ducal heir with a family history of deeply traditional beliefs, but that was precisely why Tom spent his days asleep and his nights in endless rounds of revelry. One day, hopefully in the far distant future, Tom would inherit the title, and with it, the morass of responsibilities and duties that came with being one of the most powerful men in England—and a voting record dedicated to preserving the ancient systems of power.

Life as Tom knew it would end. He’d say goodbye to nights entertaining opera dancers, midnight swims in the Serpentine, and behaving like the kingdom’s veriest rogue, with his equally dissolute companions keeping him company.

As a marquess’s third son who had recently sold his commission, Ellingsworth had considerably less money but shared Tom’s appetite for running riot. There wasn’t one corner of the city they hadn’t explored in search of amusement and pleasure.

Ellingsworth hooked an arm around Tom’s neck and led him several paces away from the celebrants.

In a low voice, he said, “I’ve heard about something that I knew would interest you. A place in Bloomsbury called the Orchid Club.”

Tom groaned. “I’ve grown weary of clubs. Same games of chance, same people, same wine, same everything.”

His friend’s grin flashed. “This club is different.

For one, it opens its doors only once a week and it just so happens to be open tonight.”

That wasn’t enough to snare Tom’s interest. Many clubs did what they could to cultivate an air of mystery in order to ensure steady business from those eager to discover its secrets.

“What else makes it so special? Is it a brothel?”

“It is most decisively not a brothel. You’ll need this, however.” Ellingsworth unhooked his arm from around Tom’s neck. He reached into his coat before producing something, then slipped the item into Tom’s hand.

Tom held up the object so he could study it better. It was a half-mask made of midnight blue satin.

“What the devil . . . ?”

Ellingsworth chuckled. “You’re intrigued.”

“You’ve gotten my attention.”

Tom had torn all over London tonight, but still, edginess and restlessness pulsed just beneath his skin. He needed diversion. Surely there had to be something in the city he hadn’t already done.

“Excellent.” Ellingsworth clapped his hands together. “I left my horse with the boy watching yours.”

He headed toward where the animals waited, and Tom quickly followed.

“Won’t you tell me more about this mysterious Orchid Club?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t dream of ruining the surprise.”

They reached the horses and after tossing coins to the lad holding the reins, Tom and Ellingsworth swung up into the saddles.

“Not even a hint?” Tom pressed.

In response, Ellingsworth put a finger to his smirking mouth, then wheeled his horse around.

Together, he and Tom rode off into the night.

Back Cover
#OrchidClub
#DareToLoveADuke
Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Guest post, Historical Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson -5* #Review @HoZ_Books @LesleyjmThomson #CrimeFiction #ThePlayGroundMurders #TheDetectivesDaughter #BlogTour

Forty years ago, in the dark of the playground, two children’s lives were changed forever.

Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent and needs Stella to prove it.

As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.

Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…

Amazon

Kobo

iBooks

Google Play

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

My Thoughts…

I didn’t discover,’The Detective’s Daughter Series, until Book 6 The Death Chamber. That story, and this one, ‘The Playground Murders’, reads well as a standalone. There is sufficient background, especially about Stella’s enigmatic father to let you understand what motivates the main protagonists. However, for the full experience read the older books too.

Original characters and complex cold cases to solve are the hallmarks of this detective series. The characters are quirky and realistic, they all have believable flaws, neuroses and aspiration.

Stella, the detective’s daughter, has two main focuses, cleaning and solving previously unsolved crimes. She runs a cleaning company and a detective agency, with her partner Jack and a cast of unique individuals. They are a family, look out for each other, criticise each other, and share a bond that resists any outside interference.

This story connects a recent murder, with a past child killing, investigated by Terry, Stella’s father. Present day action is complemented by flashback chapters in 1980 when Terry was involved in the child-killing case. The ethos of the historical part of the story is chilling, the contrast of innocence and evil disturbing.

Aside from the detective case, there are snapshots of Stella and Jack’s lives outside work. Stella and her mother Suzie, have the usual mother-daughter issues and Jack a father of twins, has to come to terms with only seeing them periodically, and the spectre of a new father figure in their lives.

This story has a clever, twisty plot, and a menacing undertone. Slow-paced it lets you absorb the action, and atmosphere, as you try to solve the crime. Another exciting chapter in ‘The Detective’s Daughter’, series.

Guest Post – Lesley Thomson – The Playground Murders

With the exception of The Death Chamber (#6), there are children in my stories. As victims of crime or adults who go on to commit a crime. I hope that meeting them as a child gives readers insight into their later actions. Until The Playground Murders, I’d never created a child killer who is a child. No surprise, it’s a disturbing subject. Traditionally childhood is a time of happy innocence. If, for whatever reason, it’s not this is usually down to the transgressions of adults. That a child might deliberately end the life of another child is terrible to contemplate. That photo of James Bulger being led away from his mother by two ten-year-old boys shattered our life-view.

Can a child be evil? Can we forgive the adult a child becomes for a crime they committed long ago? As children did we do bad stuff? Do we write off those misdemeanours because, hey, we were kids? What if punching a kid in the dinner queue caused their death? Do children even understand what death is? The Playground Murders explores these questions.

The playground setting was a no-brainer. Archetypal, it’s in the bones of many of us as kids and as parents. Typically a locus of excitement and fun, joyful shouts, urgent cries and the gales of laughter of children deep in their game carries over municipal lawns, rotundas where Sunday brass bands are long gone. Playgrounds were developed from observing children playing on bombsites after the war. Bounded by railings within a landscaped park or in a school, they offer the change for kids’ imaginations to be free. Girls and boys are heroes of their make-believe. Or villains.  

These days playgrounds are populated with jolly coloured climbing walls, slides, swings and roped walkways but when I was young, and until the nineteen-eighties, the playground was a relatively dangerous place. Heavy iron equipment, the witch’s hat and juggernaut roundabout trapped limbs and crushed fingers and feet. Swings without restraining bars could fly high until chains twisted or snapped propelling occupants onto unforgiving concrete.

There were fatalities. It’s not plot spoiling to tell you that in The Playground Murders one child falls from a tower slide (equivalent to plummeting from a first-floor window), the death ruled an accident because it wasn’t unusual. I feel lucky to have got away with only breaking my arm by crashing pell-mell into my friend Tina when we were eight. Actually, I recently read that kids colliding with each other is a thing. Not just us then.

The Playground Murders, a tale of mired ambitions, of deceit and betrayal and ruined childhoods is also about hope and regeneration. Here’s hoping you enjoy it.

Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.

Website Twitter Facebook

Extract From The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson

The group considered the furry mass. The cat was large with a collapsed tummy.

‘I think it’s old,’ Sarah decided. ‘Is it dead like Robbie’s dead?’

‘Yes,’ Nicola snapped at her.

‘Robbie didn’t get runned down,’ Sarah said.

‘No one said he did, darlin’.’ Danielle imitated her older sister Maxine being nice to Jason. ‘Best you go to bed. No nightmares.’ She yanked Sarah to her.

‘You can’t chop it up,’ Jason said. ‘It’s not yours.’

‘I’m a detective,’ Danielle repeated.

‘Can we play Doctors and Nurses with it?’ Sarah enquired.

‘It’s dead so it doesn’t need nursing or… doctoring.’ Danielle forgot to be nice.

‘Let’s pretend it’s alive. Like you did with Robbie,’ Sarah said.

‘Sarah!’ Lee snatched her hand. ‘We’re going. And don’t tell your Dad about this, OK?’

‘Ouch.’ Sarah squirmed crossly. ‘I want to stay for the chopping.’

‘We should tell the owner. They’ll be waiting to give it its tea,’ Nicola said. ‘When Spiderman didn’t come back, Robbie cried. I did too. He’d got stuck in next door’s shed. He was starving. Robbie was allowed to give him Whiskas with a fork.’

‘Robbie’s dead,’ Danielle said.

‘He wasn’t then. Spiderman is alive,’ Nicola mumbled.

‘Has this cat got a collar?’ Danielle wished Nicky would shove off. She folded her arms.

Kevin felt under the cat’s chin. Revolted, Jason sniggered. In his doctor’s voice, Kevin reported, ‘She doesn’t have no collar.’

‘A collar. Not no collar,’ Danielle barked. ‘You don’t know it’s a lady.’

‘It’s had babies, that’s why it’s all flabby like that.’ Kevin did sound like a doctor.

‘I know.’ Danielle tapped her front tooth. Her notion of a detective was derived mainly from Scooby-Doo. ‘We’ll call on everyone in the street and detect the owner. Kevin, you’re my sergeant.’

Kevin scrambled to his feet and stood next to Danielle, hands behind his back like a policeman.

‘There’s hundreds of houses in this street,’ Sarah said.

Everyone went quiet as they digested this.

‘Spiderman crosses the road as soon as he comes out,’ Nicola said at last. ‘He goes in a straight line. If this cat does that, it lives there.’ She waved a hand at the house behind them. A decorated Christmas tree sparkled in the window.

‘No. It’s down there,’ Danielle stated firmly.

‘How can you be sure?’ Nicola asked.

‘I keep saying because I’m a detective. I’ll sling it behind there and people can work it out for themselves.’ Tiring of the operation, Danielle pointed at the memorial for the three dead policemen. She hauled up the cat in both hands. More blood spewed from its mouth. The children scattered like birds.

‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ Jason did a war dance.

‘We should tell the owner since you know it’s them in that house,’ Lee stepped in.

‘I’ll do it.’ Nicola went along the pavement to the house where Danielle had said that the cat had lived.

Sarah dragged on her brother’s Harrington jacket. ‘Lee, I got to tell you a secret.’

‘Not now,’ Lee hissed.

‘There’s no one in,’ Nicola said.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Literary Fiction

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World – Elif Shafak #BlogTour @PenguinUKBooks @VikingBooksUK @Elif_Shafak #Turkey #LiteraryFiction #PoliticalFiction #Extract 5* #Review

‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

Amazon UK

Waterstones

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

My Thoughts…

There are so many facets and layers to this absorbing and inspiring story, it’s breathtaking. Family, friendship, abuse, religion, politics, corruption, culture, custom, mysticism, prejudice, history and equality are the ones that resonate. The idea that even when the body dies, the mind lives on, recalling memories, sensory experiences and emotions, is lovely. It forms the basis for a literary and political adventure, instilled with humanity, faith, poignancy and humour.

Leila is dead, but her mind refuses to die and in the 10 minutes and 38 seconds it has it recalls her early life, her friendships, choices, tragedies and eventual demise. Even though her life was hard, it was vital and enriched by friendships. Her five true friends have all faced their own battles, but together they survive and it is this connectivity that allows Leila, freedom in death that was never hers in life.

The fluidity of Istanbul is at the heart of this story, its gateway to both the east and west and its vibrant and violent historic past, makes it unique and this storyteller knows it in intimate details, which is fascinating.

The pacing is perfect, the characters engaging and believable, you hate the injustice they encounter, and cheer on their seemingly insignificant victories because they matter to you. The writing is full of vivid imagery, sometimes uncomfortably so, but this story holds your interest and is an addictive read.

An emotional, vibrant story that makes you think.

Extract from 10 Minutes 38 Seconds This Strange World – Elif Shafak

Her name was Leila.

Tequila Leila, as she was known to her friends and her clients. Tequila Leila as she was called at home and at work, in that rosewood-coloured house on a cobblestoned cul-de-sac down by the wharf, nestled between a church and a synagogue, among lamp shops and kebab shops – the street that harboured the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul.

Still, if she were to hear you put it like that, she might take offence and playfully hurl a shoe – one of her high-heeled stilettos.

Is, darling not was . . . My name is Tequila Leila.

Never in a thousand years would she agree to be spoken of in the past tense. The very thought of it would make her feel small and defeated, and the last thing she wanted in this world was to feel that way. No, she would insist on the present tense – even though she now realized with a sinking feeling that her heart had just stopped beating, and her breathing had abruptly ceased, and whichever way she looked at her situation there was no denying that she was dead.

None of her friends knew it yet. This early in the morning they would be fast asleep, each trying to find the way out of their own labyrinth of dreams. Leila wished she were at home too, enveloped in the warmth of bed covers with her cat curled at her feet, purring in drowsy contentment. Her cat was stone deaf and black – except for a patch of snow on one paw. She had named him Mr Chaplin, after Charlie Chaplin, for, just like the heroes of early cinema, he lived in a silent world of his own.

Tequila Leila would have given anything to be in her apartment now. Instead, she was here, somewhere on the outskirts of Istanbul, across from a dark, damp football field, inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint. It was a wheelie bin; at least four feet high and half as wide. Leila herself was five foot seven – plus the eight inches of her purple slingback stilettos, still on her feet.

There was so much she wanted to know. In her mind she kept replaying the last moments of her life, asking herself where things had gone wrong – a futile exercise since time could not be unravelled as though it were a ball of yarn. Her skin was already turning greyish-white, even though her cells were still abuzz with activity.

She could not help but notice that there was a great deal happening inside her organs and limbs. People always assumed that a corpse was no more alive than a fallen tree or a hollow stump, devoid of consciousness. But given half a chance, Leila would have testified that, on the contrary, a corpse was brimming with life.

She could not believe that her mortal existence was over and done with. Only the day before she had crossed the neighbourhood of Pera, her shadow gliding along streets named after military leaders and national heroes, streets named after men. Just that week her laughter had echoed in the low-ceilinged taverns of Galata and Kurtulush, and the small, stuffy dens of Tophane, none of which ever appeared in travel guides or on tourist maps. The Istanbul that Leila had known was not the Istanbul that the Ministry of Tourism would have wanted foreigners to see.

Last night she had left her fingerprints on a whisky glass, and a trace of her perfume – Paloma Picasso, a birthday present from her friends – on the silk scarf she had tossed aside on the bed of a stranger, in the top-floor suite of a luxury hotel. In the sky high above, a sliver of yesterday’s moon was visible, bright and unreachable, like the vestige of a happy memory. She was still part of this world, and there was still life inside her, so how could she be gone? How could she be no more, as though she were a dream that fades at the first hint of daylight? Only a few hours ago she was singing, smoking, swearing, thinking . . . well, even now she was thinking.

It was remarkable that her mind was working at full tilt – though who knew for how long. She wished she could go back and tell everyone that the dead did not die instantly, that they could, in fact, continue to reflect on things, including their own demise. People would be scared if they learned this, she reckoned. She certainly would have been when she was alive. But she felt it was important that they knew.

Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist and the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published seventeen books, eleven of which are novels. Her work has been translated into fifty languages. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow. She is a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). An advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech, Shafak is an inspiring public speaker and twice a TED Global speaker, each time receiving a standing ovation. Shafak contributes to major publications around the world and she has been awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the twelve people who would make the world better. She has judged numerous literary prizes and is chairing the Wellcome Prize 2019.  

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Historical Fiction

The Missing Sister – #BlogTour Dinah Jefferies- 5*#Review @PenguinUKBooks @VikingBooksUK @DinahJefferies

A stolen sister. A daughter determined to uncover the truth.

Belle Hatton has embarked upon an exciting new life far from home: a glamorous job as a nightclub singer in 1930s Burma, with a host of sophisticated new friends and admirers. But Belle is haunted by a mystery from the past – a 25-year-old newspaper clipping found in her parents’ belongings after their death, saying that the Hattons were leaving Rangoon after the disappearance of their baby daughter, Elvira.

Belle is desperate to find out what happened to the sister she never knew she had – but when she starts asking questions, she is confronted with unsettling rumours, malicious gossip, and outright threats. Oliver, an attractive, easy-going American journalist, promises to help her, but an anonymous note tells her not to trust those closest to her. . .

Belle survives riots, intruders, and bomb attacks – but nothing will stop her in her mission to uncover the truth. Can she trust her growing feelings for Oliver? Is her sister really dead? And could there be a chance Belle might find her?

Amazon UK

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

My Thoughts…

Such an evocative read, this story of loss, political unrest and a quest for the truth takes place in Burma during the 1930s, with slips back in time to 1911 and the 1920s.

Belle has left England, for a life as a singer in exotic Rangoon. She’s not the usual type of singer they have, but her talent and independent spirit bring her both admirers and adversaries.

Her mother’s failing mental health blighted her childhood, but after her father’s death, she discovers her parents once lived in Rangoon and had and lost a child there. Can this terrible tragedy explain her mother’s illness and what happened to her missing sister?

Belle’s search for the fate of her missing sister reveals more questions and answers, Oliver an attractive journalist offers to help, but can she trust his motives, or should she rely on the establishment to help her?

The plot is engaging. The perfect pacing adds to the story’s sense of mystery and menace. The political climate is dangerous, and Belle shows her emotional strength as she witnesses unspeakable violence and prejudice.

Full of powerful imagery, both in terms of the geographical and historical setting and the vivid characterisation, this story enthrals the reader. There is a mystery to solve a family tragedy to witness and empathise, and a lovely romance.

A lovely escapist read, which will touch your emotions and inspire your imagination.

Extract from The Missing Sister – Dinah Jefferies

Rangoon, Burma, 1936

Belle straightened her shoulders, flicked back her long red-gold hair and stared, her heart leaping with excitement as the ship began its steady approach to Rangoon harbour. Rangoon. Think of it. The city where dreams were made, still a mysterious outline in the distance but coming into focus as the ship cut through the water. The sky, a shockingly bright blue, seemed huger than a sky ever had business to be, and the sea, almost navy in its depths, reflected a molten surface so shiny she could almost see her face in it. Even the air shimmered as if the sun had formed minute swirling crystals from the moisture rising out of the sea. Small boats dotting the water dipped and rose and she laughed as screeching seabirds swooped and squabbled. Belle didn’t mind the noise, in fact, it added to the feeling that this was something so achingly different. She had long craved the freedom to travel and now she was really doing it.

With buzzing in her ears, she inhaled deeply, as if to suck in every particle of this glorious moment, and for a few minutes, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again she gasped in awe. It wasn’t the bustling harbour with its tall cranes, its freighters laden with teak, its lumbering oil tankers, its steamers and the small fishing boats gathering in the shadow of the larger vessels that had gripped her. Nor was it the impressive white colonial buildings coming into sight. For, rising behind all that, a huge golden edifice appeared to be floating over the city. Yes, floating, as if suspended, as if a section of some inconceivable paradise had descended to earth. Spellbound by the gold glittering against the cobalt sky, Belle couldn’t look away. Could there be anything more captivating? Without a shadow of a doubt, she knew she was going to fall in love with Burma.

The heat, however, was oppressive: not a dry heat but a kind of damp heat that clung to her clothes. Certainly different, but she’d get used to it, and the air that smelt of salt and burning and caught at the back of her throat. She heard her name being called and twisted sideways to see Gloria, the woman she’d met on the deck early in the voyage, now leaning against the rails, wearing a wide-brimmed pink sun hat. Belle began to turn away, but not before Gloria called out again. The woman raised a white-gloved hand and came across.

‘So,’ Gloria’s cut-glass voice rang out, breaking Belle’s reverie. ‘What do you make of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Impressive, no?’

Belle nodded.

‘Covered in real gold,’ Gloria said. ‘Funny lot, the Burmese. The entire place is peppered with shrines and golden pagodas. You can’t walk without falling over a monk.’

‘I think they must be splendid to create something as wonderful as this.’

‘As I said, the pagodas are everywhere. Now, my driver is waiting at the dock. I’ll give you a lift to our wonderful Strand Hotel. It overlooks the river.’

Belle glanced at the skin around the other woman’s deeply set dark eyes and, not for the first time, tried to guess her age. There were a number of lines, but she had what was generally termed handsome looks. Striking rather than beautiful, with a strong Roman nose, chiselled cheekbones and sleek dark hair elegantly coiled at the nape of a long neck . . . but as for her age, it was anyone’s guess. Probably well over fifty.

Gloria had spoken with the air of someone who owned the city. A woman with a reputation to preserve and a face to match it. Belle wondered what she might look like without the thick mask of expertly applied make-up, carefully drawn brows and film-star lips. Wouldn’t it all melt in the heat?

‘I occasionally stay at the Strand after a late night, in fact, I will be tonight, though naturally, I have my own home in Golden Valley,’ Gloria was saying.

‘Golden Valley?’ Belle couldn’t keep her curiosity from showing.

‘Yes, do you know of it?’

Belle shook her head and, after a moment’s hesitation, decided not to say anything. It wasn’t as if she knew the place, was it? She simply wasn’t ready to talk to someone she barely knew. ‘No. Not at all,’ she said. ‘I simply liked the name.’

Gloria gave her a quizzical look and Belle, even though she had determined not to, caught herself thinking back. A year had passed since her father’s death, and it hadn’t gone well. The only work she’d found was in a friend’s bookshop, but each week she’d pored over the latest copy of The Stage the moment it arrived. And then, joy of joy, she’d spotted the advertisement for performers wanted in prestigious hotels in Singapore, Colombo and Rangoon. Her audition had been in London, where she’d stayed for a gruelling two days and an anxious wait until she heard.