Posted in Christmas Read, Cover Reveal, Cover Reveal, Family Drama, Festive Read, Romantic Comedy

A Typical Family Christmas Liz Davies #CoverReveal @LizDaviesAuthor #FestiveRead #Christmas #Family #RomCom #bookbloggers @rararesources #10October #FamilyDrama

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For once, Kate Peters would like a happy, family Christmas; the kind of Christmas seen in the movies. She wants harmony and happiness, smiling, glowing faces, tables groaning with food, carol singing around the tree. She wants love, kindness, and goodwill to all men, especially in her own house.

What she doesn’t want is drama. Absolutely no drama, whatsoever.

But what she gets is three stroppy children, two equally stroppy grandmothers, a husband who can’t manage to change a lightbulb, and Pepe the poodle.

It’s no wonder she feels unappreciated, overworked, and ignored. At the end of her tinsel-coated tether, and with the only Christmas spirit being in the form of a bottle of raspberry gin, Kate decides to leave them to it, and see how they manage without her.

A quiet little hotel somewhere near the sea, where she can pretend Christmas doesn’t exist, is just the thing she needs. Isn’t it?

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#LizDavies

Liz Davies writes feel-good, light-hearted stories with a hefty dose of romance, a smattering of humour, and a great deal of love.

She’s married to her best friend, has one grown-up daughter, and when she isn’t scribbling away in the notepad she carries with her everywhere (just in case inspiration strikes), you’ll find her searching for that perfect pair of shoes. She loves to cook but isn’t very good at it, and loves to eat – she’s much better at that! Liz also enjoys walking (preferably on the flat), cycling (also on the flat), and lots of sitting around in the garden on warm, sunny days.

She currently lives with her family in Wales, but would ideally love to buy a camper van and travel the world in it.  Twitter Facebook

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Posted in Author Guest Post, Blog Tour, Book Review, Contemporary Fiction, Family Drama, Festive Read, Friendship, Parenting and Famlies

One Day In Winter Shari Low 5*#Review @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books @sharilow #festive #relationships #serendipity #marriage #parents #children #secrets #lies #Paperback

#OneDayInWinter
#Aria-HoZBlogTour

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

My Thoughts…

I love stories that have an element of serendipity, and this story of four people, seemingly unconnected, is an engaging read. It follows Caro, Cammy, Lila and Bernadette through 24 hours just before Christmas. Some of the characters feature in other books, so if you are a fan of this author, like me, you may recognise them.

The day is divided into time slots, and each of the four main protagonists has a chapter within. As the story progresses, the reader realises they are connected, and eventually so do they. All of the main characters are complex and realistic. Some have more flaws than others, but they are all relatable, and most are easy to empathise.

The plot is cleverly written, it all fits together and the coincidences are realistic. Coupled with the beautifully written characters, the emotion and poignancy of the story make this is a page-turner that you won’t easily, put down.

The ending is satisfying, it fits, and everyone gets the outcome they deserve.

Guest Post – Christmas Blog Shari Low – One Day In Winter

Confession time! I’m one of those people who has a Countdown To Christmas clock and I check it regularly. Please don’t judge me. I know that I’m supposed to harrumph in disapproval at the frivolity and commercialisation of the festive season, but the truth is I love every flashing-elf-hat, neon-reindeer-on-my-roof, pass-me-a-red-hankie-because-I’m-going-to-watch-It’s-A-Wonderful-Life moment of it.

I embrace the tat and naffness of the season because I absolutely believe that there is no day that isn’t made better by a Santa snow globe.

On the first of December, I break out my favourite Christmas sweatshirt – the one that announces in large letters that I’m a Gangsta Wrapper.

I know the names of all the reindeers: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, Argos, Visa and Mastercard.

And now that my two little yuletide thespians have flown the nest (one who delivered a memorable performance as the third sheep from the left, and the other who had a starring role as that well known Biblical character, Humph the Camel), the younger members of my extended family know that I’m a shoo-in for a ticket and some enthusiastic audience participation if they invite me to their nativity play.

But my very favourite pastime during the season of goodwill? Deck the halls with big blooming piles of Christmas novels.

When I decided to write my first December-time book, One Day In Winter, I knew that I wanted to write stories that came together like a big pile of surprises under a tree. 

The novel follows four characters over the course of a 24 hour period on the Friday before Christmas. Caro sets off on a quest to find out if her relationship with her father has been based on a lifetime of lies. Lila decides to tell her lover’s wife of their secret affair. Cammy is on the way to pick up the ring for a proposal to the woman he loves. And Bernadette vows to walk away from her controlling husband of 30 years. As the hours’ pass, their lives intertwine and connections are revealed, with lots of shocks, twists and dramas along the way.

When it first came out in ebook, One Day In Winter was a number one bestseller, so I’m thrilled that it’s now being released in a glossy, shiny, gorgeous paperback.

I hope readers will love it because it makes them laugh, cry and captivates them from beginning to end.

And the extra little gift that the book delivers?

After the last page is turned, it makes the perfect stand for that Santa snow globe.

One Day In Winter is published by Aria in ebook and paperback.

Extract From One Day In Winter – Shari Low

When Gran and Granda passed away, their house had been left jointly to Mum and her sister, Auntie Pearl. When Auntie Pearl married and moved out, they’d worked out a rental agreement and Mum had stayed behind, living on her own until she’d met Jack Anderson at college, got pregnant, married him and he’d carried her over the threshold into the home she’d already lived in for twenty-two years.

Not that Caro could ever remember him being there full-time. He probably was for the first few years, but then he’d capitalised on the oil boom, and ever since then he’d been gone more than he’d been home. Some months he’d be home for a few days, sometimes two weeks, rarely more. She’d never felt neglected or that she was losing out in any way. It was what she’d always been used to and, as Mum always said, just one of the sacrifices they had to make because Dad had a Very Important Job.

The payback for the sacrifice? A couple of years ago, just as her parents should have been starting to contemplate cruises and bucket lists for their early retirement, Jack Anderson had walked out of the door to go to his Very Important Job and he’d never come back.

Caro felt the familiar inner rage start to build now and she squashed it back down. He’d left them a week before her thirtieth birthday, so she was old enough to process her parents splitting up by some mutual consent. Yet she couldn’t. Because it wasn’t mutual and he’d bolted when her mother had needed him most, walked out to a new life and he hadn’t looked back.

For a long time, Caro didn’t understand why.

Only now, did she realise that on the Importance scale, the job was up there with his Very Important Secret.

Maybe.

She still didn’t believe it to be true.

She must be wrong.

Mistaken identity.

Surely?

Yet, here she was, sitting on a train, on a cold December morning, on her way to Glasgow.

She pulled her iPad out of her satchel, logged on to the train’s Wi-Fi, then flicked on to the Facebook page she’d looked at a thousand times in the last few weeks.

It was one of those coincidental flukes that had taken her to it in the first place.

It had been late at night, and she’d been sitting beside her mum’s bed in the hospital, feeling like she’d been battered by the storm that was raging outside. She shouldn’t even have been there because it was outside of visiting time, but the nurses overlooked her presence because her mum was in a private room at the end of a corridor, and they made exceptions when it came to patients at this stage in their lives. Yvonne’s eyes were closed, her body still, but Caro wanted to stay, whether Yvonne knew she was there or not. It was the first night of the October school holiday, so she didn’t have to get up early to be the responsible Miss Anderson for a class of eleven-year-olds the next morning.

Instead, she could just be Caro, sitting there passing the time catching up with Facebook. She only dipped in and out of it every few weeks, caught up with a Carpool Karaoke, the launch of a new book, or maybe a movie trailer.

A promotional link appeared for the new Simple Minds tour, twenty dates around the country, yet another band riding the nostalgic affection for the eighties and nineties.

Before she could stop it, the opening bars of Jim Kerr’s voice belting out ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ flooded her head and she felt the bite of a sharp-toothed memory. Her dad had been a big fan, their music playing alongside Oasis and Blur on his CD player when he was home or in the car on the few mornings he was around to take her to school, and that had been his favourite song.

The irony in the title didn’t escape her. Don’t You Forget About Me. If only she could forget he ever existed, then she wouldn’t have to deal with the soul-sucking fury that he wasn’t here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is low_shari_400pxh.jpg

Shari Low is the No1 best-selling author of over 20 novels, including One Day In Winter, A Life Without You, The Story Of Our Life, With Or Without You, Another Day In Winter and her latest release, This Is Me

And because she likes to over-share toe-curling moments and hapless disasters, she is also the shameless mother behind a collection of parenthood memories called Because Mummy Said So. 
Once upon a time she met a guy, got engaged after a week, and twenty-something years later she lives near Glasgow with her husband, a labradoodle, and two teenagers who think she’s fairly embarrassing except when they need a lift.

Posted in Book Review, Family Drama, Literary Fiction

His Secret Family Ali Mercer 5*#Review @bookouture @AlisonLMercer #FamilyDrama #LiteraryFiction #Lies #Secrets #Control #Loss #BookReview #bookbloggers

#HisSecretFamily

It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. White roses scent the air and the summer sunlight streams in. A spoon chimes against a champagne flute and the room falls silent. And there he is – my husband – getting to his feet to propose a toast. He’s still handsome. His new wife is next to him, gazing upwards, oblivious.

I’m not supposed to be here. All these years in the same town and I had no idea until I saw his name on the seating plan. He lived with me, once. Loved me. Small-town memories are long, but the people in this room don’t want to remember.

They say the healing is in letting go, but after what he did, he needs to know we haven’t gone away just because he’s shut his eyes.

So I take Daisy by the hand and step forward from the shadows. He notices us and his eyes widen. The champagne glass falls from his hand and smashes. Then he sags forward, making a terrible sound – a sort of strangled scream…

A powerfully emotional novel with a dark secret at its heart. This family drama will keep you hooked until the very last page.

Amazon UK

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

My Thoughts…

An enthralling family drama told from four female perspectives that reveals a story that is emotional, honest, poignant and shocking.

Beginning with a wedding and two uninvited guests, and a seemingly tragic event, you may be forgiven for thinking you know what this story is about before it begins, but you’re probably wrong.

The story begins with Paula and the wedding. Then the time frame slips into the past and Jenny (Mother,) Ava(Eldest Daughter), and Ellie(Youngest Daughter) begin to tell their stories. The plot reveals events that change their lives and shape their futures. The appearance of Mark gives hope to Jenny, but disruption for the daughters. Gradually you learn Mark’s secrets and his controlling personality traits. The major plot twist confirms my opinion of Mark.

The story’s pace, keeps the reader engaged. The twists are subtle but resonate. The complex plot, never loses its way, even as detail and layers are added.

The characters are complex and authentic. It is easy to empathise with all the female characters, excepting Ingrid(Mark’s Mother). Ellie’s character is particularly well written, and I enjoyed the added dimension she brings to the story.

The ending is satisfying, being both hopeful and realistic.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Friendship, Historical Fiction

The Teacher at Donegal Bay Anne Doughty 4* #Review @HQDigitalUK #BlogTour #BookReview #bookbloggers #FamilyDrama #1968 #NorthernIreland #historicalfiction #Irish #Saga

When Jenny McKinstry is offered a new post as the Head of English at her Belfast school she’s elated! Yet she can’t help but feel conflicted about the position.

With all those around her mounting the pressure to start a family and her husband’s career about to take off, Jenny feels bound by an overwhelming sense of duty.

Will she be able to support her husband’s ambitions and land her dream job…

Amazon UK

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

My Thoughts…

A historical family drama set in Northern Ireland in 1968. It focuses on Jenny’s ambition to have a career in teaching, despite being married. She faces well-meaning and intrusive advice on how she should live her life. From those she trusts, and people in the wider community. The community is divided, sometimes families are divided because of the political climate, and maintaining old values assumes a disproportionate importance in this community.

The expectation that married woman should stay home and not pursue a career is the norm at this time, and Jenny is seen as a misfit, someone who wants to destroy the fabric of the community. Jenny is ambitious, brave and committed to her career, but will she sacrifice her friends, family and even her marriage to pursue her dream?

An emotional journey pathed with angst and prejudice, the characters are authentic and complex, and the plot is slow-paced and relentless. You empathise with Jenny and rile at her accusers, but the ending is hopeful.

A gritty and poignant story, which reflects the setting and time well, and demonstrates what it is like for a working wife in the 1960s, and the battles they endure to live life as they choose.

Posted in Author Interview, Blog Blitz, Book Review, Crime, Family Drama

The Fourth Victim John Mead 4*#Review @BookGuild @JohnMeadAuthor @rararesources #PoliceProcedural #CrimeFiction #EastEnd #London #BookBirthdayBlitz #BookReview #BookBloggers

Whitechapel is being gentrified. The many green spaces of the area, which typify London as a capital city, give the illusion of tranquillity and clean air but are also places to find drug dealers, sexual encounters and murder…

Detective Sergeant Julie Lukula doesn’t dislike Inspector Matthew Merry but he has hardly set the world of the Murder Investigation Team East alight.  And, it looks as if the inspector is already putting the death of the young female jogger, found in the park with fatal head injuries, down to a mugging gone wrong.  The victim deserves more.  However, the inspector isn’t ruling anything out – the evidence will, eventually, lead him to an answer.

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Author Interview – John Mead – The Fourth Victim

Is this story inspired by a real event? If not, what are the inspirations behind this story?

Most of the ideas I have are sparked by incidents I’ve heard about or been involved in. However, they do get greatly adapted to fit the plot.  For example, the idea to set the main narrative of The Fourth Victim in Whitechapel came from walking past Lehman Street police station and wondering what a modern-day Jack the Ripper might be like. It didn’t take me long to decide that the events if enacted today, would be more mundane – less sensational in this jaded age – and  Jack would be psychoanalysed to death. Though he or she would, no doubt, be a Twitter celeb – at least for a day!

Given that I wanted to write something about how the police deal with mental health issues, and how this impacts on the nature of criminality and victimhood; then that ‘Whitechapel Ripper’ setting seemed to put everything into place.

Is it important to create memorable detectives in this genre? Why do think this is?

In general, I would say it is important to create a memorable team of detectives. Even if it is mainly a partnership – Morse had Lewis but also Dr Max DeBryn and Strange, while Poirot had Hastings and Japp.  Although neither Morse nor Poirot could function in a modern police force. A better example would be Vera or Montalbano, both of whom have their teams and sidekicks.   It is the people around the central character and their relationships which define them and make them memorable.

It is, therefore, necessary to create characters which are relatable, well-rounded humans with flaws and inconsistencies. The interactions of these characters are what creates interest and bring the story alive. I tend to find ‘lone wolf’ characters unrealistic, especially in the police as these are organisations based on teamwork. If you consider some of the more modern ‘classic’ detectives, like Martin Beck or Wallander, they may not be the best team players but they are still part of a team and interact with them.  This is as true of the criminals – no one is all good or all bad – and the victims. Both of which are often used as mere plot devices and quickly forgotten, while in reality, they are central to the crime.

Do your detectives have to be likeable? Why is this?

No, not essentially, in reality, how many of the detectives you read about would you want to spend an evening with (Holmes would be insufferable and Jimmy Perez would be maudlin)? I would say it is more important to make them understandable, to show their weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as their strengths – this is what makes a character interesting and, hopefully, why people want to read about them. 

Take Maigret or Elise Wassermann, these characters only become likeable once you start to understand their backgrounds and relationships. Both these characters might seem to be the typical ‘lone wolf’ detective but neither would be anything more than a cypher until you realise that Maigret needs his wife to give him a strong anchor in life and Wassermann, who is autistic, is really doing her utmost to fit in. Otherwise, neither of them would be particularly likeable.

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

Sometimes, someone, I come across sparks an idea for a character and, at other times, I realise a character I have written reminds me of someone I know.  But, on the whole, I find the characters develop a life of their own – once you have a few basic characteristics defined for a character it is surprising how complex they can become.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I enjoy books that teach me something: whether it is about writing technique, a moment in history or life in general.

Treasure Island is technically the best book ever written. Not a word is wasted, the plot is fast-paced, the characters are well rounded and every scene comes to life.  Which is quite a feat?

Though I like anything by PG Woodhouse for his wordplay, and CJ Sansom and C Hibbert for their impeccable research.

These days I generally read crime fiction – usually, police procedurals – and the masters of this genre are Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö who wrote the Martin Beck series.

What are you currently writing?

Having decided to write a trilogy based on the Metropolitan Police’s Major Investigation Team East – who deal with murders in modern-day East End of London – I have discovered this is actually a ‘trilogy’ in four parts. And I am currently working on the final two parts of this series, the second book in the series – Geraldine – is being published at the end of September. 

However, I am also working on the plot of another book, an allegorical story of modern life.  It’s about a paranoid white suprematist who befriends a homeless Muslim woman – now if I can pull that off who knows what will come next …

What are the best and the worst things about being a writer?

I absolutely love the act of writing, editing and all aspects of the process – I become totally absorbed by it. Unfortunately, because I am naturally lazy, I completely hate the thought of having to start writing, editing or anything else connected with the process, and do all I can to put it off.

Life is full of contradictions.

#TheFourthVictim

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

My Thoughts…

The iconic setting of Whitechapel for this book puts you in the correct frame of mind for murder. Although this part of the EastEnd of London, is much changed, it seems the possibility of a serial killer is an uncomfortable echo of its gruesome past.

Detective Inspector Merry, who on the surface is anything but, and Detective Sergeant Lukula make an interesting an investigating duo. The other members of the murder investigating team are also distinctive, and despite their personality differences, the team functions well.

This is a character-driven police procedural, with well-drawn realistic characters whose multiple human frailties make them authentic. The plot gives heavier emphasis on the police team’s personal lives than is usual in a police procedural. This adds interest to the more routine parts of the story, but for some will detract from the main storyline.

The investigation of the crimes is detailed and well researched. There is also a mental health theme in this story, which is contemporary, and again, shows copious research.

The plot has twists and false information, and the ending draws everything together in a satisfying way.

John was born in the mid-fifties in East London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young people with physical and mental health needs.

He has travelled extensively, from America to Tibet, and he enjoys visiting the theatre, reading and going to the pub. It is, perhaps, no surprise that he is an avid ‘people watcher’ and loves to find out about people, their lives, culture and history. When he is not travelling, going to the theatre or the pub; he writes.

Many of the occurrences recounted and the characters found in his novels are based on real incidents and people he has come across. Although he has allowed himself a wide degree of poetic licence in writing about the main characters, their motivations and the killings that are depicted.

John is currently working on a series of novels set in modern-day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city.

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Posted in Book Review, Crime, Family Drama

The Sleepover Carol Wyer 5* #Review Detective Natalie Ward #crimefiction #policeprocedural #familydrama @bookouture @carolewyer #bookreview #bookbloggers

Roxy had a secret. Now she’s gone.

When fourteen-year-old Roxy says she’s going for a sleepover at her best friend Ellie’s house, Cathy sees no reason to check her daughter’s story. The two families are neighbours, and the girls are in and out of each other’s homes every day.

It is a decision she will regret. A day later, Roxy is found murdered in exclusive Linnet Lane, miles across town, in a house owned by two brothers with no apparent connection to Roxy. Detective Natalie Ward, called to lead the investigation, is determined to get to the bottom of why Roxy was in the basement of this grand Victorian mansion when she should have been eating chocolate in her pyjamas with her best friend.

As Natalie begins to look closely at Roxy’s stepfather and three brothers, she discovers that Roxy had recently been admitted to hospital with suspicious injuries. Her mother Cathy seems very jumpy and Ellie refuses to talk. Who are the people that knew Roxy best in the world protecting?

Then Roxy’s mother Cathy disappears.

When Cathy’s body is discovered close to where her daughter was found, Natalie is forced to face the grim fact that the killer is just getting started. She is troubled by the reaction of Roxy’s brother Seth to the tragedies and when his alibi falls through she brings him in for questioning, certain she is making headway.

But while Seth is in custody, one of Roxy’s school friends is found murdered and Natalie knows she must cast her net wider. Things take a more sinister turn when Ellie vanishes, her mobile phone switched off. What is Ellie hiding about the night Roxy died that could put her in terrible danger? And can Natalie work it out before another innocent life is taken?

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

My Thoughts…

This is the second book I have read in the Detective Natalie Ward series. It is an excellent police procedural and crime fiction novel. Fused with family drama, the characters are believable and complex, they have flaws and secrets, which make them realistic.

The fast-paced plot is suspenseful, building with each new character, and incident. The initial case appears normal, straightforward, but it isn’t, and as the crimes compound, so do the suspects and possible reasons. The twists are clever and keep you guessing, and there are plenty of heartstopping moments.

The urban setting is authentic and grounds the events that occur, making you believe they could happen. The story doesn’t lose sight of the human element and there is plenty of poignant emotion in this book.

The police team is what makes these stories resonate. They all have different personalities, problems and personal lives, but they are a team. They act, and think as one entity, each person in the team matters, they care, cover for, and criticise each other and this makes them believable.

The ending demonstrates the power of careful detective work, as the web of lies and secrets are exposed, and the antagonist is finally revealed. I did work it out but changed my mind several times because of the wide cast of suspects and the plot’s many twists.

A well thought out police procedural with a complex, dynamic detective team, and a clever twisty plot, which gives the reader a believable, emotional story.

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.

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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.

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